• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Tim Ireland Calls Out Accusers

Tim Ireland is a blogger who has a fairly reasonable request: that those who use the internet or the media to influence public discourse, or to promote themselves as public figures, ought to be accountable and to take responsibility for the things they publish or write. His main area of interest is British politics, but although it is obvious that he takes a progressive stance he is no mere party hack: for example, he was prophetically critical of Derek Draper’s strategy with Labour List some months prior to Draper’s exposure as a manipulating rumour-monger.

However, it is in dealing with various MPs and activists connected with the Conservative Party that Tim has discovered the most egregious abuses: unsurprisingly, given that he has been the target of them. Tim’s latest post on the subject is comprehensive rather than concise, but the guts of it can be summarised easily: as a strategy to deflect and discourage critical scrutiny, various individuals have chosen to smear Tim as a “stalker”. It’s not a conspiracy, but, as with other playground taunts, the accusation has quickly gained momentum among a group of like-minded people with overlapping interests. It’s also self-reinforcing: if Tim complains about it, this is itself evidence of stalking; if he lays out his defence, he’s an obsessive. Worse, however, is that Tim’s researches have earned him some more sinister enemies, who have been subjecting him to real harassment: personal details have been posted on-line about his home and smears about his family, there have been threats of violence, and anonymous attack blogs have been set up with slanderous accusations. Those who indulge in this self-debasing behaviour use the “stalker” accusation as cover, as self-justification, and as a means to incite others.

My interest in this dates back to early 2009, when Tim looked into a Sun newspaper story about an terror plot against Alan Sugar. Tim showed that the evidence had been concocted by a freelance “terror-tracker” who had made postings to a Muslim web-forum under an Islamic pseudonym. The “terror-tracker” had links to Patrick Mercer MP, who is often quoted in the tabloid media as an expert on terrorism; this raised the question of to what extent other tabloid stories about terrorism may have had tainted origins (for example, here). I did some follow-up work on Tim’s discovery, and we both found ourselves being contacted by former associates of the “terror-tracker”. It turned out that these persons wanted to manipulate us for their own interests (they wanted us to attack a third party), and it was when this attempt fell through that the sustained campaign of harassment began (the “terror-tracker” had himself earlier reacted to exposure by writing anonymous comments accusing Tim of being a paedophile, but that was eventually sorted out). The harassment has mostly been targeted at Tim, although I’ve also been on the receiving end of some abusive attacks and misinformation.

At the time all this began, I was aware of Tim’s disputes with some other Conservative Party figures; although I took a general interest, I regarded these as separate matters and I was not inclined to mention them on this blog. However, it eventually became evident that a full understanding of the situation required taking these other conflicts into account: it was also appalling to see just how far some people are prepared to go to smear someone they find to be inconvenient.

Tim’s post is a J’Accuse addressed to Steve Hilton, who is the Conservative Party’s director of strategy. Tim names a number of persons:

Steve Hilton: Hilton has known about the situation but has failed to act.

Anne Milton MP: Milton is Tim’s local MP, and she didn’t appreciate various criticisms of her campaign in 2005, including his claim that “many if not all of the people posing as average members of the public in her campaign literature were in fact average members of her campaign team.” Milton, says Tim, “at this stage… began to dismiss queries about my blog and its contents with mild implications and then quite specific claims that I was stalking her.” Worse, two of her activists then set about attacking Tim at a personal level through anonymous sites and blogs. These activists also allegedly smeared another political opponent of Milton as a paedophile.

Jonathan Lord MP: As Chairman of the Guildford Conservative Association, his duty was to investigate any activity that might bring the party into disrepute. However, Lord declined to act on Tim’s evidence on the grounds that the target of the “paedophile” smear had not himself complained, that no criminal law had been broken, and because Tim had contacted him by email rather than on paper.

Iain Dale: Dale is a leading Conservative-aligned blogger, pundit, and activist. He dismissed Tim’s evidence about what had occurred during Milton’s campaign, and then allowed pre-moderated comments to appear on his site accusing Tim of stalking Milton and Nadine Dorries MP. Dale also accuses Tim of stalking him, as I discussed here.

Patrick Mercer MP: Once it had become clear that Mercer’s relationship with the “terror-tracker” and his associates was problematic, he announced that he would be “looking carefully” into his “dealings”. However, the extent to which Mercer’s office had handled dubiously-source material remained unclear, and when Tim pressed the point, Mercer took the lead from Dale. Naturally, any criticism of Mercer’s judgement could be deflected by claiming that Tim is an “electronic stalker”. Incidentally, Mercer also used a “stalker” smear to discredit his ex-lover, who shares his workplace.

Nadine Dorries MP: Dorries is of course notoriously vicious when dealing with anyone who crosses her: in recent months she has outed her lover’s estranged wife as alcoholic who is disliked by her own children (perhaps true, but cruel and unnecessary to reveal) and accused a critical constituent of pretending to be disabled (a complete fabrication). She is also notorious for admitting that her blog is “70 per cent fiction”. Dorries hates Tim’s continued scrutiny of her astonishing behaviour on the public stage, and she has been the most aggressive in accusing him being a “stalker”:

Dorries stood up in front of a hustings meeting in May 2010, claimed that I had stalked Patrick Mercer, claimed that I had harassed Anne Milton to the point that police became involved, and further claimed that I had stalked and harassed her to such an extent that a police investigation was currently in progress.

At the same time, Dorries was under investigation for expenses claims relating to a property that she officially classified as her second home, but had difficulty explaining why she had made repeated entries on her blog that gave the impression that it was her main home. It is on record and entirely clear from the subsequent report that Dorries told the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that she had deceived her constituents about the location of her main home for entirely political reasons (i.e. to give the impression that she lived primarily in the constituency). She thought this put her in the clear and was entirely unprepared for the backlash that followed this revelation. She responded by again claiming that I had stalked her, and further claiming that police had specifically advised her to give misleading accounts of her whereabouts for reasons of security.

I have no history of stalking Nadine Dorries in any physical sense, and she had no cause to believe this, even if she is so dim-witted as to have allowed herself to be convinced that I was stalking her electronically. Worse, Dorries used my attendance at a public meeting in May 2010 to defend her claim that I had physically stalked her in the many years/months previous to this, and used Conservative activists aligned to her to spread this claim on blogs and in the media though a series of entirely strategic claims and distortions that not only stretched the truth to breaking point, but challenged the very notion of time and space.

Months after her hustings outburst, after being challenged to provide evidence to support her claim that a police investigation was in progress, Dorries sought to initiate a police investigation after the fact, and succeeded to a small extent in that police are now investigating my presence at a public meeting that I was invited to. This alone, while it is a complete waste of police time, did not cause me alarm… but Dorries then went on the leak news of this to a supportive local newspaper, leading to an entirely biased article that has set off my attacker(s) all over again, and once again allowed them to base their ongoing revenge attack on the word of a Member of Parliament who is in turn endorsed by a mainstream party (i.e. your party).

Further background here. Dorries has also mocked Tim as a “nutter” – the same jibe was used by Adam Macqueen, a Private Eye journalist who didn’t like Tim calling him to account for using his research uncredited. Macqueen is a friend and former employee of Dale.

Rachel Whetstone: Whetstone is European Head of Communications for Google:

Rachel… cannot or will not explain why, when Blogger.com staff claim to have a turnaround time of 48 hours for removal of sensitive data such as home addresses published in bad faith, why it took over 3 months to remove the data in my case, not just on Blogger.com, but on YouTube as well. Further, she cannot explain why their search database with continue to store and distribute this data long after it has (eventually) been removed from Blogger.com/YouTube pages under their control.

By remarkable coincidence, Whetstone used to be Political Secretary to former Conservative leader Michael Howard, and at the time Howard’s wife wrote a diary piece for a Conservative website carrying Milton’s claim that Tim’s critical blogging amounted to “stalking her with a website”. Hilton may be able to get a quick answer to this, given that Whetstone is his wife.

Tim concludes:

I sincerely hope to hear from you well within 48 hours so we can settle this matter as cordially as possible soon after that. If this cannot be done, I hope you recognise why I will be pulling out all the stops and dedicating myself to the task of clearing my name while exposing the rot at the core of your party, and I wish you luck in the inevitable attempt to smear me in response, because you are going to need it with the paper trail I’ve got and the fair warning you’ve received.

This is surely not too much to ask for. It’s no secret that this blog takes a progressive perspective on the various things I discuss, but I’m well aware that it is possible to be a Conservative and to argue aggressively in good faith. I’m sure that many Conservative-mined people, if they can penetrate the fog of misinformation and self-serving spin, will be appalled that this kind of repellent carrying-on is able to pass for political activism. Any short-term advantage that may be gained by dismissing the above as part of the “Tim is a stalker” meme will, in the long-term, lead to payback of one kind of another. This may take the form of exposure and opprobrium, or the result may be a completely debased political culture. I’m taking a stand against it, and I hope others will too.