‘Liberal’ Conspiracy

My good friend Mat Bowles recently took issue with Jonathan Calder, because Calder had said something disparaging about Liberal Conspiracy, and Mat wanted to know why more Lib Dems – and Liberals in general – don’t engage with that site rather than being insulting about it.

In my case, I stopped writing for the site only partly because of the illiberal slant of much of the commentary there – I’m all in favour of a broad church – but mostly because, as my resignation email shows (and it’s lucky I didn’t delete that post as I planned), Sunny Hundal, the site’s editor, has a very lax attitude towards proper attribution – sticking people’s names on stuff they didn’t write, publicly posting emails to private lists as public posts, re-editing others’ work without permission and so on. I don’t mind contributing to a debate where everyone’s voice can be heard, but don’t like seeing things go out under my name that substantially misrepresent my position.

Recently, another contributor to the site, Claude Carpentieri, asked me to write a ‘why you should vote Lib Dem’ guest post for his blog, where he’s doing posts from people ‘representing’ about a dozen of the larger political parties. I thought it rather odd that he’d ask me – and flattering, as the people he’d asked for other parties included the leader of RESPECT and Peter Tatchell, and as a seventh-tier blogger I’m not really in their league. As there wasn’t a huge amount of time or space (500 words) I wrote an extremely cut-down version of the thing I’d written for PEP! – same basic ideas, but less than half the words and for a different audience. I also checked with a few Major Lib Dem Bloggers that what I was saying wasn’t too out of step with the party as a whole, as it was in some sense ‘representing’ the party, albeit unofficially.

I meant to link to this on Friday, when it was posted, but I’ve been having some health problems recently and haven’t been online (or indeed able to get involved in campaigning for the election, about which I feel awful).

However, when I came online today, I saw Alex Wilcock had twittered that people should read something I’d written on why you should vote Lib Dem. I didn’t think Alex read Claude’s blog, so I followed the link out of curiosity, and saw it was to Liberal Conspiracy, where my post had been reposted, without my permission, and with neither Claude nor Sunny informing me of this. It also had a footer saying “Andrew is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs at AndrewHickey.info.”

Luckily, a lot of people seem to have liked the post, which at first glance appears to be what I wrote, but I just want to make it clear I am *NOT* a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy, I was *NOT* asked to write for Liberal Conspiracy, or for my writing to be republished there. The reason I’ve left it to other people to reply to the comments there is because I was unaware there were any comments until five minutes ago. Had I been asked to write for Liberal Conspiracy, I would have refused, partly out of principle and partly because of the disgraceful way its associate editor, Aaron Murin-Heath, behaved when one of his friends started making threats of physical violence against me (I don’t believe calling the police when someone tracks down your address, tells you he has a gun, and threatens to beat you up, makes someone a ‘monstrous thundercunt’. Aaron apparently disagrees.)

I am stating this for the record because I have been a vociferous critic of that site in the recent past, and don’t want to look like a hypocrite now. I am retroactively giving the site permission to use that article, because it has generated discussion there and I don’t want to censor that discussion. But I want people reading this to know that I will never, *EVER* write for that site unless both its editorial line changes, the attitude towards contributors changes drastically, and Mr Murin-Heath is completely dissociated from the site.

Should any other articles appear on that site credited to me, without me having posted in advance on this site that I believe those conditions to have been met, you can be sure that it has been posted there illegally, and it may well have nothing to do with anything I originally wrote.

I do not read Liberal Conspiracy any more, so I won’t necessarily find out if this does happen. But if it does, I shall sue the site and its administrators for copyright infringement, because that will be the only way to make it clear to them that I am serious about my reputation and do not want to be associated with that site and what I consider to be extremely unethical practices.

And I’d just like to say that it is *ONLY* the fact that Mat Bowles and James Graham – two of the people I respect most in the ‘blogosphere’ – both have very different opinions of the site to mine that has stopped me doing so already. Sooner or later Sunny will do this to somone who *isn’t* as easy-going as I am, and that site *will* end up getting sued out of existence. He has reused others’ material often enough without permission that it really is a question of when, not if, and not everyone he’s done this to is a seventh-tier blogger with a handful of regular readers and no financial interest in the work.

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10 Responses to ‘Liberal’ Conspiracy

  1. Debi Linton says:

    I’m saddened, but not surprised that this has happened to you.

    FTR, because I don’t know where Mat asked, and I know he’ll read this, I stopped having anything to do with Liberal Conspiracy when I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to fight casual and consistent attacks on my gender and sexual orientation from all comers. There is no policing of comments and I no longer had the energy to deal with the hate-apologism that ran riot in every comment thread I ever looked at.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I suspected as much – those threads were horribly hateful (and difficult for me, because I wanted to take your side, both as a friend and as someone who thought you were in the right, but I didn’t want to be the big hetero male coming stomping in to protect the poor fragile bi woman).

    • MatGB says:

      FWIW, I’ve only recently started going back there. It’s one of the top three political sites in the country, and the only one that isn’t a stupid gossip blog on incredibly geeky.

      The comments threads are a problem as a specific, and givent the comments polciy was partially written as a result of experiences on the F Word and similar that’s unfortunate, and I can understand not wanting to get involved in debates with some of the arseholes that turn up.

      I also understand Andrew’s specific objections (frankly, while Sunny’s been away, Dan’s done a much better job as acting editor (and Aaron resigned ages ago, and now has little-to-nothing to do with the site), but think that many of them have been addressed, the others are simply Sunny being a cock. I suspect Claude was either asked permission to repost, or has a blanket permission for reposting given, and didn’t think to check with each author.

      But for Lib Dems, specifically, excluding Anrew, the logic seems to be “the site calls itself liberal but is using a different (valid) definition to my favoured definition, and I disagree with more than I agree, so because there aren’t enough people there I agree with, I’ll turn down invites to engage there, because an attempt to balance the numbers and make it more liberal by my definition won’t work because it’s not been tried”.

      Which is a logic I don’t accept. Concluding that Sunny isn’t someone you want to work with is one thing, but deciding the entire site should be ignored because there aren’t enough Lib Dems there is another; there aren’t enough Lib Dems because Lib Dems ignore it, self perpetuating circle.

      I’ll write stuff there when I can be arsed because I don’t want the hassle of maintaining a blog at the top of the rankings, and if I write there, it’ll get read by people of infleunce And people who Google, thus gains us some traction.

      Not that I’m currently writing much at all…

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        I’m not at all sure that LC *is* as influential as people believe it to be. Without every blog posting their traffic, one has to rely on Wikio for the information, and I frankly don’t believe Wikio’s results.
        Certainly if driving traffic to linked sites is any kind of guide, I’ve been linked from LC something like twenty times in total, and only had 200 hits from those links. In contrast., l got 300 hits from a single link in a link roundup from womenincomics.blogspot.com , a feminist site about comics, and 700 from a single brief link from norfolkblogger.blogspot.com .
        I’d be prepared to stake a *LOT* on Debi and Jennie, for example, having far more influence than LC, simply because their visitors aren’t political junkies and might actually change their mind…

  2. Debi Linton says:

    Heh. I recognise your difficulty and still have no suggestions, as I suspect the appropriateness depends on context.

    I think my last comment was something along the lines of “Wow, a post complaining about the use of a hateful word that calls usage of the hateful word ‘retarded’,” with a textual golf clap. When I checked back, I was being screamed at for trying to police other people’s words.

    At least I got to leave with a delicious taste of irony in my mouth.

  3. claude says:

    Erm… Just to clarify. No-one asked me permission to re-post anything.

    Just like you, one morning I just found Andrew Hickey’s post up on Liberal Conspiracy. I assumed they had contacted you directly as I had no idea you’d “fallen out”.

    I tend to steer well clear of intra-blog politics.

    All I can say is that I’m sorry that happened but I can’t (obviously) control who republishes what.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I didn’t think you had given them permission, and I’m sorry if it looked like I implied you did. Like I said, the site has past form on this sort of thing… no-one’s blaming you for anything, and I’d gladly do a guest post for you any time…

  4. donpaskini says:

    Hi Andrew,

    This is my fault and my apologies.

    I’m looking after the site while Sunny is on holiday (so nothing to do with him), part of which involves crossposting articles from a range of blogs, including Hagley Road to Ladywood. We’d already crossposted a number of previous parts of the series (Neil R on not voting, Aaron on the pirate party), as well as several articles by Claude over the past few weeks, so since your article was an excellent one, I crossposted it without thinking any more of it. (Or what Mat said, for shorter).

    I wasn’t aware about your problems with LibCon specifically (or I wouldn’t have crossposted!) but Aaron is no longer involved. In terms of the editorial line, I’ve made an effort over the past month to address some of the criticisms which I know Lib Dems have made and get more Lib Dem supporters involved – Giles Wilkes writes regularly, as does Mark Pack and Lee Griffin, we crossposted James Graham’s attack on the Fabians, a guest post from Mark Reckons, and so on.

    Indeed, this was one of the motivations for crossposting your article – I can imagine what critics would have said if we’d crossposted articles from a series in support of other parties on the liberal-left, but not one in support of the Lib Dems!

    As you say, it generated a good discussion and meant that lots more people got to read a well put argument in favour of the Lib Dems, so I hope you’ll agree in this case it was a genuine mistake with no harm done.

    Do drop me a line if you’d like to discuss further.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      As an isolated incident, that’s one thing, and from what I know of you I tend to believe you meant nothing by it – though it is still both common courtesy and the law that you ask authors before reusing their work.
      It’s the fact of this being part of a larger pattern – one that stretches back years, and has involved Sunny rewriting articles under my name and others without permission, reposting articles from Private Eye he found funny, copying Sam Tarry’s private email as a public post without checking, and so on.
      Your site is *supposed* to be the ‘premier left-liberal blog’, and people have quite rightly praised several bits of real journalism that have been posted there in the past. But the people involved have been *INCREDIBLY* lax in matters of basic journalistic ethics.
      I’m not angry at you personally, Don, but I *am* angry at the culture surrounding that blog, which I believe gives a bad name to everyone on the ‘liberal-left’ – whatever definition of those words one wants to use. No, it’s nowhere near the lows of P. Staines and his ilk, but ‘we’re not as bad as them’ is no more an excuse for blogs than it is a reason to vote Labour.
      Some time, sooner rather than later, this lax attitude towards copyright, attribution, and authors’ moral rights *will* land LC in serious legal difficulty. If what you say is true, that won’t be from me (and assuming no repeats of this kind of issue, I might start considering myself a cautious supporter of the site again in time, as I was originally, if your claims about engaging more with actual liberals are true, and if Murin-Heath really is no longer involved).
      It really wouldn’t have taken more than a few seconds to ask permission, and while I would have said ‘no’, at least we could have *talked* about it…

      • Mark Pack says:

        Sorry to hear you’ve had all those problems.

        My own experience has been much better (never had any problems with posts changed, for example), though perhaps that’s because I’ve been more of an outsider providing a post rather than one of a team, where perhaps there’s more likelihood of it being edited?

        Certainly agree about the comments; there are some, er…, unusual contributions. Which is a real shame because on some posts LC gets a good debate going in the comments (and not infrequently better than on LDV).

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