The Court of Appeal will hand down its judgment on my appeal against the striking out of my “public interest” defence against Rachel Riley’s libel accusation at 2pm on May 14.
At the time of writing, that’s tomorrow. By the time you read this, it may be today.
This is extremely short notice. At the time of writing (again), I do not know whether the Court of Appeal wishes my legal team to attend the hearing. I won’t be able to, in any event.
Usually, a hearing like this is simply a mention whereby the Court of Appeal says that it has handed down its judgment.
But it is sometimes necessary to give further directions – for example, the court might find in my favour on the basis that the High Court did not address the strike out application correctly and send it back to the High Court to re-hear the application.
I hope that is reasonably unlikely – either the court will decide that my public interest defence is too weak and no amount of re-hearing will make any difference, or that it is so fact-specific that we need to get on with the trial.
I will be hoping for the latter.
Alternatively, if I win, there might then be a debate about how the High Court’s costs order should reflect the fact that both I and Riley won certain aspects.
The timing of this is interesting. It is happening right after the hearing of Riley’s case against Laura Murray came to an end?
I wonder what Riley will do if she loses both this appeal and that other case.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
I was just looking at viewing figures for the Court of Appeal on YouTube.
The case before mine came in at 156; the one after, 67.
Riley v Sivier: 3,400.
How nice to be popular!
But I wonder how many of those were repeat views by people trying to understand what was going on. The suited and bewigged inhabitants of Court 70 seemed to be arguing about things to which the casual viewer wasn’t privy.
This article is an attempt to address that.
So for a start, let’s look at my grounds for appeal.
One of my defences was that I had published my article about Rachel Riley and the teenage girl with anxiety issues who suffered sustained abuse on the social media for daring to criticise the TV parlour game-player because it was a matter of public interest.
According to the Defamation Act 2013, it is a defence to an action for defamation for the defendant to show that— (a) the statement complained of was, or formed part of, a statement on a matter of public interest; and (b) the defendant reasonably believed that publishing the statement complained of was in the public interest.
In determining whether the defendant has shown this, the court must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, and must make such allowance for editorial judgement as it considers appropriate.
For the avoidance of doubt, this defence may be relied upon, irrespective of whether the statement complained of is a statement of fact or a statement of opinion.
So the task for our justice system was to determine three issues:
i) was the statement complained of, or did it form part of, a statement on a matter of public interest?
ii) did the defendant (that’s me) believe that publishing the statement complained of was in the public interest?
iii) was that belief reasonable?
The first and third issues are objective – it either was or wasn’t, depending on whether it meets the relevant criteria. The second issue is subjective – it’s about what I believed at the time I published the article.
In respect of the second and third issues, the truth or falsity of the allegation complained of by Rachel Riley is irrelevant. The defence can apply to an untrue statement (or in this case, a statement for which insufficient evidence was provided to the strike-out hearing to establish that it was true).
My public interest defence was separate from, and in addition to my other defences, which were that my statements were true and that they were statements of honest opinion.
The judge at the strike-out hearing, Mrs Justice Collins Rice, struck out my truth defence on the grounds that I was unable to provide a tweet by Rachel Riley declaring that she was a bully and that she published the tweets mentioned in my article in order to cause a teenage girl with mental health issues to suffer an enormous amount of abuse.
She then struck out my honest opinion defence on the grounds that I could not have an honest opinion about statements that were not true.
Her finishing touch was to strike out my public interest defence on the basis of a false submission by Rachel Riley that it must fail as a consequence of the truth defence being struck out.
Here’s what Riley said, in paragraph 71 of her strike-out application:
“71. Similarly the defence brought under s.4 DEA 2013 cannot have been reasonably believed if the facts relied on in the truth defence are incapable of supporting a plea of truth.”
This was a clear error of law.
Riley’s counsel accepted in oral submissions (that’s during the strike-out hearing itself) that this statement was wrong.
Riley’s case concerning my public interest defence was otherwise undeveloped and did not occupy the court’s time.
Nevertheless the judge, in her judgment, seemed to have swallowed Riley’s submissions whole and did not address any of the requirements of the defence.
She did not address the contents of my actual pleading (what I said).
In fact, she showed no evidence that she had given my public interest defence any due consideration at all.
Not only that, but the conditions in which my truth defence was judged – which had been laid down by a different judge, Mr Justice Nicklin – had nothing to do with the public interest defence.
Mrs Justice Collins Rice appeared – although we cannot be sure because her judgment was so vague that she did not even provide the reasons on which it was made – to have proceeded on the assumption that “the statement complained of” in a public interest defence against the allegations against me was the same as the single meaning of the words complained of, as found by Mr Justice Nicklin. Not true; “the statement complained of” refers to the actual words that I published. There’s a difference!
And, by the way, I pointed out that there was a difference, through my own representative, at the strike-out hearing. She couldn’t even say she hadn’t been told.
If she had considered my defence as pleaded – as she was bound by law to do – it would have been readily apparent that she had no power to strike it out, because it is unsuitable for such an action. “The court must have regard to all the circumstances of the case” – so it is impossible to determine whether it was reasonable for me to believe that publishing my article was in the public interest without hearing any actual evidence from me.
I’ll come back to this, because there’s an assumption here that my article is dishonest – and I take the greatest offence to anyone – High Court judge or whoever – bandying about such a claim without even showing any evidence for it.
Furthermore, the public interest defence is a developing area of the law. Mr Justice Nicklin (remember him?) said, “In an area of law which is developing, and where its boundaries are drawn incrementally on the basis of decided cases, it is not normally appropriate summarily to dispose of the claim or defence.
“In such areas, development of the law should proceed on the basis of actual facts found at trial and not on the basis of hypothetical facts assumed to be true on an application to strike out.”
Are we clear, so far? The strike-out application did not provide any admissible grounds for my public interest defence to be struck out, and the judge made an error in law by doing it.
So, in her response to my appeal, Riley put forward a completely new case that was longer than the whole of her previous application to strike out all of my defences. Not allowed!
So in my appeal, I submitted that Riley should not be permitted to advance her new case, on the following grounds:
Whilst a respondent may provide “reasons different from or additional to those given by the lower court” it does not extend to mounting an entirely new case, unheralded in that lower court. It is confined to “reasons” which were open to the lower court, but which it did not rely on. In order for these reasons to have been open to the lower court, they had to have formed part of the respondent’s case. And these hadn’t.
It was incumbent on Riley to bring forward the entirety of her case in her original application. As a matter of procedural fairness it is objectionable for her to withhold the entirety of her application until my appeal.
This was addressed in the appeal hearing when my Counsel pointed out that the proper place for Riley to bring forward her new arguments was the High Court, and in not doing so, she had deprived me of the opportunity to consider and respond to them there – putting me (and contributors to my CrowdJustice fund) to the extra expense of an appeal court hearing that could otherwise have been prevented.
My public interest defence cannot be determined in the absence of my evidence as to my belief that publishing the statement complained of was in the public interest. Concerning as it does my subjective belief, this is an in inherently fact-sensitive inquiry. In the absence of a clear case that the defence is bound to fail – which this is not – it is not amenable to summary determination (in other words, strike-out by a judge on the basis of barristers’ arguments rather than on the basis of evidence).
Possibly the most important point is that my appeal had to be on a “pure point of law”. By the same token, Riley should not be permitted to raise a new case in the Court of Appeal because it is not a “pure point of law”.
So, having failed to put forward a permissible argument in the High Court, Riley had no right to make an entirely new and separate case against me in the Court of Appeal.
That said, I still had to show that her new arguments were wrong, so let’s look at them.
She claimed that the statements I made were not on a matter of public interest because:
It discloses no grounds capable of giving rise to a reasonable belief by me that publishing the statement complained of was in the public interest. Further or alternatively:
The particulars of the defence are deficient such that the pleaded defence stands to be struck out as being likely to obstruct the fair disposal of proceedings.
I responded without prejudice as follows, to Riley’s new case:
My defence (the original document, written in early 2020) pleads four matters of public interest addressed in the Article:
Online bullying and harassment including death threats; I highlighted the online bullying and harassment including death threats to which C has been exposed, as well as Rose.
The power of an adult celebrity compared to the relative powerlessness of a vulnerable child suffering anxiety.
Mental health; this point is connected with that of Riley’s power in comparison with that of her teenage victim, emphasising that the girl is a vulnerable person, quite apart from the fact that she was a child at the time of the events to which my article referred.
Riley’s contention is that none of the last three matters “is the focus or purpose of the article. None of these topics is examined in the article or forms any material part of it”. This is demonstrably wrong . Amazingly, she even made a general assertion to the effect that they aren’t even matters of public interest – although she did not provide overt arguments.
In respect of “Online bullying and harassment including death threats”, Riley does say that this is not a matter of public interest. This is a curious position for at least three reasons:
i) The article explains that Riley herself is the victim of such bullying, harassment and threats, as reported in a national newspaper. The first portion of the article is specifically concerned with The Guardian’s reportage and includes Riley’s own words.
ii) The article then sets up a counter-narrative by addressing the online bullying and harassment including death threats, suffered by the teenager. This remains a matter of public interest not least as it again concerns Riley, albeit as perpetrator, not victim.
iii) In terms of wider context, it is indisputable that online bullying and harassment is not just a matter of public interest, but pressing public interest – consider the recent Online Harms White Paper and Law Commission consultation on reform of communications offences (as I did, in my written submissions).
On the claim that I could not reasonably believe that my article was on matters of public interest, I had the following to say:
Riley was proceeding from a false premise – a limited selection of the tweets that formed the basis of my article. The full facts were not considered by the High Court. The judge excluded relevant tweets showing that the teenage victim was trying to retreat from the debate (and from the abuse she was receiving) – but Riley kept dragging her back to it, culminating in a thread on December 18 in which she said:
“I’m not finding Rachel Riley to be a nice person at all. I said I wanted to move on from this debate and end it, then she tweets me about retracting my comments after I said I stand by my opinion but will always listen to others.
“She said that she isn’t singling me out but all she has done has encouraged an onslaught onto me. I tried to be respectful and mature to her by saying I understood her stance but she’s just thrown it in my face.
“I may be sixteen but that doesn’t automatically make me an idiot. I will not sit here and let her dictate what I say and how I feel. I do not feel threatened by you, Rachel and I would have hoped you could have listened to everyone else’s opinions instead of just your own.”
According to Mrs Justice Collins Rice, the dialogue between Riley and this girl was entirely civilised and respectful until the teenage changed her attitude in January (nearly a month after this thread was published). The judge expressed the belief that other people had persuaded the girl to change her stance but this is clearly untrue.
No consideration is given to tweets by anybody other than Riley and her teenage victim.
In addition, the Twitter accounts of various third party followers of Riley’s, including their tweets, had since been deleted.
Riley does not challenge my belief in the public interest in publishing my article, whether in terms providing a counter-narrative to the Channel 4 News broadcast, The Times article, The Guardian article and her own widely-published tweets, or in highlighting perceived hypocrisy in her own treatment of the teenager or her record on anti-Semitism. These are not addressed.
These omissions are significant, as I will explain in his evidence at trial – should I ever get to provide it! I will demonstrate that:
a) The version of events presented in the mainstream media appeared incomplete. Riley was reported as being targeted by Labour supporters but the reportage did not detail how Riley had engaged with and attacked those same Labour supporters with whom she disagreed.
b) Primary sources in the form of the tweets of Riley, Tracy-Ann Oberman and the teenager were available and I checked them. Riley and Oberman are blue-tick Twitter celebrities whose tweets could be attributed to them (the blue tick on Twitter means the account is only used by the celebrity claiming ownership of it). I considered Rose’s tweets and the bullying narrative they conveyed (including those in which she specifically implicated Riley). I saw the abusive messages to which the girl had been subjected by Riley’s followers and noted the intensity and unpleasantness of the campaign waged against her and her father by Oberman, who had tagged Riley into her tweets. Oberman’s campaign coincided with Riley’s own tweets about Rose.
c) In my judgement this was a matter of public interest. It was not a minor Twitter spat. A child, who faced mental health challenges, reported being subject to online abuse culminating in death threats which had extended to attacks upon her parents. This was as a result of the conduct of adult celebrities whose power was wholly disproportionate to that of the child. The protections afforded to those adult celebrities were also disproportionate, Riley receiving extra security in her role as a television presenter whereas no protections were available to the child. There was a wider context to the hypocrisy alleged against Riley, given her record concerning anti-Semitism.
d) Riley’s story was prominent in national broadcast and print media and had been publicised on Twitter to her 600,000-plus followers. By contrast, the girl’s story had a much narrower audience. I sought to draw the public’s attention to both stories in parallel, highlighting a counter-narrative which in his judgement was of public interest.
e) I published urgently – at my earliest opportunity – in order to challenge the narrative in the mainstream media most recently conveyed in newspaper articles that morning. I am an experienced journalist. The decisions I made with regard to the article were in the exercise of my editorial judgement.
This is only a summary of the evidence I will give. But it serves to illustrate that my reasonable belief is unsuitable for summary determination by any judge in the absence of actually hearing my evidence.
Nevertheless, Riley squarely challenged the honesty of my belief that publishing the statement was in the public interest. To say, as my Counsel did, that “This is objectionable” is a devastating understatement. I take deep offence to unevidenced claims that I am a liar and of course no judge should ever support unevidenced claims made in a courtroom. Case law must be about facts, not fanciful tittle-tattle from the top of a TV game show girl’s head.
Put another way: “dishonesty must be specifically alleged and sufficiently particularised” and “The purpose of giving particulars is to allow the defendant to know the case he has to meet” – Sofer v Swissindependent Trustees SA  EWCA Civ 699 per Arnold LJ at paras 23(1) and 24(1). That’s your actual case law.
According to the Defamation Act, when considering a public interest defence, “the court must make such allowance for editorial judgement as it considers appropriate”. Riley did not address my editorial judgement as described in my defence. Instead, she simply asserted that “the article as a whole was not on a matter of public interest”. This assertion is untenable.
That is the gist of what I said in my written submissions to the court, and what Riley’s Counsel (and the judges, at times) tried to argue against.
When the judges announced they were retiring, after the evidence had been heard on Tuesday (April 27), I thought they were going to come out with a verdict straight away – that they had already made up their minds.
It was a huge surprise when they said they were reserving judgment and would submit it in written form in the future. On the day I tweeted that this may be because – as the public interest defence is a new area of law – they need to consider the possible repercussions of any decision in either direction.
As time stretches on, I don’t mind admitting that there have been discussions about whether the judges are trying to find an excuse for a verdict against me.
If that happens – well, you’ve seen the arguments. You can see that they are all on my side.
And it’s only a short hop to the Supreme Court.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Houses: are their mortgages competitive or will buyers become ‘mortgage prisoners’ because of decisions made, not by them, but by the Tory government?
Is this part of that “bonfire of red tape” that David Cameron and his cronies were trumpeting a few years ago?
I wonder how many of the quarter-of-a-million so-called “mortgage prisoners” merrily voted Tory in the belief that this meant they would find it easier to switch lenders.
And I wonder how they feel, now they know that the opposite is the case.
The salt in their wound, of course, is the fact that it is the Tory government itself that sold their mortgages to unregulated lenders – and is now blocking a change in the law that would help them.
Tougher affordability checks have made it hard to change lenders if a home owner’s mortgage is large compared to the price of their house, if they are close to retirement or have bad credit.
While many lenders are able to switch to different deals with the same lenders, that have lower interest rates, around 250,000 are blocked from doing this because the lenders to whom the Treasury sold their mortgages don’t offer such deals.
The upshot is that they are stuck forking out two or three times what they would pay in a competitive mortgage.
The House of Lords has passed an amendment to the Financial Services Act to cap rates for borrowers in that position, but government whips are instructing Conservative MPs to vote against the amendment on Monday.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak reckons capping the interest rate would be “unfair” on other borrowers.
I don’t see why. How is it unfair to let these people have the same deal as everybody else?
Or does Sunak mean it would be unfair on the lenders to deprive them of one- or two-thirds of their profits?
Should we perhaps be asking questions about how the Treasury chose these particular firms to receive these particular mortgages?
Is this another aspect of the lobbying scandal that we have yet to grasp?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Smirking: Yet again, Jeremy Hunt seems to have got away with it.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is a criminal.
He may never go to prison for his offence because he is a Conservative cabinet member and that means corruption – but we can all see the truth of it.
Hunt bought seven luxury flats in Southampton with his wife – they acted as a company called Mare Pond Properties – then failed to notify the Register of Members’ Interests in Parliament within the required 28-day period, or Companies House. When the registration documents were filed in September 2017 only his wife was named, constituting a breach of regulations. His failure to declare his interest to Companies House is a criminal offence. It took him months to rectify these omissions.
According to The Guardian, “He also breached the Companies Act, which requires anyone with more than 25 per cent control of a company to be declared ‘a person with significant control’. The act was introduced by David Cameron’s government in 2015 to tackle money laundering and came into force the following year.”
Hunt says these were genuine errors – an “honest mistake”.
His spokesperson said Hunt notified the Cabinet Office in good time but did not realise he was supposed to register the holdings with the other organisations.
Do you believe that? Even if you do, does it make a difference?
Mr @Jeremy_Hunt should resign, unless members of the public only need to say sorry when they breach anti-money laundering legislation. The double standards are astonishing.
They are indeed. In addition to the new offences against money-laundering legislation, Mr Hunt is also a tax dodger, having avoided £100,000 in tax in 2010, days before a 10 per cent rise in the tax on dividends in April 2010.
Let’s let the Telegraph, of all periodicals, explain:
“[Mr Hunt] and his business partner, Mike Elms, transferred ownership of their company’s office building in Hammersmith into their own names in April 2010, just before the tax rate for the transaction rose to 42.5 per cent. They then leased the property back to Hotcourses, their jointly owned education company, for 10 years.
“By paying themselves the building as a dividend before the change in tax rules, the two men saved themselves an income tax bill of £202,000 on the £1.8 million deal, by paying tax on it at the rate of 32.5 per cent. The company now pays them £60,750 a year in rent. No stamp duty was payable on the property, which at the time would have been 4 per cent.”
The Tory government is adamant that there is nothing to be done about this. Hunt has apologised and the matter is closed.
Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett disagrees. He has referred the case to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. He said: “Faith in politics and politicians is at a historic low. Any minister flouting the rules designed to prevent big financial interests corrupting politics must be held to account, especially when that minister’s own government introduced the rules.”
What do you think, though?
Vox Political needs your help! If you want to support this site
(but don’t want to give your money to advertisers) you can make a one-off donation here:
Here are four ways to be sure you’re among the first to know what’s going on.
1) Register with us by clicking on ‘Subscribe’ (in the left margin). You can then receive notifications of every new article that is posted here.
Labour expressed ‘grave concern’ about Esther McVey because HSE prohibition notices are an area covered by the DWP [Image: Alastair Grant/AP].
The government wants you to think there’s nothing to this.
Esther McVey, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, was a director of a company served with health and safety prohibition notices in the past – and this is problematic because it’s an area covered by the DWP.
The Tories are saying it’s no big deal – but this is a 180-degree about-face from the situation when she became Employment Minister.
That was in 2013 – 10 years after the notices were served on JG McVey and Co because of unsafe scaffolding. Ms McVey’s brief would have included oversight of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) but that element of her job was removed after her connection to the infringements became clear.
So the question is simple:
If it was sufficient reason to prohibit Ms McVey from responsibility for the HSE then, why isn’t it sufficient reason now?
This seems to be a subject the government is keen to avoid – and the message appears to have been passed down to its compliant media.
When Barry Gardiner raised the subject on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, presenter Sarah Smith tried to shut him up.
Quite rightly, he stuck to his guns, as this clip from the Skwawkbox blog shows:
The issue seems to be clear: If Ms McVey was incapable of preventing breaches of Health and Safety law as a company director, how can the public have faith that she can correctly carry out her duty in that respect, as Secretary of State?
The Departmental spokesperson’s claim that the compliance notices were handled “to a satisfactory standard at the time” is neither here nor there.
We have no evidence that Ms McVey understood the reasons for the enforcement notice – and, after being a part of a government that participated in a wholesale “bonfire” of “red tape”, that she ever understood the need for such things.
How can we expect her to do her duty properly?
Better not to risk any wrong decisions. Better not to give her the opportunity. Better to admit Ms McVey’s appointment was a mistake.
But Theresa May doesn’t have the right qualities. She has too much arrogance and not enough courage.
So we must wait for the mistakes to happen and highlight any cover-ups that may follow.
Labour has called on Theresa May to rethink the appointment of Esther McVey as work and pensions secretary because McVey was a director of a demolition company served with health and safety prohibition notices, an area covered by her department.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, has written to the prime minister saying he had grave concern about McVey’s promotion in this week’s reshuffle because of the two notices served on the firm in 2003 owing to unsafe scaffolding.
The notices from the Health and Safety Executive were against JG McVey and Co, a now-closed firm run by McVey’s father. Esther McVey was a director of the company from February 2003 to March 2006.
In July 2003, HSE inspectors issued an immediate prohibition notice, stopping work at a demolition site in Liverpool after workers were seen using scaffolding without proper protective edge rails. In September that year, work was halted on the site for the same reason.
In 2013, McVey was made employment minister in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), a brief which initially included oversight of the HSE. However, after her connection to the infringements came to light, that element of the job was removed.
As work and pensions secretary – a job she gained after Justine Greening opted to leave the government rather than take on the brief – McVey now has overall responsibility for workplace health and safety among her duties.
Theresa May has pledged to listen to young people. This is what she looks like when she tries [Image: Getty].
It’s also too obviously focused on the privileged young.
The announcement that tuition fees will be frozen is pointless, coming as it does after a rise of £250 a year was introduced earlier this month. When tuition fees were brought in, by Tony Blair’s New Labour, they were pegged at £1,000 per year and means-tested. Considering the astronomical increases since then – mostly under the Tories – it seems clear that Mrs May’s party has already done its worst here.
An increase in the repayment threshold will mean little to people who do not earn much after finishing their university courses as they are never likely to earn enough to do any more than pay interest on their loans. The offer to consider cutting interest rates on student loans is neither here nor there. Theresa May will probably u-turn on it as soon as it becomes expedient to do so.
Obviously, considering the cost of tuition fees and the debt burden of loans, being a student is now an occupation intended for the very rich; these are offers to the privileged, not to the population at large.
As for Help to Buy, which is intended to allow first-time buyers to get a mortgage – the scheme has been hit by several scandals: Some buyers were forced to pay ground rent at prices that increased hugely; others on Help-to-Buy ISAs found they could not use the money to actually buy a house. And in the meantime the scheme created an artificial increase in house prices, making them even less affordable for people on average or below-average wages.
So, again, this is a concession to the rich. It would be a trap for the poor.
It seems incredible that the media are touting this as Theresa May’s answer to Labour’s overwhelming popularity among young voters.
All anybody younger than 24 has to do is think about it, and they’ll never want to vote Tory again in their lives. I predict a u-turn on the whole idea.
Theresa May is set to announce that tuition fees will be frozen at £9,250, as part of an effort by the Tories to appeal to younger voters.
Speaking ahead of the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister told the Sun on Sunday there will be an increase in the repayment threshold, meaning graduates only start paying their loans back once they are earning £25,000.
The changes to the loan system will be accompanied with another pledge to extend the Help to Buy scheme, with Ms May acknowledging that the generation gap in terms of wealth and opportunity has opened up in the country.
With the number of first-time buyers falling steadily, the Prime Minister will pledge another £10 billion to expand the Help to Buy scheme, which attracted criticism for artificially inflating prices in the already overheated London housing market.
The extra funding will go to a further 135,000 first-time buyers, allowing them to get a mortgage on a new-built home with a deposit of just five per cent.
The Conservatives are also considering cutting interest rates on student loan repayments – which have rocketed for recent graduates.
As his name tag (‘Michael Green’) shows, Grant Shapps is not a novice in the art of bending the facts.
Remember when Vox Political took issue with Grant Shapps over the business he ran while sitting as a member of Parliament?
Back in October 2013, this blog stated: “As ‘Michael Green’, in the run-up to the 2005 election and afterwards, he “charged clients £183 an hour for advice on how to make money from the web as well as offering tips on how to beat the recession blues, including splashing out on a jet-ski or learning to play the guitar,” according to the Daily Mail. Apparently he said his use of the name was to keep his business interests separate from his future political work, but he ended his involvement with that business in 2009, four years after he entered Parliament.
“‘Sebastian Fox’ was another alias he used on Howtocorp, the web publishing company he created in 2000.”
Today – March 16, 2015 – the BBC tells us: “Mr Shapps admitted he had ‘over firmly’ denied continuing his writing career – under the pen name Michael Green – when he entered the Commons in 2005.
“In an interview with LBC Radio three weeks ago, Mr Shapps said it was ‘absolutely clear’ he was not doing business as Michael Green while he was an MP, saying ‘I did not have a second job while being an MP, end of story’.
“However, Mr Shapps has now acknowledged that he was mistaken ‘over the dates’ of his outside employment during the interview.”
“This came after the Guardian issued what it says is a recording of a sales pitch made in the summer of 2006 in which Mr Shapps, using his Michael Green pen name, says he will be running his ‘mentoring programme’ to hire staff and produce software to create websites.”
Shapps has told us he fully declared all his business interests, but Labour wants an inquiry. After all – if he can get his dates mixed up in a radio interview, who knows what else he has “over firmly” denied?
Meanwhile, the fact he was making a sales pitch in 2006, at a time when he reckoned he was “winding up” the business, suggests that Vox Political was right to pick up on it.
As Labour MP Chris Bryant said in a tweet yesterday, “So, basically, Grant Shapps has been fibbing all the while. Is that right? Or was it Michael Green that was fibbing?”
This writer responded: “Definitely Grant Shapps. Michael Green only does what Shapps says.”
Cameron’s attitude to Parliamentary corruption: When he brought in the Lobbying Act, it ensured that rich corporations had unfettered access to MPs and the Prime Minister himself.
The Labour Party is banning its MPs from holding paid directorships and consultancies, to ensure that their only interest is their duty to their constituents.
Labour MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates have been put on notice that, from the coming General Election, the party’s standing orders will be changed to prevent them holding such second jobs.
The measure, which Ed Miliband has confirmed will be included in the party’s manifesto, would ensure no Labour MP holds a paid directorship or consultancy.
Labour is also consulting on legislative measures including placing a strict cap – similar to one that exists for members of the US Congress – on any additional money they can earn beyond their salary as representatives of the people.
Mr Miliband’s actions follow a series of allegations over recent years, about how MPs from both sides of the House of Commons have risked a conflict of interest by seeking or taking paid work from outside organisations.
Most recently, former Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw (Labour) and Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative) were secretly filmed apparently offering their services to a private company for cash.
It is claimed Mr Straw – a major figure in New Labour – said he had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who is chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, is reported to have told reporters posing as representatives of a fake Chinese firm that he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world.
Mr Miliband has written to Tory leader David Cameron, challenging him to impose on Conservative MPs the same restrictions as are being placed on Labour’s.
The letter states: “I write … not just as leader of the Labour Party but as someone who believes that we all need to act to improve the reputation of our Parliament in the eyes of the British people.
“The British people need to know that when they vote they are electing someone who will represent them directly, and not be swayed by what they may owe to the interests of others.”
He added that Labour “is also consulting on legislation to make this a statutory ban, as well as imposing a strict cap on all outside earnings by MPs”.
Vox Political applauds this move by Mr Miliband and Labour.
Long-term readers may remember this site’s e-petition, on the government’s website, to ban MPs from speaking or voting in debates on matters which could lead to them, companies connected with them or donors to their political party, gaining money.
Labour’s move goes further than that, by banning MPs from having any financial connection with commercial operations and interests.
It seems unlikely that Mr Cameron will do the honourable thing, though.
He has removed the party whip from Rifkind, but said he has no control over the chairmanship of the Intelligence committee. Rifkind has stated that he will not willingly step down from it.
Cameron said he approves of MPs having second jobs.
He said Labour would allow someone to be a trade union official but not “to run the family shop” or something similar, which is a gross misinterpretation of the issue.
This is not about running family shops; it is about taking money from huge corporations, to impose commercial priorities on the nation to the detriment of the general public. But Cameron will never admit that, or speak out against it.
The Resolution Foundation’s predictions for government spending, based on the different parties’ declared plans.
Vox Political’s article on Nicola Sturgeon’s London speech provoked a disgruntled response from Jonathan Portes. The NIESR boss sent a message stating that the article’s fiscal arguments were out of whack.
He didn’t ask for this blog to straighten them out, but the information he sent, coupled with some other pieces he suggested – by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis and the Resolution Foundation – make it inevitable that another stab is required. If you support the SNP, you’re still not going to like it.
The first comment from Mr Portes is as follows: “1. SNP plan is slower deficit reduction than Lab/LDs, which in turn slower than Cons. All consistent with falling debt/GDP ratio. So all are sustainable. Haven’t looked at detail, but Simon WL & I both think Lab too cautious – so SNP not obviously crazy.”
Simon Wren-Lewis’s article states: “In reality what Sturgeon was proposing was still deficit and debt reduction, but just not at the pace currently proposed by Labour.”
And the Resolution Foundation adds: “The SNP would commit to delivering existing 2015-16 plans, as each of the Westminster parties have, before changing course.”
There’s a major point to make here, which all three of the sources above have missed. It’s that the SNP and its adherents have been cursing Labour from High Heaven to Low Hell for committing to Tory austerity policies because Ed Balls promised a Labour government would stick to Coalition spending – note that word, spending – limits for the first year after the general election.
Why have SNP adherents been slating Labour when the SNP has committed itself to the exact same Conservative spending limits, for the exact same period of time? Doesn’t this also make the SNP a party of austerity?
This leads us neatly to a point made by the Resolution Foundation. Ms Sturgeon wants to put a lot of space between SNP plans and those of Labour by claiming that Labour is committed to eliminating the UK’s structural deficit by 2017-18. They say Labour signed up to that when it voted to support the Charter for Budget Responsibility. You may recall there was another big fuss about Labour supporting Tory austerity, being just the same as the Tories, and there being only 17 MPs who oppose austerity (the number who voted against the CBR). Bunkum, according to the Resolution Foundation.
“The ‘Charter for Budget Responsibility’ is highly elastic: it’s not based on a firm commitment to reach balance in 2017-18,” states the Resolution Foundation article. “Instead it represents a rolling ‘aim’ of planning to reach current balance three years down the road.” The article adds: “Most economists are sceptical about how much difference it (the charter) will make.
“So what if Labour targets a current balance in 2019-20 instead? Based on current OBR assumptions this could be achieved with as little as £7 billion of fiscal consolidation in the four years to 2019-20 (including the cost of extra debt interest).”
Labour has made it clear that it plans to make only £7 billion of cuts. As this coincides exactly with the Resolution Foundation’s figures for a 2019-20 budget balance, logic suggests that this is most likely to be what Ed Balls is planning.
So SNP (and Green) adherents who crowed about Labour austerity being as bad as that of the Tories need to apologise – sharpish.
Now that these points are cleared up, let’s look at the substantive issue. Here’s the Resolution Foundation again: “The first minister’s headline was that she favours £180 billion of extra spending in the next parliament relative to current coalition plans… an increase in ‘departmental spending’ of 0.5 per cent a year in real terms over four years [we’ve established that the first year’s spending would adhere to Coalition-planned spending levels]. Our estimates suggest that raising departmental spending by 0.5 per cent in each of the four years after 2015-16 would indeed yield a cumulative increase in spending of around £180 billion (in 2019-20 prices, £160bn in today’s) compared to existing coalition plans. So that seems to fit.
“Another, more conventional, way of putting this is that in the final year of the next parliament, departmental spending would be around £60 billion higher in the SNP scenario than it would be under the coalition’s outline plans. This means that departmental spending would end up in roughly the same place in 2019-20 (in real terms) as it is now. We’d see £8 billion or so of departmental cuts in 2015-16 broadly cancelled out by a rise of around £7 billion across the following four years. It also means that, all else equal, there would still be a (small) UK-wide current deficit come the 2020 election.”
As you can see from the graph, the scenario that suggests a Labour balance in 2017-18 would imply a big difference with the SNP, particularly in the first half of the next Parliament – but, come 2019-20, “there would still be a £48 billion gap between Labour and the coalition plans; not that far short of the £60 billion gap that would exist between the SNP and the coalition”.
The scenario in which Labour balances its budget by 2019-20 “would in theory be consistent with spending roughly £140 billion more than coalition plans.
“The SNP proposal implies increases in total departmental spending of £1-2 billion per year over four years whereas Labour’s 2019-20 scenario implies cuts of £1-2 billion per year over the same period. This is against total departmental spending of around £350 billion. By 2019-20 this difference adds up to roughly a £14 billion gap between the two parties. Now, that’s a real difference but given the scale of the numbers involved, (and the fact that some of Labour’s consolidation may come from tax increases rather than spending cuts), it’s also a relatively modest one.”
It’s more or less the same amount the Coalition Government borrows every month, in fact.
Now let’s throw a spanner in the SNP’s works. The Resolution Foundation points out: “Fiscal discussions of this type tend to suffer from a severe case of false precision. None of the party leaders knows any better than you or I what will happen to productivity next year, never mind in 2020… Any difference between, say, the Labour and SNP spending plans would be dwarfed by the fiscal implications of even modest boosts (or dips) in productivity. Indeed, even the very large difference between the SNP (or Labour) and the coalition’s plans could be overshadowed by a significant shift in productivity trends. And, to Sturgeon’s credit, her remarks this week emphasised productivity.”
Yes – productivity. Does anybody remember that, prior to the referendum, the SNP wanted Scottish voters to believe that any borrowing that might be necessary in an independent Scotland would be offset by increased productivity? What did Simon Wren-Lewis have to say about that? Oh yes: “Governments that try to borrow today in the hope of a more optimistic future are not behaving very responsibly.”
But that is exactly what Ms Sturgeon was proposing for the whole of the UK; borrowing on the assumption of increased productivity.
Here’s a chance to put another SNP myth to bed, from the same writer. In his article about Ms Sturgeon’s speech, Professor Wren-Lewis states: “Of course this is the same person who, with Alex Salmond, was only six months ago proposing a policy that would have put the people of Scotland in a far worse fiscal position than they currently are, an argument that has been reinforced so dramatically by the falling oil price. You could say that it is a little hypocritical to argue against UK austerity on the one hand, and be prepared to impose much greater austerity on your own people with the other.”
The argument he mentions ran as follows: “Scotland’s fiscal position would be worse as a result of leaving the UK for two main reasons. First, demographic trends are less favourable. Second, revenues from the North Sea are expected to decline. This tells us that under current policies Scotland would be getting an increasingly good deal out of being part of the UK [and therefore independence would be detrimental].”
He added that the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which had independently analysed the SNP figures, had made a mistake on interest rates. The IFS analysis, he wrote, “assumes that Scotland would have to pay the same rate of interest on its debt as the rUK. This has to be wrong. Even under the most favourable assumption of a new Scottish currency, Scotland could easily have to pay around one per cent more to borrow than rUK. In their original analysis the IFS look at the implications of that (p35), and the numbers are large.”
The Resolution Foundation notes that “the flipside of higher spending, all else equal, would be higher debt and higher debt interest payments”.
So the SNP plan, as this blog pointed out, could create an interest-payment problem for the next government that bites into the extra money said to be for services.
Mr Portes made two other minor points, as follows: “2. Your stuff about Lab could spend more if economy does better wrong way round. If economy worse, we need higher deficit. Over time, as income goes up, so does/should spending. But short-term macro should be countercyclical.”
When I wrote the material about Labour spending more in a better-performing economy, I was thinking of the Labour government immediately after World War II. The current Labour Party has mentioned this period in recent speeches and releases, and it seems clear that Messrs Miliband, Balls et al consider their task, if elected in May, to be similar to that faced by Mr Attlee and his party – the reconstruction of the UK after a long period of destruction.
Are we to believe the economy is likely to worsen, in which case more borrowing will be needed? It’s certainly possible that major shocks are on the horizon. This writer is in no position to speculate.
“3. Finally, stuff about credit rating agencies/bond markets/Greece is absurd propaganda. I’ve written on this many times.” He’s right; it wouldn’t have been included it if Yr Obdt Srvt had stopped to think about it, but the article was up against a deadline and this writer was throwing in all the cautionary words he could find.
So let us forget about them. Here are a few more. Simon Wren-Lewis, at the end of his article, notes: “I read a blog post recently that suggested this was an election Labour would be better off losing… A Labour government dependent on SNP support would be abandoned by the SNP at the moment of greatest political advantage to the SNP and disadvantage to Labour. However if we assume that the oil price stays low there is no way a rational SNP would want to go for independence again within the next five years. It might be much more to its long term advantage to appear to be representing Scotland in a responsible way as part of a pact with Labour.”
Is the SNP rational? All the evidence available so far suggests it isn’t.
It put forward arguments that were deceptive about an independent Scotland’s economic future.
Its representatives and followers spread lies about Labour economic policy.
All indications suggest the SNP will try to create the conditions required for Scottish independence at the earliest opportunity, and then leave the rest of the UK hanging.
The original article on Ms Sturgeon’s speech ended by saying the SNP would be hard to trust.
After the findings of this one, it is nigh-on impossible to do so.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.