Fringe Meeting on Blogging 2 – John Gray on Libel

Labour Party

British libel laws need reform. In this video John Gray a Labour councillor in Newham and also a trade union activist for UNISON talks about what he has learnt from his libel case with Tower Hamlets Conservative Johanna Kaschke. There’s plenty of wisdom and tips for any political activist, but the clearest view for me is that cases like John’s should not drag on for so long.

Blogging for Labour

Labour Party

Some first quick thoughts on tonight’s “Blogging for Labour” fringe meeting. I was delighted almost 100 people attended even without the prospect of a free meal! Many thanks to all the panel members. John Gray for giving an insight into the perils of libel actions and the need for more guidance on legal issues.

Jessica Asato talked about how Twitter had brought more activists and importantly advocates to David Miliband’s campaign for Labour Leader. With many present tweeting (note the heads down in the photo) a hashtag would have brought everybody on Twitter together online. Next time!

Mark Ferguson talked about how many people had sat through less than riveting General Committee meetings, and highlighted how some Labour supporters found more interesting debate on sites like Labour List which he edits.

Kerry McCarthy turns to twitter first thing in the morning (I still go for Radio 4). She explained how she could debate with and at times advise members of the public on Parliamentary procedure through tweeting. As the photo shows she won the award for most demonstrative hand movements!

In the audience were bloggers Political Scrapbook, Cllr. Stephen (Cowan report), Jon Worth (Euroblog), Tracey Cheetham (A View from the Public Gallery), Mark Nottingham (From One End of Kent), Colin Ellar (Mayor of Hounslow) and several more bloggers.

I will write some more thoughts tomorrow when I have more time. Thank you to everybody who came and to Cllr. John Paschoud from Lewisham for his technical support.

About the Speakers at my Fringe Meeting – Councillor John Gray

Labour Party

The next featured speaker at my fringe meeting is UNISON activist and London Borough of Newham Councillor John Gray.

John’s Labour Blog was ranked second on the TIGMOO (an organisation which ranks trade union blogs) list, the top slot going to the TUC.

John, along with fellow blogger former PPC Alex Hilton, recently won an important libel case against Tower Hamlets Conservative Johanna Kaschke.     

John has worked as a Housing Estate officer in East London for the past 18 years. He is a UNISON Branch Secretary, Group Convenor, Branch health & safety officer, Labour Link Officer and pension representative.  The positions John holds include London UNISON Regional Finance Convener; Regional Labour Link Vice-Chair and National Health & Safety Committee member. He is, in addition, a UNISON delegate to the South East Region of the TUC.

John is also an elected Labour Party Councillor for West Ham ward in Newham and CLP Agent.

A graduate of Leeds University, John Gray is a Practitioner member of Chartered Institute of Housing (CIOH) and a Technical member of Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH)

Brought up in North Wales John lived in Leeds and Edinburgh prior to moving to London.

My fringe meeting – How Social Media Can Drive a Wedge into the Coalition – is on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm in Manchester Central, Charter 1.  The other speakers are Tom Harris MP, Jessica Asato and Alex Smith, Editor of LabourList.

About the Speakers at my Fringe Meeting – Tom Harris MP

Labour Party

During the next few days I thought I would give a brief pen-portrait of each of the speakers at my fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference, How Social Media can drive a Wedge into the Coalition.  First off is Tom Harris MP.

With his lively mix of political commentary and personal anecdote, it’s not surprising that Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, has established himself as a firm favourite in the ever-expanding blogosphere.  His blog, “And another thing…”, has, in recent years, accumulated a whole host of awards, along with more that 50,000 viewings a month.

This popularity is, in part, a reflection of Tom’s writing style; a former journalist, he writes eloquently, enlivening even the duller policy issues. Perhaps more significant, however, is his willingness  to challenge received wisdom and offer a distinctive personal perspective, informed by his Scottish roots and long history of Labour Party involvement. Tom’s nine years in Parliament give him that all-important insider’s insight whilst, having grown up on a Ayrshire council estate and experienced unemployment and deprivation first hand, he is able to offer an outlook that is sometimes missing from mainstream media.

So, if you haven’t already had a look at Tom’s entertaining offerings, read his blog now at:

My fringe meeting is on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm in Manchester Central, Charter 1.  The other speakers are Alex Smith, editor of LabourList, Jessica Asato who is running David Miliband’s social media campaign and UNISON activist, Councillor John Gray from the London Borough of Newham.

Labour Bloggers fight the Coalition

Labour Party

The highlight of this year’s Labour Party Conference to be held from Saturday 25 to Thursday 30 September in Manchester, will obviously be the announcement of the election of the new Party Leader.

 However, life still goes on, and I have decided to organise a fringe meeting at the Conference on political blogging – bloggers for Labour no less.

 The meeting  How Social Media can drive a Wedge into the Coalition will be held on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm in Manchester Charter 1 in the secure zone.

 I will chair the meeting and am very pleased to have as speakers:

 Tom Harris MP for Glasgow South, Labour’s top MP blogger

Alex Smith, Editor of Labour List

Jessica Asato who is running David Miliband’s social media campaign

Councillor John Gray, blogger and UNISON activist

 With such a distinguished line up of speakers, I would now very much like to have a large, interested and appreciative audience.

See you in Manchester

Congratulations to John and Alex

Labour Party

It is fantastic news that John Gray and Alex Hilton have won their libel case. My last post supporting them drew a response  which I link to as I believe in the right of reply. I think many issues that end up in libel actions would often  be better addressed by a prompt right of reply, especially with blogging and the internet where immediacy is important.  John and Alex’s case has in fact, taken two years – far too long by any standards.

David Allen Green who helped represent John and Alex summarises the situation on his excellent Jack of Kent blog

The villain in all this is not the Claimant. It is the libel system in this country that allows claims like this to get so far. If the claim is struck out today it will be because a specialist libel lawyer was able to put together a highly sophisticated submission which would have been beyond even a generalist media lawyer (like me), let alone a litigant in person. And if it not struck out, then we have a system of libel which allows bloggers who have done nothing wrong to be sued to the point of potential bankruptcy.”

I am pleased they have won, but know others are still threatened by a law that needs urgent reform.

Support Labour bloggers Alex Hilton and John Gray in their libel trial

Labour Party

Tomorrow two leading London Labour activists face a court action.

Alex Hilton (right) was Labour’s candidate in Kensington and Chelsea at the General election and brought many a smile to my face with his legendary Recess Monkey blog, now sadly defunct.

The other defendant is John Gray.  I am a big fan of John Gray, and was delighted to see him elected in May as a Newham councillor.  I’ve posted previously on John here. He’s an activist in my union UNISON and I had dinner with him at Annual Conference last year, so I don’t pretend that I’m not biased – I heartily recommend John’s blog.

They have both been accused of libel by a Conservative woman in Tower Hamlets, Joanna Kaschke.

 Alex writes…

“This Friday 9th July, my three year litigation comes to a head with a pre-trial review at which John Gray and I are seeking the case to be struck out as an abuse of process. If you can get to the Court your moral support will be deeply welcome. The whole thing’s a pretty traumatic experience for us. Just get into the High Court and ask for the Kaschke vs Gray and Hilton case and they’ll direct you. If not, please join us afterwards – from 5pm – for freedom of speech drinks at The George Pub on the Strand, just opposite the High Court.

“Oh, and why am I in court? I run a website called which, just like facebook, lets anyone write anything without editorial interference. Somebody wrote something that I never even saw at the time, which upset the subject of the piece, Ms Johanna Kaschke. My defence is
1. It’s either true or so near the truth that there’s no reputational damage
2. she consented to public discussion by putting similar material on her own website first.
3. What she has said about herself is so similar to what was written on Labourhome that there’s no reputational damage.
4. I deleted the piece as soon as I knew about it and offered her a prominent space on the site for a retraction.
5. Under the e-commerce directive I was operating an automated service and I am therefore protected against liability.

“Libel and defamation need reform. They are occupational hazards for bloggers. I have received several letters from solicitors and had to stand up to them. Some I publicise on this blog. Others I deal with privately. For some reason I seem to attract attention from self important men who don’t like it when I stand up for women, can’t think why? I have seen women with excellent cases destroyed by expensive lawyers who use technicalities and the sheer weight of procedures to win. I think it is beholden to elected representatives to take a stand. Alex and John are taking a stand for free speech. Ms. Kaschke also sued Labour blogger Dave Osler and lost.”

Dinner with London Constituency Delegates

Labour Party

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Every year at Labour Party Conference I host a dinner for London Labour Party delegates. It gives me a  chance to provide a small measure of hospitality to say thank you for all the hard work that Party activists do. I can also have more detailed conversations, report on my work, answer questions and as you will see from the pictures I gave a brief speech too.  Fellow Labour blogger John Gray from West Ham was accompanied by Rachel Tripp and Charlene McLean.

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From my own Holborn and St. Pancras constituency were Sabrina Francis and Ciaran Henderson. Councillors Lily Bath from Hounslow, Nana Asante from Harrow and John Fahy from Greenwich kept me up to date with plans for next years London Borough elections. I knew Alan Griffiths from when I worked in Newham. Impressively he is commuting down from East London each day, I also now know that when I take the Eurostar I travel in a tunnel under his house. He never hears a thing. My thanks to everybody who came and I look forward to working with many of you in your constituencies between now and the elections next year.

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Labour Party

Thanks to John Gray for reports of the Royal Docks by-election in Newham on March 26th. Good to see Labour’s candidate Steve Bradshaw constructing a campaign website. I will be down to campaign, I used to work in Newham so know the Borough well.

Further along the Thames I was amused by this story from Barking and Dagenham Council’s Budget meeting:

“One of the BNP proposals, presented by Bob Bailey, was to cut £2m from the council’s marketing and communications budget. This promise might be a little difficult to achieve given that the department only has a budget for £1.2m!”

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