Notes on “The Movement”

From Glen Owen at the Daily Mail, a few weeks ago:

Boris Johnson was ousted by a cabal that has been controlling the Tory leadership for two decades, according to an explosive book.

In The Plot: The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries identifies Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings and a powerful adviser called Dougie Smith as members of ‘the movement’.

…The book claims that the origins of ‘the movement’ can be traced back to Mr Smith’s days in the Federation of Conservative Students, more than three decades ago.

Given that Owen is the paper’s political editor, it is odd that this is written up as if “the Movement” had never been heard of before, despite references in the public domain going back decades. For instance, here is Norman Tebbit’s Wikipedia entry:

In August 2002, Tebbit called on the then leader of the Conservatives, Iain Duncan Smith, to “clear out” Conservative Central Office of “squabbling children” who were involved with infighting within the Party. He named Mark MacGregor, a former leader of the Federation of Conservative Students which Tebbit disbanded for “loony Right libertarian politics”, as one of them. Then, in October the same year, Tebbit accused a group of Conservative “modernisers” called “The Movement” of trying to get him expelled from the Party. Tebbit said that The Movement consisted of a “loose” grouping of thirteen members who had previously supported Kenneth Clarke and Michael Portillo for Party leader. Duncan Smith subsequently denied that Tebbit would ever be expelled and Thatcher publicly said she was “appalled” at attempts to have Tebbit expelled and telephoned him to say that she was “four square behind him”.

Tebbit’s 2002 complaint came three years after he Sunday Mirror ran an article by Danny Buckland titled “Politically Incorrect: Portillo’s Step from the Closet was too Sudden a Movement” (12 September 1999). According to Buckland:

WHEN Michael Portillo outed himself about his gay days at Cambridge, the most anxious people around were from a spooky group who call themselves “The Movement”.

This highly-secret right-wing cabal have spent the past 12 years plotting for the day when their hero could enter the doors of 10 Downing Street and rule the world.

They are the Tory equivalent of Labour’s Militant Tendency in the Eighties, squirreling their way into local party organisations to ensure the selection of Portillista MPs who will back their man when it’s time for a change of leader.

These tactics – known to all fans of Leon Trotsky as “entryist” – have been employed at every level of the party. Several newspapers have even been infiltrated by men who have risen to senior posts.

The Sunday Telegraph provided a bit more context in October 2002:

In fact, the “Movement” is nothing more than a nickname adopted with a dash of irony by young Tories of the 1990s who were devoted to keeping the spirit of Thatcherism alive in the leadership ambitions of Michael Portillo. “It was not like the Freemasons, more like a cafe – people came and went,” one member said.

Members of the set included Douglas Smith, a former member of the now-defunct Federation of Conservative of Students and Mr MacGregor, the party’s current chief executive. There is no suggestion, of course, that either of these men was directly responsible for last week’s briefing. But it is unlikely that any of them will have felt much sympathy for Lord Tebbit.

“If we saw each other in a room, we knew who we were,” said another of the group. “The ironic thing is that Tebbit would have been a hero of the Movement in 1990s when the objective was to keep Thatcherism alive against wobbly John Major. It has turned against Tebbit because it has now focused on the need for modernisation, which he opposes.

In the same month, an attempt to project “the Movement” back into the 1980s was made by the late Mike Keith-Smith, in a strange letter to the Independent (18 October 2002: “Hard-Right Tory Leaders are Masquerading as Lefty Liberals”):

The Movement originated with the far-right elements who took over first the Federation of Conservative Students, and then the Young Conservatives during the 1980s. Now that many of its adherents are MPs and senior party officials, the Movement has cynically tacked to the left of the Tory spectrum and collected a smattering of “wet” dupes to provide window dressing.

…As a trusted Movement contact and a senior member of the hard- right Monday Club, I was repeatedly asked to help organise the disruption of CND peace protests, particularly those headed by Bruce Kent, a Movement hate figure. I ceased my support for these tactics after Movement thugs hit the headlines by spearheading a disgraceful violent night assault on peaceful CND protesters camping on Brighton beach during the Tory conference.

Keith-Smith was associated with a rival right-wing strand sympathetic to Tebbit, and by this time was in UKIP. The second paragraph above appears to allude to a split between so-called “authoritarians” and “libertarians” in 1980s Tory right (blogged here), but it is unlikely that the term “the Movement” was then in use.

A further reference to “the Movement” appeared in May 2010, on a one-post blog that published an obituary of Robert Chambers, an FCS activist who had died early, written by his widow:

If I have to explain the movement and FCS to you then you weren’t in it and wouldn’t understand. For those that were… remember the days as the Leicester loonies, Loughborough Conference, being Party Reptiles and Shirley Stotter banning us from attending conference, the closure of FCS, the Leicester loonies reunions and those mad mad three years…oh my when we were young we thought we were going to rule the world – and we could have done….

The same article recalls:

He had not long moved down to London when he met me at the Conservative Party Conference in 1984/5 in Blackpool. We fell in love quickly and I moved in with him, Dougie Smith and Rob Clarkson at the squat/flat in Battersea…

Smith may not now “rule the world”, but according to The Plot he is the secret power behind the throne in Downing Street. The book distinguishes between Smith and a shadowy figure Dorries calls “Dr No”, but an éxpose that fails to name a central figure in the conspiracy makes no sense. It is far more reasonable to suppose that “Dr No” is a device which allowed the author to include allegations that lawyers felt were too risky to be attributed (1).

These old claims about “the Movement” appear to have been reheated in the service of a new round of the same right-wing factionalism that inspired Keith-Smith’s letter more than twenty years ago. Earlier this year saw the launch of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, headed by Lord Cruddas (blogged here). The CDO has been described as a “party within a party”, and is thought to be attempting to control the selection of party candidates at a local level. However, according to The Plot, as reported by Owen, “Mr Smith has controlled the selection of Tory MPs since 2017, with candidates forced to ‘sell their soul’ to him”. Dorries is also with the CDO; it appears, then, that Smith has been targeted because he is an obstacle to Cruddas’s ambitions.


1. Partridge-like, the book contains numerous James Bond references. In this context, though, “Dr No” doesn’t really make sense – the shadowy mastermind in the Bond universe of course is Blofeld. However, this created a problem: Dorries’s literary agent is named Piers Blofeld.

Some Notes on Dan Wootton, the Media and the Police

From the Independent in August:

Mail Online has suspended Dan Wootton’s column while allegations he used a pseudonym and offered colleagues money for sexual images are investigated… Wootton has denied any criminal wrongdoing, although he has admitted to “errors of judgment in the past”.

…Contacted by The Independent following the publication of the Byline Times report, Scotland Yard said: “In June 2023, the Metropolitan Police was contacted with regards to allegations of sexual offences committed by a man.

“Officers are assessing information to establish whether any criminal offence has taken place. There is no police investigation at this time.”

I discussed the matter previously here.

While the quote from police is newsworthy, in terms of the presumption of innocence it is superfluous: even in cases where there is a police investigation (unlike as reported above), it is for the courts to determine whether someone is guilty of a crime – an innocent person may become the subject of a police investigation due to a mistaken or malicious complainant, due to police corruption, or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. No-one should infer likelihood of guilt from the mere fact of police interest.

This seems, though, to be a difficult lesson for the media and the public to take on board: one recalls the infamous monstering of Chris Jeffries, or how in late 2018 an innocent couple living near Gatwick found themselves on the front cover of the Mail on Sunday alongside the accusatory headline “Are These the Morons who Ruined Christmas?” after they were arrested on the mistaken suspicion of disrupting the airport with a drone.

Last year, however, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Bloomberg LP v ZXC that, to quote a legal discussion here, “a person under a criminal investigation has a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation”. This recognises the reality of possible unfair damage to reputation that may arise from being under police investigation. It should be noted, though, that this is simply “a legitimate starting point”: according to the same summary, the burden “rests on the claimant both to set out and to prove the circumstances establishing that there was objectively a reasonable expectation of privacy”, and the judgment “is not authority for the proposition that the press may never publish that an individual is under investigation”.

Of course, although an investigation does not imply guilt, some people may draw inferences about whether there are questions to answer based on police interest or lack thereof. This perhaps should be discouraged, but in some cases a person who is accused of something may themselves make it an issue in appealing for support. Dan Wootton decided it was relevant in his response to the allegations as published on a crowdfunding website:

We must fight back against the current state of social media, where any allegation can be made in an attempt to get someone on the right cancelled and it is impossible to defend yourself. This is even the case where they have claimed that I have engaged in criminal activity when I have never been arrested, interviewed or charged in respect of any of the allegations against me.

Wootton’s crowdfunder was set up with the assistance of Laurence Fox’s Bad Law Project, and it was taken down a few days ago. This was around the same time that Fox criticised Wootton for disloyalty over the Ava Evans controversy, although he now says that they are still in daily contact (5.41 here). As such, the reason for the removal is unexplained.

The news cycle has since moved on from the question of whether Wootton solicited images, but he has he remained in the news for other reasons, such as his recent suspension from GB News and firing by the Daily Mail. There is also an intriguing story in Press Gazette about how “The Guardian, Mirror, various other Reach sites and Newsquest’s The National have all removed stories after a legal warning made by a lawyer acting for Dan Wootton”.

Notes on Laurence Fox, Don Wootton and Some Media Reactions

The Guardian reports on a statement from Laurence Fox, suspended from GB News after an appearance on Dan Wootton Tonight during which he disparaged joutnalist Ava Evans in crudely abusive sexual terms on live television:

In Thursday’s 15-minute video on X, Fox accused Evans of having a “dislike of men in general” and said he was angry with her about comments she had made during a BBC debate on male suicide, but apologised for “demeaning her”.

He said: “If I was going to be sensible and I could replay it, I would say: ‘Any self-respecting man in 2023 would probably be well advised to avoid a woman who possessed that worldview because she would probably cause him nothing but harm.’

“But what I did say was, you know: ‘I wouldn’t shag that,’ and all that sort of stuff, which is not right. It’s demeaning to her, to Ava, so I’m sorry for demeaning you in that way, however angry I am with you still for doing that, and it demeans me because it’s not representative of who I am.”

Apologising for making belligerent and provocative comments when that’s his whole brand is liable to be detrimental to Fox’s future – the case of Milo Yiannopoulos comes to mind.

It is also notable that he downplays what “all that sort of stuff” actually entailed. Here’s a transcript:

“…Show me a single self-respecting man that would like to climb into bed with that woman – ever – who wasn’t an incel, a cucked little incel.

“That little woman has been spoon fed oppression day after day after day, starting with the lie of the gender wage gap… Who’d want to shag that?”

Some earlier reports (including in the Guardian) unaccountably overlooked the word “cucked”, a term that denotes not just a cuckold in the ordinary sense, but a man who acquiesces in his wife’s adultery due to sexual inadequacy and a general inability to embody proper masculine attributes (as a term of disparagement against men, this also makes a mockery of Fox’s supposed concern about male suicide rates). As controversy grew on social media, Fox goaded critics by Tweeting about “the feminisation of men”. Meanwhile, GB News, likely out of fear of Ofcom censure, apologised for the broadcast.

Some of the responses to the incident are worth noting. The Daily Telegraph, which did so much to establish Fox’s reputation as a supposedly serious commentator, originally ran with the headline “GB News apologies after Laurence Fox calls reporter a ‘little woman'”, with a subheading that referred to a “series of remarks about Ava Evans”. This absurd demonstration of obtuseness was later superseded with “Laurence Fox refuses to apologise to ‘mob’ after GB News suspension”, followed by a reference to a “series of personal remarks about Ava Evans”.

Meanwhile, some of Fox’s supporters went through Ava Evans’s social media history looking for “gotchas”, and compiled a handful of old Tweets in which she had used the word “shag” into a screenshot that was then promoted by Fox himself as evidence of a double standard. In a couple of cases her Tweets were replies to other users in which she said that she wouldn’t shag them, but the original context of casual banter rather than a vicious attack was not provided. Anyone can see for themselves here and here. The false equivalence was too much for Dominique Samuels, a former GB News commentator who says she has changed her perspective after “going to the Netherlands and taking plant medicine”:

The ‘anti-woke’ political space has become so ridiculous that people honestly can’t see the difference between a detailed and hate-filled diatribe on national TV about having sex with a woman based on her political views, and a common turn of phrase used online.

Also attempting to shift the focus onto Evans’s past comments was one Connor Tomlinson, who in debate with Moya Lothian-McLean on Sky TV asserted that

Ava said women should be able to weaponise false rape allegations in order to keep men afraid of actually committing sexual assault.

Evans subsequently interpreted this to mean that she was now being accused of eoncouraging women to “file false rape allegations”, a reading which Tomlinson found objectionable. But Evans had never said anything about “weaponising” false allegations, and Tomlinson’s clarification Tweet was a tacit admission of this. Instead, he explained:

…when Isabel Oakeshott raised that concern about a young boy’s “life being ruined” with a false accusation, you said, “I like that terror. I like that. I think men should be frightened…

You stated on Piers Morgan, a year ago, that you endorsed the #MeToo paradigm which resulted in some women (Amber Heard, for example) making false accusations and destroy the lives of men, because you assessed, on the whole, that a culture of fear of these accusations was a benefit by keeping women safe.

“Weaponise false allegations” is a tenuous extroplation, and giving the impression that the phrase was a direct quote was misleading. Evans did not recognise the view attributed to her, and as such her “file false rape allegations” interpretation was reasonable (and likely to be how many viewers would have understood it). (1)

As well as the responses it’s also worth noting some non-responses within the populist conspiracy crowd. Various influencers and their associates who don’t want to defend Fox but who don’t want to burn bridges either have suddenly discovered the virtue of not expressing an opinion about everything: James Melville sniffs that “the media bubble squabbling on things that don’t matter is so tedious”.

Fox and Dan Wootton

Fox’s statement is also notable for his bitter comments about Dan Wootton, who joined GB News in issuing his own apology for the segment despite having privately messaged Fox with laughing emojis. Fox revealed that following allegations about Wootton in Byline Times (discussed here), he had given Wootton moral support every day for weeks and had provided him with “full access to free legal services” via his Bad Law Project (previously described here).  Fox added that “we” (presumably meaning the group) had organised his fundraiser, which has now not-so-mysteriously disappeared.

Wootton’s apology didn’t save him from also being suspended from GB News, and Pop Bitch carries the claim that he not only failed to respond to Fox appropriately at the time but also ignored direct instructions coming into his ear-piece. He has also now been dropped as columnist for the Daily Mail – the paper’s owners refer to “events this week”, which dodges the issue of what their ongoing investigation into older allegations may have found.

UPDATE: Fox subsequently appeared on a podcast hosted by Andrew Tate, during which he gave an aggrieved account of the incident with Ava Evans and complained more broadly about gender roles and relations in modern sociey (including his own circumstances as a divorced father). As for his apology to Evans:

When I said to her I’m sorry for, I demean myself by speaking to you in that manner – even though it was funny, fuck it, why not? – she said I cannot accept your apology.

Tate, as is well known, is currently under police investigation in Romania on allegations of rape and the sexual exploitation of women; he claims that he is innocent, and is being framed by “the Matrix”. Fox is sympathetic to this explanation, just as he has expressed scepticism about the allegations against Russell Brand. However, even leaving aside the criminal charges, there is no argument over Tate’s history of unambiguous and coarsely expressed misogyny. He openly boasts about using predatory seduction techniques to recruit women into webcam work, and he has even filmed himself engaging in sadistic sexual role-play.

Despite all this, Tate enjoys links with prominent US conservatives, and he has made appearances on GB News. There has, though, been one dissenting conservative voice in the UK, warning that “enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend” and objecting to Tate receiving “reputation management” from the likes of Candace Owens. That caution and complaint come from none other than Fox’s close associate Calvin Robinson.


(1) Tomlinson’s main platform is Carl Benjamin’s anti-feminist Lotus Eaters podcast – back in March he used the show to interview Fox’s close associate Calvin Robinson on the subject of “how to fix modern women”. Robinson is ordained as a deacon in a fringe off-shoot of the Church of England; he recently made an appearance on Fox News on the subject of how Christians cannot hold progressive views, as a result of which he received an endorsement from Franklin Graham.

A Note on Russell Brand and “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

At the Spectator, Sam Leith notes support for Russell Brand from among the “alternative news” influencer crowd (links added):

Elon Musk and Jordan Peterson; Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson; GB News’s Calvin Robinson (‘What is their motivation?’) and Bev Turner (‘This proves you are winning. You’re a hero’); George Galloway (‘I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I smell a giant RAT); even the Telegraph‘s Allison Pearson, before the reports were aired or published, mused that ‘my first reaction is to wonder why They [sic] are trying to silence the person’. Laurence Fox, grotesquely, quoted Pastor Niemoller.

In some cases, it is not clear whether the commentators believe that Brand has been falsely accused, or just that he has been singled out unfairly. Several of the above have histories of making lurid allegations against others without much concern for due diligence – Musk infamously once called someone “pedo guy” in a fit of pique and more recently forced Twitter’s former head of site integrity go into hiding, while just a few days ago Carlson (who claims Brand has been targeted due to his views on drug companies and Ukraine) conducted a risible softball interview with the discredited figure of Larry Sinclair.

Leith also addresses how the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is currently being bandied about “as if criminal conviction was now the minimum standard of verification for a newspaper investigation”. Certainly, in some cases (such as that of Calvin Robinson) the phrase seems to be a mantra deployed to dodge any need to engage with the story. However, some warnings about “trial by media” are more general and principled – particularly vocal on this point is Harvey Proctor, who was vilified based on a ludicrous and incompetent police investigation triggered by the liar and hoaxer Carl Beech.

The problem with “innocent until proven guilty”, though, is that it does not reflect how we assess what may or may not be pertinent information in everyday life, rather than when following the narrow epistemological principles imposed on juries. Even in law, the civil standard of a finding is “balance of probability” rather than absolute proof. We can all think of cases where an acquittal in a criminal case was more a matter of doubt rather than exoneration. Of course, it is important to be especially careful and fair-minded in relation to sexual allegations, due to the special circumstances of accusers whose identity is protected and the exceptional stigma that is attached to such crimes – but that doesn’t mean we can’t ever form a view about a particular situation.

In the case of Russell Brand, one accuser made a statement at a rape crisis centre the day after the alleged encounter occured in 2012, and she has what appears to be a text message from him in which he apologises for what occurred. It is reasonable to regard this as a case to answer, and then to draw adverse inferences if a credible answer is not forthcoming. We may then draw futher inferences about the likelihood of other allegations that can probably never be proven in court either way, such as that during one consensual sexual encounter he forced his alleged partner (a 16-year-old girl) to perform a sexual act against her will.

As regards the allegation of “grooming” a 16-year-old, this is not actually illegal unless and abuse of authority is involved, and so the issue of a criminal standard of proof doesn’t even apply – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have reputational ramifications.

UPDATE: Laurence Fox has expressed the view that Brand must be innocent based on supposed statistical probability: “If Russell Brand has shagged over a thousand women, one would expect more than a 0.4% allegation rate.”

BBC Critics Seize on Disinformation Correspondent’s 2018 CV Embellishment

From the New European‘s “Mandrake” media column:

We all make mistakes when we are young, and sometimes they grow in irony as time passes. Case in point: Marianna Spring, the BBC’s disinformation correspondent who, I can reveal today, was once caught red-handed lying in her CV to win a job.

…Five years ago, in 2018, Spring was looking for work as a Moscow stringer for US-based news site Coda Story. In her application to editor-in-chief Natalia Antelava, she included a CV in which claimed to have worked alongside BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford on the corporation’s coverage of the football World Cup held in Russia… A simple check by Antelava with Rainsford resulted in the latter admonishing Spring for the embellishment in her CV. A grovelling email apology from Spring to Antelava followed…

The disappointing indiscretion has been seized on with glee by critics of the BBC, including the conspiracy crowd and the anti-NATO left (“a criminal offence”, crows Kit Klarenberg, ludicrously [1]). Some headlines, such as the Telegraph‘s “Marianna Spring: BBC disinformation reporter ‘lied on her CV'” give the false impression that the story relates to her current position. On Twitter (sorry, “X”), Christian Christensen describes the social media reaction as “bro-schadenfreude”.

There is some surprise that the story appeared first in the New European. The column is anonymous, and the flow of information remains opaque. Perhaps it simply found its way there due to chance connections between journalists, but there might be something else going on: someone with a grievance who didn’t want to take their story to predictable anti-BBC news outlets; or possibily even a “friendly” leak to the weekly as news management to pre-empt some more vitriolic anti-BBC source.


1. Klarenberg published a supposed “investigation” of Spring in Grayzone in June, in which he suggested that the lack of anything interesting in her past must be evidence of a cover-up and noted darkly that she had studied at Pembroke College “during the period when disgraced former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove served as its master”. Given Dearlove’s retirement role as a buffoonish opinionator for the Telegraph, the hint of some “intelligence” link between the two is incoherent.

Covid Anti-Vax Conspiracy Crowd Embraces Tommy Robinson

Bankruptcy after losing a libel case does not appear to have unduly inconvenienced Tommy Robinson, who yesterday made an appearance at the “Facts Matter” anti-Covid vaccination conference in Denmark.

Photos posted online by one of the participants, Anastasia Maria Loupis, show Robinson posing with disgraced Reclaim Party MP Andrew Bridgen and with Peter McCollough – Loupis described Robinson and McCollough as “the greatest freedom fighters of all time”. A short video also shows Robinson and Bridgen sharing a trip in a people carrier, and Robinson chatting away with other attendees with actor John Bowe in the background.

Robinson, of course, will jump on any populist bandwagon no matter how intellectually discreditable, and it is easy to see how conspiracism about vaccines would have an affinity with conspiracist rhetoric about Muslim migration. Even so, though, the vaccine conspiracy movement’s embrace of Robinson is a new development that is likely to be controversial. It also reveals more about the nature of Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party.

The “Facts Matter” conference was organised by a group calling itself the Danish Freedom Movement FBF (Frihedsbevægelsens Fællesråd), founded by one Malue Montclairre. Montclairre kicked off the event, followed by “Conference host Mette Bloch & John Bowe”. John Bye has noted some of the line-up:

Andrew Bridgen clearly has an odd sense of what kind of speakers make a “great event” given he’s in a session with Reiner Fuellmich (accused by his own group of embezzling funds) and Dolores Cahill (on the run from the Irish police), with music from Matt Hoy (ex Continuity UB40). [1] Also at the ironically named Facts Matter Conference are Pierre Kory pushing ivermectin, Clare Craig exaggerating vaccine harms, Ryan Cole blaming them for “turbo cancer”, and John Campbell on how he got rich by embracing quackery on YouTube. Sorry, “evidence-based social media”. [2]

The allegation against Fuellmich is discussed in more detail on German news portal t-online – complaints against him were rejected by the Berlin public prosecutor, although he declined to give an account to the t-online reporter on the grounds that the media is under the control “of those who are responsible for this plandemic and everything else related to the Great Reset” (via Google translate).

Robinson was not himself a speaker – Bye says that he “seems to be reporting on the Facts Matter Conference for his BitChute channel”. He was also in Denmark for other reasons – he gave an interview for Aia Fog and Michael Pihl of “The Free Press Society 2004” (Trykkefrihedsselskabet af 2004) and met with Morten Messerschmidt of the Danish Peoples Party (DPP, Dansk Folkeparti) – in one video he appears to be wearing a Burberry shirt worth several hundred pounds, which may be of some interest to the bankruptcy investigators.

Some Notes on Dan Wootton vs Byline Times

From a statement by GB News presenter Dan Wootton:

A hard left blog is on a deranged campaign of harassment designed to destroy me financially, mentally and professionally – but, with your help, they will not succeed.

Byline Times has eschewed all journalistic, legal and moral practices to publish a series of defamatory and untrue claims as part of a highly politicised witch hunt designed to cancel and de-platform me.

…The line-up of people which Byline and other biased sources appear to be relying on for their information include a convicted phone hacker, an abusive ex-boyfriend turned hard left campaigner who admitted in writing to me that he is a “psychopath” and threatened to “slit my throat”, a recently released violent criminal who has previously blackmailed me, and a convicted extortionist I have never met who was sent to jail for many years after being described by a judge as a “compulsive” danger to the public…

Wootton alleges that he is being targeted by Byline Times for political reasons (although the “hard left” descriptor is ludicrous), and he is asking supporters for £150,000, apparently to bring a libel case. His appeal follows a previous statement that he made on his TV show, in which he admitted to “errors of judgement in the past”, but beyond denying anything criminal did not go into detail about what these “errors” may have been [1].

There are a couple of threads to unpick here.

First, as reported in the Guardian, the main thrust of the initial Byline Times article concerns allegations that Wootton had used the online alias “Martin Branning” to ask men working in the media for explicit images in return for money. Certainly, it seems that someone has been doing this – the alias was first noted by Popbitch back in 2021, and the Guardian says that in the last three years it has “talked to multiple individuals working in the media who say they have been approached online by a person using the name Martin Branning”.

The Byline Times reporters claim to have spoken with four people contacted by “Branning” who believe from context that it was Wootton, as well as someone who believes that messages from someone using the identity “Maria Joseph” were from him. Are they all mistaken, or making it up, even? According to the article:

…a representative for Dan Wootton declined to provide Byline Times with an on-the-record response. It is understood that he strongly denies all allegations of criminality. The representative did not clarify, when asked, whether Wootton also denies being Martin Branning.

On TV Wootton referred to “legal advice” which supposedly means that he can’t comment on details.

As well as the five alleged targets quoted by Byline Times, the article also reports claims that Wootton had admitted to being “Martin Branning” to a “former colleague and friend”, and to his (i.e. Wootton’s) ex-partner Alex Truby. It is difficult to judge their credibility, but Wootton’s counter-allegations against Truby are of little value without more detail. In any case, these two witnesses are not crucial to the story.

It also should be noted that the five alleged targets are distinct from the “violent criminal” and the “convicted extortionist” referenced by Wootton. The “convicted phone hacker” is Dan Evans, the co-author of by the Byline Times articles. Some may judge that Evans’ historic involvement in this widespread illegal practice means that any subsequent journalism produced by him can be dismissed out of hand; others, however, may take the view that his regret means that his actions were just “errors of judgement in the past”.

Second, we come to the issue of criminality. Byline Times alludes to the existence of criminal allegations on Twitter, presumably referencing the extortionist (it’s not clear where the “violent criminal” fits in), and GB News has highlighted the extortonist’s discreditable past as an answer to all the allegations against Wootton. This person is not relevant to the question of “Martin Branning’s” true identity, and he is barely present (if at all) in the Byline Times article; nevertheless, there is a sense that his more serious (and unevidenced) allegations are being conflated with the Byline Times reporting. Byline Times also notes other allegations made by Truby on Twitter, although it does not vouch for their veracity.

Byline Times further says that two people who were pestered by “Martin Branning” went to the police, and that the journalists themselves have now presented the police with a “dossier”. Does this amount to accusing Wootton of criminality? Readers will (or should) understand that a lodging a complaint does not mean that police will necessarily agree that an offence has been committed, or that that right person has been identified.

And again, although Wootton may feel aggrieved at having been the subject of police complaints, his objection does not amount to a categorical denial that he had anything to do with “Martin Branning” or “Maria Joseph”. Neither does it address further non-criminal claims in follow-up articles on Byline Times about his alleged conduct while working at the Sun (containing details consistent with a report about an unnamed “pundit” that recently appeared in Private Eye magazine [2]). This is not beside the point when you are asking people to give you money to defend your reputation. (3)

As part of his fundraising, Wootton writes that “Byline have already come for the likes of the Free Speech Union, the Legatum Institute, GB News and Douglas Murray who received substantial damages for their lies”. The reference here to Murray is something of an extrapolation, although Murray has endorsed it. I have some further background on this here.

(post expanded on 22 July 2023)

UPDATE: Expressions of support for Wootton have been posted by Nana Akua, Lord Cruddas, Leilani Downing, Baroness Foster, Laurence Fox, Nile Gardiner, Andrea Jenkyns MP, Narinder Kaur, Oli London, Louise Mensch, Allison PearsonSarah Vine and Toby Young, among others.

UPDATE 2: Also on board is QAnon hotelier John Mappin, whose Tweet has been RTed by Wootton. Mappin writes that “I can’t say WHY. But it is VITAL that Dan ⁦ @danwootton ⁩ gets ALL the help that he needs”. In reply to a query from right-wing commentator David Vance about why he can’t say, his reply is that “Because it’s private”.

UPDATE 3: Nana Akua and Oli London subsequently deleted their Tweets of support, without explanation.


1. Wootton did, however, angrily deny false claims that he had deleted Tweets relating to Huw Edwards – this myth arose because he had not Tweeted for a week due to being on holiday.

2. Final paragraph of “Phil Chase”, Private Eye 1599 (2-15 June 2023), p. 9. The article accuses various unnamed media figures of hypocrisy in relation to Phillip Schofield, a subject Wootton has expressed strong condemnatory views on.

3. In a letter from his lawyers to Byline Times, Wootton rejects suggestions of criminality relating to the “Martin Branning” story, but again without clarifying whether he used the alias at all.

The “I Withdraw My Consent” Conspiracy Meme

From football website Fan Banter:

Matt Le Tissier and Rickie Lambert go viral again leaving viewers rather baffled with their latest videos trending on Twitter.

Both uploaded a new profile picture too, a message which read: “I withdraw my consent to be governed by any corrupt, compromised, belligerent, criminal parliament or government. I will not comply.”

The message, posted as a graphic of black writing against a yellow background, is currently being re-posted by “Great Awakening” and anti-Covid vaccination conspiracy enthusiasts across the UK and beyond. Supporters are also encouraged to video themselves reading the statement, and to send pro-forma letters to their local MP and to the prime minister. In this way, members of the conspiracy movement acting in cult-like unison signal their commitment while also pretending that they are engaged in some sort of act of individualist dissident bravery. The initiative is also a way to spread “sovereign citizen” concepts within the movement – specifically, the belief that a pseudo-legalese declaration has some sort of ritual power to release the utterer from the power of the law.

The originator seems to be Mark Sexton, a former police officer who got into the news in 2021 after lodging a police complaint against vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and who was involved in disrupting the work of a vaccination centre in October: the font and colour scheme for the “I will not comply” graphic have both been used by him before, and the message is currently prominent on his Facebook page. Others who are following his lead include conspiracy influencers Tom Numbers and Mark Attwood, as well as anti-vax GP David Cartland.

The campaign may also be related to an “invite only” afternoon where Sexton met with Attwood and Cartland last week – a photo from the event posted online (noted by @CoasterCrazy82) shows an earlier version of the wording on an display screen (“I no longer consent to being governed…”). As noted by John Bye, other attendees included anti-vaxx funeral director John O’Looney, Irish fugitive Dolores Cahill and (inevitably) disgraced MP Andrew Bridgen. However, a similar “Do Not Comply” message on a yellow background also appeared on t-shirts worn by Piers Corbyn and his supporters at Uxbridge and South Ruislip last week, as can be seen here (posing with Bridgen, even though Bridgen was there to campaign for rival fringe election candidate Laurence Fox).

Laurence Fox and Supporters Campaign in Uxbridge & South Ruislip

From GB News, mid-June:

Laurence Fox will run in the race to replace Boris Johnson as the MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip in West London.

…Fox, who starred in DS James Hathaway in crime drama Lewis, will run in the seat after the Reclaim Party leader agreed a “mutual cooperation agreement” with Reform UK.

A photo blurb adds “Laurence Fox often appears on GB News”, which understates his position as a regular presenter (1) on the channel (currently on hiatus due to election law). As has been widely noted, the primary motivation for his political activism appears to be bitterness at his personal circumstances as a divorced father, complaining in one Tweet in January (that he subsequently deleted) that “women have it easy”; he also expresses his discontent with the world via attention-seeking stunts such as burning some Progress Pride bunting in his back garden. Inevitably, his Reclaim Party (I say “his”, although it is bankrolled by a millionaire donor named Jeremy Hosking) is heavily invested in conspiracism, and especially Covid vaccination alarmism – this is a subject that the party’s sole MP, disgraced former Conservative Andrew Bridgen, now regularly uses to grandstand in Parliament.

Fox made an appearance in the constituency at the weekend, and photos show him addressing a crowd of less than 50 in a local park, including one person who had brought a large “Sovereign Citzen” banner. In the spirit of the pact with Reform UK, Fox was joined by Reform’s Ben Habib; Fox afterwards Tweeted his thanks to Habib and to some other supporters who were there: Bridgen, Fox’s GB News colleague and fellow conspiracy-monger Neil Oliver (2), and “CaliforniaFrizz”, a familiar figure from UK conspiracy-influencer meet-up events (3).

Oddly, Bridgen also chose to pose for a photo with one of Fox’s rival candidates – Piers Corbyn, who is running for a party called Let London Live. Corbyn and his own supporters were wearing t-shirts bearing their party’s web address, although the site isn’t yet live.


1. Fox recently complained that GB News won’t allow him to use his show to interview Katie Hopkins or Tommy Robinson:

I’m like, “why?”, because you have open racists on all other TV channels. So, you’ve got that – what’s that one who looks like she’s wearing a mop on her head? Shola [Mos-Shogbamimu]? She’s a massive racist. You get her on. You’ve got the other one that [indistinct] News, Narinder Kaur, who just says racist things and it’s fine… so you’re actually letting racists on TV dependent on their skin colour.

2. Oliver has recently started railing against “medical products” on GB News, as a way to evade censure for explicit Covid vaccination alarmism.

3. She can also be seen here as part of group called the “Elite Thinking Club” explaining that the moon landings must have been faked because there is a “shield” around the moon (17 mins in).

Duelling “Gotchas”: Jess Phillips and Katharine Birbalsingh

From Sky News:

Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips has been accused of “racist and bullying behaviour” after a row on social media with high-profile headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh.

…It came after Ms Birbalsingh, head of high-achieving Michaela Community School in Brent, said she inadvertently tweeted a picture of Tina Turner alongside her abusive former husband Ike Turner amid tributes to the late star.

…Ms Phillips then tweeted “hold the line!”, adding: “Stay with me! Domestic abuse is never ok and we will defeat those who prop up the status quo…”

The Tweeted image was a faux pas, but the allegation that Birbalsingh would have used the death of Tina Turner as a way to launder Ike Turner’s reputation or to make a dig at women who leave their abusive husbands is vicious and implausible; yet Phillips persisted with her opportunistic gotcha, celebrating Birbalsingh’s subsequent deletion of the Tweet as a victory and then sarcastically Tweeting a “sure” gif when Birbalsingh clarified her opposition to wife-beating. Phillips also Tweeted that she might write to the Michaela Community School to ask about domestic abuse policies in “her school or teaching plans”.

Birbalsingh had valid reason to complain about Phillips’ stance, and particularly her continuing unwillingness to accept that the Turner image had been posted inadvertently. However, her claim that Phillips instigated a pile-on motivated by “racism”, as laid out in a long letter to Keir Starmer that she has posted online, is based on flawed evidence and wild extrapolation and undermines her grievance. In particular, Alex Andreou has pointed out that Birbalsingh was already under attack before Phillips got involved, and that Tweets from third parties cited by Birbalsingh as evidence of a pile-on precede her intervention. Birbalsingh also incorrectly claims that she was singled out for criticism by Phillips when she recently gave a speech at the recent National Conservative Conference, when in fact Phillips had offered scathing comments about a number of speakers.

Birbalsingh is on firmer ground when she complains that Phillips referred to her as “that headteacher woman” – such a description raises the suspicion that Phillips couldn’t be bothered to double-check how to spell an ethnic minority surname and so decided to dodge around it, but Birbalsingh’s extrapolation from that to “she holds me in contempt for being a black woman who does not bend the knee and consider her master” is excessive.

Further, an important plank of Birbalsingh’s argument in her letter is that Phillips allegedly subscribes to a belief that ethnic minority Britons lose their right to be considered as such if they do not supoort progressive politics. Her evidence here was a 2018 Tweet in which Phillips supposedly wrote that an unnamed Conservative Party leadership candidate “ain’t no Asian”. However, Birbalsingh had misread a screenshot, and the phrase used was actually “ain’t no Aslan”, mocking a contemporary media comparsion between the famous fictional lion and Boris Johnson.

The Tweet as reproduced by her appears to derive from a collage of undated salty Phillips Tweets that someone put together a while ago – here’s someone posting it in 2021 and making the same “ain’t no Asian” misreading. How this was brought to Birbalsingh’s attention remains unknown, but the fact that the Phillips Tweet hadn’t provoked any media interest ought to have been a red flag. The error, which Birbalsingh has conceded but downplayed, shows the importance of checking Tweets for oneself where possible (currently more difficult due to Elon Musk’s daily read limits).

Phillips had assumed the worst about Birbalsingh due to the latter’s high-profile position within UK culture wars – Birbalsingh describes herself as a “floating voter” who has sometimes voted Labour, but her appearance at the National Conservative Conference was obviously as a supporter of a political movement. Last year, of all the people she could have invited to visit her school she chose the crank conservative commentator Jordan Peterson, and she recently made headlines by endorsing sensational yet unsubstantiated media claims that some schools allow children to identify as cats and other non-human things. In particular, she claimed that she had heard of a pupil somewhere who supposedly identified as a hologram – read alongside rumours of a cat-pupil, this obviously brought to mind the television series Red Dwarf, and raised the possibility that she was being pranked.

As regards Birbalsingh’s education policies, they are controversial but as far as I am aware there aren’t any ex-pupils complaining that they found the school environment oppressive. Also, she has at least shown that it possible to run a “strict” shool without resorting to hitting children with bits of wood, which is welcome.

I noted a previous instance of Phillips going on the attack based on false allegations here.