Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 19 April 2010

My defence of Chris Mounsey

Andy Newman writing on Socialist Unity has questioned why I defended Devil's Kitchen blogger Chris Mounsey last week. As I blogged he had appeared on the Daily Politics and had not defended himself when Andrew Neil quoted some strong language he had used on his blog.

Andy says of Mounsey:

For example, this is what he says about trade unions:

“We should utterly destroy them, and do it soon.”

The language that Chris Mounsey uses to express that point of view is however extremely offensive, and you can read the original here:

The real speciality of Chris Mounsey, an old-Etonian graphic designer, is the use of sexualised and racialised abuse, involving violent imagery of the humiliation and death of left of centre politicians and trade union leaders.

The language that Chris used against NASUWT president Chris Keates is too extreme for me to publish on my blog, but you can read it here if you wish.

Chris Mounsey revels in the idea of a respected woman trade union leader being violently sexually humiliated, and left to bleed to death; and he argues that she deserves this because she opposes the private sector having a role in education.

Given that in many parts of the world, like Columbia, which has a government somewhat in accordance to Chris Mounsey’s political leanings, women really are raped and murdered for their trade union activity, then I think that Chris Mounsey comes close to glorifying terrorism, which is now a serious criminal offence. No one, least of all a woman trade unionist, should be harrangued by this bullying misogyny, with explicit threats of violent death.

He then says of me:

It is somewhat surprising then to find a leading Lib Dem coming out in Chris Mounsey’s support, arguing that Chris has a right to use this inflammatory and violent language. (The Mark Reckons website was voted best new Lib Dem blog of 2009, and is one of the highest ranked Lib Dem blogs by wikkio.)

Lib Dem Mark says:

“I think he has every right to blog in the way that he sees fit. Many of his supporters and party members will agree with what he is saying. Lots of libertarian bloggers have a strongly worded style and many of them also make very good points and are very funny too. Why should these people be barred from trying to seek political support for their views even if their styles are not to everyone’s tastes?”

Well Mark, this is quite simple they should not be allowed to seek political support for the violent degradation and abuse of women, and the violent death of prominent trade unionists. I don’t find the idea of a trade union leader bleeding to death after sexual violence very funny.

Mark further regrets that Chris Mounsey did not make a better defence of his right to bully and harass people on the Internet when he was interviewed on the Politics Show by Andrew Neil.

Lib Dem Mark says:

I had hoped for a spirited and libertarian defence of his right to have an on-line persona that is close to the knuckle and still be involved in active politics. However he just seemed to cave in to what Neil was saying. Neil suggested that an apology to the Trades Union leader in question might be appropriate and Mounsey obliged. Neil also suggested that if he were a candidate in any other party he would have had to stand down to which Mounsey also assented. Then the interview was over.

Ahh, yes the “on-line persona” defence. How does that work Mark? If I were a 57 year old man, should I be able to adopt an “on-line persona” of a 19 year old boy to talk to teenage girls on chat-room?

In real life, should someone be able to adopt a “persona that is close to the knuckle” by dressing in white robes and burning crosses outside black peoples’ homes?

I should start by repeating what I said on my blog in the original post. Chris Mounsey's style of blogging as Devil's Kitchen is very, very far from my own style (although he has now closed the old blog since the Neil encounter). There are all sorts of things that he wrote that I would never publish on my blog here. His style was very aggressive and confrontational and although I only dipped in and out and did not read all of his posts I did see some of the allusions that he would use.

Sometimes it is not easy defending free speech. Sometimes people say things which I think are awful and abhorrent but frankly it is not my place to stop them. Sometimes I do read things online that go too far for me and what I do is stop reading and make a mental note about where I read it to avoid it in future. There are of course times when people say or write things that incite violence or things like racial hatred and there are laws to deal with that sort of thing which is absolutely right. There does of course have to be some sort of limit. Andy suggests that Chris may have come close to "glorifying terrorism" with his comments about a Trades Union leader. Well I am no legal expert and hence cannot comment on that.

However within the bounds of what is legal, I think people should be free to say what they want. Chris was also doing this whilst trying to lead a political party. It seems that the fact he has now abandoned his old online persona suggests that he has decided that blogging in that style is incompatible with trying to garner mainstream political support. Fair enough, that's his decision. Maybe the two things are mutually incompatible.

I hope I have addressed Andy's attempts to associate me with the examples towards the end of his piece. I do not defend people's right to break the law in the ways that he suggests but within the bounds of the law they should be able to say what they like.

If the rest of us don't like it we don't have to read it.


andy newman said...

That just doesn't do Mark, because even if Devil's Kitchen does not cross the line with regard to glorifying terrorism, his accusation that the union leader in question "rapes babies" is the most gross libel I have ever read.

And launching a campaign of bullying invective and oppressive violent fantasy is not the exercise of "free speech", but an attempt to create a bullying and intimidating atmosphere that excludes other people from debate, and anathenatises views that he disagrees with.

Mark Thompson said...

Andy, if anything that he is written is "gross libel" then there are laws to deal with that as I said.

If Chris wants to create what you describe as a "bullying and intimidating atmosphere" on his blog that excludes others from debate (and I am not necessarily agreeing with your depiction there) then that's up to him. Are you saying he should be banned from doing that? And that I should be castigated for defending his right to write what he likes within the bounds of what is legal?

RantinRab said...

The vast majority of leftie socialist spunk bubbles support free speech.

As long as they agree with what you are saying.

andy newman said...


things which are not illegal can still be worng.

Before sexual grooming by paedophiles became illegal it was already wrong.

I wouldn't care what atmosphere Chris created on his own blog, if that blog were a private affair read only by himslef and people he had invited to read it; but it is a publications that has a readership of 500000 uniques per year - the atmosphere of intimidation spreads further than the internet and into real life, especially as his political party is seeking to develop a real world presence.

if you were the woman trade union leader in question, it would be deeply distressing and intimidatory to read that sort of hate speech.

Chris Mounsey works for a company where he is head of marketing promoting products to public sector workers, after he has publically expressed the desire that their trade union leaders should be sexually humiliated and die.

That is clearly inappropriate, and if you can'tr see that then you are effectively mounting a defence of the rights of people to promote hate speech.

andy newman said...

Mrk reckons says:

"Andy, if anything that he is written is "gross libel" then there are laws to deal with that as I said."

He said that the union leader in question rapes babies.

How do you think that could not be libellous?

Are you arguing that it might be true? fair comment? or that it wouldn't harm her reputation?

You specifically defended his right to "free speech" to write that, so i am confused why you are defending something that is an obvious libel

Mark Thompson said...

Andy, I am not going to apologise for defending free speech. It's one of things people have fought and dies for in our history.

If we are not to use the legal boundary as the arbiter of what can or cannot be said or written by someone then what should we use instead? Should it be what offends you?

Mark Thompson said...

I specifically said that I am not a legal expert. I believe there are all sorts of potential defences in law and it is not for me to decide.

Martin Veart said...

I applaud your defence of free speech Mark. Unlike some, I don't think that adults should be defended against strong ideas or language. If something is truly defamatory, then yes there are legal remedies. But for the rest of the time, if people disagree then that debate should be held just as openly. What is democracy if it isn't the right to hold wrong opinions?

Anonymous said...

What's really terrifying is the idea of a discredited Stalinist like Newman acting as commissar for internet content. This is the same man who happily defends 'cageprisoners' and its support for genuinely violent fanatics.

Mark Pack said...

I think the two weaknesses in your argument Mark are that:

(a) something can be wrong without being illegal. Indeed, there should be many things which are deserving of criticism but which aren't illegal - because otherwise we would have to have a huge expansion of law that tries to micromanage our behaviour.

If I was to hurl a whole load of abuse at you it would most likely be legal (unless I get into physical threats etc.) but it would be fair enough for you to criticise me for such behaviour.

(b) Saying "you don't have to read it" doesn't really work if "it" contains abuse of a specific individual. Yes, they can choose not to read it but that's not really the point if it's about them.

KB Player said...

Andy deleted my last comment so I’ll reproduce it here:-

“Even if Devil’s Kitchen does not cross the line with regard to glorifying terrorism, his accusation that the union leader in question “rapes babies” is the most gross libel I have ever read.”

Would anyone in the world believe Chris Keates “rapes babies”? It’s nasty and disgusting to say that, but I can’t see it as being libellous, just as it wouldn’t be if I said Simon Cowell eats braised kittens on toast. It’s just ridiculous invective, not libel. And who looks worse after that remark - Mounsey or Keates?

“And launching a campaign of bullying invective and oppressive violent fantasy is not the exercise of “free speech”, but an attempt to create a bullying and intimidating atmosphere that excludes other people from debate, and anathematises views that he disagrees with.”

Well so what if excludes people from debate? I can’t see Christine Keates going over to DK to debate with him. If he sit and writes his juvenile crap on a blog, no-one has to read it. As for anathematising views he disagrees with - I’d quite like a list of political bloggers who don’t do that. It would be very short. Mounsey speaking his garbage is in fact the exercise of free speech, however revolting his speech is.

I really would like to know from Andy if he thinks Mounsey should be charged with hate speech and arrested.

I’d also like him to quote the “Islamophobic” words that he said occurred in a video he put up and called an “Islamophobic rant”. In fact, it was asking that question that got me deleted, I think. ‘Cos calling someone’s words “Islamophobic” when they weren’t might really be libellous.

Constantly Furious said...

Oi! Authoritarian Lefties, Professionally 'Offended's and Righteous Idiots.


Listen again: FREE. SPEECH.

And again: FREE. SPEECH.

Which part of that are you unable to understand?

Chris Mounsey can say whatever he wants. You can be as offended as you want, and bleat and cry - like you are here - as much as you want.

Mark can say whatever he wants - yes, even defending the terrible DK - too.

And so can I.

So please, take your authoritarian instincts, and shove them, as hard as you can, up your sorry arses.


Matt Wardman said...

Still reflecting on this. Essentially I think I agree with Mark Thompson.

Politically, practically, and professionally in relation to his employment, DK should have changed his style when he became LPUK leader or earlier.

Apart from anything else, ranting without application has no impact, which to my mind is why extreme or not quite extreme parties on both wings (whether BNP, SWP, Green or LP) attempt to be seen through the lens of the sensible bits of their policy.

Online and offline worlds were going to collide, as - leaving aside all opinions - the Kitchen would not sit alongside the LP if the party wished to develop into a serious and sensible political operation, or a high-profile career.

This should have been seen coming; someone should have noticed at the time and made the point then.

I'm not convinced that the "Chris Keates r***s b****s" comment (redacted for our host's protection) is in fact either libellous or defamatory, because I don't think it is clear enough just what he meant (is it worse than "mental child abuse" metaphors which are used of religion in educational debates?), or that it was capable of being taken seriously. Insulting - yes. Tasteless - yes. Wrong - yes. Abusive - yes. Formally libellous - probably not. If she wants to test it, Chris K presumably has a legal department available.

I think Andy's made a couple of slightly bizarre points, as well as some good ones, including the comparison of DK's internet "persona" with paedophiles pretending to be teenagers for grooming purposes (Mounsey is not anonymous, nor is this surrepticious grooming). That has no traction.

If we have problems with abusive alternative personas, then we need to be making the same critique of Alternative Comedians (for a start), but also cartoonists etc.

I think there's also a lot of rhetoric in this on both sides, and DK's critics are blending commentary on his expressed opinions with a political objective to defeat his political tradition. That's fair enough in politics, but needs to be noted.

Is "utterly destroy them (the unions), and do it soon." any worse than the slogans used by "anti-capitalist" campaigners? I'd suggest not.

On politicisation of unions by far-left movements (e.g., NUT) I think that DK has a serious and necessary point; but it would be far more effective if made in a way that will get the point addressed rather than DK attacked.

On the legal framework, I think that that expression should be expressely not regulated for content, rather we should have laws about incitement, actions and a (reformed) libel framework.

Perhaps this episode demonstrates that a culture of open debate is quite capable of exposing argument which goes over the line without any need for "hate-speech" laws. Brillo's attack seems to have worked very effectively.

KB Player said...

In fact what happened is exactly what should happen in societies with free speech. Mounsey was free to write his crap, Brillo free to quote it back at him and make him look like an arse, and the rest of us free to agree with Brillo in that instance. Social pressure on speech is what stops us all insulting each other, not laws except in very specific cases.

The sense I get of blogs where people fall into that kind of violent sexual speech is that they think they are talking among themselves, like a gang of mates in a pub, not like people in, say, a professional situation, or writing an article, who will weigh their words more carefully. Then they, the mates in the pub, look around and realise they've been overheard by someone who could help their career or repeat their words to their disadvantage.

Anonymous said...


We have a candidate in this General Election. Steve Phillips is standing in Stevenage and has set up a website for this campaign

His contact details are on the site and I'm sure he would be delighted to hear from you. He has also posted a message about the need for a 'none of the above' box to be added to ballot papers.

As is mentioned we are a positive campaign not an anarchistic one, trying to boost voter turnout by increasing choice at for the electorate.

I do think people should vote, but sometimes if people are not convinced by any of the candidates it might be better to positively abstain rather than cast a vote for the least worst candidate? Casting an insincere vote for someone is not much of a mandate, but such a vote counts as much as one cast for a candidate because a voter believes they would make a good representative in a Governing body.

Do we want people to vote in such a way. If 3 turkeys stood for election, as perhaps sometimes happens, would be want to support them. (maybe we would?)

The name was chosen because candidates are placed alphabetically on ballot papers

therefore if we had called ourselves the 'none of the above' box it might suggest that any candidate below our candidate might be ok..?!! which is not quite what we are trying to achieve.
Other names were disallowed by the Electoral Commission.

All this can be verified by the press people at the Commission if you need any further details on the choosing of the name itself

I had intended to sit this Election out but Steve came along and wanted to stand in Stevenage. I met him last Sunday and he is an amazing chap, highly motivated and hard working, who has already worked his socks off in this general Election, to give voters a bit more choice at this General Election.

He is well worth making contact with, and would interview really well for any journalists reading this

As I said I hadn't intended to be active in this general election so am just in the background or should it be shadows? ! looking after the books

with very best wishes
Bob Goodall
St Albans