Spink Wages Deniability-Based Campaign

WITH JUST TWO or three months to go to a general election, Bob Spink, our local MP, seems uncharacteristically reserved in providing swathes of press releases to the local media.

Initially, I had thought the storm of releases, following Julian’s starting-gun, might indicate the main means by which he would attempt to promote whatever small message he has this year; but it appears that the reaction of the Echo’s commenters, and readers of this blog, to Spink’s ‘news,’ has given him second thoughts.

Local voters, Spink cannot have failed to notice, are no longer accepting what he says at face value. And, despite Spink’s litigious nature, commenters are voicing their opinions, which everyone has a legal right to do. (What is denied to everyone, in Law, is to state something as fact without having the means to prove it).

Unlike the rest of us, Spink, as an MP, does not have to prove anything he says in the house. He is privileged in that respect. But, outside the house, the same rules apply to him as everybody else – and that gives Dr Bob Spink, Independent MP, a problem…

This blog can reveal that, last Tuesday, The Guardian carried a quote from Spink concerning his time with the local Conservative Party, which, in fact, was an outright lie. Had it been a statement from a member of the public about Spink, he would most certainly have brought a charge of libel; but, had it been made by a member of the public, the Guardian’s reporter would also have verified the claim before going to press. The fact is, journalists expect politicians to speak the truth (granting some leeway for inevitable spin). But they do not expect to be directly lied to.

Normally, anything a national newspaper prints about Spink immediately becomes fodder for a press release to the Echo; but it is not known if that was the case this time. What is known, however, is that the Echo did not publish. (Which is just as well, because, had it done so, it would have been vigorously sued for its pains).

Those involved do not believe the Guardian should be sued for printing something their reporter, having no local knowledge, was entitled to believe (since it was provided by an MP). And they also believe it will not be worthwhile pursuing Spink at this time – because he will simply deny making the statement and any action would detract from the general election. However, that does not mean that suitable action will not be taken after the election is out-of-the-way.

The problem with providing a Press Release is that anything in it is directly attributable to the author. If it transpires that it contains a lie, the newspaper and the author can be sued. (Which is why it behoves all journalists to check their facts vigorously before publication).

But there is something to be said for using the Internet to distribute ‘un-attributable’ statements. Statements that are apparently made; but which can be denied should the need arise.

I might, for instance, post on the Echo’s comment section, using my own name, to libel the Labour candidate. But should Julian complain, I can always say ‘It was not me. It must have been someone else using my name.’

Could the Echo prove it was me? Well, the answer is yes; but not without enormous difficulty. And Julian would need to gamble that I had been stupid enough to use my own home or mobile broadband account. (The chances are an intrepid journalist like myself would have had sense enough to use an internet café or some other form of anonymous connection). So Julian would probably have no other recourse than to complain to my union and the UK Press Card Authority, setting-out his suspicions. But I am such an upstanding journalist, that it would be difficult for him to make a promising case for my credentials to be withdrawn. Just as it would be difficult to prove a similar case against an ‘upstanding’ MP.

On Friday, someone purporting to be ‘Bob spink, independent MP for Castle Point [sic]’ posted the following comment in response to the Evening Standard’s Expensesgate should humble MPs article.

THERE are picky arguments you can have with Sir Thomas Legg, such as over his attempt to change the law on expenses retrospectively. Some of the flaws in his report are inevitable as he was asked to deliver swift justice following the furore at the behaviour of some MPs; a little humility from all of us in Parliament would go a long way towards reassuring the public that we recognise how unacceptable the existing system is.

It’s amazing to see David Cameron now proposing the same reforms to clean up the allowance system he criticised Dai Davies MP and me for tabling as early day motions two years before the scandal first broke.

But the debate should now move on to tackle other abuses such as homeflipping and to challenge the idea that MPs should be able to draw millions in salaries from additional jobs incompatible with being a full-time representative. The public deserves to know not just what their MP is claiming but also the total value for money they are getting from them in terms of time spent on Parliamentary and constituency work.

It contains a number of blatant untruths:-

  • Sir Thomas Legg made no ‘attempt to change the law on expenses retrospectively.’ He simply applied the rules that were in force at the time.
  • Sir Thomas Legg was not asked to ‘deliver swift justice following the furore at the behaviour of some MPs.’ He was simply asked to report on MPs expenses.
  • Legg’s report was not about the unacceptablility of the expenses ‘system.’ It was about the financial conduct of individual MPs.
  • David Cameron, in no way, ‘is now proposing the same reforms to clean up the allowance system he criticised Dai Davies MP and me [Bob Spink?] for tabling as early day motions two years before the scandal first broke.’

It seems that I am spending most of my time pointing-out Bob’s spin (some would say lies) that is attributed to him. I fully expect, at any moment, to be served with a charge of posting ‘these lies’ myself.

If those lawyers are reading this, then please note I will willingly give my permission to Tiscali and O2 to release details of my Internet usage for any period you request. And I will happily attend any ‘identity parade’ to discover my use of Internet Cafés as the occasion warrants.

I will end this piece with the understated comment made by an unknown contributor to the Evening Standard’s article, referencing Spink’s last sentence:-

The public deserves to know the total value for money they are getting from their MP Bob Spink.

And, no. That was not me either…

I’m willing if you are, Bob…

… (12/02/2010) – ‘If we are to publish anything, it needs to be a balanced, legally-sound news story’

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3 Responses

  1. Talking of which………..

    Have you noticed the recent votes on your “What do you think Spink should do” poll?

    Since about two weeks ago, votes have been coming in for “He should do nothing because he is worth it” whcih until then, over the course of nearly a year, had received no votes at all.

    Spink supporters or just his PR team in full swing?

    There also now appears to be an attempt to mark down all your Spink articles which always received maximum ‘More of this’ votes.

    An attempt to manipulate resident opinions?

    • Yes. Having just checked I see your point, Cynical.

      There have, in fact, been three votes for the ‘he is worth it option’ over the last week. (That is three different users/machines). But ‘they’ have some way to go before influencing the majority’s results.

      Incidentally, the one ‘other’ response was: ‘The stocks?’

      I don’t actually set too much store by an article’s grading until it reaches double figures – and, if it was down to me, I’d probably request ‘less of this’ regarding Spink. I know I am particularly fed-up about having to keep writing about him while canning local interest stories.

      Unfortunately, there are only so many hours I can devote to this blog…

  2. To be honest, I do not really care about Dr Spink’s expenses. I want to defeat him because he is at heart a Tory. I consider myself as facing two Tories come the election.

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