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May 20, 2007

Owen Barder

Via the UK Daily Pundit (who, oddly, seems to approve of this) I see that Owen Barder has been attacked in The Daily Mail . You might note that Owen's blog is now down, which is probably sensible given the shit-storm that is about to descend but it's also true that it makes pointing out what's really going on here a little difficult.

I should perhaps point out that Mr. Barder and I have our little differences, he sees me as little less than a parody of a spittle flecked saloon bar Thatcherite while I regard him as a hopelessly wet leftist, but despite these (only slightly overstated) caricatures we have been able, on occasion, exchange pleasant words and even interesting information.

So, what does the Mail say that Owen has done which is so heinous?

A former aide to Tony Blair has posted on his website an attack on the Prime Minister which compares President George Bush to Hitler.

Really, has he?

The attack, which has shocked Whitehall, appears on the outspoken, sexually explicit, website blog of £100,000-a-year civil servant Owen Barder.

Sexually explicit? I've been a regular reader there for some time and really not noticed all that much smut or anything close to it.

It features comments and links on a range of subjects from his opposition to the Iraq War to whether marathon running makes men better in bed.

Margaret Thatcher is described as 'pernicious,' while ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock is praised for making 'one of the finest speeches in British politics'.

I do recall the calling of St Mags "pernicious" and I also recall his praise of the Kinnock speech. Neither view is all that uncommon and by the miracle of the Google cache I can actually bring you his post on it.

Neil Kinnock’s speech in Bridgend, Glamorgan, on 7 June 1983, rates as one of the finest speeches ever made in British politics.

It was two days before the General Election. He scribbled the notes from which he delivered the speech in the car on the way to the rally, and his voice was hoarse from campaigning.   He was elected leader of the Labour Party at the party conference in October 1983, after Labour’s resounding defeat. He went on to transform the party to make it fit for government.

Here is the full text of what he said.

The rest of it is the actual speech (which is indeed an excellent piece of political rhetoric) and then several of us squabbling about it in the comments. Nothing too awful there, eh?

As to the pernicious? Ermm, no, that's not quite what was said. It's actually someone else, in his comments section, who uses the word pernicious, in itself being a play upon the words of a quotation, from yet another blog. Owen actually says things like (re the Thatcher era):

We tend to take for granted some of the really good reforms and policy changes of that era, such as the abolition of exchange controls and the agreement to the Single Market Act.  Maybe they would have happened anyway; maybe not.
Thatcher and Lawson should be commended for persuading the chattering classes that increasing trend economic growth is primarily challenge for microeconomic policy (ie improving the supply side), whereas controlling inflation is primarily a challenge for macroeconomic policy.   This seems obvious today but it was a total reversal of the then prevailing wisdom which saw macroeconomic policy targeting growth (demand management) and microeconomic policy controlling inflation (price controls, wage freezes, hire purchase controls etc).

The Thatcher Government has not got the opprobrium it deserves for breaking the link between the state pension and the growth of wages.  Allowing our old people to fall behind rising living standards of the rest of the community year after year, creating a generation of retired people living in poverty, was unforgiveable.
I think Mrs Thatcher did, in some undefinable way, change our attitudes - largely for the better -  to the role of the state in private enterprise.  Before her, there was a widespread assumption, under both Labour and the Conservatives, that the state should step in to prevent the collapse of particular firms or industries.  That was mainly an expensive mistake, and Mrs Thatcher was robust in refusing to come to the aid of many sunset industries. (She was, however, not entirely consistent on this: her friends in industries such as aerospace continued to receive large public subsidies.)

Now I wouldn't want to have to sign up to all of those views myself but I think it's a very fair overview, given the starting point that Owen is on the left. It's his father, the retired Ambassador, Sir Brian, who is actually rather harsher in the comments.

Mr Barder, who heads the DFID's Global Development Effectiveness Department, is a former economic private secretary to Mr Blair.

Indeed, Owen was, just as in earlier years he worked for a Tory Chancellor (I think it was Kenneth Clarke) about whom he has been (anonymously) complimentary at times.

Just one little point that might be worth mentioning here? All of the above, none of which is as remotely awful or incendiary as the Mail tries to portray, was in fact written while Owen was on a two year sabbatical (an unpaid one, by the way).

Which means that absolutely none of it has anything to do with his position in the Civil Service either past or future. Private citizens do, for the meantime at least, possess freedom of speech.

His website features an article entitled "Fascist America in 10 easy steps' which says: "From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all."

Yes, indeed it does. He quotes the opening lines of this article in The Guardian by Naomi Wolf. Actually, not even the opening lines, rather the header put there by the sub-editor, then suggests that we should go and read it.

Now I do realize that by this point Owen was back in the Civil Service but really, quoting the Guardian is hardly a crime and nor (unless one is talking about Polly T or the Mahdi Bunting, both banned for the serious impacts they can have upon mental health) is recommending that someone read an article in that paper.

He says: "George Bush and Tony Blair must be very proud that they have created the precedent, through their action in Iraq, which has allowed Russia to announce it will take pre-emptive strikes anywhere in the world."

That's err, from September 2004...not, as the article implies, from his commentary about Fascist America, which is from a few weeks ago.

Mr Barder condemns 'extraordinary renditions' whereby America - allegedly using UK airports with Mr Blair's support - snatched Al Qaeda suspects and tortured them.

"I do not understand why extraordinary rendition is not causing more outrage in the UK,' he states.

And quite rightly. The kidnapping of innocents to be tortured somewhere convenient is indeed an outrage.

And he disputes whether Osama Bin Laden is 'hostile' to the American way of life.

Can't find that quote, sorry.

Mr Barder also gives extraordinary details of his private life with partner, Grethe. Discussing his hobby of marathon running, he quotes an unnamed 'sex fiend' female friend as saying: "I had a fling with a marathon runner. Damn that boy had stamina. It shows there is a correlation between fitness and all night sh******."

Mr Barder adds: "Well, possibly, the ones who aren't knackered running 80 miles that week."

In his frank account of a vasectomy, he says: "Today I had a vasectomy. I realise this is relatively unusual for a man of 36 with no children.

"But I have no doubt, and nor does my partner, that we do not want children. Some men think it makes them less manly but that is rubbish. I feel a little nausea, as though I have been kicked in the b***s. I have iced the area to keep the swelling down."

The problem with any of this is what? When a substantial part of Rod Liddle's column today is a complaint that Jerry Hall should keep her vagina to herself the use of the *** is really rather sweet.

Mr Barder's family are no strangers to controversy: his father, Sir Brian, resigned from the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in 2004, accusing Home Secretary David Blunkett of deporting terror suspects detained without trial.

Indeed, despite having as many strange ideas about economics as his son, stand up bloke Sir Brian is.

Surprisingly, Mr Barder junior criticises his former boss, ex-Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull who recently attacked "Stalinist' Gordon Brown.

"Civil servants have no business revealing their views of Ministers and their behaviour,' says Mr Barder, apparently without irony.

Which, when he's been a Civil Servant, he hasn't done. Nor, in fact, do I recall (other than a rather light hearted post about which cabin of the aircraft you get to fly in when travelling with a Cabinet Minister) him giving any details of his views of the Ministers he has worked for, nor of their views.

I have to admit that I think this piece in the Mail is really rather extraordinary. As above, you can see that it's a mixture  of gross distortions, garbled (and wrongly attributed) quotes and in general a hit job.

Which is really something that all of us other bloggers might want to start thinking about. If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that's rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn't it? Anyone writing tens of thousands of words over the years is open to such an assassination of the character.

Traditional here to start quoting Voltaire but the problem with that is that Voltaire never actually said it. I think we all know the Pastor Niemoller quote by now as well, don't we? So I'll just content myself with a small in joke shall I?

I am Spartacus!

Update: Unity on the marathon joke. And as with Mr. U., come along Mr. Simon Walters. The comments section here is open, if you're 'ard enough. 

May 20, 2007 in Weblogs | Permalink


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» Threats to the nation #94: Owen Barder from Our Word is Our Weapon
Tim brings news of a bizarre attack in the Daily Mail on, of all people, Owen Barder, who is a blogger, authority of international development, civil servant and a friend of this blog. I wont go into the details (Tim does) but suffice to say th... [Read More]

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"If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that's rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn't it?"

It certainly is if you're a Labour Party cheerleader at the same time as being a senior civil servant in receipt of 100k a year.

Tim adds: You haven't bothered to read the above have you?

Posted by: UK Daily Pundit | May 20, 2007 2:40:36 PM

I am speechless. What a contemptible rag that paper is. I only hope that Owen's employers have the good sense to pay not the slightest notice to this garbage.

Posted by: Luis Enrique | May 20, 2007 3:04:12 PM

I've read Mr Barder's blog on and off for several years. Don't agree with everything he says, but generally find him an intelligent and interesting correspondent; which is more than you can say for the Daily Mail.

Thank you for taking the time to address this issue. If any action is taken against Mr Barder we should start a petition, if the veggies can get Mars bars ingredients changed surely we can ensure Mr Barder's right to free speech is respected! No, don't laugh.

Posted by: Jim Keenan | May 20, 2007 3:36:15 PM

"I am Spartacus!"

You're on your own, mate.

Posted by: Martin | May 20, 2007 3:41:57 PM

"I am Spartacus!"

Never thought doing that was a good idea, since the Romans just crucified everyone.

Posted by: Kay Tie | May 20, 2007 4:12:11 PM

"Never thought doing that was a good idea, since the Romans just crucified everyone."

Yes, rather like all the admiring references to the Spartans at Thermopolae. Didn't do them much good, did it...?

"..you can see that it's a mixture of gross distortions, garbled (and wrongly attributed) quotes and in general a hit job.."

A typical 'Mail' article then..?

Posted by: JuliaM | May 20, 2007 4:17:41 PM

That really is an astonishingly stupid and cowardly article, even by the standards of the Daily Hate-Mail. Someone should lose their job over it, but it's not Owen.

Tim adds: I know it took a long time Jim, but finally, something we agree upon!

Posted by: Jim | May 20, 2007 4:34:30 PM

UKDP now claiming Niemoller was a Nazi. Mental health personnel at 11.

Tim adds: Sorry? What's UKDP?

Posted by: Alex | May 20, 2007 5:32:32 PM

UK Daily Pundit, obviously.

Tim adds: Aahhh!

Posted by: Alex | May 20, 2007 6:01:32 PM

I see from your google cache quote that I'm Spartacus, since it was my comment that quoted Chris Dillow using the word 'pernicious'. Sorry, Owen.

Seriously, this is disgraceful stuff. I don't expect much from the Daily Mail, but this is low even for them.

Posted by: Phil Edwards | May 20, 2007 7:11:35 PM

Hey, the Daily Mail allows us to submit comments (although they 'may not all be published'). Don't all rush at once.

I've submitted this:

Most of the comments quoted are uncontroversial, some of them (including the Bush/Hitler comparison) are quotations from other people and - more to the point - almost all of them were written before Owen took up his current post. This is a disgraceful and dishonest article.

Tim adds: Indeed, comments are moderated. It's been 7 hours since I posted mine and it's not yet appeared.

Posted by: Phil | May 20, 2007 7:19:25 PM

To demonstrate further what a complete arsehole Walters is, I've tracked down the marathon running post, which turns out to be a jokey reference to a post by another blogger, 'Girl With A One Track Mind' and fuck all to do with Owen, his partner or his personal life.

See here

Posted by: Unity | May 20, 2007 7:55:54 PM

To Mr Walters

The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Posted by: Jim Keenan | May 20, 2007 8:53:53 PM

But I suppose that quoting Nietzsche will make me a Nazi in The Daily Mail's view

Posted by: Jim Keenan | May 20, 2007 8:57:55 PM

But I suppose that quoting Nietzsche will make me a Nazi in The Daily Mail's view.

Yes but, peversely, that means they will feel compelled to cheer you on.

Posted by: Gregg | May 20, 2007 9:10:17 PM

Tim, well done for bringing this to our attention, this really highlights what the Daily Mail is like.

Like you say we all have to watch out when we have a 'free press' like this suppressing our free speech.

Posted by: Neil Harding | May 21, 2007 1:25:40 AM

I am Spartacus!

Well, pedantic and off topic I guess, but -

It never happened.

This was pure Hollywood invention.


Posted by: Chris Harper (Counting Cats) | May 21, 2007 2:00:08 AM

"Like you say we all have to watch out when we have a 'free press' like this suppressing our free speech."

Oh, yeah, what he said.

'Cause that's the Labour Party's job...

Posted by: JuliaM | May 21, 2007 8:09:07 AM

Strange, still only 2 comments...

Posted by: Alex | May 21, 2007 9:28:10 AM

Very decent of you to write this. I doff my hat.

Posted by: O W | May 21, 2007 10:53:11 AM

I'm Spasticus!

Posted by: Antipholus Papps | May 21, 2007 1:16:56 PM

Looks like the comment facility has been removed from that Mail article, the brave souls.

Posted by: Justin | May 21, 2007 2:51:54 PM

Me too.

Posted by: Cleanthes | May 21, 2007 6:10:53 PM

My, how Brits love to gossip.

Posted by: Andy | May 21, 2007 6:35:43 PM

I've been pondering this a bit - surely isn't there a case for Owen to launch a libel suit on this? Such blatant misrepresentation in a personal character assassination surely has to count... Any media lawyers about?

(Still, it's brave man whoever takes on the financial might of Associated Newspapers...)

Tim adds: Libel? No, it's very carefully written. Very so. Note the Bush=Hitler. Not that "He wrote" but that " An article on the site". Misleading, yes, yet in detail, true.

Posted by: Nosemonkey | May 21, 2007 7:48:46 PM