Monthly Archives: November 2014

Lord Clark On The Mystery Of Victor Grayson

Victor_Grayson

Victor Grayson (picture: Wikipedia/public domain)

It’s now 107 years since Victor Grayson won a spectacular victory in the 1907 Colne Valley by-election, standing as an Independent Labour candidate. But his life and mysterious disappearance continue to fascinate political historians. His biographer, and one of his successors as MP for Colne Valley, David (now Lord) Clark, was the main speaker at an event about Grayson at the University of Huddersfield last night.

Victor Grayson had a reputation as one of the great and most radical public speakers of his time, and the Pankhursts were among those who travelled to Colne Valley to join his campaign. His success was short-lived and his Parliamentary career ended at the next general election in 1910, after, with the help of a series of drunken outbursts on the floor of the Commons chamber, he managed to alienate just about all his fellow MPs, including those from Keir Hardie’s mainstream Labour Party. Grayson re-emerged after the First World War but was not seen again after 1920, amid suggestions he got himself mixed up with a shadowy Whitehall fixer called Maundy Gregory, a man responsible for co-ordinating the sale of honours on behalf of Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

The evening began with an extremely rare screening of a 1985 BBC2 documentary about Grayson, not thought to have been shown publicly since its original broadcast. It included interviews with Grayson’s landlady at the time of his disappearance in 1920, Grayson’s nephew as well as a New Zealand soldier who had served with Grayson during WWI, and claimed to have seen him in Spain some years after his apparent disappearance. A rather younger looking David Clark, who by this time had lost his seat in Colne Valley but been elected in South Shields, also featured prominently.

Having read and written a bit about Grayson during my time reporting politics in Saddleworth, in particular the 2011 Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election (Saddleworth and ‘Red Delph’ was part of the Colne Valley constituency in Grayson’s day, indeed it was up until 1983), I’d always assumed that the various sightings of him after his disappearance were probably false, and that he’d been bumped off on Gregory’s orders. A common suggestion is that Grayson knew too much about the honours scandal, and may have threatened to reveal it.

However, Lord Clark seemed fairly convinced, both in the original documentary and again in his remarks last night, that Grayson went to ground and was paid off, and continued living in secret under an assumed name. That would certainly explain the various sightings of Grayson recorded in the 1920s and 30s. But a stronger piece of evidence is the fact that somebody retrieved Grayson’s WWI medals from the New Zealand authorities in London in August 1939. If not Grayson himself, this would have to have been a direct and close relative. The only one alive at that time was his daughter, who, according to Clark, had told him she knew nothing about the medals. It strikes me the sightings can be easily explained away, but that can’t.

Lord Clark speaks about Victor Grayson last night.

Lord Clark speaks about Victor Grayson last night.

Lord Clark also revealed that files about Grayson and some of his political contemporaries held by the Home Office still haven’t been released. When asked by event organiser and University of Huddersfield lecturer Stephen Dorril whether his experiences investigating Grayson’s life had informed his later work on Freedom of Information during the first year of Tony Blair’s government, Lord Clark said it had up to a point. But he then added he was concerned it was the media rather than the general public which tended to use FOI today, which had not necessarily been his original intention.

After Lord Clark’s talk, University of Huddersfield history lecturer Keith Laybourn set Grayson’s life in the context of the Labour movement of the early 1900s, then both men took questions from the good-sized crowd of about 80 people. Thanks to all for a very enjoyable evening.

Lecture: Trolling

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Having exposed a troll in ultimately tragic circumstances, Sky’s Martin Brunt is now himself being trolled.

I gave today’s lecture in the second year Digital Cultures module here at the University of Huddersfield. The presentation I gave can be found here.

I showed the students some of the most recent high-profile examples of trolling and related behaviour, from the ultimately tragic case of Brenda Leyland to the row involving Dapper Laughs and what happened after he was called out by UsVsTh3m. I then discussed some of the academic research into the motivations that lie behind trolling, before considering the various ways in which government, the police and others have responded to trolling.

I took as the starting point of the lecture a definition of trolling outlined in a paper published this year by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, called Trolls Just Want To Have Fun. It suggests: “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”

It’s not bad as definitions go. Some have suggested that Brenda Leyland wasn’t really a troll, because as the parents of Madeleine McCann aren’t on Twitter themselves, her tweets about them weren’t aimed at them personally. However, I’d say her tweets could probably be considered “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive” – and possibly all three – and certainly existed in a social setting online, so would fall under that definition.

However, the case of Dapper Laughs and the apparent trolling of UsVsTh3m journalist Abi Wilkinson and others by his fans which took place on Snapchat, pushes this definition to its limit. Snapchat is more of a private than a social setting, and you although you access it using the internet, any trolling on Snapchat is done in the form of direct messaging not open to the general public. I suppose the same would go for Twitter DMs or anything sent by Facebook Messenger. It’s not even a year old, but perhaps it’s already time to stretch that definition a bit.

Talking Hyperlocal At The University Of Salford

Oh ok, I suppose I can squeeze one more use out of this photo.

Oh ok, I suppose I can squeeze one more use out of this photo.

I was back at MediaCity on Thursday afternoon, to give a talk on hyperlocal to MA International Journalism students at the University of Salford. It was good to catch up with Kate “Manchizzle” Feld, who is a tutor there and invited me to come over from Huddersfield and speak. And it was also good to revisit a subject that I’ve still got a great interest in, even though it’s more than three years since I handed on Saddleworth News.

I told the students that although hyperlocal is no longer the fashionable media buzzword it was in, say, 2010, the sector is proving pretty resilient. Dave Harte’s latest snapshot of the UK scene shows more than 400 active websites, and that doesn’t take into account the many hyperlocal-style offerings available elsewhere, from social networks to old-style forums.

My expectation is that hyperlocal is here to stay for the same reasons it appeared in the first place. People are interested in very local news about their areas, the mainstream media is generally less able to provide that news, more information than ever about our communities is publicly available online, and it’s easy to set up a website of your own and get publishing some of it. It’s not the moneyspinning saviour of local journalism that some hoped it might be, but that always seemed more than a little optimistic.

The presentation I gave is here. Embarrassingly enough, I was wearing the same t-shirt I had on when the picture at the top of this post was taken. Given my eldest daughter is now five, it’s probably time to retire it. The picture that is, not the t-shirt. Plenty of wear in that yet.