Wednesday, 27 January 2010

'Climategate' arguments take nasty turn

There has been invective on both sides of the climate debate, and never more than since so-called Climategate, the scandal rather euphemistically dubbed the "Climactic Research Unit hacking incident" by Wikipedia. The scandal is that climate researchers at the University of East Anglia were caught manipulating data in an effort to bolster scientific evidence for anthropocentric global warming.

In the immediate aftermath, the media was full of environmentalists, global warning campaigners and scientists trying desperately to downplay the controversy, alongside climate change deniers having a field day hailing the revelations as a harbinger of the wholesale collapse of the man-made global warming theory.

Neo-conservative commentator James Delingpole of the Daily Telegraph blogs has emerged as one of the most popular (and vitriolic) online voices decrying climate change and keeping Climategate alive. His tone is generally both strident and nasty, if tongue-in-cheek - not just on this, but on any politically charged subject.

On Sunday, George Monbiot of The Guardian reports, Delingpole overstepped the mark severely by publishing an email correspondence from a member of the public to a Conservative Party parliamentary candidate, along with the name and address of the sender. The email was described outlandishly as "nauseating," and a case of "stalking" by "eco-bullies." He suggests a suitable response to the email would be "f--- off," and asks which "disgusting eco-fascist organisation" might be sponsoring the emails. According to the article, several Tory candidates have received "similar" emails, suggesting they were part of a campaign.

Delingpole's description alone is worrying. Stalking? Bullying? Disgusting? Nauseating? Eco-fascism? Worthy of an F-off? All conclusions extracted from one email? You might be surprised how placid and inoffensive the actual email was:
Date: 2010/1/22
Subject: Conservation Query

Dear Edwin Northover,

I was concerned to note the results of a survey of 140 Conservative candidates for parliament that suggested that climate change came right at the bottom of their priorities for government action.

I hope you can reassure me that you recognise the importance and success of climate change action by the UK government at home and internationally.

Can you clarify that:

You accept that climate change is caused by human activity?

Do you support the target to achieve 15% renewable energy by 2020?

Do you support the EU imposing tougher regulation to combat climate change?

Kind Regards,


I am quite dumbfounded. Regardless of the scientific rights and wrongs of climate change, why such a wildly disproportionate reaction to a person exercising his perfect right to ask some questions of a potential parliamentary candidate? Perhaps it was part of a campaign. And? Is this illegal? Is it morally objectionable? Is it deserving of such an unfettered attack? He later says his concern is that it may be "concerted campaign by a green lobby group, masquerading as the work of concerned individuals." However, the two are not mutually exclusive. It's perfectly possible to be a concerned individual and join a collective campaign in a course of action.

But, of course, it gets worse. Delingpole published the name and address of the email's sender. A Google cache of the article shows the name and address missing, but this is a cache of a later version. Only a few lines down the thread, the first comment to mention the identity of the correspondent assumes everyone already knows it from the article. Further down, another commenter quotes from the article, and the name and address remain intact. Eventually, Delingpole himself says he published the details, but later removed them.

If you spend any time at Telegraph Blogs (personally, of the political commentators, I've only found one author I respect), you'll have noticed that no matter how objectionable their content, the commenters the site attracts are far, far more extreme. In my experience, the average commenter votes BNP and would happily set back gay rights to some time in the 1950s.

So it is unsurprising that a disturbing and vicious attack followed from Delingpole's irresponsible post. Within a couple of posts, a commenter had identified the address on Google Maps and posted a photograph of the emailer's house. If I were that man, I would feel very threatened by this. I imagine Delingpole would feel similarly intimidated if a bitter enemy had posted details of his address and photographs of his house online.

Soon his phone number too was posted, and other commenters were posting other personal details.

Ironically, amid all this, someone chimes in to condemn the email as "intrusive and abusive lobbying."

Within a few hours of the post, a commenter was claiming to have personally telephoned the man in question:

I tried to telephone XXXXXXX on the number helpfully posted in this blog, but he’s out until tomorrow. Perhaps he is out ‘tackling climate change’? – anyway his missus didn’t seem to know where he was.

Delingpole later interrupts:

It’s a bit late but I’ve taken out the bit where the sender of the email is named. And I really think it’s wrong to ring up the chap or bother him. It’s not him I was getting at. I’m after the green organization which encouraged all this mass letter-writing.

Did Delingpole not notice that half his followers were unhinged enough to abuse the information he'd so carelessly published? Anyone to the left of Enoch Powell could have predicted this outcome.

Eventually, the entire discussion thread and the original post were removed.

I find this very worrying. James Delingpole, who has the affront to make hysterical claims of bullying, fascism and stalking, is himself engaged in a very nasty piece of bullying.

And how did he get hold of this email sent to Edwin Northover, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Leyton and Wanstead? Did Northover himself pass this on?

I have read the Telegraph daily since the mid-1990s. I've always found the quality of the journalism very high, but the shrill, hysterical, increasingly extreme right-wing tone of Telegraph Blogs has left me with much less faith in the newspaper. Delingpole's outrageously misjudged, vindictive post has finally stepped over a line. The Telegraph ought to ask some serious questions of this incident.

And the Conservative Party should be asking some questions of its candidate Edwin Northover to determine his part in this farce.

[Edit: In the thread, Delingpole admitted to publishing the name, but not specifically the address. However, the user theunbrainwashed posts what appears to be a direct quote from the article, which includes an address. This still suggests Delingpole was the first to supply the address.]

[Later edit: This thread confirms that both were published. I am really baffled by this. Either Delingpole had a deliberate aim in publishing the man's name and address, or he experienced a spectacular lapse of judgment. What journalist overlooks such details as a private name and address?]


  1. I read the Daily Telegraph during one of my more right-wing phases a few years ago. Stopped reading partly because my politics drifted back to the left, but partly also because of the "Daily Mailograph" tendencies that were becoming apparent even then. The move onto the web has only exacerbated that tendency.

    As for what it's done to the Mail (which is bad enough in its print form): yeesh.

    I tend to steer clear of the Telegraph blogs, though Damian Thompson's comment threads are always worth reading if I'm ever in danger of thinking that ultra-conservative Catholic support for fascism was confined to Falangist Spain and Vichy France...

  2. Cache is deleted

  3. There is actually another cache on Google, which appears to be of the earliest version, with the name and address intact.