When I blogged yesterday I intended it to be my last post on the subject of Kerry McCarthy. To recap: the member of parliament for Bristol East wrote about the smoking ban on her blog on June 29 but I only mentioned it here (on July 3) when I discovered that she had published a second post on July 1 in which she made specific reference to Forest and linked our champagne tea party at the House of Commons to Libby Brooks' class-based critique in the Guardian.
Not unreasonably, I feel, I invited readers and supporters of Forest to respond. Come Saturday night there were 200+ comments on her blog. (To put this in perspective, most of her posts attract no comments at all.) On Sunday she responded to those comments with a further post. To my mind, we had stretched this particular thread as far as it would go. So yesterday afternoon, to wrap things up, I sent her a rather cheery email:
Thank you for your response to the comments that appeared on your blog. For your information, you may be interested to see [HERE] the original blog post that encouraged people to write to you.
The reason [your] post came to our attention - unlike your previous posts on smoking - was the reference to Forest. I have now added THIS post:
I won't go over all the issues again, but I hope we have demonstrated that, in some quarters at least, there remains a great deal of anger and resentment at the extent of the smoking ban, which I don't think will go away this side of an election.
In our experience, based on thousands of emails, blog posts, telephone calls and letters, most of the anger comes from "lifelong Labour supporters" who say that they "will never vote Labour again" as a result of the ban.
They may change their tune after a few years of Conservative government, but it indicates the deep sense of betrayal that many natural Labour voters feel as a result of legislation that went much further than promised in the 2005 Labour manifesto.
Should you be interested:
1. A short video of the recent Forest/Boisdale party is on Friction TV HERE:
2. An equally short video of the Forest reception at the House of Commons can be viewed HERE:
3. A report of the HoC event is on our Free Society blog HERE:
Boisdale, I should add, is NOT a private members' club as you stated more than once. It's a very public bar and restaurant where you would be very welcome to join us for lunch or dinner at any time.
To my surprise (I wasn't expecting a reply), I received the following email which I reproduce in full:
I think it's quite clear that your strategy is to mobilise supporters to hound those who have publicly supported the ban, with often quite abusive emails, until they decide that it is simply not worth the hassle of saying anything in public about it again.
As some of those posting comments said, the normal response is for the subject of their attention to post a statement and then close down the blog. It says a lot for your commitment to free speech that you encourage such behaviour.
To be honest, I was a little taken aback. My second impulse was to ignore it. My third reaction was to draft this post and sit on it overnight. This morning I thought, "To hell with it."
So, let's get this right. It's OK for elected representatives like Kerry McCarthy to praise the smoking ban (and imply that Forest is an elitist organisation), but it's not OK for Forest to alert people to her comments in order that they can give her a different perspective. In her eyes, that amounts to hounding.
Worse, she claims that "it's quite clear that your strategy is to mobilise supporters to hound those who have publicly supported the ban, with often quite abusive emails [my emphasis]". If McCarthy had bothered to read the posts on this blog she would know that I have gone out of my way to ask people NOT to send abusive emails.
Yes, a few went a bit too far, but the overwhelming majority were well within the bounds of civil debate. She should see what we have to put up with from anti-smokers. One local councillor - from Bristol, funnily enough - once sent me a scrawled note declaring "I hope you die of cancer". He's not the only one.
To top it all, she suggests that we "encourage" people to target blogs which then have to be shut down. Excuse me?! Is it too much to ask that she provide evidence of a single blog or website that has been closed down as a result of our alleged "behaviour"?
What we have here is an MP rattled by the fact that 200 people have had the audacity to take issue with her comments on an open blog - so she shoots the messenger.
Free speech? Don't make me laugh. The anti-smoking lobby doesn't know the meaning of it.
PS. If you have anything to add on this topic, please post your comment here, not on Kerry McCarthy's blog. We have made our point. There is nothing to be gained by posting further comments there. Let it lie.