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.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

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