Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Politician charged with lying

If a rookie journalist came up with the above headline, he'd be laughed out of the news room (where such things still exist). So what's the big deal about former Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan being charged with perjury?

The big deal, of course, is that a year before George Galloway's spat with the SWP tore apart one of the most successful electoral initiatives to the left of Labour in England for many a long year, Tommy Sheridan's libel case against the News of the World in Scotland did the same thing to the far more successful Scottish Socialist Party. Sheridan had been accused, among other things, of visiting a swingers' club. He sued, and won £200,000, despite a succession of his former party colleagues standing up in court and saying that they'd been at a meeting at which Sheridan had admitted going to the club twice but said he would sue anyway because there was no proof.

The News of the World, unaccustomed to such reverses, described the jury's verdict as 'perverse' and launched a dual strategy of character assassination in its columns and legal appeal in the courts. Iain McWhirter, writing in the Sunday Herald, understood the outcome of the case better as 'a rebuke to an industry that preys on human misery and disclosure; that uses chequebook journalism, spin, sensation, distortion. This has been a long time coming.'

The left is broadly divided between those who see the whole thing as a vendetta against a leading socialist by Rupert Murdoch and the state, and in many cases don't much care whether Sheridan is telling the truth or not, and those who are convinced he is lying and refuse to back him as a matter of principle. The latter include former SSP MSPs Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie, who said after the libel case that it had not been 'about judging behaviour but about the most popular, most famous convener with a huge reputation for principle, honesty and integrity being shown to be a hypocrite and a liar'. That distinction between different kinds of moral judgements begins to a look a little less clear cut unfortunately in the light of the SSP's own website's reference to what it calls Sheridan's 'squalid secret life' and the involvement of SSP members in organising the sale of a secretly recorded tape of Sheridan to the News of the World for a reputed £20,000.

Meanwhile, Sheridan has won the unequivocal moral backing of George Galloway. himself no stranger to the libel courts. For Galloway, 'Tommy's real crime in the eyes of News International is that he has spent his entire political life speaking truth to power.' Soon, for a second time, a Scottish jury will be asked to decide just how truthful he has been.


Scottish Socialist said...

Do I believe Tommy? No. Does that matter? Yes. And so it did to the voters of Glasgow who threw him out of the Scottish Parliament in May. A sad day for all of us who saw something different from every other lying politician in Comrade Sheridan.

Anonymous said...

They let us down every time, yet still we pin our hopes on leaders. Compared to Zuma in South Africa, however, Sheridan is a saint. Galloway on the other hand........

Neil Williams said...

Defend Tommy Sheridan Campaign statement:

End Murdoch’s witch-hunt
No more public money for the billionaire’s vendetta
A public inquiry into the actions of the police, the legal establishment and the Murdoch empire.

On Sunday 16th December Tommy Sheridan was charged by Lothian and Borders police with perjury, arising from the most expensive perjury investigation ever in Scotland. This investigation, instigated by the Scottish Crown Office, was ordered following Tommy Sheridan’s defamation victory over Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in July 2006. The same Crown Office will now decide whether a criminal trial takes place.

Tommy Sheridan was arrested and held for 8 hours for questioning in Edinburgh on Sunday. At the same time nine police officers descended on Tommy and Gail Sheridan’s house in Glasgow and detained Gail for 8 hours, who was alone with her two year old daughter, while the police searched the house. The press of course were tipped –off about this stage-managed raid. An action that has earned the police condemnation from many quarters for their intimidation and heavy-handed methods. As Tommy Sheridan commented: “ I am being treated as if I am a murderer"

The unprecedented usurping of police resources to carry out this campaign have exposed the lengths that the Murdoch media empire, sections of the legal establishment in Scotland and the police are prepared to go to try and target Tommy Sheridan.

A colossal £500,000 of public money has been spent so far on the police enquiry by a force that had last year the worst rate for successful prosecutions of alleged rape of any police force in Scotland. Thousands of hours of police time have been diverted to this case, and for what purpose?

Moreover, it is unprecedented in Scottish legal history for a civil defamation case to be followed by a criminal investigation into possible perjury having being committed. As the BBC Scotland solicitor Alistair Bonnington underlined again on Newsnight Scotland on Monday 17th December: “lies are told every day and in every case in courts across Scotland. What happens about that? Absolutely nothing. Just because this case involved a politician and a newspaper is not a reasonable basis at all to proceed with a perjury investigation. For Scotland this sets a precedent.”

Tommy Sheridan has been the foremost figure in the Scottish socialist movement for nearly two decades. He was the leader of the anti-poll tax movement that defeated the Tory government in the early 1990’s and in the process ended the career of Margaret Thatcher. He served a four-month jail sentence during that campaign and was elected from his prison cell to Glasgow City Council in 1992. Tommy was elected as a socialist living on the average wage of a worker to the Scottish parliament in 1999. His uncompromising stand against racism, poverty, injustice and as a fighter for ordinary working people earned the hatred of the right-wing press and the big business establishment.

It was this that made him the target of the Murdoch media-empire whose stable of papers include the Sun and the News of the World. Papers who have a long record of attacking workers, trade unionists, asylum seekers and socialists. Murdoch’s vendetta against Tommy Sheridan is part of a campaign to destroy any opposition to the billionaires and the system that the Murdoch’s of this world seek to defend at all costs. This vendetta has increased in intensity and desperation following the defamation victory that Tommy Sheridan scored against Murdoch's paper the News of the World in 2006. The now possibility of a perjury trial is a continuation of this witch-hunt by the Murdoch empire.

This website has been set-up to build support not only for Tommy Sheridan – but for the right not to be silenced and to be able to speak out against war, injustice, inequality and poverty wherever it exists.

We appeal to you to add your name to those speaking out in defence of Tommy Sheridan; be one of many who are willing to stand up against the Murdoch vendetta. To demand an end to the shocking waste of public resources being used to prosecute this witch-hunt. For the right not to be silenced by the rich and powerful.


Neil Williams
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