Libel victory for Labour bloggers

Case against Alex Hilton and John Gray struck out.

Some good news from the high court where the bloggers Alex Hilton (formerly of Recess Monkey and Labourhome) and John Gray (John's Labour blog) have had the libel case against them struck out. Both faced bankruptcy if the three-year case proceeded to jury trial.

The case was brought by Johanna Kaschke, a blogger and a remarkable political cross-dresser (in the space of 12 months she defected to George Galloway's Respect from Labour, then joined the Communist Party and finally settled in the Conservative Party), who previously lost her libel action against David Osler.

Jack of Kent, who provided legal assistance to Hilton and Gray, has a long and detailed summary of the background to the case on his blog. But for those who haven't been following the story, the case revolved around the fact that Kaschke was once falsely suspected of being a member of a criminal gang.

Kaschke took exception to Gray's decision to refer to the Baader-Meinhof Gang by name (preferring the euphemistic "criminal gang"), despite previously mentioning them on her own website. As Jack of Kent writes, Kaschke was challenged by the presiding judge to explain the reputational difference between:

1) being arrested on suspicion of being a member of Baader-Meinhof, the terrorist group that carried out bombings, robberies and murder (the meaning on which she is seeking vindication by means of this claim for libel), and

2) being accused of being a member of a criminal gang with the aim to commit terrorist offences (a statement which the claimant herself adopts as the position).

She was unable to do so persuasively. That the case has ended in a victory for free speech and common sense is to be welcomed. But that it was allowed to proceed for so long is a salutary reminder of the desperate need to reform our draconian libel laws.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.