Tiger Woods's gagging order will backfire

In this internet age any injunction is self-defeating

Tiger Woods's injunction against the British press has once again made the UK the laughing stock of the world when it comes to free speech. It's remarkable that Woods and his lawyers have embarked on this self-defeating course of action.

The pragmatic case against the injunction is that in the age of the internet any gag is destined to fail on its own terms. As the humiliating experience of Trafigura and Carter-Ruck demonstrated, injunctions only succeed in drawing attention to the story the claimant is attempting to suppress.

Under the terms of the injunction (which was immediately published on the celebrity website TMZ), the New Statesman, like other titles, is banned even from discussing the nature of any material that might be subject to the court order. But that hasn't stopped a network of anonymous bloggers from doing so.

The principled case against the injunction is that Woods lost his right to privacy by actively presenting himself as a role model. He built a $1bn brand around his image as a clean-cut, honest and virtuous individual.

"I think it's an honour to be a role model," he once said. "If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person's life in a positive light, and that's what I want to do."

Moreover, by publicly admitting to "trangressions" (an action he now surely regrets), he gave credibility to the media's lurid accounts of his sex life.

Woods would not have dared seek an injunction in the United States, where the First Amendment guarantees free speech. But in Britain, where Mr Justice Eady's one-man war on free expression continues, he predictably succeeded.

In our leader last week, we warned that Britain's draconian libel laws had made it the "destination of choice for oligarchs and plutocrats who wish to evade scrutiny and intimidate their opponents". To that list we can now add philandering celebrities.

Jack Straw has pledged to reform the system radically and tackle the growth of "libel tourism". After this latest embarrassment, he must act with greater haste.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.