Every blog has its day

Irish citizen and blogger Paul Staines is feared by top UK politicians. And he’s planning to move to Ireland full-time, he tells Richard Fitzpatrick

PAUL STAINES, aka Guido Fawkes, is one of Britain’s most prominent political bloggers. He’s also an Irish citizen. He drew audible gasps during recent testimony at the Leveson Inquiry into British media ethics and practice when he gave the court a brief Irish history lesson.

“Something I think you might have overlooked,” he said, “is that I’m a citizen of a free republic and since 1922 I don’t have to pay attention to what a British judge orders my countrymen to do.”

Aged 45, Staines grew up in the UK, but he has a house in Co Wexford, where he holidays regularly with his wife and two kids, and his mother is from Finglas, Dublin. After finishing university, he got a job with a right-wing think tank in 1987 and gained some notoriety shortly afterwards as a spokesperson for the Sunrise Acid House rave collective.

A foray as a trader ended in bankruptcy in 2003 following litigation over a bad debt, but his incarnation as a blogger has been a revelation. He’s been a scourge of the political class in Britain since setting up his blog, Order-Order, in 2004, a rise which is chronicled in Brian O’Connell’s RTÉ radio documentary, Our Man in Westminster.

Trading under the tagline “parliamentary plots, rumours and conspiracy,” Order-Order attracts almost 80,000 followers on Twitter and, along with its advertising arm, Message Space, it generates an annual profit in six figures. He says, however, it took until 2008 for the blog to start paying its way.

Half his blog’s revenue comes from selling ads just like a newspaper or magazine; the other half from fees earned for stories he supplies newspapers. He’s had some corkers over the years. Smeargate is his favourite.

In 2009, Staines got his hands on an email by Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s political bulldog, which outlined a policy to smear leading Conservative politicians. It led to McBride’s resignation, ran as a front-page story for 11 days and probably caused a five-point drop in Labour Party ratings. His relentless hounding of the Labour Party’s Peter Hain over undeclared campaign donations, also contributed to another resignation, this time at cabinet level.

The Tories have come in for his ire, too. In 2010, the Order-Order blog revealed that Foreign Secretary William Hague shared a hotel room with his male assistant, Christopher Myers, during the last British general election campaign. It forced Hague to address rumours about his sexuality, prompting a convoluted defence of his marital life, along with the revelation of details about miscarriages his wife, Ffion, suffered.

The 25-year-old Myers resigned his post as Hague’s third special advisor.

Staines’s revenue has dropped since the Leveson Inquiry began. As to the fallout from the inquiry and its effect on the media, Staines notes wryly that no politician has had an affair since the News of the World closed. He believes politicians’ privates lives are fair game for the media’s glare.

“If you’re in public life, if you’re paid good money, the public has a right to know what happens to their money,” he says. “I think a man who will cheat on his wife will lie to the electorate.”

Staines doffs his hat towards American trailblazers in the blogosphere, including the Drudge Report and Amery Cox, and to the British celebrity gossip website, Popbitch, as influences in style and execution; and also to the philosophy of the tabloid editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, who reigned at The Sun newspaper from 1981 to 1994.

“I was a huge admirer of his time at The Sun,” he says. “He was probably the genius tabloid editor of the 20th century. I like his attitude towards news — that it has to be fun, impactful — and his guiding principles: tell them something they didn’t know before; give them hard information; make them laugh or make them angry. I try to make sure that our blog does all of those things, or at least one of them, every day.”

Staines has also shot down some Irish politicos. In October 2010, for example, he published the list of the Anglo Irish bondholders, days after then Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan refused to name them in Dáil Éireann.

The only time he has appeared in court as a result of his blogging was when he walked up the steps of the High Court in Dublin. He’d been issued with three injunctions in three jurisdictions by the politician Zak Goldsmith and his sister Jemima Khan, but the judge threw the case out and upbraided Goldsmith’s legal team for bringing the case to court.

Staines hosts his website in the United States, which allows him to avail of First Amendment rights, and is invariably in Ireland or overseas when one of his contentious stories airs. He’s made his enemies over the years.

“In the early days my blood would run cold when I realised the seriousness of the stories I was running, but now it gives me a bit of excitement. I’m a bit more laidback about them. I’ve had some unpleasantness. Some things have made me a bit paranoid.

“When we were going after Gordon Brown quite a lot, there were a lot of nasty things started happening; all of a sudden. I sensed that there was a campaign that went beyond the normal ... I wouldn’t say that Gordon Brown had any knowledge of it ... There lots of we-know-where-you-live type threats; the usual type of bullying: we know your wife’s name’ kind of thing.”

I suggest this bullying must have caused him distress.

“It was very disturbing,” he says, “for the woman who shares the same name as my wife I can tell you. She was on the receiving end of some of it. My wife’s a lawyer [with an investment bank]. They found a lawyer with the same name as my wife and sent her an email saying, ‘Watch it. Tell your husband.’ I spoke to this woman who was really a bit freaked out and I think she suspected I was the nutter behind this and said, ‘Thank you very much.’”

Staines says he’s pulling back from the business and plans to move to Ireland full time with his family, having schooled an equally reactionary lieutenant at Order-Order in Harry Cole. After all these years, Staines’s jaundiced view of politics remains acute, he says.

“Let’s look at how politicians start out. Half of them are complete shysters at the beginning who are just on the make for power and money. Half of them are idealistic and want to do good. They join a party. To get on they have to make small compromises: ‘Oh, you can’t say that. If you say that, you’ll upset them.’ ‘You can’t do that because he’s a donor.’

“Before you know it they’re betraying their principles. It’s the same the world over. The political system takes it out of you. Very rarely does it happen that somebody rides above politics and when it happens we know their names and they go down in history — Gandhi, Mandela. These are very rare names.”

* For more information about Our Man in Westminster, visit: www.rte.ie/doconone


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