The website for Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater, is probably the only website for a British Parliamentary to be blessed with a prominent animated cat on its front page. It invites you to click on a link to read Mogg-the-Blog, where a rather darker set of content awaits than the amateurish layout and intensive wall of block capitals on the website’s front page.
In the blog, or rather to give it the full title Mogg-the-Blog, is a series of posts documenting the falling out between Ian Liddell-Grainger and a member of the public. An MP and a member of the public falling out is not news. For the MP to put it on their own website is unusual. However, what gives it that darker edge on Liddell-Grainger’s site are his choices over what to publish about someone who contacted him. (All the posts referred to below are here).
The origin of the dispute rests with butterflies, with the MP having taken great exception to a local pro-butterfly organisation seeking public money. Christopher Foster emailed the MP to disagree, making a few pungent comments of his own. The MP responded by publishing Mr Foster’s email in full, including his personal email address.
Given that under data protection law people’s email addresses are personal data, for an MP to publish without consent someone’s contact details in this way is rather unwise and certainly unusual.
Mr Foster then wrote in to object to the publication of his email on the website. The letter contained a reminder and warning against abusing data protection laws by publishing people’s personal contact details without consent, and included an explicit request for his personal data to be removed from the MP’s website.
The MP’s reaction to this? The letter was published in full on Ian Liddell-Grainger’s website – including publishing this time Mr Foster’s home address.
Responding to a complaint about personal data being published by publishing further personal data about that person is even more unusual and even more unwise.
It also runs counter to the MP’s own privacy statement: “your personal details (i.e. your name and contact details) will not be shared without your permission”.
Highly unusual, although the MP for Bridgwater has often taken unusual steps in the past. He has been accused of faking letters to himself in order to improve his apparent letter response times, produced an strange YouTube advert comparing himself to Gene Hunt (making use of footage from the TV show), has been spoken to by both David Cameron and the Conservative Chief Whip over his behaviour and used crude language on his website.
This time the fallout may be rather more serious for the person involved has lodged a legal complaint with the Information Commissioner, who is currently investigating. Chris Foster told me,
Since it was a public attack on a private individual that led me to write to him in the first place, I should not have been surprised when I became the next target of his blog. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by the arrogance and rudeness of his very public ‘reply’ to my email. What disappointed me even more is that he spent further public time and money scanning and posting the letter of complaint I had addressed to his Westminster office — frankly bizarre behaviour from a Member of Parliament.
A curious footnote: whilst checking this story I noticed that on Ian Liddell-Grainger’s website it says “This web site is owned by Ian Liddell-Grainger and financed by him alone (but it actually costs peanuts to run)”. However if you look at the records for MP expense claims, there are two claims for “website hosting”, in September 2010 and in August 2011. I have asked the MP for an explanation for this but at the time of writing have not had a response.