As I've mentioned before once or twice (well, twenty-three or twenty-four times) I've been an off-and-on poster on Political Betting for the last two-and-a-half years, but I've become increasingly alienated as time has gone on - although somehow I can never seem to keep away entirely. The main problem has been the slow but steady takeover of the lengthy comments sections (which have always functioned more as open forums) to the point that it is now something akin to ConHome II, or GuidoLite. But what has also increasingly irked me of late is the subtle agenda-pushing in the guise of objective posting by its Tory-leaning Lib Dem editor Mike Smithson. To be fair, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted his party to form a coalition with the Tories rather than Labour in May, but since then there have been an endless series of innocuous-looking posts that pose as thoughtful, non-partisan editorials, and yet which mostly carry the same underlying message - coalition with Tories good, alternatives bad. One recent fixation has been the court case against Labour MP Phil Woolas, and the prospect of a by-election - which, on paper, the coalition parties would have a chance of winning. So unsurprisingly today's news from the High Court has been greeted with a certain amount of thinly-disguised glee -
"So now we have it. The case has gone against Woolas and we look forward to the by election."
Well, no we don't just yet, do we? What we actually wait for first is the possibility of further legal proceedings - which, as anyone who remembers a court case that disbarred a Labour MP after the 1997 election will know, could perfectly easily go in Woolas' favour. Mike then gives the game away completely with this train of thought -
"But why oh why in the period between the hearing and today’s judgement did Ed Miliband appoint Woolas as a shadow home office minister...what sort of message does this send out about EdM’s approach to this ultra-sensitive area? And what does it say about possible future relations with the Lib Dems?"
Just for the sake of clarity, I'm no fan of Woolas or of the smearing of political opponents, and I'll shed no tears for him if the verdict is upheld. I'm also - in principle - happy to see the complacency of the mainstream media shaken up by the likes of PB.com. But I really think Mike is doing his site few favours with this repeated reporting of wishful thinking as objective fact. Perhaps he should just drop the pretence and transform it into an openly pro-coalition blog and forum.
UPDATE : As the afternoon has progressed, increasing doubts have been raised about the possibility that any legal avenues Woolas could explore would actually prevent a by-election, a change in understanding which Mike Smithson reports in the following way -
"There’s lots of confusion about the current status of Woolas which has been partly clarified by Paul Waugh’s Tweet."
Hmmm. I'm not quite sure how all that "confusion" over his status was reflected in the initial post four hours ago that baldly stated "and we look forward to the by election".