Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The cost of free speech

Right wing and libertarian bloggers are out in force in defence of Inigo Wilson, the author of a nasty little piece on Conservative Home.

His 'hilarious' lexicon of lefty terms included such comic gems as
'Islamophobic - anyone who objects to having their transport blown up on the way to work.'
Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning must be taking notes and it is good to see that the nasty party is alive and well, still happy to lash out at minority groups.

The problem is that Inigo has a day job. He 'manages community affairs for a large telecoms company.' (Regular readers will remember that we've heard this one before) Thanks to the power of the internet, a quick Google search rapidly revealed that Inigo works for Orange and his 'community affairs brief' is to counter the objections of local residents to having telephone masts planted on their property and to spin for the telecoms company. Here he is in Bracknell.. and Leicester... and Cambridge... and Sefton... and Dorset singing the praises of Orange. For all his criticism of government and his feelings about 'green issues,' he was only too happy to accept a salary from the Environment Agency a few years ago.

Perhaps we should remember his definition of consultation - a key part of his role, one would think.
Consultation - a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising
them at the same time. London's Congestion Charge for instance.
Or planning applications from mobile phone companies, perhaps?

Anyway, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee - a dubious entity at the best of times - did the same search and lodged a complaint with Orange about their employee publishing such comments. Orange subsequently suspended Mr Wilson pending further investigation. This has caused a storm within the blogging community, with Guido and Iain Dale leading the charge to defend Wilson and attacking Orange for this assault on free speech.


An employee can be suspended to allow things to cool down pending an investigation - I've had to do this on a few occasions myself and have later reinstated the employee. Here, Wilson would clearly be unable to do his job with this media storm raging around him. In terms of disciplinary issues, Wilson is a public face of Orange - not just a salesman or an engineer, but someone who has to represent the company. It is entirely proper for his employers to decide whether they consider these public comments appropriate when the author is so easily identifiable as an Orange employee and chose to publically criticise his own company. He may have made the comments on his own time and in a personal capacity, but it is accepted in employment law that an employee's personal actions may still bring a company into disrepute, even if they occur outside working hours. From my experience, his career with Orange is hanging by a very thin thread, but the damage is all of his own making.

I find my sympathy in short supply for someone so supposedly well-tuned to spin and PR who makes such intemperate comments and then complains about the inevitable consequences.


Robert Jackman said...

I totally agree with the post and really enjoyed reading it. All those rushing out in defence of free speech fail to realise that this is not a case of a government or public body chastising a citizen, but a public-image conscious private company discipling an employee who threatened their corporate image. This is a marketing issue rather than a free speech issue.

Richard Allen said...

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

He is entitled to expouse his political views. His comments were his own and he did not represent his employer.

Praguetory said...

I want to pick up on one point you have raised. Do you really honestly think that a person who opposes Labour shouldn't take a salary from them. Is that really hypocritical?

Sometimes I have been tempted to work in the public sector (after all public sector graduate salaries exceed private sector plus the benefits and the conditions). Will Socialists be hypocritical to work for the gov when Tories are in charge?

PoliticalHack said...

Praguetory: Perhaps not hypocritical - I'd want to see the best brains working in the public service, regardless of their political affiliation. I just wonder whether Inigo's rather dodgy views suited him for that job.

Richard Allen: He posted his 'satire' under his own name, with a photograph and mentioned that he worked for a telecoms company. No real effort to avoid identifying them. His problem is that he DOES represent his employer in a different capacity and his blatant disrespect of the consultation process would be thrown back in his face every time he raised his head above the parapet on behalf of Orange. He's damaged his ability to do his day job.