Nadine Dorries censored by the Barclay Brothers
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.
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.