Let’s democratise the bejesus out of libel reform

This week the Guardian made the astonishing revelation that a man who is heir to the throne by an accident of birth and who is the representative on Earth of precisely no-one has been enjoying the right of veto over government legislation. I think this might be a good time to strap on our democratic boots and make our way to Parliament.

Don’t be disheartened by the news of Prince Charles’s dubious interventions in the democratic process. Don’t give in to the apathetic feeling that you can’t do anything. You can and you should.

A public meeting on libel law reform next week presents a good opportunity for us to reassert the power of the people.

Cromwell at Parliament

Oliver ‘Kingsolver’ Cromwell

If you are a scientist, you have a particular interest in helping to ensure that scientific matters can be robustly debated in the public domain without fear of the threat of a financially disastrous libel suit.

The law in England and Wales at present makes it too easy for powerful vested interests to silence critics, whatever the evidence. But thanks to persistent work by the Libel Reform Campaign over the past couple of years, Parliament and the Government are on the brink of considering serious and fundamental changes to strengthen freedom of speech.

Draft defamation legislation drawn up by the Government has been scrutinised by a select committee of MPs, who recently reported on changes that are needed. These changes, if implemented, will move things in the right direction but do not yet go far enough.

It is imperative that we keep the pressure on Parliament to remind them that the demand for reform is deep and wide. We must not miss this opportunity. To show your support, please come to a lobby meeting in Committee Room 10 in the House of Commons on Wednesday 9th November at 6 pm (see here for details).

Come. If you’ve never been to Parliament before, you’ll be fascinated.

Come. Make sure to add your voice to the demand for fairer libel law.

Come. Show the king in waiting how democracy is supposed to work.


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32 Responses to Let’s democratise the bejesus out of libel reform

  1. Ooh! Rousing! Off with his head right of veto!

    I wish I could be there with you, but I’ll have to be content with being there in spirit.

  2. Steve Caplan says:

    “Here, here,” says the man who collects passports from the other side of the pond.

  3. stephenemoss says:

    I was absolutely stunned by the Guardian’s report concerning Mr Windsor, and it is mystifying why MPs seem prepared to pander to his whims – unless they’re thinking of their own knighthoods etc. If only Mr Cromwell had been more thorough in delivering his democratic experiment, as the French were some years later.

    I will try to make it to the meeting on Wednesday, and having been once before with the Science is Vital campaign, can confirm for any novices that a visit to the House of Commons is an exciting experience.

  4. Stephen says:

    Thanks all. Hope to see you there Stephen.

    I’ve just thought: Each year the queen comes to parliament to open the new session. I wonder what she thinks as she passes by the statue of Cromwell?

  5. Brian Clegg says:

    I am utterly mind-boggled that this man with his crank alternative medicines and dubious sales arm in Duchy Organics has had this influence. He shouldn’t be allowed to influence the policies of a teashop, let alone a country. It’s one of the strongest arguments for republicanism I’ve seen.

    Mind you, as someone who’s part Irish myself, I’m not sure you should be holding Cromwell up as a good guy…

    • Stephen says:

      Well yes, Cromwell’s record in Ireland means that he is regarded rather differently there than in England. Aren’t people complicated!

  6. cromercrox says:

    Has HRH ever actually exercised this right? Is he ever actually likely to do so? Are we not, therefore, getting exericsed over not very much?

    Reminds me of the story of the undergraduate at Oxbridge who demanded his right to be served a pint of beer during the exam, the right being laid out in some archaic statute. The University authorities duly served him his beer … but disqualified him as he had not been wearing his ceremonial sword.

    • stephenemoss says:

      Regardless of whether or not he has exercised his right, he has no business meddling in parliamentary affairs.

      • cromercrox says:

        That’s quite true. But I stll think that the outrage generated by the story is synthetic. Not surprising, really, given that the agrauniad is just the Daily Mail for lefties.

      • Mike says:

        Unfortunately, given the lack of a sensible constitutional structure in the UK, he does. That’s why people should be protesting this sort of thing.

        • cromercrox says:

          I suspect however that they protesteth too much. Liberl reform is a much better and more worthwhile target than His Rambunctious Homeopathness.

          • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

            “in a modern Britain, anyone who enjoys exceptional influence or veto should exercise it with complete transparency,” said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall.”

            Or preferably not at all… but transparency should be the absolute minimum demanded from him.

    • Stephen says:

      Read the second last paragraph of the article (if you can bear to, you old Tory ;-). The exercise of the veto is not the point. It is the kow-towing of ministers that is most repellent.

      In any case it is pretty clear that Charles lobbies directly or indirectly (via ‘charities’) on matters of health. (His ill-starred Foundation for Integrated Health is a case in point). A friend of mine who used to work in the PM’s Delivery Office (under Blair) complained of Charles’ interference with policymaking.

      The real crux is that it goes on and we are not allowed to know anything about it. Not democratic.

      • Hear hear to what Stephen said. I’m appalled by the way Ministers and civil servants tread on tip-toes around Charlie and his cronies. And there is little doubt the lobbying is a reality. In some ways it is worse than with industry lobbyists, because Charles and his crew have privileged access, and then we are not allowed to know about it. The lobbying from Charles and his Foundation for Integrative health, which was squarely aimed at shoehorning alternative nonsense into the taxpayer-funded healthcare system, was a case in point.

        What with all this, and the revelations about the Corporation of London being a way that the big city banks actually control the local authority for the City, I have a strong sense of being shown some of the hidden levers that the rich and powerful use to keep things in their own favour. I might just about have expected this sort of thing seven decades back in the era when Universities used to have their own MPs – but in 2011?

        • Stephen says:

          Thanks Austin — I hadn’t seen Monbiot’s piece on the Corporation of London, though to be honest I’m a bit circumspect about his output since he went a bit over the top on the problems with academic publishing.

          But yes – time for us to establish a modern, open, informed society. And libel reform is a very important aspect of that.

      • PS Shan’t be there next week, bit far from t’Grim Nurrth, but will email the MP and remind him to show up. He can file it alongside all my other emails…

  7. Mike says:

    Wish I could be there too. It’s a good fight to fight, and I wish you all the best.

    Henry, I think I read somewhere that His Right Honkingness has been exorcised exercised the veto (something relating to Duchy Farm interests), but my memory is foggy, it may just have been a piece of overblown journalistic wailing and/or gnashing of teeth.

    • cromercrox says:

      Almost certainly journalistic wailing of teeth. As a journalist myself on occasion, I have learned never, ever, to attach much credence to anything I read that pretends to be news.

  8. stephenemoss says:

    I have just written to my MP, Lynne Featherstone (LibDem) urging her to attend this meeting. It must have taken me all of three minutes.

  9. Alan Henness says:

    See you there!

  10. ricardipus says:

    I’ll join with Steve (Caplan) as a fellow collector of overseas passports (expired) and wish you all well.

    Long past time for the UK Monarchy to be divested of their considerable assets and any powers (constitutional or otherwise), and take their place as benevolent but harmless figureheads. Or just go away entirely, either way is fine with me. That would have the knock-on benefit of getting rid of the Governor General of Canada and provincial Lieutenant Governors as well, who are, in my humble but nevertheless inestimable opinion, complete and utter wastes of taxpayers’ money.

    Vive la revolution!, etc. (<– see what I did there? That's our Other Official Language, that is!)

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Ricardipus, I am very much hoping that the Governor / Lieutenant Governor system is abolished – AFTER I’ve had a few years of fun in one of said positions (preferably General, but I’d settle for Lieutenant). I can bring down the system from the inside, actually – cushy pension excepted included (reluctantly).

    • Mike says:

      I think someone’s just stumbled upon an instant fix for UK plc’s financial woes. The colonials commonwealthers are good for something after-all!

      • ricardipus says:

        Glad to be of service. 🙂

        Cath – yeah, wasn’t it Adrienne Clarkson who had an annual budget of something like $50mil? While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the Senate, too.

        • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

          Something like that… but I thought the Canadian government taxpayers were on the hook, not UK plc…?

  11. Steve Caplan says:

    One question: Does His Royal Highness have the right to 4 automatic publications in PNAS every year? Perhaps we could make him Editor-in-Chief. This whole business smacks of the “Ole Boys Network…”

    • Mike says:

      I’d say even a PNAS publication (old boy or old school route) would pale into significance with some of the rights His Rumpy Humpiness already enjoys.

      • Stephen Moss says:

        It turns out there are a good many papers on Pubmed authored by one ‘C Windsor’, though none in PNAS. Suspicious as this may appear, it is unlikely that in the realms of scientific publishing, the artist nincompoop formally known as Prince has any right of veto over editorial decisions. This is, however, something I have long craved myself.

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