Paul “The Thinker” Richards

The following comments thread is developing over at New Labour wannabe Paul Richards’ blog, The Thinker which, to use one of his own phrases, may deserve a wider audience.

For a bit of background, just before his blog moved from its old to its new address, Richards circulated a list of pieces of useful information people might want to know about Michael Howard, when it became clear that he was going to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. One of the pieces of information was a claim that “Oxford Rabbi Schmuley Boteach” had accused Michael Howard of “spiritual Nazism”. Anthony Wells pointed out why this claim was bogus: not only was the rabbi’s name misspelled, but insofar as he had accused anyone of “spiritual nazism” it was Michael Howard’s student son Nick Howard (you can read a bit about the episode here), and not the future Leader of the Opposition.

Having read an entry at Harry’s Place advertising the new-look Thinker, I spent some time yesterday reading its entries, wasn’t very impressed by the author’s powers of reasoning, and posted a few comments while I was there to say so. And underneath the post welcoming readers to the new site, I started this thread:

Me: Are you ever going to take down or (since you don’t believe in ‘stealth-editing’) apologise for posting the accusation of “spiritual nazism” against Michael Howard on the earlier incarnation of your blog? (It’s still up there today).It’s a gross accusation to level at anyone, let alone the son of a refugee from European anti-semitism whose close relatives were almost certainly killed in the Holocaust, you don’t justify it at all on your blog, and a moment’s search on the web suggests that the charge was not in fact levelled against Michael Howard at all.

(Or does The Thinker hold to indefensible opinions about moral responsibility for the alleged sins of the sons?)

Or do you feel able to disclaim responsibility for printing those words because you were just reproducing other people’s poison?

(Don’t worry. I’m going to get bored of posting comments on this blog soon, probably as soon as I finish this bottle of beer.) [November 7, 2003 06:54 PM]

Paul Richards: Drinking and thinking is seldom a good combination in my experience. It makes you the virtual equivalent of the pub bore. [November 7, 2003 08:34 PM]

Me: The question is not whether I’m a pub bore or not (that’s a dull question, and it doesn’t matter what the answer is). The question is about your moral character. And so far, the answer’s not looking too good for you.

Circulating false claims on your blog and then refusing to either justify them, take them down, or apologise for them when challenged on the matter seems to me to reflect rather poorly on you.

I’ve explained above why I think the “spiritual nazism” jibe is in particularly poor taste when applied to Michael Howard. I’ll just add two things here:

First, that I note that you don’t provide either the source for the claim you make, nor do you say who compiled the document you quote (just that you think it deserves a wider audience — though how much wider you don’t say: somehow I doubt you’d like your Tory opponent at the next election, assuming that you stand, to know that you’ve been circulating this particular falsehood about the Leader of the Opposition). That, combined with your refusal to justify or withdraw the charge, seems to me to be pretty cowardly on your part.

Second, that this blog announces on its mission statement that it’s going to provide some rebuttals to some of the political lies currently in circulation. If you don’t take the opportunity to renounce or rebut this one, I think that your readers are entitled to draw the conclusion that you’re a hypocrite on this score, and for a much more serious reason than that you mock people for the kind of spelling errors you make yourself.

I’ve asked the question once about whether you’re apologising. Your readers will already have noticed that you ducked it and threw some cheap abuse back at me in return. I’m asking it again now — and, if necessary, I’m happy to ask it fourteen times.

You’re not Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, some professional muck-raking spreader of slander, or some petulant teenager with a blog that nobody’s ever going to read. You are (according to its website) the Chair of a major national political institution (the Fabian Society), and it shouldn’t be a problem for you to be held to minimally decent standards of behaviour on your weblog. [November 8, 2003 01:11 PM]

Paul Richards: Like I said, the pub bore. Yawn. [November 8, 2003 02:22 PM]

Readers, am I being boring, or is he being stupid and objectionable? The answer’s probably “both”, but it seems to me to be the use of tedium in a worthwhile cause.(And let’s consider this post the third time I’ve asked him this question, since I dare say that he’ll probably find out soon enough that I’ve reproduced my questions and his non-answers over on this blog).

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