As luck would have it, this is the second piece in a row I have posted which appears, on the face of it, to defend Nigel Farage. That’s an appalling and shameful record. As I hope I make clear, like almost all right-thinking people, I believe him to be very far short of the ideal human being in every respect. That doesn’t mean that anyone can talk any kind of nonsense about him and get away with it, in my view, and this, like the last, is an account of one chunk of such nonsense.
Today, I have been mostly following a facebook post from Hope Not Hate, one of three charities benefiting from the fund set up after the shocking shooting of MP Jo Cox during the Referendum campaign. As the Guardian reports, HNH is setting up a fund to ‘take Farage to court’. For what, you may ask? Well, we’ll get to that. That’s not really the point. The point is to ‘take Farage to court’. Time Out got stuck in. ‘Take Farage to court’ they said.
Why does Farage need taking to court, any more than he needs repeatedly diffing in the face with a frying pan (and let’s face it, even his strongest supporters can’t deny the veracity of the latter, even in the era of post-truth and fake news)? It all started when he reacted to the Berlin truck atrocity by saying ‘Events like these will be the Merkel legacy’ and Brendan Cox, widower of Ms Cox replied that blaming the actions of extremists on politicians is a slippery slope. I’m not entirely sure what slippery slope he was talking about, and what particular politically metaphorical quagmire it ended up in – nor is it obvious that he realises that ‘slippery slope’ is well known in the theory of critical thinking as a widespread logical fallacy – things don’t necessarily head down the said incline quite as one expects, and sometimes the incline unexpectedly goes upward. Be that as it may, it might have all rested there, but given Jo Cox’s status in the public consciousness, Farage was asked about the exchange on LBC, and answered by saying that Hope Not Hate ‘masquerade as being lovely’ but ‘pursue violent and undemocratic means’.
There you have it, more or less in a nutshell – although I admit the nutshell could have been made somewhat smaller. Having scarcely registered the existence of HNH, I simply do not have an opinion on whether what Farage says is true or not, and indeed, this is not going to be about opinion but about fact. The worst thing I can find about them, after hardly any research, is this suggestion that they exaggerated the number of hate tweets following Jo Cox’s death by a factor of over 30 (or 3000% if you want a big number to get cross about). This doesn’t really tell us much. Nonetheless, everyone was appalled that their favourite right-wing funny uncle bigot could be so rude about the activities of an organisation which was supported in Jo’s name on the advice of her husband.
Hence HNH’s response, to set up a fund to fight Farage in the courts.
My initial response was ‘for what’? I haven’t studied the details of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, nor do I (or anyone else for that matter) know what will be the exact contents of the Great Reform Act whenever it comes, but as far as I know, ‘being a bell-end’ is not yet against the law, and I pointed this out. ‘No, but slander is,’ was the reply.
A brief legal digression on slander. It used to be a crime under some circumstances, but this is no longer the case. It is a civil claim against an individual who has said something which ‘tends to lower [the claimant] in the minds of right thinking members of society…by exposing them to hatred, contempt or ridicule’. It is a defence to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that what was said is true. It is also a defence to prove ‘honest fair comment’ – ie that an ordinary reasonable person not motivated by malice could also have come to the view or opinion expressed. More to the point, it is not possible, in English law, to slander a political group or charity, only an individual ‘legal person’. Furthermore, it is necessary, in almost all kinds of slander to show ‘special damage’ – ie that you have suffered in some way that can be recompensed financially by the slander.
So it is very far from clear what hope HNH could have of successfully bringing an action in slander, as the law stands. For Farage to say that they ‘pursue violent and undemocratic means’ seems to me to be pretty vague. Is ‘using’ the same as ‘pursuing’? What might ‘undemocratic’ mean? Do they elect their leader? If not, is that not undemocratic? Must ‘violent’ mean ‘physically violent’? But I doubt HNH actually intends even to sue, and that’s actually my main concern.
I can understand HNH’s response. They know that they have a huge number of well-wishers – the public revulsion at Jo Cox’s murder led to donations of nearly £2 million at time of writing. It seems to me a comparatively recent phenomenon that people who are murdered in particularly shocking or outrageous circumstances should have large sums of money donated to their estate, and the reasons for it aren’t particularly clear to me. But donate they did. So when you find yourselves in times of trouble, why not once more turn to gofundme.com? Oh, except that the link doesn’t take you to a gofundme page, but one that just sends money to HNH. That’s fine, it’s fine, I’m sure it’s fine. But there is an interesting little disclaimer on the page. ‘If we manage to settle this dispute out of court, we will use all funds raised to continue our campaign against extremism and hatred of all kinds.’ Since ‘settling out of court’ can include anything which doesn’t actually end up in court, including dropping the case because your lawyers tell you that you haven’t a migrant in a dinghy’s chance of winning. In other words, you’re donating to us, whether or not we actually sue Nigel Farage. Intriguing. In effect, this is simply an appeal for funds, and HNH can appropriate them how they choose. This is just as well, because here is how legal costs work in the civil courts: if you win, you get your own costs paid by the other side. If you lose, you have to pay your own costs, and those of the other side. So any money that was donated for the express purpose of suing Farage would only end up going into the pockets of Farage’s lawyers. If the case was successful, the libelled individuals or the organisation itself would get damages (money) for its wrongs, and the donors should get their money back. Well, that wasn’t ever going to happen, was it, but that explains the disclaimer.
Anyway, none of this was at all relevant to the donors, who all seemed to view themselves as supporting a worthy cause much like whatever it was that had made them give to Jo Cox’s fund in the first place. ‘I wish you all the best in challenging this hate-mongerer [sic]’ ‘Anything to hurt this disgusting piece of trash’. ‘Let’s get the lying bastard!’ and ‘I donated so this piece of vermin [sic] could get taken to court’ Any suggestion that these were not the noblest of motives, or that perhaps they might be indulging in exactly the kind of petty vindictiveness and dehumanising language that is so often used to characterise Farage himself fell on deaf ears. The cause is apparently as just as if they were forming a posse to hunt down an escaped man.
Naturally, it all descends into name-calling and the standard comment-war phrase ‘clueless fucktard’ being bandied about. Indeed, ‘libtard’ was a new one on me. The most delightful thread was the one where the lady, if that’s the right word, from Wales started sounding off in the kind of ripe language that used to be called racist, and was told to ‘stay in Wales’ without any irony, and then others followed up with ‘we don’t want your sort here’ rhetoric and the almost perfect ‘Many of us Britons don’t want racist bigots in our country. If you can’t cope with immigration… perhaps you should live elsewhere’. I couldn’t decide who was more repellent.
All good post-truth fun.