Screwloose by name, Screwloose by ...

On more than one occasion in the last few weeks, reporters have gone round the streets of our towns and cities in Wales with photographs of three politicians ... only to find that very few people had the slightest idea who they were.

Some people have tried hard to put memorable names to one of those faces. "Huey Lewis" was an obvious choice, but already taken. Betsan Powys—although not the first to do so—came very much closer with "Who-he Lewis" ... but even that valiant effort to make the name of the AM for Merthyr and Rhymni stick in the memory failed.

     

Last week the Cambria Politico blog carried a post called "Screwloose looses the thread". Yet before many of us had a chance to notice—let alone read it—it was withdrawn. It was withdrawn in response to this email:

Dear Editor

Further to my phone message this afternoon and my conversation with Clive Betts, I’m writing to inform you that I am making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission regarding defamation in the above piece and in regards to how the article relates to the following sections of the PCC Code.

1. (i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

4. (i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

12. Discrimination (i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

Leaving the entirely puerile tone to one side, there is a clear implication running through the piece that Labour AM, Huw Lewis, suffers from a mental health problem. This is an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion.

I would like to know what your publication guidelines are for Cambria Magazine and the accompanying blog, which is registered to the magazine.

Where does editorial control lie?

I am also reporting this matter to Claire Clancy, the Head of the Assembly Commission in order that she may review ongoing concerns in relation to the conduct of Cambria Magazine in relation to Members of the National Assembly for Wales, with particular regard to article 4 of the PCC code.

I am also asking for legal advice in relation to taking the matter forward relating to the specific blog post.

For your information, Clive Betts today denied to me directly that he wrote this piece and is therefore not responsible for its content. I have to accept his word on that matter.

Mr Betts also denied knowing who did write the piece and who was responsible for the publication of the blog. A statement which I believe to be untrue. I look forward to your clarification on who the blog author is.

Whilst these matters are being taken forward, I would like this blog post removed immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Greenough

Office of Huw Lewis AM & Lynne Neagle AM

matt.greenough@wales.gov.uk

Tel: 029 2089 8752
Fax: 029 2089 8387

National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff Bay CF99 1NA

Source

At this point, I did take notice. Not so long ago George Monbiot published a frightening article on the way England's libel laws can operate in practice. This is one paragraph from it:

Eady’s clerk tells me that the judge doesn’t want to comment, but I expect he would answer that he was merely applying the law. And, though his interpretation is draconian, the sad truth is that he would be right. Long before Eady’s reign of terror began, gangsters like Robert Maxwell were using the defamation laws to sue the backside off anyone who tried to investigate their crooked affairs. Such are the perversities of this law that the English courts can be used by criminals to prevent exposure of their crimes. With average costs 140 times higher than those of other European countries, libel proceedings here can be defended only by people – like the admirable Mr Singh – who have a lot of money and a lot of guts. Until the law is changed, men like Mr Justice Eady will continue to hold free speech to ransom.

The Hanging Judge - 19 October 2009

By clicking the link, we can see the full article and its footnotes in context, but the part that is of particular concern is that English libel law, even though it might be justified in principle, actually operates in a way that is completely out of balance. The law is weighted, by a factor of 140, in favour of one party ... and this in effect means that free speech can much more easily be silenced by the mere threat of taking action, rather than by whether such action has any reasonable basis.

For that reason, I thought that the formal complaints and threat of legal action from Mr Lewis' office needed to be brought to wider attention. So I wrote this post:

     "Totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass"

I was not the only one who wrote about it. Che Grav-ara, on Guerrilla Welsh-Fare, posted about it here and here. At the time neither of us knew, or at least could not recall, what the original post had said, but I felt certain that it would come to light somewhere.

And indeed, that is exactly what happened. The original article was republished, and we can all read it here.

It is quite obvious that nothing in the original post could by any normal stretch of the imagination imply that the AM "suffers from a mental health problem". Nor could it, by any normal stretch of the imagination, be called "an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion".

It was merely ridicule ... though perhaps it was a little crass.

The way things progressed from there can be followed in the comments on the respective blogs. I was angered by what Mr Lewis had tried to do but, even so, I thought it would be wise to allow him the opportunity to either dissociate himself from the email if it was not instigated by him, or to apologize for it if it was. Either way, of course, he is the one responsible for what his own office sends out ... but it would have been to his credit if he had seen fit to take any action to defuse the matter.

-

Several days have passed, and he has chosen not to do so. Perhaps—and with some justification—he could argue that he was in the middle of an election campaign. But equally, if he was so busy campaigning, why on earth would he let time be spent in telephone conversations, in emails, in making a formal complaint to Press Complaints Commission, in reporting the matter to the Head of the Assembly Commission and in taking legal advice? If his campaign could find enough time to do all that, then he could certainly have found enough time to act to put things right.

I think there can only be two explanations. The first is that Mr Lewis never really intended to either make a complaint nor seek legal advice; that he was instead simply trying to intimidate Cambria Politico into a temporary silence while the campaign lasted in order to get the votes of those he was trying so hard to win over. The second is that he was pompous enough to believe that he was too important to be lampooned.

It was probably a mixture of both. But what does either say about the character and judgement of Mr Lewis? It shows him to be either a bully or a pompous oaf. The day we are not allowed to laugh at our politicians will be a dark day for us all.

-

Starting with Lleu Llaw Gyffes, we in Wales have a long tradition of people getting a name not chosen by their parents at birth, but earning it in later life as a reflection of their true attributes or character.

Screwloose has now earned his own name from his own actions.

I'm sure he won't like it. But tough. He fully deserves all the ridicule he is going to get for showing such poor character and judgement.

-

I would urge everyone who this blog has any influence over to now call him by the name he has earned for himself. People can read everything I've written on Syniadau, as well as what I've posted elsewhere. I trust you will see that I am not someone who usually resorts to name calling or gratuitous insults. If I have earned any credit for that, I would now like to cash some of it in by encouraging you all to make sure that this name sticks. We cannot allow politicians to get away with this sort of behaviour.

I certainly do not intend any malice towards him. He has advocated many policies which I agree with and respect him for. It is merely a name. Perhaps in future he will mature into a politican whose ego has become a little smaller and whose character has become a little larger. I hope, when he has matured, that he might even come to regard it as a term of endearment. But every time he hears himself called Screwloose, it will be a salutary reminder of the day he was foolish enough to think he could threaten to use the law to silence someone who laughed at him.

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12 comments:

Penddu said...

Apparently there is no such thing as bad publicity, so I think we should all stop discussing Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum and the other one, and just ignore them.

Anonymous said...

Do you know what I find most sad about this article? That it comes from you, someone who has stuck to sensible and intelligent policy debate, albeit from a very clear ideological perspective.

To me, you now join the ranks of Cambria Politico, Guerrilla Welsh-Fare and Welsh Ramblings as just another boring Labour-bashing, Plaid-flogging blog. Like them, you are prepared to use any scrap of mud just so long as you think some of it will stick. If the situation were reversed, and a Plaid AM had objected to the sort of bile that your fellow Plaid chums chuck around with abandon, you'd be on here complaining about dark and sinister dirty tricks and the challenge to democracy. Did a third reason for Huw Lewis' objection - that he was simply aggrieved at being insulted and sought redress - never occur to you? Of course it did, but you've set it aside because it doesn't fit the attack narrative.

I find it genuinely sad that a blog that I respected and looked forward to reading has stooped to the level of exhorting its readers to call an elected politician a playground name. There's only one thing pompous about this affair, and that's your self-demeaning attempt to hide political mud-slinging behind an invented point of principle.

Shame on you, MH.

John Morgan said...

Screwloose suits him perfectly. He deserves it for what he's done.

It's a mark of their rank hypocrisy that senior members of Labour somehow think it's alright to do their OWN share of lampooning (anyone remember Aueurin Glyndwr?) but then work themselves into a frenzy of bluster and threats if someone dares to do it to them.

The best way of dealing with such self-important fools is to laugh at them.

john james said...

Ok anon, please tell us why the article was actionable and why the nickname screwloose is an allegation of mental health problems.
Tell us why it's defamation and not mere insult, and why it's appropriate to threaten legal action.
Sign your name too while you're at it. After all, if you're in the right, it makes sense. Answers on this blog immediately please.
If no answer is forthcoming, I'll take you to be an anonymous tribalist hack.
I am a labour supporter, by the way.

Anonymous said...

OK anon, let's see shall we: Cambria is not a PLaid blog, it's a multi-author nationalist blog that has been extremely critical of and insulting towards Plaid people (see the way they've treated Ieuan Wyn Jones!). Many official Labour blogs, which are staffed by Labour staff have called Plaid politicians liars, racists, tarts, frauds adulterers and nazis. I see no legal action taken. Huw Lewis has allowed comments on his blog calling Plaid MP Adam :price a racist and other Plaid politicians 'liars' (none of it proved or even true). You can say what you like Mr Anon, but Welsh NuLab invented smearing, and Lewis's camp have not been angels.
I only hope that this attempt at bullying and outright deceitful threat of legal action will backfire sufficiently for what they've done to come to light.
Some hope that Welsh press will latch onto it, but I do hope he gets elected then the crap can come out.

Anonymous said...

I thought Plaid Cymru were meant to be left of centre? Didn't mocking mental illness go out in Victorian times? This little spat should do wonders for all aspiring politicians who do suffer mental illnesses. In what sense is "screwloose" NOT a pejorative term for a mental health issue? If someone's health issues, real or imagined, are now fair game, I presume we can look forward to all laughing about politicians with cancer next week. Or japes about alcoholics in the Assembly and Parliament.

Penddu said...

Why cant Labour anon see that this simply a play on words (however apt):

Huw => Screw, Lewis =>Loose

In much the same way as IWJ has been called:

Ieaun Whinge Jones

If Ms Neagles husband does not like being called names, then he should not put himself in the public spotlight.

Adam Higgitt said...

Somewhat reluctantly, I find myself in agreement with much of what Anon 19:51 says.

What I'm struggling to understand in your analysis is the idea that Huw Lewis (or anyone else for that matter) has transgressed for invoking those mechanisms (i.e PCC code, laws of defamation) available to him. This is what these mechanisms exist for - the idea that making use of them is a "bullying" tactic strikes me as more than a little precious. The idea that this represents an assault on free speech is, frankly, absurd.

The "defendant" has every right to push back against such complaints. They have done so, and good luck to them. Like anyone else who puts into the public domain statements about other people, they have a responsibility to ensure that what they say is fair and defensible. That has been challenged and answered on this occasion. It strikes me that things are working rather well.

Please, let's elevate the analysis beyond some fabled David and Goliath gagging attempt. CP must know that if they go around personally insulting people - regardless of whether those insults are actionable - they are likely to meet with objections. Are we honestly suggesting that a free press means freedom to say whatever you like, with no consequences at all?

The real question here is not whether outlets like CP have a right to describe politicians in this way, or whether politicians should use any of the redress mechanisms available to them; the answer to both is quite clearly yes. Instead the question show be how our political culture benefits in any way from such clumsy, ugly and poorly observed satire.

Anonymous said...

I see Adam has become the rent a quote for Lewis4labour.No one has disputed the tone of the Cambria blog...its woeful. But Matt Greenough has made a hysterical accusation to argue it portrayed Huw Lewis as having a mental illness. It is the flagrant misuse of those protections, based on an accusations of smearing mental illness that has made Huw look simply unable to lead a country. Huw's office has always gone stamping around the bay like hard men who then turn to sand if some flak comes back their way. I am sure Huw's third place will be solace to many next week.

Anonymous said...

Adam, surely you'll accept that invoking the threat of legal action for a mere insult is form the Robert Maxwell school of self-protection, and ill-behoves a politician who has himself said some pretty nasty things about colleagues and opponents.

The fact that one can invoke legal action for nothing in the hope that it will shut down criticism is exactly what is wrong with the way libel and defamation threats have been used, and I'm frankly surprised that an informed commentator like yourself should see this sorry case as evidence that things are working properly.

No-one is 'really' as you put suggesting people can say anything they like. They're suggesting that there's a big and very clear difference between an allegation of mental health issues and an insult. When's the next time a politician will threaten action for being called 'bonkers' or saying something 'loony', etc etc?

What is depressing about this story is the way in which - had Lewis succeeded in closing down the site - there are plenty in the commentariat sufficiently afraid of him to take it lying down.

You say it's 'absurd' that we called this an assault on free speech. What else was it? What if the Cambria editor had backed down, or taken fright? An assault on free speech is exactly what it would have been, and was intended as.

The bottom line is that this was a cynical bullying threat by someone who knew they had no chance but thought they'd tough it out. They had their bluff called. It's a really disgusting piece of bullying and attempted bullying.

It doesn't matter who the politician is., what party they're from , or any of that.The moment they pull this sort of thing, they're shown up for the bullies they are.
You'll also note in Greenough's letter an (unsubstantiated) refeernce to "ongoing concerns in relation to the conduct of Cambria Magazine". A clear threat, and a really nasty piece of attempted intimidation. 'Ongoing Concerns'... read the letter: it's the letter of someone who's been planning to attack, and is pulling all the stops out, and trying to imply some high-level Assembly 'evil eye' on Cambria magazine.
You're all getting distracted by the flashy legal threat. It's the lines 'ongoing concerns in relation to the conduct ' etc that gives the psychological insight into how these people work.

It's vicious.

Insider said...

i thought Adam/Normal Mouth was anon 19.51 and when he blogged anonymously he had no problem taking cheap shots, slinging mud or distorting the truth about Plaid Cymru, the Tories or the Lib Dems and nobody threatened to sue him, maybe he should answer his own point about how it benefited Welsh politics during the time he worked in Transport House.

The sad fact is people actually support Huw Lewis and others because of this type of Nat bating, but it does raise another point about Welsh Labour's lack of dissent and tolerance of other people's views, particularly in the Valleys from people inside or outside the party.

Cambria Politico said...

anon 14.50 has correctly pointed out that the real threat is the 'ongoing concerns about Cambria...' statement implying some further hidden antagonism towards us.
We have republished the screwloose article and are enjoying exceptional traffic to the site. So very many thanks to Huw Lewis and his merry band. Keep it up.
As to the quality of the article, we have several different contributors of varying literacy and militancy on certain issues - we provide an outlet for them and try to ward off the brickbats. Is it only hacks like Adam Higgitt that are to allowed to enter the commentariat or have a voice in Welsh politics?

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