This weekend, the News of the World’s political editor, Euan McColm, called for Socialist Unity to be closed down by the police:
Andy Newman, boss of Ultra-left website Socialist Unity has been doing his best to stir up hatred against those who gave evidence against Sheridan. He’s publishing veiled threats against them on his site, cops should shut him down-NOW
Readers of Harry’s Place will know that we do not share Socialist Unity’s politics. In fact, as supporters of liberal, democratic and pluralist politics, and as opponents of Trotskyism and Stalinism, we’d regard ourselves as its polar opposite.
I followed Socialist Unity’s coverage of the Sheridan conviction, closely. It is clear that the website’s line was that witnesses should not have given evidence against Sheridan, and that those who did were regarded as “scabs”. This article, by the male model and racist, John Wight, was particularly disgusting. However, as Andy Newman says, they did not contain “veiled threats”.
Possibly, there were such threats contained in comments posted on the site. Knowing Andy Newman as an opponent, I cannot believe that he would support or endorse any such threat.
On a number of occasions, we’ve considered closing comments on Harry’s Place altogether. Legal concerns are one of the reasons for doing so. As Andy Newman points out:
We do allow a fairly liberal comments policy at Socialist Unity, and the animosity between those who found themselves on different sides of the court cases has been reflected in the comments threads. Comments from both sides were heated: but as Phil at AVPS observes:
McColm takes umbrage at threats supposedly made against witnesses for the prosecution in SU’s comments boxes. While the recent threads were some of the most unpleasant I’ve seen (you’ve got to ask what someone new to socialism made of them), this reflects real life feelings around an issue that has become a dividing line for large parts of the far left. What threats there is were the kind of silly bravado you expect to surface in any heated internet dispute. If one wants to be consistent, applying McColm’s definition of ‘threat’ would see about 90% of Britain’s political blogging scene come under police scrutiny.
However the real danger comes with the idea that a blog proprietor is personally responsible for the content of comments published by third parties on their blog. If that principle is followed then political blogging will become impossible. For the News of the World to single out a blogger by name and call for police action is an extraordinary act of attempted intimidation.
Of course, in reality Euan McColm knows that we have not stirred up hatred, that there were no veiled threats against prosecution witnesses, and that the police have no grounds to investigate our website.
I wish I could share Andy Newman’s confidence that the police will not come knocking. Let us not forget the outcome of the Twitter Bomb Threat Trial. Or the arrest of Tory Councillor, Gareth Compton for an off the cuff remark about Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Or the visit that our own guest bloger, Joseph Weissman, received from the police as a result of his investigative blogging about links between the far Right, Islamist groups, and the Rev Stephen Sizer. The police told him to delete his blog and, intimidated, he did. Before those incidents, who could have predicted that the law would be used in this manner?
I couldn’t disagree more with Socialist Unity about almost everything: but on this matter, I’m in solidarity with them.