Monday, October 02, 2006

Sheridan's web of deceit


Yesterday’s release by the News of the World of an audio tape of Tommy Sheridan admitting that he told the SSP executive on 9th November 2004 that the allegations against him by NOTW were substantially true comes as a bombshell, not only for Sheridan but also for his supporters in the SWP and CWI. The denials by Sheridan and claims that the tape is a forgery seem far fetched.

Of course it is regrettable that this tape has ended up in the hands of the NOTW, and questions need to be asked about how this happened. But we must resist attempts to blow smoke around the political issues, as the questions of whether the tape is genuine, and how it ended up with the NOTW are side shows.

The real issue is that the tape confirms the evidence given by the 11 SSP witnesses who reluctantly testified at Sheridan’s libel action. Sheridan also confirms in the tape that he stated his intention to deny the allegations, because he believed the NOTW had no proof.

This is at the heart of the dispute that has led to the split in the SSP. The party recommended that Sheridan ride out the storm, but instead he was determined to sue the NOTW, despite the fact that this would involve perjury. The Executive Committee meeting on 9th November unanimously voted to ask Sheridan to step down as convenor, because this was a disastrously risky course of action for the party. The only SWP member at the meeting, Pat Smith, voted for the decision to ask for Sheridan’s resignation, but has subsequently changed her mind.

The SWP admits in the latest IST document (PDF) to concerns by the SSP leadership about "the way in which Sheridan intended to defend himself in court could have had damaging implications for the party as a whole.". Which gives further credence that the SWP do not substantially challenge the facts.

Instead the SWP argue that the comrades had a class duty to back Sheridan in court. But this was a very risky strategy, not least because it would forever hold the party hostage. On the Sunday 18 June 2006 the EC voted that those SSP members now cited as witnesses in the libel action should go to court under protest but neither perjure themselves nor place themselves in contempt of court. These were witnesses that had opposed the libel action being commenced, and were being reluctantly called by the NOTW. Two SWP EC members voted against this policy on 18th June, but offered no alternative strategy. Let us run that by again. The SWP EC members voted against telling the truth in court! Of course they didn't propose an alternative strategy, as this would have been a prejudicial admission that they might be intending to commit a criminal offence – of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

What is more, in order to contradict the evidence of the 11 SSP witnesses who told the truth about what was said on 9th November, Sheridan and his supporters have been required to invent the political slander of a “conspiracy” against Sheridan.

As we now hear on the tape, Sheridan admits “I then make the biggest mistake of my life by confessing something in front of 19 f ***** g, what am I doing confessing in front of these c **** ?”

But this is what SWP member, Pat Smith, who was at the 2004 meeting testified in court. When asked by Sheridan (representing himself in court) whether he had denied visiting the Cupids night club, Pat Smith, said: "You were very, very clear about that." When asked why 11 other witnesses remembered Sheridan saying it, Smith replied "I can only think it was done for negative reasons."

Why am I concentrating only on the SWP witness, and not on the other 3 witnesses who backed Sheridan’s account of the meeting? Well, because of the issue of democratic accountability, Pat Smith would not have been acting alone, her decision to testify in the way she did will have been made by the SWP leadership. Indeed, why else call upon A-list SWP cadre Mike Gonzales to testify in support of Sheridan – when he hadn’t even been at the November meeting. Because Gonzales was not at the 9th November meeting he probably did not perjure himself, and his testimony was largely irrelevant, but he did give moral and political support to Pat Smith by testifying.

A political decision was made by the SWP to back Sheridan’s court action, against the interests and expressed wishes of the SSP. What is more, the political basis of the court action was entirely reactionary. It was not a defence of Sheridan’s privacy, but an attempt to defend a false image of Sheridan as a perfect family man – Victorian double standards.

Having decided that they would continue with that position up to the point of perjury, the SWP supported the claim of a conspiracy. In contrast, one other pro-Sheridan witness, Rosemary Byrne MSP, when asked in the Witness box whether MSPs Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane — were lying, she replied: "I'm very, very wary of calling people liars.". She stepped back from accusing them in court of perjury, but Pat Smith had no reluctance to say in court that the 11 witnesses were lying, recklessly exposing the 11 to prosecution for perjury and a potential prison term. (In answer to the question, aren’t I dong the same thing – well the established fact is that 11 witnesses gave evidence on way, 4 gave evidence the other, so the fact of perjury is undeniable and already in the public domain, the responsibility for which lies with Sheridan and his supporters who did not need to go to court in the first place. There can be no progress without truth, so there does need to be a serious discussion about the politics behind the decision to lie in court.)

Having embarked on a course of perjury and false accusations of conspiracy against the SSP leadership, the SWP and CWI are hoist by their own petard. They can never admit the truth, either publicly or to their own members, without further exposing their own comrades to criminal prosecution. This disregard for the truth is morally and politically corrupting. This trap could have been avoided, and the leaderships of the SWP and CWI were reckless in exposing not only their opponents in the SSP, but also themselves and their own organisation.

On a more encouraging note, it seems that the RMT affiliation is staying with the SSP, and not going to Solidarity.

24 comments:

Derek Wall said...

This illustrates the dangers inherent in trusting one charasmatic personality.

Having said this, there are obviously different leadership styles...modest is good as far as I am concerned

Interesting to see what will happen next?

Snowball said...

Whatever Sheridan might or might not have said or done, there is something vaguely nauseating about socialists lining up with Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World to join in a witchhunt of a leading fighter for the working class and socialism in the name of 'the truth'.

Surely we should be uniting to fight real liars like Blair - whose lies cost thousands of lives - rather than uniting with rich and powerful admirers of Blair like Murdoch in order to attack other socialists?

As for Derek - it is a bit rich for the Greens to lecture us about the apparent dangers of 'charismatic personalities' after the 'Lord' Hugo Charlton affair.

Snowball said...

As for the inappropriate title 'Sheridan's web of deceit' - what about those Scottish Socialists caught up in Murdoch's 'web of deceit'? Or are they still 'whiter than white' despite (objectively) helping 'the dirty digger' do his dirty work?

AN said...

Snowball.

There is no witch hunt. The correct political position was the course of action recommened by the leadership of the SSP back in October 2004 and ever since, to simply say to NOTW, "so what? it is a private question for Sheridan and his friends and familly."

Instead it was Sheridan who embarked upon the course of action that led the courts and possible police action into the workers' movement.

It was a political mistake of whoever gave the tape to NOTW - so far and no further will I go along with you.

When you say "we should be uniting to fight real liars like Blair - whose lies cost thousands of lives ", you are of course correct. But the responsibility for the internecine fighting in the SSP lies with Sheridan, and his allies. It was he who pursued his personal advantage in court against the judgement and intersts of the party; it was he who issued the scandalous "open Letter" to the bouregeois press falsely accusing other socialists of a conspiracy, when he had never brought up the issues in party forums; it was he who falsely accused other comrades in court of perjury, thus exposing them to potential prison.

All this energy by Sheridan was not about "uniting to fight real liars like Blair ", but creating disunity where there was previously unity, and diverting the party away from the key political tasks.

And surely it is a political mistake to promote and defend to the point of perjury, the entirely false image of Sheridan as a perfect family man and upholder of moral rectitude, when he was in fact consorting with prostitues and going to swingers clubs?

I notice that you place the word "truth" in quotation marks, as well you might as you don't seem to think it very important. What did Tony Cliff always say: "Never lie to the class, never lie to yourself"

And refering to comrades being involved in "Murdoch's web of deceit" is shameful, absolutely shameful, to continue by inuendo to infer that the 11 SSP witnesses were or are involved in any deceit. The SSP witnesses were called reluctnatly and had absolutley no choice but to testify - it was in the intersts of the party and the cause of socialism to tell the truth in court once relectantly summoned. To do otherwiese was to mortgage the party for ever, morally and politically, behind the lies.
I I am amazed, absolutely amazed, that the SWP puresued the strategy of deliberate perjury instead, exposing the SWP itself to some reisk of investigation of conspiracy, you should be seeking to find out who made that disastrous decision (I think we can all guess!) and hold them to account within the SWP.

Snowball said...

Andy you say 'The correct political position was the course of action recommended by the leadership of the SSP back in October 2004 and ever since, to simply say to NOTW, "so what? it is a private question for Sheridan and his friends and familly"'.

That was the correct political position - but then the question has to be asked why Tommy was kicked out of his role as SSP convenor if 'it was a private question'. It was that (wrong) decision that sowed disunity within the SSP. Lets not rewrite history to glorify the role of the SSP leadership.

Ed said...

Yes, that reference to 'the truth' in question marks is vaguely sinister, Snowball. I'm not suggesting that you are anything other than a thoroughly committed and well meaning socialist, but the kind of argument you're making here is a little terrifying. Especially so given the particular moniker you've chosen.

I saw quite a few Sheridan supporters waxing lyrical about 'truth and justice' a while ago and now truth is something we put in quotation marks.

In fact, this goes right to the heart of the issue.

Sorry, Snowball I don't mean this at all as a personal attack, and I hope we're still on good terms, but I think the position you're taking here is reminiscent of those references to 'revolutionary truth' (ie what it is politically expedient to promote as the 'truth') as opposed to 'bourgeois truth' (as in what actually happened) which have unfortunate historical associations.

AN said...

Snowball

At the meeting on 9th November 2004 there was inded discussion of how appropriate Tommy's behaviour was as a prominent parliamentarian, (at the same time the Scottish parlimant was discussing prostitution tolerenace zones etc!) And given there were 20 people there, it was not suprising there was a diverstity of opinion.

However, he was not asked to step down as convenor over his sexual conduct.

he was aksed to step down becausue he announced his intention to perjure himslef in a libel action against NOTW. It is so self -evident that the leader of the party should not undertake such a risky and foolhardy course of action that Pat Snith the SWP member of the EC present voted along with everyone else to ask him to step down.

So Smowball, if you agree that the issue was a private matter, and 'The correct political position was the course of action recommended by the leadership of the SSP back in October 2004 and ever since, to simply say to NOTW, "so what? it is a private question for Sheridan and his friends and familly"'.

then why did the SWP in Scotland back Sheridan over the issue that he would be "politicaly finished" if he told the truth. Thus not making it a private matter, but a public matter requireing denial and lies?

I am genuinely astounded that you can argue it was a private matter for him, and then also support the idea of hypoctritical public denial - which is the opposite course of action.

AN said...

by the way - next week's NOTW wil have further revelations.

There is a very real chance that Sheridan, Smith, MacIver, Penman and Byrne will be prosecuted and convicted.

If pat Smith is imprisined for following the foolish instructions of leading SWP members, then perhaps Snowbal will understand why truth does matter.

Neil Williams said...

"But we must resist attempts to blow smoke around the political issues, as the questions of whether the tape is genuine, and how it ended up with the NOTW are side shows".
I cant believe this line came from a fellow socialist - Tommy has said on BBC News tonight that the tape is a fake but you state this is a side show!! I think not.
The attempt to udermine Tommy Sheridan is an attempt to undermine the Socialist/anti-war alternative in Scotland just like the CIA and other 'secret services' probably tried to undermine the crditability of the George Galloway MP with the 'barrels of oil' lie/smear.

Your heading "Sheridan's web of deceit" clearly shows were this article is heading before the first sentence is written.
I can understand why Solidarity was set up and why a clean start was needed after reading this article.

Neil Williams
Respect Supporters Blog
http://respectuk.blogspot.com/

Liam Mac Uaid said...

The respsonsibility for this mess is Sheridan's alone. He should have followed the party's advice and not gone to court. It's his fault that people face jail for perjury.
The point that Snowball hasn't grasped is that you can't have a political culture in which the leaders can hide the truth from the members. Sheridan had no right to ask people to lie.

AN said...

That is absolutley correct Liam.

And neil, there is really no doubt that the tape is genuine, you can listen to it on the NOTW web site, and it is 100% Tommy. if it is a fake it is one of amazing brilliance. But even if we accept that the security servicies could have faked a tape so flawlessly, how do you account for the fact that the tape is vouched for by George McNeilage, a longstanding SSP (and before that SML) member who was possibly Sheridan’s oldest and closest friend from the Pollok area where they both grew up.

Don't you find it extraordinary that close friends and comrades of Sheridan's such as George Mcneilage, or catriona Grant, or several other SSP members previoulsy close to Sheridan would turn against him so suddently if this was realy all a plot by the secret services, or whoever.

If there was really the slightest doubt about the tape being genuine it would not be a side show, but as it is clearly genuine, then the denials by Sheridan are smoke.

I am sorry that you have been taken in by it, firtunetaly far fewer SSp members than we first feared have beleived Tommy.

It is now time for Sheridan and Bryne to resign their positions as MSPs, so that their places can be taken by SSp memners, which was what the electorate voted for.

AN said...

BTW

Martin Wicks has written one of the clearest accounts I have read about the crisis:
http://martinwicks.blogspot.com/2006/09/fact-and-fiction-whats-happened-in-ssp.html

Southpawpunch said...

An interesting article. One of the best I have seen on Sheridan. We are presuming that it really is Sheridan on the tape - which seems almost certain.

I argued in my blog immediately after the court case that Sheridan was probably lying but that it was also incumbent on all Scottish socialists to put it behind them and keep a united party. I have worked in organisations with people I pretty much despise but the cause comes first.

I really wouldn’t put black marks against lying in a capitalist court except for a couple of things he did - lying about other socialists and deceiving his supporters for only his personal benefit.

But then Sheridan went to try and bust up the SSP, slander other socialists and establish a copy party that have no discernable difference in policies. It’s then that socialists should have broken with him. I just can’t understand why lefts like the SWP went with him. They should try and march their troops back into the SSP.

Darren said...

Maybe characters like "Snowball", Neil Williams and all the other hacks will spare a thought for Katrine Trolle and what she went through in all this.

But none of them ever seem to mention her. I guess she is dismissed as expendable in all this. What's important is that at all costs we must support the "leading fighter for the working class and socialism".

Absolutely disgraceful mentality.

AN said...

HI Southpaw,
It is a good point that lying in a court is not always wrong - this is not a question of absolute morality, but political judgement. We can all think of examples, where comrades are facing criminal prosecution, etc. But even then you would have to take a risk assessment.

What is different in this case is that engaging in a court case was not the best political judgement, and given the nature of the case, and the fact that the court case was not forced upon Sheridan but voluntarily entered into, given those circumstances it was naive to think that everyone would rally behind him - which inevitably would raise the question of two conflicting stories, and a split in the party.

I do find it bizarre that SWP members argue (and Snowball is not alone here) that it was sacking Sheridan as convenor that made a split inevitable. This is clearly wrong as the party cannot just accepy any old shit from a "leader"

And the way things have panned out it is good news for the SSP that they have put distance between themselves and Sheridan, as the electorate see Sheridan in his true colours.
Just becasue someone was once a "leading fighter for the working class and socialism" does not mean they have a blacnk cheque for ever. As Trotsky pointed out, even Benito Mussolini was once an able and committed comrade. (I am not comparing Sheridan with the Duce obvioulsy!)

But Darren, I don't think you should call Snowball and Neil hacks. But your point about Katrine is well made.

Darren said...

Andy,

I could pretend to be disarming and say: 'I'm a hack, you're a hack, we're all hacks' and insert the obligatory smiley icon to show that it's all in jest, but I know, you know and 'snowball' and Neil know that if their Party line this week was that Sheridan was a self-aggrandising egoist consumed with his own hubris, it wouldn't matter a fuck if he truly was the "leading fighter for the working class and socialism" . . . , the attack dogs would be unleashed and they would make the obligatory mental sumersaults to denounce him accordingly.

That qualifies them as hacks in my book. And I speak as a fellow hack. ;-)

AN said...

Yeah Darren,

But in fact being a hack is one of those irreular verbs.

I agree with the party's position
You are following the line
(s)he is a hack

The question is whether calling somone a hack takes the debate forward or whether it build further barriers.

Darren said...

Andy,

I think sometimes you just have to call it as you see it.

However, easy it might be to score cheap political points, I actually think the deeper question is the treatment of individuals such as Ms Trolle. She is not the first person - and sadly won't be the last person - who is dismissed as little more than collateral damage for the political concerns of this or that particular 'tribune of the people' or sect puffing up up their own wee self-image.

I don't think its hyperbole to suggest that if she can be so easily dismissed as not worth it in the great scheme of things, what does it say for the rest of us if any these star politicians or central committees on the left were ever in a position of genuine authority or power in society?

That for me is the more important question. Not the matter of whether or not Sheridan cheated on his wife.

Neil Williams said...

So many of you are saying that both Toomy and his wife lied in court.
I am no hack and not a member of the SWP (I was active in the Labour Party for 15 years before joining Respect as was my father/mother and grandfather/mother).

I shall leave you with todays words from Tommy in the Guardian:

Sheridan hits back at News of the World.
Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan today accused the News of the World of trying to "destroy" him because it despised him and other socialists.
The Glasgow MSP, whose libel trial is the subject of a perjury investigation by Scottish prosecutors, said he had been the victim of "the mother of all stitch-ups" when the News of the World accused him of being a swinger who took part in orgies.

Mr Sheridan, who won £200,000 from the paper at a trial in August, was fighting back after it distributed audio extracts from a videotape in which it alleged he admitted visiting a swingers' club, contradicting evidence he gave to the court.

"If you want a fight, we will take you on as we did in the courtroom, we will take you on in the streets, in the trade unions and in the elections, because the working class of Scotland can see through the muck," Mr Sheridan said at a press conference in Dundee.

He denied having ever been to the house in which the tape is said to have been covertly recorded by his former friend George McNeilage.

"If you were to believe everything you see or hear you really would think Elvis Presley recently introduced Noel Gallagher as the lead guitarist at a music concert," he quipped.

He attacked the News of the World and its sister paper, the Sun, for waging an ideological battle with "stories that are garbage and lies, concocted to try and attack socialists".

He invoked the Sun's notorious allegations about the behaviour of Liverpool fans at Hillsborough in 1989 as well as the paper's Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster headline.

Fellow Scottish socialist George Galloway, who won a libel victory two years ago against the Daily Telegraph over allegations that he was in the pay of Saddam Hussein, was also namechecked.

Mr Sheridan added that he had not yet received any of his damages because of a pending appeal against the jury's verdict that could take two years.

After the News of the World published extracts from the the tape on Sunday, Scottish prosecutors revealed that they were conducting an investigation into allegations of perjury.
............
Maybe I am naive or too trusting but I for one will take the word of Tommy and his wife as the truth at this stage until proved otherwise. In the meantime dont let us all get sidetracked (just what the NOW and others want) into, 'did he lie, did he not' when we need to put our energy into the fight against 'New Labour' and the wars and privatisaton they stand for.
Soilidarity was needed for this reason.


Neil
http://respectuk.blogspot.com/

Liam Mac Uaid said...

Sorry Neil you are wrong. Sheridan admitted to the SSP Executive Committee that he had done some of the things alleged by the NOTW. The EC said it would be better to refuse to discuss it. Sheridan decided to go to court and demanded that EC members lie on his behalf. I wouldn't lie for a reason like that for any of my comrades nor would anyone else with a shred of self respect. Either the EC majority lied or Sheridan and his people lied. How can anyone seriously suggest that the EC would devise a plot to get rid of Sheridan that involved prison time if they were found out?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent blog entry.

As a socialist in N American I've followed the SSP for many years and it's a shame to see what Sheridan has done to that fine organization.

However it's just as disgusting to see IST hacks defend him and the completely unprincipled position taken by the SWP comrades in Scotland (their orders having been transmitted to them from the headquarters of the world revolution/London SWP office).

Even here some of my political friends who are in the IST mouth word for word the IST line about this debacle, calling the SSP leadership "scabs" etc. And this from people who prior to last year have never even heard of the SSP! Many decades from now I hope that some social psychologist conducts an analysis of this IST group think.

I wish all the SSP comrades the best in trying to rebuild their organization.

AN said...

Neil

I regret that you were described as a hack which is an offensive term.

Here is the thing. Someone lied in court. And this is not something that can simply be brushed under the carpet as unimportant, becuase if we take the view that it is unimportnat whetehr or not comrades use political weapons of slander, and exposing other comrades to the risk of imprisonment, then why did the left ever split from Stalin?
I remember when I first got involved in politics being told by the CP members I worked with that we shouldn't get sidetracked by criticising the USSR, and should put all our energy into the class struggle.

In truth, if we accept that type of conduct within the movement, then the left are not fit to ever govern. Beacsue the lies also include the requirement to lie within our own organisations, which is why a number of SWP members seem to genuinly beleive that Sheridan was telling the truth, and Pat Smth's evidence wasa truthful, even though people like JOhn Rees, Martin Smith and Chris Bambury must know that is untrue. Can that political realtionship between teh SWP members and leadership be healthy>

On the question of who lied. Why would Katrine Trolle have lied? She refused to speak to the newspapers, and only gave evidence reluctantly, she was not in the leadership cicrles of the SSP, and her evidecne was supported by her flat mates and telphone records.
When challenged in court why he had rung her so many times, he said it was to discuss the minumium wage law in Denmark! I don't think Denmark even has a minimum wage!

Anonymous said...

Andy, I see your scabby little article has been demolished over at the Marxism mailing list:

http://www.marxmail.org/msg18178.html

AN said...

I will post a reply to the marxmail article shortly. It is a substantial argument, and one that deserves a considered reply.

It is however still wrong (politically) - I will say this though - if George McNeilage has in fact received money from the NOTW (and I have no knowledge one way or the other) as alledged in the marxmail article, then the SSP should expel McNeilage.