Monday, May 25, 2009

Nadine Dorries censored by the Barclay Brothers

Cranmer has commented before on the over-sensitive censoriousness of the Barclay brothers – the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph. They do not like criticism, have often been accused of abusing their power, and have turned what used to be a national journalistic jewel into their personal religio-political mouthpiece. They have dispensed with the paper's traditional Toryism; they permit their religious correspondents to denigrate the Church of England with impunity and perpetuate the bigoted myth that all Muslims are fascists. They have been described as ‘creepy and anti-democratic’ by a former British ambassador, and a whole lot worse by the residents of Sark where the brothers directly intervened during the island’s first democratic election.

It is reported that lawyers acting on their behalf appear to have silenced the blog of Nadine Dorries MP (cached here), who dared to speculate upon the brothers’ motives for drip-feeding to the nation the sometimes scandalous and often sordid details of MPs’ expenses – to which she referred as a ‘witch hunt’ – all on the run-up to the Euro elections.

Cui bono?

The tortuously slow execution of Conservative and Labour MPs amounts to death by a thousand cuts. Mrs Dorries surmised that the beneficiaries of this would be the BNP and UKIP – pretty much what the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said yesterday. With a plain-speaking rant quite antithetical to the subtle art of politics, Mrs Dorries put two and two together, and accused the brothers of having political sympathies for one or both of these parties.

Libel, opinion or fair comment?

Well, the Barclay brothers believe it to constitute libel, so the blog of Nadine Dorries is no more. Dizzy explains the sequence of events.

But before commenting upon this absurd over-reaction and overtly anti-democratic move, Cranmer would like to take issue with Mrs Dorries’ assertion that this is a ‘witch hunt’.

These ugly manifestations of moral hysteria reached their peak during the 15th-17th centuries, during which hundreds of thousands of (mainly) women were (usually) drowned or burned at the stake. Ms Dorries needs to reflect upon the fact that the victims were largely innocent of the sorcery and Satan worship of which they were accused, and frequently were guilty of nothing more than ‘heresy’ against either the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church or of Martin Luther. When the Reformers and the Counter-Reformers appropriated the punishments for sorcery and witchcraft, all manner of evil and grotesque torture was perpetrated in the name of Jesus.

Of course, Mrs Dorries deploys the term in a non-literal sense, but she fails to understand that the metaphor is concerned with panic-induced searches for perceived wrong-doers.

Many of the MPs who have been named and shamed by The Daily Telegraph are not merely perceived to have done wrong, but have been proven to have done so. Ergo, this is no ‘witch hunt’, but a wholly justified and justifiable Inquisition.

And one which stretches right to the front door of the true location of Mrs Dorries’ main residence. By attempting to blame The Daily Telegraph for the undermining of Parliament, she displays a spectacular lack of judgement and gross insensitivity. Some MPs have so defrauded the public purse that prosecutions must ensue. For Mrs Dorries to have sympathy for the ‘tortured’ honourable members rather than the impoverished taxpayer is contemptible.

But this post is concerned not so much with what Nadine Dorries wrote as with the consequent over-zealous action of the Barclay brothers. Politicians who expose sinister plots invariably find themselves accused of being ‘conspiracy theorists’ and certainly tend to find themselves accused of all manner of mental and moral deficiencies. That is an occupational hazard. The Telegraph would be perfectly free to express its forthright views about Mrs Dorries in exactly the same way as they do about the Church of England and Muslims. But to move litigiously and succeed in the eradication of a blog is the sort of intimidatory or bullying action one might associate with the regimes of Iran, North Korea or China. We are in the United Kingdom in the 21st century – a liberal democracy which upholds freedom of the media a permits freedom of speech, guaranteed further by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It must be observed that no court of law has found Mrs Dorries guilty of libel. Yet the law permits the mere accusation to impinge upon her freedom of speech. And so her entire blog – not merely the putative offending article – has been taken down. She has been silenced by the state, denied the very medium by which she might have made her defence.

Cranmer has much admired some of the work of Nadine Dorries – particularly her spirited attempt to limit the scandalous number of abortions performed in the UK. When Cranmer won an award from ConservativeHome, having no corporeal presence he donated his bottle of champagne to Mrs Dorries, who publicly expressed her appreciation. While His Grace has some concerns over what Mrs Dorries alleged, the severity of the subsequent action brought by the Barclay brothers only serves as further evidence of their illiberal dogmatism, their obdurate zealotry and their obsessive resistance to criticism.

By assaulting opinion, they challenge the freedom by which they propagate their own. By waging war against a blog, they display a propensity for censoriousness which has no place in a free society.

Cranmer thinks Nadine Dorries was unwise, and even ill-informed. If she is intent on publishing such allegations, she must open her blog to permit her views to be challenged. Her total withdrawal of comments is not acceptable, and certainly not in the spirit of blogging. But Cranmer is standing with her on this for the sake of liberty. John Stuart Mill argued that ‘there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered’. Cranmer shares his view that the fullest liberty of expression must be permitted by the state in order to advance arguments to their logical limits, rather than to the limits of a politically-correct social acceptability. Mill’s ‘harm principle’, which places limitations on this liberty, was specifically articulated to prevent harm to others.

But it was never intended to limit the expression of reasoned opinion or to prevent speculation upon the political or religious motives of the rich and powerful.

Parliament is in chaos, politicians are impotent and the public are angry. The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, has increased its circulation and the billionaire Barclay brothers have further enriched themselves. UKIP and the BNP are widely expected to benefit from the sorry saga.

‘Cui bono?’ indeed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ifs, ands and buts.
Dave does Vicky Pollard:

25 May 2009 at 10:47  
Anonymous Bethel said...

Your Grace highlights a sad irony. The Telegraph had taken over the Guardian's old niche as the quality broadsheet paper most likely to teach younger journalists the craft of how to draft/write.

25 May 2009 at 10:55  
Anonymous oiznop said...

So... if Your Grace's blog disappears, we'll know why.

I can't help feeling there's more to this. I can't see what's libelous in Dorries cached article. Cameron said she was 'whacky' but so are most blogging MPs. They just reveal what the others are all hiding.

25 May 2009 at 11:12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cui, perhaps?

25 May 2009 at 11:15  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Ah, yes. Corrected. Bless you.

25 May 2009 at 11:20  
Blogger The Heresiarch said...

It's not "the state" that removed the blog, it was the server. They chose to obey the dictates of a firm of solicitors as though it were a court order, which it wasn't. It was merely a legal letter, and rather an absurd one. ND's remarks about the Barclays, which I assume is what the action is really about, is only mentioned as one ground for action. Also, for example, the notion that the Daily Telegraph might have been motivated by a desire to sell copies rather than the purest public interest is claimed to be libellous. I doubt even Mr Justice Eady would fall for that one.

You can't blame the lawyers for trying it on. Well, perhaps you can. And there's much to be said about the poor state of the law of libel in this country. But the real villains in this one are the service provider, who show themselves not merely cowardly but also misunderstanding of their duty towards Nadine Dorries. I suspect, should she wish, she might have good grounds for action against them.

By the way, Your Grace is rather stronger in your phraseology than Ms Dorries was. But don't worry - Blogger generally only take things down when they've been served with an actual court order. In my experience, at least.

25 May 2009 at 12:00  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Heresiarch,

His Grace meant 'the state' in the sense that is its laws on libel appear to permit the action which has been taken agains Mrs Dorries.

If, as you say, His Grace's phraseology is 'stronger' than that deployed by Mrs Dorries, then it is not clear at all why her post was considered libelous. All the above is 'fair comment', clearly sourced and adequately referenced.

Mr Oiznop.

If His Grace's blog is taken down as a result of this post, it would be a sad day indeed. But when the faggots have ceased smouldering, he would simply reconstitute his ashes once again, and begin at the beginning.

25 May 2009 at 12:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"they permit their religious correspondents to denigrate the Church of England with impunity and perpetuate the bigoted myth that all Muslims are fascists"

I think that's a little over the top. I have seen quite a few articles in the Telegraph that have expressed concern about the state of the CofE. And as to the Muslims, well, let's be clear -- many of them in the UK (even polling indicates this) hold views that, while not strictly fascist, are far beyond the parameters of what we may call liberal-democratic discourse.

You are sad that the Daily Telegraph no longer upholds a Tory approach to reporting. It is rather hard to do that when even the Conservative Party has abandoned its Tory roots.

25 May 2009 at 12:30  
Blogger Forlornehope said...

On an historical point, the counter reformation burned intransigent heretics but not witches. At the start of the witchcraft hysteria the Inquisition called in all cases for its own examination and eventually pronounced that there was no such thing. You could get into severe trouble with the Inquisition by accusing someone of withchcraft. Everybody had their human barbeques, Protestants burned "witches", phenomenal numbers in Scotland alone, and Catholics burned heretics. All was done to the greater honour and glory of God!

25 May 2009 at 13:05  
Anonymous G Orwell said...

"perpetuate the bigoted myth that all Muslims are fascists. "
I don't think that is true of the telegraph. Of course not all Muslims are fascists nor all BNP members fascists.
However they are all members of a fascist organisation.

25 May 2009 at 13:24  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

As usual, Your Grace displays a perspicacious grasp of both sides of a complex issue. However, I would come down on the side of the Telegraph on this one, because in reacting to criticism in the way that the Government generally does, they are showing us how far we have fallen. Ms Dorries is certainly better to look at than Lord Ahmed, but her comments would be more authentic had she not fallen foul of the paper's investigation herself.

I remain
Your humble servant
Frugal Dougal
Happy yellow dog of the fens (by appointment)

25 May 2009 at 13:30  
Anonymous Hank Petram said...

Your Grace,

Worse than a crime, a mistake, as Bismarck or somebody is reported to have said. A libel action to silence a pathetic little sobbing outburst of self-righteous tosh. Hah.

By the way, I notice that Your Grace (inadvertently, no doubt) used the word "faggot" which has now been listed by Mr. Bowdler's proud successors as a hate term or something of the kind.

25 May 2009 at 14:40  
Anonymous Kay said...

Quite the irony for Dorries. She felt the need to suppress free speech by ignoring any comments on her blog with regards to her obvious superior opinion. Now her blog has been shut down…Karma perhaps?

25 May 2009 at 17:11  
Blogger chris r said...

I suspect Cranmer's comments will always tend to set faggots smouldering.

25 May 2009 at 18:31  
Anonymous Voyager said...

set faggots smoulderingask Mary Tudor rather than Cranmer

26 May 2009 at 06:49  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Nadine Dorries blog is up and running with an entry for 25th May. Perhaps she had to remove certain comments ?

26 May 2009 at 07:37  
Anonymous Bethel said...

I've just had a look. Nadine has missed her true vocation as a pap writer for Mills and Boon.Still, she may soon have a little time on her hands or???

26 May 2009 at 11:04  
Blogger Dissenter said...

""""These ugly manifestations of moral hysteria reached their peak during the 15th-17th centuries, during which hundreds of thousands of (mainly) women were (usually) drowned or burned at the stake"""

Dear Cranmer

I did not study history much, and I am sensitive to your Grace's feelings about stakes and fires (I have stood by your monument in Oxford) but I am sceptical about the number of women burned as witches. I have no doubt that hundreds were burned, but hundreds of thousands?

Can your Grace point to a reliable source of information where this figure can be anything like verified? Audit of parish records, court procedings, diaries or anything like that? I stand to be corrected, but such a big figure generally bandied around puts me in mind of the flat earth slander, often used, seldom supported with fact

kind regards


26 May 2009 at 16:32  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Dissenter,


Jane Caputi, The Age Of Sex Crime (1987).

Ms Caputi's book is based on her doctoral thesis.

When one considers that we are talking about the whole of Europe over three centuries, with accusations of witchcraft muddled with those of heresy, Cranmer has no trouble believing that the victims number in their hundreds of thousands, few of which might have received a recorded trial.

26 May 2009 at 16:53  
Blogger Dissenter said...

Thank you kind sir.

I have meanwhile been trying to answer my own question with a little Googling, and it does seem that estimates vary from 7 thousand 9 million (mostly in Switzerland and Germany) and the methodology is haphazard to say the least. Apparently few victims received a trial. And it is still happening in Africa today for muto (magic from body parts). I will look into this horrible subject a bit more I think amd be very careful before I use the term 'witch hunt' again.

Of course 'an unjust murder is an unjust murder'-but when we look at the 20th century, Pol Pot etc, it seems we are far more efficient and thoroughgoing at witch hunting than the mediaeval forebears.

kind regards

26 May 2009 at 17:16  
Blogger ZZMike said...

It's unfortunate that you have such odd libel laws. It's reprehensible that the two Barclays have the power to silence the blog of an MP.

26 May 2009 at 20:26  
Anonymous Bethel said...

In this instance, I'm grateful for the Barclays taste and good judgement.

26 May 2009 at 21:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nadine Dorries has admitted she does have a second home. Witheld this information to protects her 3 girls. PARDON me but 2007 slashed across the Newspaper was Camerons Babe chooses career over husband.
I have also just read that Mrs Dorries admits an affair with Tim Montgomerie. Her blog which is now back is full of photos of herself and her girls. This MP seeks attention .You only have to look back to her 2005 blog articles and read some of her very silly personal stories.
Mid Bedfordshire deserves a better MP. Let us hope she stands down.

6 June 2009 at 01:45  

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