It used to be said that a lie told often enough becomes the truth*, although not necessarily by Lenin as the the attribution of this statement to the artist formerly known as Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov to him is, at best, apocryphal.
Joseph Goebbels*, on the other hand, did write:
The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.
“Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik” (“Churchill’s Lie Factory”), 12 January 1941, Die Zeit ohne Beispiel (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., 1941), pp. 364-369
Whether Goebbels would be gratified to discover that his observation on ‘The Big Lie’ lives on in the form of Nadine Dorries is anyone’s guess – he committed suicide on 1 May 1945 – but its nevertheless the case that his remarks seem uncannily descriptive of Dorries’ increasingly desperate and erratic behaviour when faced with well-founded and often rigorously evidenced criticism of her own conduct.
* Before anyone cries “Godwin’s Law”, that applies only to the use of Nazi comparisons/analogies and not to the use of citations in other contexts. In this case, the context relates to the [attempted] use of propaganda, a subject on which Joseph Goebbels can quite reasonably be thought to have had some considerable expertise.
The salient facts here are as follows:
On Friday evening, Dorries made a rather boneheaded and predictable attempt to smear Tim Ireland [yet again] by piggybacking on the case of Ian Puddick, a plumber who, on Friday, was cleared of harassment charges after using the Internet to publicise his wife’s 10-year affair with a millionaire businessman.
Her original post was taken down on Saturday, but not before Sim-O had managed to grab a screenshot and comment on her remarks, only for the post to reappear on Sunday, in an extended form – i.e. with added bullshit.
Matters then escalated somewhat yesterday afternoon (Sunday) when a tweet by Tim Mongomerie, editor of Conservative Home, promoting Dorries’ bizarre ramblings was retweeted by Sally Bercow who, sadly, has a degree of prior form for opening her mouth before engaging her brain – and if anyone wishes to see the minor shit-storm that blew up after Bercow’s tweet, check the #Dorries hashtag and search for any references to @SallyBercow.
Once upon a time, a politician like Nadine Dorries might well have got away with smearing her critics with, in some cases, outright lies. In the days before the Internet and the World Wide Web, establishing the truth behind the claims made politicians typically necessitated and a labourious and time consuming trawl through public records and newspaper archives held either on paper or on microfiche; and even if the facts failed to fit the allegations, placing that information into the public domain could be nigh on impossible unless a newspaper could be persuaded to run with the story.
Today, the factual accuracy of politician’s statement can be readily checked using nothing more than Google – although one does need to be judicious in evaluating the reliable of some of the sources that a Google search will turn up – to the extent that any politician who chooses to resort to the ‘The Big Lie’ not only take the risk looking ridiculous but can easily manoeuvre themselves into a position so far beyond ridiculous as to make any kind of escape impossible.
Such is the position in which Nadine Dorries finds herself. So much so, in fact, that I doubt that there would seem to be little point in trying to remind her of Denis Healey’s First Law of Holes, ‘when you’re in one, stop digging’.
Not everyone involved in this latest sorry episode is necessarily in the same irredeemable state and so, with Sally Bercow particularly in mind, I thought I’d take a bit of a run through some of the more blatant example of Dorries’ efforts to deploy ‘The Big Lie’, pretty much all of which blew up in her own face.
Ben Goldacre and the ‘Minority Report’.
In July 2007, Nadine Dorries inveigled her way onto the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Sci-Tech) only a couple of weeks after the committee gave notice of a new inquiry into ‘Scientific Developments Relating to the Abortion Act 1967’.
On paper, at least, Dorries remained a member of the Sci-Tech committee* until the 2010 General Election, during which time she attended only a handful of committee meetings, all but one of which related to the abortion inquiry. Although its been widely reported that Dorries attended only two committee meetings during her time as a member of the Sci-Tech/IUSS committee, the formal minutes of both committees show that she, in fact, attended a total of nine meetings between 16 July 2007 and 14 November 2007, three of which were oral evidence sessions conducted as part of the abortion inquiry.
The last meeting she attended was the first meeting of the ISSU committee on 14 November 2007, which dealt primarily with the election of the new committee’s chairperson.
*From November 2007 until September 2009, the Sci-Tech Committee was renamed/reconstituted as the The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee (IUSS), of which Dorries was notionally a member.
So, Dorries joined the committee specifically for the purpose of getting her nose into the abortion inquiry and lost interest in it no soon as that was done and dusted, but not before she’d managed to insert a so-called ‘minority report’ into the main report, which sought to disagree with the committee’s findings.
Two days before this committee meeting, Ben Goldacre published an article at both The Guardian and at his own Bad Science blog in which he criticised evidence given to the committee by Prof. John Wyatt of University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Christian Medical Fellowship. As you’ll see – if you check both the articles – they are near enough identical save for the inclusion of a few hyperlinks and a short coda on the Bad Science version in which Ben provides links to Wyatt’s oral and written evidence to the committee, both of which had been published on the Committee’s website, which is part of the main Parliament website.
On publication, the ‘minority report’ section was found to include the following claim/allegation relating to Ben’s article:
We were greatly concerned to read in the Guardian on 27 October an article clearly aimed at undermining the credibility of Professor John Wyatt, which contained detailed information about Wyatt’s evidence, which was passed by him to the committee after his oral evidence session, and which could only have been passed on to the journalist concerned by a member of the Select Committee. There should be an enquiry about how this information got into the public domain and as to whether such a personal attack represents a serious breach of parliamentary procedure.
Although its almost certainly the case that most of this ‘minority report’ was actually written for Dorries by a third-party, it seems reasonable to attribute this passage to Dorries, not least because of the use of ‘enquiry’, when ‘inquiry’ would have been the correct term. Although, historically speaking, the two words were treated as being interchangeable in England it is now the accepted practice that enquiry is used when referring to the act of asking a question while inquiry is used to refer to conducting a formal investigation. Standards are, as ever, much looser over in the United States, where inquiry is increasingly coming to dislodge enquiry for all purposes but even this fails to support the view that this passage was written by someone with a decent command of the English language.
Be that as it may, the most charitable interpretation one could possibly place on this allegation is that:
(i) Dorries had only seen the version of the article which appeared in the Guardian and which – unfortunately – did not contain the short coda in which Ben demonstrated that he’d obtained Wyatt’s evidence from the committee’s website, and
(ii) Dorries had not bothered to acquaint herself properly with committee’s established procedures as these related to the publication of oral and written evidence to the committee.
Ben, naturally enough, responded to this claim/allegation on the day that report was published, reiterating the fact that he’d obtained Wyatt’s evidence quite openly from the committee’s website and went on to comprehensively refute Dorries’ allegation in follow-up articles published, again, at both The Guardian and Bad Science on 3rd November.
One can be charitable only to a point, the point at which Dorries was made aware of the fact that the allegation contained in her ‘minority report’ was manifestly untrue. At that point, which came on very same day that the report was published and Ben posted his response, the only honourable thing that could – and should – have done was to formally retract the allegation and place on record the fact that she had – still being charitable – made a serious error in levelling an allegation of impropriety against both Ben and an unnamed member of the Sci-Tech committee.
At the time, Dorries’ blog had a comments facility, albeit one that was under full moderation.
On 31st October 2007, Dorries posted an article promoting her ‘minority report’ on her own blog at 12.08 am, on which is was possible to post comments, as noted in comments under Ben’s response at Bad Science:
22. ciaobellaciao said,
October 31, 2007 at 2:02 pm
Nadine Dorries has a blog on which she has posted about this, here:
It’s open for comment …
25. BarryNL said,
October 31, 2007 at 2:39 pm
“It’s open for comment …”
Hmm, strange that all the comments seems to be positive. Let’s have a go and see if anyone can get her to approve a critical comment on that page…
26. fiwallace said,
October 31, 2007 at 2:45 pm
Maybe an idea to all write critical comments on her blog, keep a note of what is written (and not posted)and then pass it on to Private Eye? She’s an MP, after all, so should be in favour of honest debate…
During the day, a number of Ben’s readers and several bloggers posted comments to Dorries’ blog calling on her to publicly retract the allegation made in the minority report, none of which were allowed through moderation – as BarryNL notes, above, only positive comments were being released on to the site. Then, at Midnight on November 1st, Dorries posted the following ‘Fuck you very much’ message on her blog and had the comments facility switched off:
No More Comments
Posted Thursday, 1 November 2007 at 00:00
I am no longer going to post comments on my blog.
Please don’t send any more comments – It’s a time thing, I don’t have any.
I have to rely on the patience of others to read and post the comments for me. I am never in front of a computer for more than a couple of minutes at a time and this has now made reading the comments before they are posted impossible.
Knowing that there are comments on my site which I may not even have had time to see, makes me uncomfortable.
If any one wants to contact me you can still do so via the email facility on the home page.
I will continue to blog each day as I can do that on the run!!
It’s not difficult to figure out what really happened. What Dorries has in the moderation queue was a sizeable number of comments challenging her to retract the allegation in the ‘minority report’. If she allowed any of these comment through, this would make her own readers aware of the falsity of the allegation and she’d no option but to make a retraction. If she didn’t, but carried on allowing only positive comments to appear on the site, she’d be a hiding to nothing for refusing to allow any criticism onto her blog. So, she took the third option and – metaphorically speaking – ran away from the entire issue by having the comments facility turned off while making the spurious argument that she didn’t have time to read and respond to them – and never mind that she only had to read and respond to one of the many unpublished comments challenging the veracity of her allegation against Ben in order to do the the right thing
We’re almost at the end of the story, but I cannot leave this without noting the postscript which appeared at the blog of Ellee Seymour on 5th November 2007. Seymour posted a sympathetic article in which she directed some fairly mild, general criticism towards Dorries over the decision to turn off the comments facility at her blog, drawing a response in comments from Dorries in which she claims:
The fact is I was getting hundreds of comments. Many, as a result of what I have been doing with regard to abortion, some of which were absolutely vile.
There are some lovely people out there, but there are also some serious low life – and when you put your head above the parapet, as I have, the low life take aim.
I may, when my work regarding abortion takes a slower pace, re-introduce comments. However, in the meantime, having to deal with people who think it’s cool to re- post their comments 40 times a night, and there are dozens of them, so that it takes over an hour to sort out the email account in the morning is no joke…
I did take comments on my BB but I am afraid I had to stop that also when I started to receive some very weird posts late at night, which frankly scared me.
Its, of course, entirely possible that Dorries did receive a few ‘absolutely vile’ comments on her minority report articles and she may well also have received some ‘very weird posts late at night’ however, at no point did she ever produce any evidence to this effect no were these given as reasons for turning off the comments facility on 1 November – all she had to say at the time was that she’d didn’t have time to respond to comments.
Needless to say, in the absence of supporting evidence, the general consensus which emerged in the wake of her decision to have the comments facility on her blog shut down was that she was deliberately – and misleadingly – trying to avoid the issues raised by the false allegation contained in the ‘minority report’ and that she was entirely unwilling to make a retraction. Despite being caught bang to rights Dorries could still have extricated herself from this situation with, at worst, only a minor loss of face, had she simply admitted that the allegation had been made in error and apologised, right up until the point that she had the comments facility shut down. Having literally shut down any debate on her own blog, one can only conclude that she was – and still is – perfectly content to see a false allegation placed on the public record in an official report issued by a parliamentary committee, even though there is absolutely conclusive evidence in the public domain which demonstrates that the allegation is without any basis in fact.
This is both dishonest and dishonourable but, sadly, entirely characteristic of Dorries’ general approach to the ‘truth’ which she defines as ‘anything which suits my own personal agenda irrespective of whether it has any basis whatsoever in fact’.
Tomorrow we’ll move on to examine the infamous ‘Hand of Hope’ incident before looking, in detail, at how she used her blog to mislead her own constituents as to the whereabout of her main place of residence for fully three years before the Flitwick hustings incident involving Tim Ireland which has, of late, formed the primary basis for the utterly false and defamatory allegations she’s been making about Tim.
Oh, and if anyone is monitoring this on Dorries’ behalf, as she claims, then feel free to bite me because everything I have to say about Dorries over the next few days can be backed up in full with documentary evidence of her increasingly casual relationship with the truth.