Monday, February 12, 2007

Blog Wars and Think Tanks

I have said little on the so-called Blog Wars between Tim and Guido since my original post on the matter last month in which I predicted, correctly as it has turned out, that the debate would eventually polarise on political lines. Iain Dale has today called for an end to it, but that seems a forlorn hope at present.

As I said at the outset, I'm sitting on the fence on this one, and none of what follows should be construed as taking sides, but I have thought for some time that there is one aspect of this "war" that is deeply misguided, and about which I ought to speak out. This is the apparent attempt to smear Gordon Brown over his links with the Smith Institute, and the resulting revenge attacks on certain Tory bloggers over their links with the Policy Exchange.

The Smith Institute was set up in memory of the late John Smith. Believe it or not, Gordon Brown was very close to John Smith as a politician and still holds very similar ideas to him on a range of issues. Is it therefore a very great surprise that Brown and the Smith Institute have a close relationship? No, any more than it is a surprise that a would-be Conservative MP such as Iain Dale or a would-be Tory Mayor of London such as Nick Boles should be a trustees of a right-wing think tank, the Policy Exchange.

My point is that political think-tanks are a part of the political process, and have been at least since the days of Harold Wilson and Ted Heath. Some of these think-tanks are close to individual politicians. As I said about David Cameron's schoolboy toking earlier today, big fucking deal.

Feb 14 update: That's enough blog wars - Ed. Comments on this thread will remain open, but the main debate is continuing elsewhere and I think I've said what I have to say on the matter for the time being.

I do have some sympathy with Tim Ireland's view that the blogosphere is a community in which people owe eachother some sort of obligation of good behaviour - as a socialist I would make the same argument about society generally - but I also accept that individual bloggers like Guido have a perfect right to run their blogs in the way they choose, and that there is no sense trying to enforce a "code of etiquette" without more widespread consent for that. End of communication.

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Anonymous said...

The Sith are being investigated for a second time by the Charities Commission. What exactly would you condemn or will you always stay on the fence?

Paul Linford said...

What I am condemning is politically-motivated attempts to smear Gordon Brown, and the resulting, equally politically-motivated attempts to smear Tory politicians in return.

Irrespective of the whole debate about blog etiquette, astroturfers, sock puppets and the rest, this aspect of the "blog wars" simply stinks.

Iain Dale said...

This has nothing to do with smearing Gordon Brown. It is a legitimate complaint that 11 Downing Street was used for 200 meetings by the Smith Institute. 11 Downing Street is paid for by the tax payer. This was cash for access and nothing else. Is this not a legitimate area for inquiry? The comparison with Policy Exchange is ridiculous as they are not accused of any such thing.

Anonymous said...

I really wish people would stop calling this tea cup storm a war...

Anyone who truly thinks this has been/is a blog war is going to get a real shock in the run up to the next General Election.

Anonymous said...


These 'think tanks' are registered charities and as such are obliged to be non-partisan.

Yes they can have different ideologies but they must work in this non partisan manner.

It could be argued that neither the Smith Institue nor the Policy Exchange appear to operate in such a non partisan fashion.

If that is true it contravienes their charitable status.

Whilst Iain is correct in saying the Policy Exchange does not use 11 Downing Street it is not true to say other apparent similarities do not exist.

I would be interested in your opinion on the charitable status of 'think tanks' in general - surely this is just a tax avoidance ploy, that's fine but they should then live by the rules.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think Leon is right as it happens, and what we're seeing now is probably a foretaste of what things will be like once Gordo and Dave and their respective supporters in the blogosphere go head to head.

Paul Burgin said...

The acid test is whether Iain and Guido would complain about what Gordon did if it was a Conservative Govt and a Conservative Chancellor! If the ready answer is yes, then fair enough but I beg to disagree. If the answer is no, then I am not that impressed.
I don't think they, or anyone else are consciously smearing Gordon (although some out there probably are, in any case for all my political disagreements with Iain I have some respect for him), but there is a subconscious attitude with many in political parties to be very forgiving and giving the benefit of the doubt with their own, whilst being quick to criticise the opposition over similar issues.

Garry said...

"...resulting revenge attacks..."

Can't speak for anyone else by that certainly wasn't my motivation. I believe both main parties (and possibly the Lib Dems too) have relationships with think tanks which are, let's say, questionable.

Despite what some have suggested, I've no brief for Labour or for Brown. (For the record, I've never been a member of any political party and consider myself non-aligned left/centre.) I'm not interested in shutting down any investigation into Brown and Smith. If there's something there, we'll find out soon enough.

My interest was in the suggestion that those questioning the one relationship would be less than open and transparent if people started questioning the other. Won't rehash it all here (and have no intention of discussing this with Iain on someone else's thread) but I just wanted to say that it was the possibility of a "Pots and Kettles" aspect which motivated me, not revenge.

Anonymous said...

No one's smearing Gordon Brown , the Smith Institute is being investigated for the second time by the Charity Commission , not I might add , an organisation known to be partisan or even that pro-active. Why do you imagine this investigation is taking place Paul?????
To say you're sitting on the fence is not credible and disingenuous. To borrow your phrase the Smith Institute 'simply stinks'. Amazing how the immensely powerful Gordon gets such an easy ride but relatively humble Iain is hauled over the coals for asking legitimate questions of power. Interesting also to see regicidal traitor Tom Watson has popped out of the woodwork to pontificate loftily on this, what a reputation for courtesy and loyalty he has. Gordon does not have some kind of papal infallibility or inviolability. Time you woke up to the realities of power and the powerful Paul.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is a crock.

Iain Dale - what about the CPS and access to Thatch? The outrageous double standards of you Tories knows no bounds! Paid any of those dodgy foreign loans back yet?

What's your boss saying about cannabis classification now?

Anonymous said...

Quite a bit to go at there...


Interested in what you mean by the phrase "cash-for-access." This implies that Gordon was taking backhanders for allowing the SI access to No 11. You don't really think he would be that stupid, do you?

Andy W

The idea of political think-tanks as non-partisan is ludicrous. Think-tanks are players in the political process each with a distinct political ideology. I repeat, to expect an institute set up to further the work of John Smith not to be close to his political heir, Gordon Brown, is nonsensical.

Curious Hamster

Accepted, the phrase "revenge attack" was probably misplaced on my part, and that it was more your intention to point out what you saw as hypocrisy. But I stand by the view that neither the SI nor the Policy Exchange has actually done anything wrong here.


No, Gordon Brown does not have papal infallibility of inviolabality. I have been severely critical of him in the past over, for instance, his attitude to regional funding. But one thing he is not is a crook. You can criticise Gordon all you like for what he stands for politically, but attempts to drag him into the cash-for-questions affair or otherwise tar him with the brush of Labour sleaze will not succeed.

Anonymous said...

Further to above, I should also point out that if I believed Policy Exchange had done anything wrong, I would not be accepting advertising from them on this blog (via MessageSpace.)

Anonymous said...

Can't seem to comment using a google account - anyone know why? - Stalinsgran

stalin's gran said...

Now I can - partisan attacks? What else is there to do between postng "when I am next on the telly" or "who I got really drunk with because I am sort of part of the establishment now"?

Anonymous said...

Quite comical to see Guido resorting to legal threats in order not to be libelled himself. But the whole think outlines a more serious point - political blogging really has 3 choices. First choice is just to become totalled devalued by allowing a complete free for all confined to anoraks trading gratuitous insults (the status quo). 2nd choice is some form of legal regulation - the current libel law is now pretty unenforceable and it is difficult to draft some form of replacement which would work. The final alternative would be some form of self regulation - is there a way of rejecting/ridiculing those who resort to libel/abuse?

Anonymous said...

I think Guido had found a nice little niche in blogland for himself ,from what I could see he has a go at everbody ,left ,right,or centre, I can't see why Tim and his friends are jealous ,as there are some fine blogs out there and are even a better read than Guido's,as far a policing the blogs why, you make them illegal and what happens nothing, the jails are full, self regulation that will last for a least 5mins ,extend libel laws ,if the person has no money what's the use ,its a new way people communicate ,things will calm down, If you think your a net policeman please think again your not .

Unity said...

Paul > But I stand by the view that neither the SI nor the Policy Exchange has actually done anything wrong here.

Well yes and no, Paul.

Neither would appear to me to have done anything that would warrant deregistration but charities do have to be mindful of their 'public character' and both have sailed rather close to the mark - sufficient for the CC to issue them with 'guidance' on their future activities and how they comport themselves.

There is a wider issue of whether these kinds of policy think-tank should be considered charitable anyway, which is why the best option here would be a full regulatory review across the whole think-tank sector.

As for 'Guido' no one has actually libeled him and there is much more on that story to come, but so far as I'm aware, no one who is in possession of the full background to what's going on is making any claim of 'guilt by association' or considers him to be, or have ever been, a racist or fascist.

Can't say more for the moment, apart from that he's taking the opportunity to give his side of the story and more will be published in due course but I can state categorically and for the record that Guido is NOT a racist and anyone who tries to claim he is is not only libeling him but a complete fool as well.

What I will say is that he doesn't have a go at 'left, right and centre' equally, much as he puts up that pretense, and that has a degree of bearing on recent events.

Patience, everyone, all will be revealed in due course.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, I have never called Guido a racist either (although both Caroline Hunt and "Henry G" have called Tim Ireland a fascist.)

Anonymous said...

It is wrong to label Guido as a racist as a facist - but he is politically motivated (not a crime) and does make (or accept) comments that are libellous and unfairly upset and offend people. I for one care rather less about Guido being offended than most of his victims.

However - he is the most popular political blogger around - is there anything that can be done to deal with gutter blogging. I appreciate that the same thing happened with paper jounalism and that legal means are not the answer - but blogging is potentially more pervasive and damaging - and surely we can be more creative this time.

Anonymous said...

If politician's were open and honest in there dealing's ,and the way they see thing's ,and stopped trying to treat people like trash ,remind themselves that we employ them ,the HOC is not a club ,what happen's in the HOC effect's us all ,then we may not need political blogs ,until that happen's they get what they deserve even if it goes beyond the pale

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone could develop some standardised gutter blog ratings - for some fun please find my first stab at such ratings below:

Guido Dale Manic

Unsupported allegations/libel
9 4 2
6 4 5
Sense of humour failure
2 4 9
7 5 10
Furthering own career
1 10 1
Furthering own finances
10 10 1
Lack of tolerance of opposing views 8 6 8
Offensive language
9 2 2
8 8 6
Looks like a dogs dinner
2 3 10

Overall gutter blog rating(out of 100)
62 56 54

Unity said...

Paul > Just to clarify, I have never called Guido a racist either

I am aware of that, Paul.

Where this is coming from is an old story that resurfaced over the weekend that was briefly posted by Sunny and a few others, withdrawn and is now 'on hold' while 'Guido' gives his version of events.

The story is not quite what it appears to be and the circumstances behind it are a little complicated but it has been misconstrued by some as an attempt to smear Guido as a racist - which it isn't - and the sad thing is that most of misconceptions appear to be coming from people who think they're trying to defend 'Guido' when all they're actually doing is promoting a completely false picture of the original story.

I'm sure you'll understand me when I say that its one of those stories where the facts of the story are open to interpretation (and misinterpretation - in fact they're all too easily misinterpreted) and need to be presented in their proper context in order to convey an accurate account of events.

That's why things are on hold at the moment, as its important to get both right, as much for Guido's sake as for anything else.

Yes, this is a case of bloggers doing the homework that some journos claim we don't care about.

Anonymous said...

Some political blogs give me the idea that Im sitting in a deep cushioned seat, around a big log fire having a drink and excellent coversation ,other's sitting on a hard chair with a pint in my hand in the local Legion ,even some in a square ring waiting for an opponent.
All have there charms , would I ban any of above NO.

Anonymous said...


Am aware of the "old story" re Guido, and it sounds about as relevant to the present-day as David Cameron's schoolboy spliffs.

Anonymous said...


You wrote:-

Andy W

The idea of political think-tanks as non-partisan is ludicrous. Think-tanks are players in the political process each with a distinct political ideology. I repeat, to expect an institute set up to further the work of John Smith not to be close to his political heir, Gordon Brown, is nonsensical.

Please check the charities commission CC9 publication -for example

The scope of charity

12. Although organisations that are established to pursue political purposes cannot be charities, campaigning and political activity may be carried out by recognised charities as a means of furthering their charitable purposes.

So a Charities can quite rightly create policies that are promoted by any political party (I would expect Oxfam or Save the Children to have very clear political policies)- I reiterate - organisations that are established to pursue political purposes cannot be charities - you state - Think-tanks are players in the political process -. I think you make my point - it would appear that they are political organisations and hence not charites.

Unity appears to have good expertise in this area.

Anonymous said...

Andy W

But you have to look at what constitutes a charatable purpose under the Charities Act - if you look at the Commissioners website this definition is actually very wide e.g. advancement of education, advancement of citizenship, prevention of poverty, promotion of industry and commerce - the only thing that would seem to be out is the overt promotion of political parties.

The reality is that someone has to decide whether political think tanks are a "public good" or not - and therefore exempted from taxation on any surpluses which they generate. To date the Commissioners have taken the view that they are - and have allowed think tanks from across the spectrum to take advantage of charitable status. The attack on the Smith Institute's status is just mischief making - there are Tory and Lib Dem (e.g. Joseph Rowntree) which do exactly the same thing.

Any idiot can submit a complaint form to the Commissioners who have no alternative but to look into it - but I an sure that after proper consideration, and restatement of the current position, nothing will come of it (and no doubt Guido will make a contribution to cover the waste of public funds that he is responsible for)

Praguetory said...

Blogging policeman dropping his ethical standards? Thin-skinned Brownite MP breaks the golden rule.

HenryG said...

I've never called Tim Ireland a fascist. I don't even know who he is. Fascism is too serious a subject to toss around as a cheap jibe. Could you point out the post where I've called someone a fascist?

Paul Linford said...

Henry G

Sincere apologies. The post in question appeared on Caroline Hunt's blog and was evidently made by another Henry.