This MP’s not for turning: My MP still won’t sign EDM 423.

March 10, 2010

You may have seen this post, where I showed that my Tory MP, Edward Timpson, had declined to sign Early Day Motion 423. This is the EDM tabelled by Dr Evan Harris MP (Lib Dem Science spokesman) regarding the update of Britain’s rather unfair libel laws, that are being used by people with vested interests to stifle and silence scientific discourse. The most notable use of these libel laws is the infamous and ongoing attempt by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) to censor science writer Simon Singh, in a piece in the Guardian for the following passage:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

EDM423 calls for a re-appraisal of the current UK libel laws to protect scientists, academics and journalists from lawsuits for simply engaging in scientific debate or discussion.

So I had asked my MP (Timpson) to sign this EDM. He declined on the grounds that EDM423 seeks to reverse the burden of proof in libel cases. I replied to him, questioning this, as It was my interpretation of the EDM that this was not the case (an interpretation shared by Simon Singh, who suggested I respond to the original letter I received from Timpson).

This is what I got in reply (abridged):

You are correct to note that the EDM does not explicitly seek to reverse the burden of proof in libel cases, but nor is it explicit in stating the balance that it wishes to strike. I am sure you will understand that it concerns me to put my name to such a sentiment.

Nevertheless we must continue to press that [sic] Government that any changeto libel law will protect both academics and journalists.

It would appear that Timpson, whilst apparently broadly supportive of the need for libel law reform, is unwilling to support a measure which does not explicitly define the changes to the burden of proof it might wish to impose.

D’oh. I tried.


Why tory MP Edward Timpson won’t Sign EDM 423

January 10, 2010

Seeing as I am concerned about the state of UK libel laws, especially their effect on free and informed scientific discourse, I asked my MP, the new conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Edward Timpson, to sign EDM 423. EDM 423 was proposed by Dr Evan Harris MP, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and “notes that human rights activists, scientists, writers and journalists are prevented from publishing, and the public prevented from reading, matters of strong public interest due to the chilling effect of English libel law

Timpson is not without experience in legal matters, as prior to becoming an MP, Timpson was a family law barrister. So anyway, I asked him sign EDM 423. Yesterday, I received a letter from him, explaining (sadly) why he won’t sign EDM 423 😦

Here it is:

Dear David,

Thank you for writing to me about EDM 423 and libel law reform. I understand your concerns on this issue. It is important that those who contribute so much to research and culture in this country do not feel restrictred from publishing interllectually challenging and informative articles. Fear of libel action should not curb debate by scientists, academics and journalists. Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a free society and must be strongly protected.

If libel cases do succeed, the costs are often so crippling to defendants that even large newspapers are in diffculty in resisting some claims. It is evident that Britain has become an attractive place for individuals to bring about specualative libel action since lawyers will often bear the brunt of the costs in exchange for potential awards available to winning litigants.

I do believe, however, that we must be careful when changing libel law itself. People have the right not to be defamed unless necessary, and changes to this law should not risk this principle. I believe that the burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims about other people to justify their asertions about others. For this reason, I do not feel that I can sign EDM 423.

Let me assure you that my colleagues on the Shadow Justice Team will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law adequately protects individuals without placing too great a burden on, for example, scientists, academics and journlists. Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Yours sincerely

Edward Timpson MP

TBPH, after the first two paragraphs I thought I had it in the bag. He seems to agree that there is a problem, but won’t sign it in order to protect the defamed – which is fair enough – but I had thought that EDM 423 had provision in to to deal with precisely that:

…while individual reputation is protected against malicious or reckless smears, lawful free expression is not chilled and there is a fully effective public interest defence for both scholarship and responsible journalism.

So – that’s that really,

Just thought I’d share.


Who do I vote for?

November 20, 2009

What a conumdrum.

There is a general election that must be held by 3rd of June, 2010.

The Conservatives, perhaps feeling a little full of themselves have made a nice little widget:

So there we go. I’ve got ▲▲ that long to decide who to vote for.

At the moment, my thoughts can be summarised as follows (in no particular order):

 

1) Labour

I am a leftie – so by rights, labour should be my natural choice of party – however – the labour party has recently been anything but leftie. Gordon Brown has become a massive liability. Their handling of the economic crisis is dubious at best, and the poverty gap in the UK is certainly no narrower now than it was at the end of the 90s. Add to this the fact that the unelected Lord Mandelson now commands an awful lot of power in Whitehall again, and worse than that, seems to be misusing it to please his entertainment industry buddies – the labour party are not for me any more. I cannot vote for them with a clear conscious.

2) Conservatives

If Mandelson is the second biggest threat against UK democracy – Rupert Murdoch is the biggest. The Conservatives now schmooze up with him, and it would appear that they will bend over for him. It is suspected that Murdoch will seek to get the Tories to curb the BBCs ability to operate online, thus paving the way for him to force people to pay for his online content (without looking like a total prick – at the moment nobody would pay to see the Times or Sun online, when other free news/porn sources exist). The BBC, despite it’s failings, is a fine example of what the UK can do – as an online news source, IMHO, the BBC website is second-to-none. No way can I vote for the tories if this is the case.

3) Liberal Democrats

Right – lets face it, they are unlikely to get in, so a vote for them is a vote for a hung parliament / piss poor labour opposition. I doubt they’d get as far as Her Maj’s opposition all by themselves. Instinctively, I quite like Nick Clegg – but then I discovered he had signed this Early Day Motion in support of Woo.

4) Others

UKIP/BNP/English Democrats – NO.

Greens  – Pro-Woo, Anti-Science

And that’s probably everyone who’ll be standing in my constituency.

 

In local terms – I live in the Crewe & Nantwich consituency – so my local bloke (Tory Edward Timpson) is relatively new. So far, in local terms, he’s doing an ok job. The Lib dems are waaaaay back in third, and so it really is a two horse race for the top spot.

Another thing I have to contend with as an (partly publicly funded) academic research scientist, is who is going to cut what in the budget to get the UK economy back on track. This is a little something that the dean of the faculty of life sciences here in Manchester, Prof Martin Humphries, wrote in our faculty newsletter:

To date, the public sector has been shielded from the worst effects of the recession. Unfortunately, this situation cannot continue as the Government has borrowed more than £150B in an attempt to buy the country out of the recession, and before too long they will need to start repaying the loans. There are only really three ways in which this could happen: (a) the economy booms in an unprecedented way, (b) taxes are increased, and (c) public sector spending is cut. The first is almost certain not to happen and the second is unpalatable for both politicians and the public, which leaves the relatively easy win of cuts.
The potential stances of the two main parties on this issue were debated in the news yesterday (17th), and they differed primarily in the depth of the cuts that might be coming. Current speculation is that Labour will cut less deeply and for a prolonged period, while the Conservatives will cut deeply and quickly. Between now and next year’s General Election, the main focus will be on how to target cuts, not whether there should be cuts. We would be comforted if we felt that that the next Government recognised the value of Higher Education, and therefore gave it a high priority for funding, and indeed statements of this kind have been forthcoming. In particular, noises are being made about the need to concentrate research and teaching excellence rather than rely on selectivity. However, HE in general is probably not a vote-winner (excepting our votes of course), and healthcare, primary and secondary education, and other public services probably come higher on most people’s lists. Thus, we need to hope for the best, but be prepared for bad news.

I suspect, that given my upcoming application for public funds to futher my employment/research, my voting will be swayed by who cuts what out of the research council and higher education budgets…

Stay tuned for more details…

(If I had the chance – I’d probably vote for the Pirate Party)