Half a defence of Paul Staines (aka @guidofawkes)

My Voice colleague Iain Roberts has already blogged about this afternoon’s big political news that William Hague’s special advisor Christopher Myers has quit his post following allegations — vehemently denied by both — that they might be having an affair.

Iain writes: “We at Lib Dem Voice wish both the Hagues and Christopher Myers well,” and I agree 100%. However, there are two further points I’d make.

The questions were fair enough…

Paul Staines blogged about the issue on 24th August, using the Freedom of Information Act to ask three questions inquiring as to the suitability of Mr Myers acting as the Foreign Secretary’s special advisor. In this he was within his rights, no matter the juvenile nudge-nudge-wink-wink (‘Just asking’) innuendo. Mr Myers was a public servant, paid by the taxpayer, and — if there were rumours circulating within Westminster that he was under-qualified and hired for the wrong reasons — it is reasonable that bloggers/journalists should pursue the story. Unlike the last-but-one Labour Prme Minister, who has today dismissed the FOI as an “imbecility”, asking questions is the proper way for such issues to be investigated.

Of course the ‘gay angle’ was played up for all it was worth, just as it was with David Laws over his expenses. That is sad, deeply sad, for the individuals involved, and for their family and friends. But that does not in itself mean that, in either case, journalists were wrong to ask the questions, even if the tenor of the reporting in both cases shimmered with latent homophobia.

…But let’s not make this about blogging

Where I partially disagree with Iain is in this statement: “This may be a good opportunity for political bloggers to reflect on where we’re falling short of those standards and how we can improve.” Yes, we should always reflect. But let’s not give more ‘kudos’ to Paul Staines than he deserves, let’s not allow him to claim another ‘scalp’. He was not even the first to run with the innuendo: that dubious honour belongs (I believe) to the Daily Mail, whose photo-led story on 21st August was clearly intended to be suggestive to those ‘in the know’. The story was picked up again by the Telegraph (23rd August), Mail again (24th August), and the Telegraph again (25th August).

Had the claims remained within the confines of Paul Staines’ blog, they would scarcely have caused a murmur. They did not. What we saw instead was a symbiotic relationship between two right-wing newspapers and a right-wing blog, egging each other on to pile on the pressure by whatever means possible. This was not a ‘political’ blogger acting in isolation, but in concert with two newspapers which are happy to ape the worst tactics of the Guido Fawkes’ smear-machine when it suits them. It is not bloggers alone who need to reflect; but any journalists willing to drop journalistic standards for the sake of a cheap story.

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34 Comments

  • Philip Rolle 1st Sep '10 - 9:35pm

    A young man jumps a dozen paygrades and shares a room with the Foreign Secretary.

    It’s not only a story; it’s a gift.

  • A glance at Guido’s place produces – quite by chance, I certainly wasn’t looking for it – the following line from someone on a thread about childcare:

    Old Holborn says:
    September 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm
    With the amount of poofs in Parliament, they could have opened a creche in a phonebox

  • Croslandist 1st Sep '10 - 10:04pm

    I think Old Holborn should go to Edinburgh – that’s where unfunny comedy lives, not on Lib Dem Voice discussin threads, thanks…

  • Anthony Aloysius St 1st Sep '10 - 10:24pm

    I don’t really understand the tone of moral outrage at the questions being asked about Hague’s relationship with Myers.

    Hague has denied having had a sexual relationship with Myers. Obviously everyone must decide how convincing they find his denial – and the explanation of the room-sharing. But if the allegation were true, then obviously it would be extremely pertinent to the question of Myers’s appointment.

    I can’t help wondering whether people would be adopting quite the same tone if it had been discovered that Hague had shared a hotel room with a young woman and later made an exceptional appointment of her as a special adviser.

  • @ Old Holborn: Remind me again how he’s under qualified? He’s got a 2:1 honours degree from a top tier university and qualified as a lawyer. He’s clearly of some intelligence and willingness to work hard. I doubt very much you have ever worked with him and have any access to any reports on the quality of his character or ability, so you probably don’t know anything about his level of political astuteness or his willingness to work and apply himself. And at £30000 a year he was paid as much as a graduate on one of Mars graduate schemes and quite a bit less than a graduate at Lidl.
    Full disclosure: I got a mere lower second in history at a far less prestigious university, am not a qualified lawyer, and am 2 years younger than this fellow, but I’m starting a job on the same pay grade in September. Nor did I do any internship or work experience with the company in the same way that this man did working with Hague’s team.

  • Valid FOI requests. He was taken on in May but started in July after his post graduate law course. He didn’t secure a contract with a law firm, but then why would he earn £14-18k pa when he could earn £30k without an interview.

  • Sunder Katwala 2nd Sep '10 - 9:28am

    Agree about symbiosis of newspapers and blogs on this, and that the newspapers mattered more.

    have blogged on how the chronology raises the question of who is out to get Hague … perhaps Guido’s notoreity provides useful cover.
    http://www.nextleft.org/2010/09/so-who-was-really-behind-attempt-to-get.html

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Sep '10 - 11:39am

    “I’m not sure why anyone has to “explain” sharing a twin room with someone. Surely the point of a twin room is to have two people sleeping in it?”

    As I said, everyone can decide how convincing they find that line. Personally I’m surprised that Hague was so hard up he needed to go halves on a hotel room. At the very least it was an incautious thing to do, considering that rumours about his sexuality have been circulating for well over a decade.

    As for whether it had to be explained, obviously Hague felt the need to do so. Evidently he also felt the need to issue a statement going into considerable detail about the state of his marriage, which didn’t seem to be in response to anything that has appeared in print or online.

    I find it difficlt to believe people would be in quite such a rush to swallow Hague’s denial if this concerned allegations of a heterosexual affair.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Sep '10 - 12:42pm

    Andrew

    Sorry, can’t make head or tail of that comment. What were you trying to say?

  • The most telling thing to come out of all of this was the tirade of abusive anti-gay comments that were plastered all over Guido Fawkes’ blogsite that would not have been seen as tolerable had they been the equivalent racist language.

    Despite the supposedly politically correct times in which we live, once they think you might be gay, they are going to get you for something, whatever it is. You just have to look at what happened to David Laws or Lord Brown at BP to see other examples of the way minor (and frankly immaterial) inconsistencies can be blown out of proportion into some spurious “issue of principle”.

    It is still very much not OK to be gay and in politics and even if you aren’t gay, the playground bullies are going to use it as a taunt to get you anyway.

  • @Robert C

    Total rubbish! If you weren’t so lazy with your research, you would realize that there are many occasions where vile racist comments are posted on Staines’ blog. If anything the contributors pride themselves on their bigotry. And why is it that the gay lobby always like to compare their treatment to that of racism? There is absolutely no relevance, so stop doing it!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Sep '10 - 6:44pm

    Andrew

    Sorry – still can’t make any sense out of your comments. But by all means try again if you were trying to say something you thought was important.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Sep '10 - 9:13pm

    Andrew

    Oh, I see. You were agreeing with me, apparently. But wouldn’t it would have been simpler just to say so, if you felt you had to say something?

    “I see only malevolence in your aspersions with regards Hague’s denial, which you attempt to justify through a spurious argument. If I’m wrong then do please correct me.”

    Yes, you’re wrong.

  • allentaylorhoad 3rd Sep '10 - 12:47am

    “Someone clearly wants to do a lot of damage to William Hague.”

    Myers once said in ‘The Yorkshire Post’ that David Davis should be leader of the Conservatives, so his appointment as an adviser by Hague could have caused displeasure in Downing Street. I wonder if Hague and Myers’ phones have been tapped yet?

  • Back to the topic – I don’t really see how you can make a half-defence of Staine on this basis:

    1. other media outlets were just as bad
    2. there might be a legitimate question as to whether it was a good use of public funds to appoint a third (unqualified) special adviser

    1. Er…yes and the point is surely that they should share in some of blame not that Staines should be excused any.

    2. This might be a legitimate question but was never the focus on the Fawkes website – which always wrapped up with the clearly implied smear (that includes the FOI request as well, by the way). It is quite clear that the story without that angle would have made barely a ripple – there are plenty of special advisers with no particular qualifications for the whole (indeed, I am not even sure what they would be). The whole “unqualified” line was there to back up the innuendo that there was an inappropriate relationship and that is why Myers got the job. Incidentally, had that innuendo been backed up with proper evidence, it would have been a legitimate story… however, to publish it without evidence is really unpleasant….and Staines should indeed be pilloried.

    Personally, I would love to see Staines sued for libel on this and forced to put a big apology on his website since it is clear that he won’t do that on his own.

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