“Fairly Good Natured” Anti-Brexit Protest in London Smeared

From Sky News:

Thousands of people have been protesting outside the Houses of Parliament against the result in the EU referendum.

Groups of demonstrators were singing songs and chanting slogans, many of which were aimed at the leaders of the Leave campaign.

…The crowd also sang ‘Hey EU’, to the tune of The Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’.

…Sky’s [Jason] Farrell said there was clearly a lot of anger in the crowd.

“They are shouting ‘Liars, liars’, clearly referring to the Out campaign, they are also shouting ‘migrants in, racists out’.

…”It’s fairly good natured, I have to say. But there is also a police presence here.

Hours of footage from the protest have been uploaded to YouTube by RT; although one must of course be wary of RT’s editorial agenda, it seems unlikely that the video misrepresents the general mood of the gathering, which, as Farrell notes, was “fairly good natured”. There were no arrests, and none of the media coverage suggests that anything seriously “spiky” occurred. There appears to have been some angry chanting from time to time, and some of the banners (all homemade) were uncivil (“Fuck Farage” etc.), but that’s about it. Even the Sun, which covered the protest under the mocking headline “Sour Grapes?“, does not suggest that the crowd was a threatening presence.

However, one person who wanted to give a different impression was the propagandist Paul Staines (“Guido Fawkes”), who wrote on Twitter that

There are hate-filled bigots shouting obscenities and threats at MPs in SW1. After Jo Cox the media will be outraged. Remainers you say? Oh.

This appears to have been extrapolated from a wry Tweet by Michael Crick, who noted the juxtaposition of “No more hate!” and “Fuck you Boris!” chants. Staines’s censure of vulgar expressions of contempt is difficult to take – here he is in a London street in 2012, shouting “you are a fucking cunt” in someone’s face while jabbing the air with a microphone stand.

Staines’s attempt to portray the protest as a dangerous mob was then followed up by Nadine Dorries MP, whose vicious dishonesty (at times coordinated with Staines and his gang) has been documented on this blog on a number of occasions. Dorries had apparently passed through the crowd earlier, and she had made the observation that  there had been “Lots of French accents!” However, following Staines’s intervention, she suddenly remembered that she had in fact been subjected to a terrifying ordeal:

I was very, very scared walking through that crowd. They surrounded me in seconds. [here] Tonight I was terrified [here]

Obviously, if you are publicly identified with a particular political opinion, and you walk through a protest expressing the opposite opinion, you will probably feel tense. However, there is no evidence that anyone even noticed her, let alone subjected her to anything uncivil or menacing. When she says that the the crowd “surrounded” her, she wants to give the impression that she was somehow circled and obstructed by a mob when all she means is that she walked into a crowd and found herself in its midst. If there was anything of substance to the story, she would have Tweeted about it immediately afterwards.

Dorries also used the non-incident to attack the pro-Remain Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who had addressed the crowd. Soubry’s speech can be seen here, starting at 3hr 54min, and the Huffington Post has a partial transcription here. Dorries decided to accuse her of having “egged… on” a mob, and she alleged that there were “ambulances screeching around while  @Anna_Soubry played to the gallery”. Ambulances of course frequently pass through central London at speed, and Parliament is just across the river from St Thomas’ Hospital, which receives 105 ambulances a day. There are no reports of injuries either suffered or inflicted at the protest.

Having criticised Soubry’s judgement, Dorries also moved in with some typically spiteful character assassination. Soubry’s voice had cracked momentarily during her speech, and Dorries seized her chance, Tweeting that “I saw Anna Soubry leave the bar before she went outside. She was inebriated, not emotional”. Soubry responded that this was untrue and defamatory, and named Paula Sherriff MP as a witness; Dorries then deleted her claim, albeit with typical bad grace. Soubry’s follow-up request for an apology has not been answered [see update below for what happened next].

Dorries’s “look at me” antics have done their work, though – a file photo of Dorries features prominently in the Daily Mail coverage of the protest, and the paper’s website has updated its headline from “Thousands of anti-Brexit protestors join demonstration at Parliament” to “Tories at war as minister Anna Soubry is accused of being DRUNK by fellow MP as she nearly breaks down telling campaigners Brexit is ‘a terrible mistake'”. Her claim of being “terrified” also features in the story – but although Dorries often pretends to have been victimized or scared in some way order to smear critics, the journalist in this instance doesn’t seem to have been particularly impressed.

It is unlikely that Dorries will face negative consequences for her lying, which is generally framed by the media in terms of an “outspoken” celebrity MP entertaining the public with a “spat” rather than as evidence of a malaise in public life.

***
UPDATE (4 July)
Dorries’s “inebriated” smear against Soubry has done its work, and Soubry’s social media timeline is now peppered with mocking jibes on the subject: “Had a tipple this afternoon have we?”, from UKIP’s Raheem Kassam; ” You probably shouldn’t have opened that last bottle. #BettyFord”, from a certain Casey Jones, and so on. One account even suggests that the only reason Dorries withdrew the claim was because she was under “duress”. This is no doubt very amusing to Dorries, who has a history of egging on abusive trolls.*

Some of the continuing hostility against Soubry is because of her support for Theresa May in the upcoming leadership election. Soubry therefore reached out to Andrea Leadsom, her Cabinet colleague and the unexpected new front-runner in the race:

I’m sure my colleague @andrealeadsom would join me in condemning abuse and untruths from ppl on Twitter claiming to support her

That Tweet was RT-ed by Leadsom, which is encouraging. The leadership contest must of course be robust, but there is no need for it to be vicious. I hope Leadsom will continue to repudiate character assassination by those who support her candidacy – whether obscure social media users or fellow MPs.

UPDATE 2 (5 August)
After weeks of silence on the subject, Dorries has now finally apologised to Soubry:

My turn. I maligned @Anna_Soubry and owe an apology. #EUref campaign got v heated and emotional at times. #sorry

By “my turn”, Dorries here refers to an apology she herself had just received from former MP Louise Mensch over Dorries’s criticisms of David Cameron; it seems Mensch has recently turned against Cameron over his honours list. This, then, is the casual basis on which Dorries has rolled back from a smear that humiliated Soubry and inspired abusive troll attacks.

If Dorries were sincere, she would have sent Soubry private letter and published a statement on her website. She would also have provided an apology that stood alone, rather than one that is a footnote to her conversation with Mensch. Along with her “heated and emotional” mitigation, Dorries is attempting to make it look like her behaviour was just part of the normal Westminster “rough and tumble”, rather than more evidence of her dishonesty. Nevertheless, Soubry has accepted the apology – while also pointing out how long it has taken:

.@NadineDorriesMP thank you for setting the record straight and apologising for what u tweeted on June 28

So why the need for a PR apology at all? Perhaps for once in Dorries’s life there have been negative repercussions for her vicious lying – if not a legal threat,  then maybe the cold shoulder from disgusted colleagues. Dorries may also have isolated herself in recent weeks with her personalised attacks on Theresa May during the leadership contest (“Theresa May’s supporters are the establishment, the Europhile fanatics and yesterday’s men and women” [here]; “A politician void of principle and more concerned with career progression” [here]), from which she has rapidly and shamelessly backpedalled since May became Prime Minister (“She is going to be a formidable PM” [here]).

*Footnote
One of these abusive trolls, who has a private link to Dorries, predictably responded to this post with a stream of abusive Tweets aimed at me. He wrote that I was a “stupid troll” who had accused Dorries of lying based on looking “at a YouTube video” and that I had failed to consider “that if someone is behaving threateningly in a protest they are hardly likely to upload footage of that”.

But this of course misses the point. Dorries said that she was “very, very scared”, that there were “ambulances screeching around”, and that she had been “surrounded”; but she gave no specific details of anyone “behaving threateningly”. Instead, she wanted readers to infer that she had been threatened by a violent mob, based on irrelevant and easily misconstrued information. There is more than one way to be a liar.

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