A victory for scientific inquiry

Simon Singh wins libel appeal against the British Chiropractic Association.

I've just heard the fantastic news that Simon Singh has won his libel appeal against the British Chiropractic Association. He now has the right to rely on the defence of fair comment.

Singh, who has contributed to the NS in the past, was sued by the BCA after he wrote a piece for the Guardian describing the association's claim that spinal manipulation could be used to treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding conditions as "bogus".

Remarkably, Mr Justice Eady ruled that the comments were factual, not opinion -- meaning Singh could not use the defence of fair comment.

Eady also ruled that the use of the word "bogus" implied not merely that the BCA supported ineffective treatments, but that it had been deliberately deceptive.

This left Singh with the Sisyphean task of proving a point he'd never intended to make: that the BCA had been consciously dishonest.

But today, the Appeal Court (consisting of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, and Lord Justice Sedley) ruled that Eady had "erred in his approach", and granted Singh the right to use the defence of fair comment in the primary lawsuit. He now has a far better chance of winning the case.

But as the Lib Dem MP Evan Harris pointed out today, it is absurd that Singh has had to spend £200,000 and two years of his life just to reach this point. The need to reform Britain's draconian libel laws, which discourage free inquiry and punish original journalism, remains as urgent as ever.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.