Stephen Williams takes on 38 Degrees over “highly misleading campaign”

Just hearing the name 38 Degrees will, undoubtedly, make at least the candidates among LDV’s readership shudder. For the luckily unfamiliar, 38 Degrees is a campaigning group which mobilises individuals, primarily in an effort to bombard MPs and candidates with, often, hundreds of identical emails. Those of us involved in politics will have long heard the frustration of those on receiving end, who rightly complain that the campaigns are often only loosely based on facts, and selective ones at that, and often fit with Labour’s similar shaky narratives. The campaign against TTIP is probably the prime example.

However, such is the group’s range that MPs and candidates have been understandably reticent to respond robustly. But Lib Dem MP for Bristol West, Stephen Williams, has certainly done so in response to a recent campaign from 38 Degrees calling on Stephen to apologise for a leaflet in which he points out his role in protecting Britain’s forest from privatisation.

Here is Stephen’s response:

I understand that a campaign has recently been set up through the website 38 Degrees, asking me to apologise for what they claim to be ‘misleading information’ about the forestry estate in a Liberal Democrat national party leaflet. This campaign is a brazen piece of partisanship, designed to damage my reputation on an issue that most impartial people would think that I have a good personal record.  I hope that this statement will set the record straight on the matter.

This issue dates back to the beginning of the Coalition, when Caroline Spelman, the former Conservative Environment Secretary, put forward measures to transfer some forest land to organisations such as the National Trust and possibly to sell some too. There was subsequently a consultation on these proposals and this revealed widespread opposition to the plans. When the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saw the detail of the proposals he stated that there was no way that they could be taken forward as long as Liberal Democrats were in government.

Nick insisted that an expert panel be convened to analyse the issue and this panel proposed permanent protection for our national forests. We have absolutely supported this verdict. The Spelman proposals were just ideas for consultation.  They were dropped and have not been revived. The issue was killed off by the government itself four years ago. So the claim in one of my party’s national leaflets that we have been “saving our forests from privatisation”… and “planting a million more trees” is actually completely true.

Dan Rogerson – the Lib Dem Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – has clearly stated that we hope to place Britain’s forests in a protected trust and we have committed to planting more than 3.5m trees in towns, cities and villages over the next parliament if we remain in power. You can read Dan’s comments here.

The motions highlighted by 38 Degrees, which I voted against in 2011, were both opposition day motions, tabled by the Labour Party. They were, as is usually the case with such motions, both deliberately provocative and had the sole purpose of highlighting divisions between the two parties in government. I will have voted against possibly a hundred of these in the last 5 years….just as Labour MPs routinely vote against government motions. It would be utterly absurd for anyone to demand that I apologise for not voting for a Labour motion or indeed to call for a Labour MP to apologise for not voting for a government amendment to a Labour motion.  This would be playground politics.

To claim, as the website Public Whip does, that I ‘voted very strongly for selling England’s state owned forests’ is misleading in the extreme. I have never voted in favour of selling forest land – I voted against two poorly worded and hyperbolic motions submitted by the Labour Party.

As Minister for Communities, I have personally overseen measures in the Infrastructure Bill to protect trees and areas of woodland. Through tree preservation orders, local planning authorities now have wide powers to make tree preservation orders to protect trees of significant value to communities. These written orders, in general, make it an offence to prune, fell, damage or destroy the trees they cover without local planning authority consent. In addition to this, Liberal Democrats in government have overseen the planting of 1 million new trees over the course of this parliament through our ‘Big Tree Plant’ campaign. This is the first government tree planting programme since the 1970s.

Finally, I would like to say that I am amazed by the Labour Party’s hypocrisy on this issue. Under the last Labour government the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 was passed, which introduced powers to transfer the forest estate to the Homes and Communities Agency. The supreme irony is that this power was removed earlier this year, in clause 27 of the Infrastructure Bill.  The minister who took this clause (among many others) through the House of Commons was me!

I hope that this statement clarifies my position on the issue. I am upset and disappointed that 38 Degrees has run this highly misleading campaign against me, promoted I must assume by activists from other political parties. I do not support the privatisation of forest land and I have never voted to support it.

Stephen’s work as a minister and in particular on the Infrastructure Bill has been commendable, and readers will know that he needs all the help available to ensure his reelection. You can donate to Stephen’s reelection campaign here.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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  • As a candidate swamped by these sorts of emails I share Stephen’s pain on this one. Being targeted unfairly by a campaign group like this must be a nightmare.

    Having said all that, having the opportunity to respond personally to these emails straight back to that person’s email address is very helpful and a good way of engaging with the public.

  • Whilst I’ve no experience of 38 Degrees, the basic style of campaign conducted against Stephen is one we’ve seen a lot of. It seems the premise of such campaigns is that if an MP puts forward an controversial idea for consultation/consideration then they are putting forward an idea the party has already agreed upon and wish to be implemented…

    We need somehow to find a way to permit controversial ideas to be publicly aired and debated, without them being misrepresented as agreed policy. As the quote from Stephen here makes very clear, as a result of Caroline Spelman’s proposals we have much greater clarity and commitment to both the retention of state owned national forests but also the protection of woodland. Although we can only hope that this commitment extends as far as reviewing the proposed route of HS2, which ploughs through several ancient woodlands…

  • Drew Durning 20th Mar '15 - 4:16pm

    I have supported 38 degree campaigns in the past on green issues and civil liberties but they do now appear be taking a highly politicised approach, ignoring the facts when they do not fit the Labour narrative.
    I agree with Gareth that being able to respond does give an opportunity to directly communicate with constituents and present them with the facts on issues like TTIP. It’s particularly gratifying when my emails get a further response thanking me for clarifying matters!

  • Speaking truth to power is politics, grassroots organisers have power if they are not speaking truth, they should be confronted quite rightly!

  • David Allen 20th Mar '15 - 5:30pm

    Hmm, why no link to 38 Degrees’s leaflet, so we can see what accusation is actually made?

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '15 - 5:39pm

    Personally I will continue to support mainstream preamble Liberal Democrats and 38 Degrees – and oppose TTIP.

    Who in their right mind would give their commitment to support to something we are yet to see and understand the full ramifications of?

  • @ David Allen

    I presume that this is one of the “motions, both deliberately provocative and (having) the sole purpose of highlighting divisions between the two parties in government” referred to in the piece. I think Tim Farron was a supporter of this motion. If it’s good enough for Tim I thought – and signed for 38 Degrees.

    I do like the way mentions of TTIP keep appearing – concentrates the mind wonderfully, I find.

  • Us pesky constituents daring to question! As for identical emails not everyone is good at composing them but agree with the generic one. What next I wonder, the Tories and LibDems in coalition gag 38 degrees as they have done with charities?

  • The bottom line is that Williams DID vote to privatise the forests. (in spite of the waffle in his statement). He’s been successfully exposed by 38 Degrees.

  • David Evans 20th Mar '15 - 7:01pm

    Cole – The bottom line is that Stephen Williams did not vote to privatise the forests. Can’t you read?

  • Simon McGrath 20th Mar '15 - 7:40pm

    @Stephen Hesketh “Personally I will continue to support mainstream preamble Liberal Democrats and 38 Degrees – and oppose TTIP.
    Who in their right mind would give their commitment to support to something we are yet to see and understand the full ramifications of?”

    Who in their right mind is opposed to something they are yet to see ?

  • Evans – The bottom line is that Stephen Williams voted against a bill seeking to prevent the privatisation of the forests, and then sang his own praises for a “role in protecting Britain’s forest from privatisation”.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '15 - 8:30pm

    Bolano 20th Mar ’15 – 5:49pm

    “I do like the way mentions of TTIP keep appearing – concentrates the mind wonderfully, I find.”

    Exactly! As to why we are regularly being urged to support an unfettered free market global corporation-empowering treaty on a Lib Dem website is completely beyond me.

    By the way, I had cancelled my own direct debit to the Lib Dems last May citing us remaining ‘anchored firmly to the centre’. I have just renewed to ensure I don’t miss my own chance to vote for Tim Farron – sorry I mean in the leadership election 🙂

    The minimum membership subscription is currently £12 per year, or £6 if you are unemployed or in receipt of benefits and just £1 if you are a student.

    Apologies for the earlier incorrect info!

  • @ Stephen Hesketh

    I am more and more tempted to join. I can vote for David Laws for free or Tim Farron for £12. I think the price of democracy is probably worth paying.

    TTIP has the shape of WMD – you can’t examine it too closely – you just have to accept that the Establishment knows best.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '15 - 9:01pm

    Simon McGrath 20th Mar ’15 – 7:40pm
    @Stephen Hesketh [[” …and oppose TTIP … Who in their right mind would give their commitment to support to something we are yet to see and understand the full ramifications of?”]]

    “Who in their right mind is opposed to something they are yet to see ?”

    Simon – someone in their right mind perhaps?

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '15 - 9:34pm

    Bolano 20th Mar ’15 – 8:52pm

    “TTIP has the shape of WMD – you can’t examine it too closely – you just have to accept that the Establishment knows best.”

    Just explain to me again why you are not already a member – you sound exactly like a natural mainstream Liberal Democrat to me!

  • Alex Sabine 20th Mar '15 - 9:46pm

    I’d say it was game, set and match to Stephen Williams on this one. A pretty comprehensive demolition of the charge sheet against him. Can we expect a retraction and apology from 38 Degrees, or else specific answers to Stephen Williams’s points? A 180 degree spin-turn appears to be warranted…

    I see 38 Degrees take their name from the ‘tipping point’ angle at which an avalanche begins. This is apparently what their “people-powered” campaigning is aimed at. If this episode is anything to go by they are more than willing to trade on cynicism and gullibility in order to advance their agenda, which rather gives the lie to their claims to be harnessing the power of idealism.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar ’15 – 9:34pm

    There are millions like me, natural believers.

    Shame Clegg and co lost their faith in us.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '15 - 10:37pm

    On the basis of what fellow Liberal Democrats have said here I will actually look again at the approach of 38 Degrees.

    Such a pity an issue of genuine concern was tainted by a completely unnecessary reference to TTIP.

  • Consider this:

    Labour Party organises opposition day motion on the Coalition stopping eating babies. Lib Dems say that is absurd and vote against it. Public Whip records this as Lib Dems voting strongly in favour of eating babies. Lib Dems produce leaflet 3 years later saying they have helped babies. 38 Degrees produce petition calling on the Lib Dems to stop lying and admit they eat babies.

  • Spelman’s plans to sell off the forests were met with protests from groups all across the political spectrum. Whatever you think of 38 degrees for Stephen Williams to claim that he or the Lib Dems saved our forests from privatisation is a pretty dubious claim.

  • From what I can see this campaign wasn’t actually initiated by 38 Degrees as the formal campaign, but rather on the ‘campaigns by you’ section of the website which much like lets any 38 Degrees ‘member’ start a campaign.

    Whether or not these are vetted for accuracy I don’t know, one of the risks of letting members initiate campaigners directly themselves and improving participation is of course the difficulty of fact checking every campaign begun by said members.

    Also worth noting that part of the problem here is Public Whip, whilst a very useful tool, can also be misleading in the way it represent members of parliaments view, since it won’t show the nuances of a series of votes on an issue.

  • I’d also add, it is rather pompous of the blogger here to dismiss 38 degrees as a campaign that sends bombarding emails and ‘shuddering’ at the mention of a group which effectively now comprises two million of the most active citizens in the country.

    Ever heard of a standard letter, that pro forma an MP sends out to hundreds of constituents, using taxpayers money, to draw attention to an issue they are campaigning on.

    What’s the difference between that and a people powered petition? Except one is paid for by taxpayers money and the other facilitated by a third sector organisation and campaigning platform funded by members donations.

    Also MPs have the resource and should – if their offices are run correctly – have the expertise to manage such email campaigns and actually turn them to their advantage if they think of all the constituent contact they are getting for free.

    It’s called democracy. Shame the Lib Dems now in charge of the party forgot what that was somewhere along the way.

  • @Andy, 38 Degrees email the MP and 5 or 6 candidates in each constituency. How exactly are those candidates supposed to respond to hundreds of emails per day, whilst having a real job?

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Mar '15 - 11:52pm

    Good post by Andy when it comes to mass communication being OK for politicians, but not OK for the wider public. In the coming election we are going to get bombarded by political parties, but if it is the other way around then we are criticised and sometimes even legislated against.

    I’m no fan of 38 degrees, but Andy makes a good point.

  • John Broggio 21st Mar '15 - 12:31am

    @mboy – isn’t that (partly) why MPs are given a large amount of expenses to staff an office to respond to their constituents correspondence?

  • John Broggio

    The staff are to deal with constituents not to communicate with generic comma from people who are not in the constituency.

    The 38 degrees approach is not one I see as being effective, petitions show the strength of support for a standardised format position, and is much more efficient at making the point than hundreds of generic emails.

  • The big question is how can the Libdems take over an online petition website!

  • Dear mboy.

    Both Microsoft outlook and gmail have something called rules and filters, if candidates are a) unaware of basic email management techniques and b) resenting the fact they are getting a bunch of email communications from engaged voters living in ther constituency. For free. They probably deserve to lose.

    38 degrees rarely if ever directs non-constituents to email MPs or candidates. They only time they do is usually party leaders or Secretaries of State during key moments on important bits of legislation.

    Just to clarify as well, I am not a 38 degrees member of staff or volunteer although I do know a bit about how they work

  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '15 - 9:23am

    @William Hobhouse “I supported 38 Degrees in its early years. Not anymore. Their agenda is almost always politically aligned to Labour.”
    I disagree. 38 Degrees’ agenda is inevitably going to be politically aligned against whoever is in government: protests and petitions will only be organised in opposition to the actions of those in charge. Currently that means appearing to line up with Labour. Under the next government that might mean lining up with Lib Dems and Tories (though the latter’s friends in the media would make 38 Degrees unnecessary), and I fully expect to see a volte-face by those Lib Dems currently criticising an organisation which successfully mobilises people to take some sort of political action.

  • Stephen Campbell 21st Mar '15 - 10:20am

    My most recent comment obviously fell foul of the censors.

    @”It’s called democracy. Shame the Lib Dems now in charge of the party forgot what that was somewhere along the way.”


    Let me just say that it is incredibly sad that the LibDems, who used to want more people involved in politics and campaigning now complain when people are more active in politics. We “little people” obviously aren’t your preferred type of campaigner these days. Now that you’re a “serious party of government”, you obviously prefer your campaigners to be corporate lobbyists in expensive suits and rich donors (who will undoubtedly be offering nice “consultancies” to LibDem MPs who aren’t re-elected). I find it disgusting that everyday people have to shout and fight just to be listened to while corporate lobbyists are given Parliamentary passes. Parliament is now a revolving door between big business and politics. One and the same.

    38 Degrees, being a group based on social justice, run by grassroots members of more than one party, would one time have been aligned with the LibDems just as they are with Labour and the Greens these days. Sadly, the right-wingers who now rule this party hold us “little people” in contempt. The free market/globalisation fundamentalists who have taken over the party care not one jot for grassroots campaigns led by everyday people.

    Just yet another instance where the money men have won.

  • The only issue I have with the response is that if it is “utterly absurd” to criticise a Lib Dem for not voting for a Labour motion then this would have to work both ways and, if the Lib Dems are in opposition after the election, would lead to many political “attacks” against whoever is in power being hypocritical…..

  • Bolano – Bearing in mind you posted the link, your failure to read it is astonishing; unless you just like playing political games. Nothing you have provided supports your contention. You are simply wrong.

  • “The only issue I have with the response is that if it is “utterly absurd” to criticise a Lib Dem for not voting for a Labour motion then this would have to work both ways and, if the Lib Dems are in opposition after the election, would lead to many political “attacks” against whoever is in power being hypocritical…..”

    Surely you should vot for a motion based its content? It is this punch and judy stupidity that London politicians are obsessed with, which makes the country dispise them.

  • @David Evans

    “The motions highlighted by 38 Degrees, which I voted against in 2011, were both opposition day motions, tabled by the Labour Party. They were, as is usually the case with such motions, both deliberately provocative and had the sole purpose of highlighting divisions between the two parties in government. I will have voted against possibly a hundred of these in the last 5 years….just as Labour MPs routinely vote against government motions.”

    Since I am so simply wrong, and you so simply right, can you educate me by telling me what exactly he did vote against? Not a long prevarication, that avoids what he actually did by reference to whose motions they were. Just quite simply what position he supported . What was the motion? Where did he stand? And did Farron vote in opposition to him?

    I know that it must be seen as dreadfully beyond the pale of Cleggism for mere voters to ask such questions, to press when someone claims they didn’t do something when they curiously slip and slide around naming this thing, to press on the claims of our MPs with regard to their acts. How ungentlemanly!

    I can believe that Labour presented a motion designed not just to protect forests, but also to trouble Lib Dem MPs who might vote against it. Doesn’t look like this vote will trouble Farron though, does it?

    What was the motion? How did he vote?

  • Read it for yourself chummy, you posted the link. The words that are there, not the ones you wish were there.

  • As a former election agent and Parliamentary candidate, I can understand the frustration of anyone having to deal with 38 Degrees at the moment. Stephen Williams MP would appear to be entirely innocent and, given his over all record as an MP, a poor target for 38 Degrees to chose.

    However, and it is a huge “however”, can I remind people of the drive behind the birth and growth of such campaign groups in recent years. That driving factor was decades of arrogance, lies, dishonesty, corruption, financial irregularity, fraud and downright criminality by far too many MPs. The reaction of too many of our fellow citizens is to opt out of party politics or to support extremist or just plan mad political groupings. At least the people of 38 Degrees wish to engage with politicians. They will get it wrong, badly wrong, from time to time, however, better that than disengagement from democracy.

  • To correct the article, the leaflet did not claim any role for Stephen Williams at all, it didn’t even mention him which is why this whole thing is so absurd.

  • Philip Thomas 21st Mar '15 - 1:15pm

    No matter whom you vote for, make sure you vote! Participatory democracy is a good thing. Where there are several points of view, they should be aired. It is a pity if this can’t be done without acrimony.

    I would encourage anyone thinking of joining the party because they believe they can help save Liberal Democrat values to do so, even if I disagree with them about what Liberal Democrat values are (or, more likely, about the emphasis that should be placed on this value as opposed to that value).

  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '15 - 1:39pm

    ““The motions highlighted by 38 Degrees, which I voted against in 2011, were both opposition day motions, tabled by the Labour Party. … I will have voted against possibly a hundred of these in the last 5 years”
    This does seem to be a way of saying “I ignored the principles and did what the whips told me”.

  • I’ve read it, chummy, and am not too embarrassed to quote it.

    The motion moved by Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Labour) is “That this House believes that the Government’s intention in the Public Bodies Bill to sell off up to 100 per cent. of England’s public forestry estate is fundamentally unsound; notes that over 225,000 people have signed a petition against such a sell-off…” and so on.

    Among the Ayes – “Farron, Tim”
    Among the Noes – “Williams, Stephen”

    That’s from the link there through to Hansard.

    If I’d been the MP for Bristol West, concerned with representing the views of my constituents, with so many students, so many left-of-centre non-socialists, I don’t think I’d followed through with the Noes. But I guess it didn’t seem important at the time.

    And if Stephen Williams and his many Cleggies can’t even bring themselves to say what the motion was he voted against then, for his sake, they’d probably do better to drop the subject.

  • Philip Thomas 21st Mar '15 - 1:59pm

    Hmm. Was it the government’s intention to sell off 100% of England’s public forestry estate? If so, then clearly Tim was right to support the motion. If not, then the motion was a misleading one along the lines of “This House believes that the government should stop beating its wife.” and Stephen was right to oppose it.

    I don’t rule out the possibility that Tim thought it was the government’s intention and Stephen thought it wasn’t (Stephen had more inside information). So they could both have been right.

  • @Nick Thornsby

    “a recent campaign from 38 Degrees calling on Stephen to apologise for a leaflet in which he points out his role in protecting Britain’s forest from privatisation”

    That’s not true. The campaign states:

    “The Lib Dems have posted leaflets through doors in Bristol West claiming they were the ones who saved our forests from privatisation. Even though parliamentary records show that Stephen Williams voted “very strongly” for selling England’s forests.

    I live in Bristol West and I’m disappointed that my MP Stephen Williams has agreed to these leaflets. Please sign this petition now to send a strong message to all the candidates, that they shouldn’t give us misleading information to win our votes.”

    Will you alter your article accordingly?

  • Philip Thomas 21st Mar '15 - 2:47pm

    @Bolano. What exactly is the untrue statement you are objecting to?

  • @Philip Thomas

    There is no original leaflet wherein Stephen Williams is pointing out his role in protecting Britain’s forest from privatisation. This is the point Tim P made, in effect. And the 38 Degree campaign is not about objecting to him pointing out his role in that leaflet because – there wasn’t such a leaflet in the first place!

    There is a leaflet involved; and Stephen Williams; and a 38 Degrees campaign that is objecting to the leaflet.

    But not what Thornsby wrote. Some degree of accuracy is necessary with these things. Otherwise what on earth’s the point of writing the article in the first place.

  • Philip Thomas 21st Mar '15 - 3:22pm

    Oh, I see. I haven’t seen the leaflets. But even 38 degrees says that they claimed “the Lib Dems” saved the forests from privatisation. Given that they were being delivered in Stephen Williams’ constituency, is it possible some voters might have thought “the Lib Dems” included Stephen Williams?

  • @Philip Thomas

    The 38 Degrees page:

    Their link to the actual leaflets:

    Some voters might have – or might not. I think the issues are that:

    1) Nick Thornsby needs to get his facts right before writing (and he wonders why no one believes him on TTIP)

    2) If you represent a constituency stuffed full of students and Greens be smart enough to pay attention to what you’re voting for rather than blustering “the motions highlighted by 38 Degrees, which I voted against in 2011, were both opposition day motions, tabled by the Labour Party. … I will have voted against possibly a hundred of these in the last 5 years”. The same leaflets in Tim Farron’s constituency could have lead to the same campaign, and Tim would’ve turned that campaign back in its tracks and used his own voting record to make the adverse publicity work to advance his chances of re-election. And Faron wasn’t the only Lib Dem to vote this way.

    3) There’s a strongly illiberal tendency here, supported by Cleggies, to dismiss the validity of greater participation in political issues by voters. A refusal to address what an MP has actually voted for, a refusal to engage with extremely valid and open criticism by voters, a refusal to accept that an MP’s voting record is a valid method of taking him to task (in Williams’ case), or equally as a source of praise (in Farron’s).

    I think Bristol West is Williams’ to lose – and in part because he’s not taken ownership of his voting. And all the cries of “game, set and match” or “you are simply wrong” from his defenders don’t take the place of looking at the facts: that’s the way you march off to defeat in elections.

  • George Potter 21st Mar '15 - 4:02pm

    I too used to support 38 Degrees. I stopped my involvement with them because far too often their campaigns were either based on falsehoods or just irrelevant publicity stunts.

    If I were a parliamentary candidate I certainly wouldn’t object to receiving hundreds of emails from constituents as it would give me another way to contact them but anyone who thinks that spamming parliamentary candidates (most of whom have to work a full time job) with identical emails is going to change their mind on something is being rather naive.

    If the argument you’re making is good and convincing then repeating it in 100 identical emails isn’t necessary. And if your argument is bad and unconvincing then repeating it in 100 identical emails won’t change that. So if your goal is effective lobbying then you’re going the wrong way about it.

  • George Potter 21st Mar '15 - 4:06pm


    What TTIP and what you and many others are saying about TTIP is absolute rubbish and has been demonstrated over and over again to be rubbish. And even if you turn out to be right then when TTIP is published and you have the actual final text you can campaign for the European parliament to veto it just as they did to ACTA.

    But the really inexcusable thing is that, while people like you scare monger about the NHS when it’s already been exempted from TTIP, other genuine issues with TTIP, such as intellectual property, aren’t even being discussed because your crying wolf is drowning out any sensible discussion based on facts.

    There are few things I hate more than wilful ignorance and the anti-TTIP campaign is full of it.

  • Philip Thomas 21st Mar '15 - 4:06pm

    I support voter participation- but as I explained in an earlier comment (1:59 pm) the Labour motion wasn’t quite as straightforward as 38 degrees is implying in the petition (although possibly Stephen Williams could have pointed this out instead of the response he gave which I agree with you isn’t very satisfactory). Moreover, given the original leaflets make no mention of Stephen Williams, why does 38 degrees mention him in their petition?

  • Philip Thomas 21st Mar '15 - 4:15pm

    @George Potter. I don’t think Bolano has said anything about TTIP and the NHS in this thread. He has said we don’t know what it will say, which is true…

  • @Philip Thomas

    I didn’t have you marked down as one of those opposing voter participation! 38 Degrees mention him exactly as per my quote at Bolano 21st Mar ’15 – 2:20pm. I don’t doubt that this is someone using the leaflets to take Williams to task for his vote. That said, I think in your choice of election material it’s probably a good general rule to use those that support your voting record, or you risk this kind of thing happening.

    I doubt many motions are that straightforward. But in the end, that’s what an MP’s job is at core – you vote in support of or against motions, making law, thereby representing your constituents. Yeah, if Williams had strong issues with the facts of the motion he could have made them in his response – and I agree with you, it would have been far more satisfactory. That he hasn’t leads one to suppose he might not actually have factual objections: the manner of his response gives the impression that it’s the whip rather than the substance that drives him. He needs to stop digging.

  • @George Potter

    Hey, your man Thornsby brought the subject up.

    I disagree with you – I think you’re wrong. That’s life.

    But you guys in favour of it really do come across as zealots; really, really keen to slip in an argument for it anywhere, like Thornsby has in this article. And that zealotry doesn’t appear to be attracting a lot of converts.

  • @Philip Thomas

    TTIP: I have to hold my hand up – I’ve made an handful of cheap shots at it here in response to Thornsby’s shoehorning of the subject in. Guilty.

  • Out of interest, does anyone have any links to how the NHS is/isn’t affected by TTIP?

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 22nd Mar '15 - 8:46am

    I also used to follow 38 Degrees closely until their campaigns became too one-sided and extreme – though I maintain my right to choose to support or not – issue by issue. And William Hobhouse 20th Mar ’15 – 10:08 pm is correct IMO. There is a problem with campaigning on issues – that of going too far in order to make a strong point. Quite clearly HM’s loyal opposition in the HoC can be tempted into similar outcomes. Best wishes to Stephen Williams in Bristol West – and I hope there are many opportunities to speak publicly of his record in government, making his statements in a receptive atmosphere during the elections and later.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 22nd Mar '15 - 1:07pm
  • Stephen also voted for this motion:

    Wjhen introducing that the minster responsible described the proposals as (among other things)
    “Fourthly, we are opening up the commercial functions of the Forestry Commission to other operators on a leasehold basis so that their commercial potential is realised alongside the need to protect public benefits.”

    So it certainly can’t be said that Stephen’s only votes on this were just a case only of, “I voted against two poorly worded and hyperbolic motions submitted by the Labour Party.”

  • David Allen 22nd Mar '15 - 1:52pm

    Pol.itics is messy.

    Williams says that “the claim in one of my party’s national leaflets that we have been “saving our forests from privatisation”… and “planting a million more trees” is actually completely true.” 38 Degrees point out, essentially, that this is a rather grotesque overclaim. The truth is that the Coalition made plans to privatise and the Coalition then withdrew them in the face of public opposition. Both the plans and their withdrawal were fronted by the Conservatives.

    38 Degrees are right about that basic point. One might quibble as to whether 38 Degrees ought to be concentrating their fire on overclaims in election material. One might argue that 38 Degrees ought to ignore overclaims and take action only when they can expose actual lies. One might argue that 38 Degrees ought to stick to real issues rather than their exploitation in an election campaign. However, 38 Degrees were basically right in what they said.

    38 Degrees were probably wrong to cite in evidence the fact that Williams voted against Labour motions. Williams is right to argue that these are party games designed as traps, and that he had every right to vote against them. However, Williams is trying to convince people that just because he can refute one of the arguments used against him, he can demolish them all. That he can not do.

  • @David Allen

    Good points.

    I would say that Williams (and his supporters) are making the mistake of thinking an ad hominem defence will convince the independent voter. It won’t.

  • George Potter 22nd Mar '15 - 4:08pm


    Well there are several links available.

    There’s the letter from the EU Trade Commissioner explaining how TTIP will not cover health services and so the NHS will be exempt:

    There’s the negotiating mandate which spells out the goals of the EU negotiators:

    And then there’s the leaked draft text which specifically includes an exemption for public health services:

  • @Jim Hughes

    Here’s one dissenting voice as an example, raising points that have implications in the public sphere. I think this piece was originally in the Guardian but on Monbiot’s site he links through to a lot of sources which make for interesting reading on the subject, and particularly where problems from ISDS’s can occur – from people like Paul Krugman, etc.

    George Monbiot:

    One of my main concerns is that even if sufficient safeguards were set up to ensure a Government could choose to absent some or all of the NHS from coming under the aegis of an ISDS through TTIP, nothing in either would necessarily force the Government to do so. I can imagine the circumstances and colour of a government that would allow the NHS to be hung out to dry. I would dread, for instance, to see the fatal storm of both a Tory/UKIP Government and TTIP in place.

  • @George Potter – “But the really inexcusable thing is that, while people like you scare monger about the NHS (21st Mar ’15 – 4:06pm)

    The trouble with your point is that it has been Nick Thornsby who has written several articles on LDV scaremongering about TTIP and the NHS!

    I look forward to your article that actually addresses the fundamentals questions about what exactly TTIP is trying to address. Given that Vince Cables doesn’t know and He has been given ample opportunity to make the case, I suspect that you will have a difficult time justifying it in rational terms, but then given the tone of the pro debate so far, it would not surprise me for it to simply resort to the same tactics that 38 Degrees uses and which have provoked Nick to write this article…

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Mar '15 - 9:04am

    I welcome the existence of non profit making organisations like 38degrees.

    When the independent forestry panel was set up , following the u-turn by Caroline Spelman’s department, it found that the benefits of England’s publicly owned forests was greatly undervalued. Almost 35,000 responses to the panel came from the campaign group 38degrees, and the panel’s report notes:-

    ‘People have the power to change the course of national debates’.

    I don’t believe that 38degrees leans towards Labour. It simply offers a voice to those who oppose ( in a non violent way), what our politicians of whatever stripe are doing or planning to do in our name, it just happens that for the past five years there has been a coalition government of conservatives and Liberal democrats in power.

    Most of us, I would argue, find it hardly surprising that politicians wielding power sometimes have hissy -fits when their decisions are challenged by people who are prepared to sign a petition rather than sink into apathetic acceptance. ( Although in 2010 weren’t we invited to start and sign petitions?)

  • Bolano

    “you guys in favour of it really do come across as zealots”

    I think both sides in that particular come across as zelots.

    The pro side often over looking as if they believe as the concept is right a complex negotiation couldn’t produce a badly executed outcome.

    Those opposed seems to fixate on scaremongering over a small number of issues where the intention is clear and the only final outcome will need to be judged against.

    There is a total lack of any one saying “here is an opportunity to improve a proposal” such as the tribunal aspect, the view of it varies from lukewarm to deep freeze. Perhaps someone who is so opposed to it (those who oppose it on the grounds of lack of transparency etc) what a better alternative looks like (would they like a variant of the EU’s internal equivalent), instead we get two entrenched sides lobbing bricks.

    Rather like the recent Israel/Palestine threads these thing seem to go off topic quickly but with very little new or informative contributions.

  • Dave Brewer 23rd Mar '15 - 4:54pm

    Hello. I live in Bristol West, and I campaigned for the lib dems in the last election. At the time, I wrote to Stephen Williams and phoned his office, and was told basically he was definitely supporting the sell off, but it was ok because Labour had done something similar first. After the government had to make a U turn he sent an email saying how well the government ‘listened’ to his constituents.

  • That’s all interesting, and I get that the TTIP apparently includes the aspect to avoid monopolistic provision of a public service. Thing is though, Conservatives and Labour (and by their voting records, Lib Dems) all seem opposed to the monopolistic (well, Monopsonic) provision of healthcare by the NHS, preferring some other system that never seems to be spelt out in any manifesto. But in a few cases, certainly seems to favour whichever organisation has provided funds to the relevant health secretary.

    For example, the “No top-down reorganisation of the NHS” pledge by the PM, which turned out to be an open and deliberate lie as a massive top-down reorganisation had apparently been planned for years by his health secretary. And this bill was voted through with the help of the Lib Dems, despite it not being (as far as I know) party policy or what people had voted for at the party conference or the General Election.

    So I get that certain people say TTIP isn’t a threat to the NHS, but then I don’t really trust the people saying it, and can’t apparently inspect it for myself to judge.

  • @Jim Hughes – good point.

    Also a major problem we’ve seen over the years is the increasing level of vague, ambiguous and uncertain wording in legal documents as they try to cover all eventualities, but don’t actually define what it is exactly they are trying to guard against, thereby creating loopholes, which get filled by case law and blind adherence to precedence…

  • Andrew Turvey 26th Mar '15 - 10:20pm

    I’ve voted Lib Dem for most of my life and do occasionally support 38 degrees in their campaigns. Yes, you are right that these are often based on inaccurate information and Stephen’s response is, I think, and excellent and effective answer. Certainly if I had signed the petition and then received this as a response I would have gone away with a positive view of Stephen as an MP.

    However, I think it’s really important to understand that the majority of people signing these kind of petitions are not paid up party hacks from Labour. Indeed I suspect it’s quite the opposite – the paid up hacks would never both writing to MPs who weren’t from their party! Hence ever if you think the 38 degrees organisation is pursuing a partisan line, I wouldn’t assume that the individuals signing the petition were doing that.

    For instance, the words “a brazen piece of partisanship, ” could just be deleted from the opening, leaving a strong rebuttal without antagonising the person you are writing to.

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