CAMPAIGNS: JUDGE AND JURY; Could we all end up paying the price for free speech?

The success of Ian Greer and Neil Hamilton in winning the right to sue the Guardian for libel could prove costly in the long-term for ordinary people as well as MPs, says Martin Smith, chairman of public affairs consultancy GPC Connect

The success of Ian Greer and Neil Hamilton in winning the right to sue

the Guardian for libel could prove costly in the long-term for ordinary

people as well as MPs, says Martin Smith, chairman of public affairs

consultancy GPC Connect



I entered the world of parliamentary consultancy six years ago. The name

of Ian Greer Associates (IGA) was of course well known to me. The IGA

style was not for me however. The elegant town house, the monogrammed

carpet, the lavish parties - this was not how I wished to do things. For

me the road to growth and prosperity, was to be research - and

rigorously non-partisan in party terms.



But Ian Greer continued to prosper. He seemed to thrive on publicity,

even bad publicity. Then came ‘sleaze’ and the 1994 ‘cash for questions’

saga. The Guardian alleged a serious wrongdoing. A government minister,

Neil Hamilton, resigned his job. Publicity doesn’t come much worse than

this. Or does it?



That the episode was bad for the lobbying business as a whole, there can

be no doubt.



Was it bad for Ian’s business? So he claims. This was why he sued the

Guardian, an action which was ‘stayed’ in court and led directly to the

recent successful attempt to amend the Capital Defamation Bill in

Parliament, leaving Greer and Hamilton free to resume their actions.



This was an extraordinary scenario. Lobbyists are not meant to have

profiles of their own, but here was Ian Greer in the middle of a

Parliamentary skirmish in which he himself was very much part of the

issue - adn in a matter involving the historic 1989 Bill of Rights no

less. How much more obtrusive could a lobbyist be?



The result is a constitutional mess. Relations between Parliament and

the press should not be determined in such a cavalier fashion. As the

lawyers say, hard cases make bad law - more so when amendments are

tabled on the hoof, inadequate time is given for proper consideration

and procedural confusion reigns.



For the moment, however, this is not the point. Hamilton and Greer got

their amendment, primarily because of a strong feeling among many

Tories, and indeed many labour MPs, that the media needed to be taught a

lesson. Throughout the ‘sleaze’/cash for questions/ Nolan saga, MPs

suffered a continuous barrage of self-righteous and hypocritical

criticism (their sentiment) and it was time for revenge. Constitutional

niceties could go hang.



Under a Labour government, the future lies with lobbyists who have the

wherewithal to slog it out in the foothills of economic regulation. That

is not Greer’s style, but Ian is a courteous man, he deserves the chance

to clear his name.



Above all however, this is not the way to deal with serious

constitutional matters.



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