Brewing up a political blogging storm
Paul Staines, better known as political blogger Guido Fawkes, is unrepentant about his defiant and continuous exposure of the political system, both in the UK and, writes BRIAN O’CONNELL, in Ireland, the country he plans to come home to
IN APRIL, as a political and media storm was brewing over his actions, I sat on the banks of the River Slaney in Wexford waiting for Paul Staines, also known as Guido Fawkes, a noted political blogger. He was sitting in his car and getting a thorough grilling by phone from BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show. The day before we met, Staines had published confidential details of more than 1,000 contacts between some members of the British media and private investigators. The story had made front-page news and publishing the files was in defiance of both the British courts and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
There was a suggestion that Staines would be summoned once again to appear at the Leveson Inquiry to explain his actions. Several weeks earlier, he had appeared at the inquiry to explain why he published details of Alastair Campbell’s testimony in advance of his appearance, and was also probed as to why he had released commercially sensitive information in relation to Northern Rock bank.
During his testimony, Staines took the opportunity to underline his Irish nationality – his mother is from Finglas and he holds an Irish passport – by telling the judge he didn’t have to recognise the court’s authority. “What I think you’re missing,” 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 me to do.”
The testimony did the rounds on YouTube; Staines says: “It caused a ripple in the room. All these brilliant barristers are not used to hearing someone tell the judge they don’t care what they order.”
Since his website, order-order.com, was launched in 2004, Staines has become something of an establishment pariah and one of the most widely read and clicked-on sources for political news, innuendo, scandal and gossip in the UK. The site currently receives more than two million visitors per month, and he employs a number of staff, including the pundit Harry Cole, to help run the site.
He also owns a lucrative “six-figure” online marketing business called Message Space, which is registered in Ireland and sells advertising space online. Staines says he spends several months a year in Ireland, mainly in Wexford, and one day he hopes to move here with his wife and children.
If you’ve never seen his blog, you might be aware of him as the person who released the names of some of the Anglo Irish Bank, now IBRC, bondholders in October 2010. Days earlier, the Irish Government had insisted that the names of those bondholders could not be obtained or published.
“The feeling was that my contact knew me and also wasn’t convinced that the Irish media would publish the list of bondholders at the time. I knew something about the bond markets, having been a bond trader. Some of the Irish press criticised me for relying on a single source. They said they would have published, but just wanted to check it out a bit more. I felt it was sour grapes, and that the Irish public had a right to know who they were paying billions to,” he says.
Not all of Staines’ actions have met with approval. When he published a story in relation to the hotel-room sleeping arrangements of British foreign secretary William Hague and a male aide, Chris Myers, some felt he had gone too far and was dragging political journalism lower into the gutter.
Myers resigned but Hague felt it necessary to release intimate details about his marriage in the aftermath. At the Leveson Inquiry, Staines claimed that the News of the World paid him £20,000 for a photograph of Chris Myers in a gay bar, which it then decided not to publish. Another story, for which Staines received much attention, related to one of Gordon Browne’s special advisers, Damian McBride, and led to the latter’s resignation over allegations he was involved in a smear campaign against Labour politicians.
Staines remains unrepentant, and maintains a low opinion of the motivations of politicians. He warns that Ireland should think carefully before introducing any further restrictions on online, print or broadcast media, although he argues that Irish media ownership should be examined.
Staines campaigned against the recent EU Fiscal Compact Treaty and he is saddened by what he sees as Irish sovereignty being handed to the EU. “The country now seems to be run by the Bundesbank. Having fought for sovereignty for hundreds of years, to now give it up to the Germans seems a little bit of a shame. The Irish Government may get something by way of a deal. Hopefully it’ll be more than just a pat on the head, but I wouldn’t count on it.
“To be honest, Ireland doesn’t figure big in the Council of Europe. I’d much rather we played hardball and said, ‘we are going to be bad Europeans unless you do something for us’. That would be my attitude.”
Some years ago, Staines made a deal with his wife that they would move to Ireland when their children started primary school. That moment has passed, but he now says his children will most likely receive their secondary schooling here. By then, he hopes to have semi-retired from political blogging, so Irish politicians can rest a little easier.
When pressed on his Irish political affiliations, Staines says that he was once a member of the Progressive Democrats. “I used to send them €50 a year membership fee. I was that one Progressive Democrats member in Wexford.”
He believes there is space for a new Irish political party and speaks warmly of the contribution Declan Ganley has made to Irish politics. What are the chances of Fawkes in the Dáil as a TD for Wexford? “I’d probably have to thicken up my accent. I think there is a space for a centrist, more eurosceptic party in Ireland, and you never know, it could happen.”
Our Man in Westminster, by Brian O’Connell, is on RTÉ Radio 1 on Monday at 6pm. A podcast will be available at rte.ie/doconone