Anyone who has written criticism of Ukip will be familiar with the bug-eyed tweets and comments posted by its rank-and-file supporters that inevitably follow. In the Internet Ukip often behaves like an angry mob, pouring forth a constant stream of bitter and often openly racist bile. But is Britain’s ‘anti-establishment’ defender of the voiceless underdog now attempting to use the law to shut down criticism of its policies?
Two disturbing events in the last week suggest that this is indeed the case. First, there was the case of Cambridgeshire blogger Mark Abberton, who revealed on his Axe of Reason blog (‘ A blog to promote reason & science, internet freedom and Green politics’) on Sunday that he had been ordered by police officers to delete tweets critical of Ukip the previous day.
The main tweet that appears to have caused this visit was this spoof electoral poster, which has been widely disseminated across the Internet for some weeks now. The original poster looked like this:
Abberton added specific links to these statements, in his tweet accompanying the poster which declared ’10 Great Reasons to vote
#UKIP. I don’t know who made it – so I referenced it from official #UKIP websites.‘
In Abberton’s account:
‘The police explained that I hadn’t broken any law – there was no charge to answer and it really wasn’t a police matter. They asked me to ‘take it down’ but I said I couldn’t do that as it had already been retweeted and appropriated, copied, many times and I no longer had any control of it (I had to explain to one of the officers what Twitter was and how it worked). They said that they couldn’t force me to take it down anyway.’
A Cambridgeshire police spokesman subsequently told the Guardian:
‘A Ukip councillor came across a tweet which he took exception to. The name of the person on the tweet was identified and that individual was spoken to. We looked at this for offences and there was nothing we could actually identify that required police intervention.’
So why did the police investigate in the first place? After all, they could have looked at the offending tweets in the first place and worked out that they weren’t illegal without going round to Abberton’s house. According to the Huffington Post, the councillor who made the complaint was Ukip’s local Government spokesman and national nominating officer Councillor Peter Reeve, who argued that the poster breached electoral rules because it did not declare explicitly that it was Green Party material, and that one family member of a Ukip candidate believed it was official Ukip material.
That probably says a great deal about the intellectual calibre of Ukip’s members, since a 2-second glance at the poster should reveal to most people that was a criticism of Ukip. Nevertheless Reeves told the Huffpost that the poster constituted ‘electoral fraud’, that was ‘impersonating our leaflets, and it’s misrepresenting us.’
‘Impersonating our leaflets’ no doubt, as far as the format and colours go. But it is difficult to see how that can constitute ‘electoral fraud’, since a 2-second reading of the poster makes it obvious that the messages could not have come from Ukip, long before you reach the question at the end.
It’s satire, geddit? Nor can it be accused of ‘misrepresenting’ Ukip, since the links it includes were all fact-checked and point to actual Ukip policies – regardless of Reeves’ suggestion that the poster linked to ‘spurious’ candidates. And a party that produces poster like this has some nerve to accuse anyone of misrepresentation:
Not to mention this:
And what about a party that uses Nigel Farage’s assistant to pose as an ordinary member of the public in an electoral video? Isn’t that ‘misrepresentation’ – unless you actually explain who she is in the video?
The ’10 great reasons’ poster does not descend to this level. And behind the nonsense about ‘electoral fraud’, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ukip is attempting to silence a sharp and very well-delivered political attack which draws attention to policies that it doesn’t like to advertise.
And now the Yorkshire blogger Another Angry Voicehas also announced that it has taken down the poster, following ‘ legalistic threats from a UKIP member who is standing in the local elections this month’ on the grounds that the poster is an infringement of Ukip’s copyright.
AAV declares that
‘This is the first time I have ever been asked to remove a spoof image by a political party and the first time I have ever committed an act of mass censorship by deleting an image which is the anchor to literally thousands of conversations. I do find it extraordinarily ironic that a UKIP candidate would ask me to censor all of these conversations which happened on a Facebook post raising the issue of UKIP members sending the police around to silence their political opponents.’
It is not just ironic. It’s also completely unacceptable. Engage in racism or hate speech and you can expect to be taken down. But ’10 reasons’ does nothing of the kind. If ‘copyright’ were a serious issue, then couldn’t the EU take Ukip to court for using its logo in images like these from its Bradford ‘science fiction’ video – not to mention ‘misrepresenting’ it?
Of course no one would think of doing such a stupid thing, because as the video’s makers have pointed out, it’s ‘satire’. And it’s significant that legal threats and accusations of fraud haven’t yet been directed at the Green Party itself, which produced the offending material in the first place, or the Huffington Post and the New Statesman, both of which have included screenshots of it.
That would perhaps draw more public attention than Ukip would like. So what it prefers to do is pick on lone bloggers who it thinks it can intimidate with impunity. That is bullying, and it is pathetic, but it is perhaps an indication of the kind of society that we might expect to see from the cheeky chappie and his legions if they ever got a serious grip on the levers of power.
So let’s not let them get away with it. You may have noticed that I’ve included the offending posters on my blog. I’m assuming from what Cambridgeshire police have said that I’m not doing anything illegal by doing so.
But if I hear otherwise, or get any legal threats from ‘Ukip candidates’ or a knock on the door from the police, I’ll be sure to let you know.