Morrissey versus NME in racism court battle

Former Smiths frontman attempts to sue ex-NME editor for libel.

Morrissey is attempting to sue Conor McNicholas, the NME's former editor and its publisher IPC Media for libel. A hearing was held at the High Court on Monday, which Morrissey did not attend. Today the senior libel judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, will annouce whether this claim for a trial has been accepted.

The case centres around an interview that Morrissey gave to the NME in November 2007, in which he referred to an "immigration explosion". He was also quoted as saying: "Although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British idenitity disappears."

In his written submission to the court, Morrissey said that the 2007 interview had attracted significant attention from the press and that "Question marks over my being a racist have never since receded". The former lead singer of the Smiths has always denied allegations of racism. Another controversial episode in the singer's career happened onstage in Finsbury Park in 1992, when he wrapped himself up in a Union jack, leading to accusations by the NME that he was "flirting with disaster" and racist imagery.

Morrissey first threatened to take legal action against the magazine soon after the interview was published in 2007. His lawyers set a deadline by which the publication had to apologise before legal action would begin, but the NME issued no such apology. Acting for the magazine, Catrin Evans alleged that the three year gap between Morrissey's first complaint and the recent hearing suggests that, "this is not a genuine bid for vindication ... [The claim] simply didn't figure at the forefront of his mind."

If Morrissey's claim is successful, the main evidence for the trial will be a full transcript of the 2007 interview and e-mail correspondence between Morrissey's manager and the NME.

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How wine crosses national boundaries

With a glass of wine, and a bit of imagination, wine can take us anywhere.

Wine offers many pleasures, one of which is effortless movement. You can visit places that make the wines you love, but you can also sip yourself to where these grapes once grew, or use a mind-expanding mouthful to conjure somewhere unrelated but more appropriate to your mood. Chablis, say, need not transport you to damp and landlocked Burgundy, even if the vines flourish there, not when those stony white wines suit sun, sea and shellfish so well.

Still, I’d never been to Istria – a triangle of land across the Adriatic from the upper calf of Italy’s boot – either in vino or in veritas, until I tried a selection of wines from Pacta Connect, a Brighton-based, wine-importing couple obsessed with Central and Eastern Europe. 

The tapas restaurant Poco on Broadway Market in east London has fiercely ecological credentials – it uses lots of locally sourced and sustainably grown food and the space is a former bike shop – but this fierceness doesn’t extend to entirely virtuous wine-buying, thank goodness. I’m all for saving the planet: waggle the eco-spear too hard, however, and I’ll be forced to drink nothing but English wine. Trying each other’s wines, like learning each other’s customs, is vital to understanding: there’s no point improving the atmosphere if we all just sit around inhaling our own CO2 at home.

The world is full of wine and it is our duty to drink variously in the name of peace and co-operation – which are not gifts that have frequently been bestowed on Istria. I have sought enlightenment from Anna, the Culinary Anthropologist. A cookery teacher and part-time Istrian, she has a house on the peninsula and a PhD in progress on its gastronomy. So now, I know that Istria is a peninsula, even if its borders are debated – a result of Croatia, Slovenia and Italy all wanting a piece of its fertile red soil and Mediterranean climate.

From ancient Romans to independence-seeking Croatians in the early 1990s, all sorts of people have churned up the vineyards, which hasn’t stopped the Istrians making wine; political troubles may even have added to the impetus. A strawberry-ish, slightly sparkling Slovenian rosé got on splendidly with plump Greek olives and English bean hummus, topped with pickled tarragon and thyme-like za’atar herbs from the Syrian-Lebanese mountains. A perfumed white called Sivi Pinot by the same winemaker, Miha Batič, from Slovenian Istria’s Vipava Valley, was excellent with kale in lemon juice: an unlikely meeting of the Adriatic, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Sivi Pinot is another name for Pinot Grigio, which seems fair enough: as long as we can raise our glasses and agree to differ, names should be no problem.

But sometimes we can’t. The other Slovenian winemaker on the menu, Uroš Klabjan, lives three kilometres from the Italian city of Trieste, where his Malvazija Istarska would be called Malvasia Istriana. Either way, it is fresh and slightly apricot-like, and goes dangerously well with nothing at all: I see why this is Istria’s most popular white grape. His Refošk, an intense red, is also good but there is a complicated argument over when Refošk should be called Teran. Like battles over parts of the Balkans, these wrangles seem incomprehensible to many of us, but it’s sobering to think that wine can reflect the less pleasant aspects of cross-cultural contact. Intolerance and jingoism don’t taste any better than they sound.

We finish with Gerzinić’s Yellow Muskat and rhubarb parfait: Croatian dessert wine from an ancient grape found around the world, with an English plant transformed by a French name. There’s nothing sweeter than international co-operation. Except, perhaps, armchair travel.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain