Big Boris: Doublespeaking on the London buses.

13 March 2013

Andrea Williams comments on the case of Core Issues Trust and their banned bus advert.

In another spectacular display of the establishment capitulating to the politically correct we see Mrs Justice Lang expressly refusing to let Core Issues Trust win. It’s a bad judgment and a bad day for free speech.

After all no-one seems to want to hear the other side. The establishment spin is that these ads were ‘anti-gay’. They were not.

They were a like-for-like response to an aggressive ad campaign by gay pressure group Stonewall, which had already run on Transport for London (TfL) buses stating ‘Some people are gay. Get over it!’.  In the heat of the political debate around ‘gay marriage’ and in the middle of the 2012 London Mayoral Election, Stonewall was seeking to propagandise the public to believe that anyone who had reservations or disagreed with Stonewall was somehow ‘anti-gay’. Core Issues Trust’s adverts ‘Not gay! Ex-gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!’ were simply a mirror of the Stonewall campaign, stating the opposite – just because I am not you and disagree with you, doesn’t mean I am ‘phobic’.

In the rough and tumble of public discourse and in the interest of free speech and a free society we must be free to have both sides heard in the debate, any debate.

And that’s exactly what was happening.  In this case, the advertising contractor (CBS Outdoor UK) approved Core Issues Trust’s adverts on 4 April 2012 and the ads were due to run on the buses from 16-29 April 2012 exactly because it had already approved and ran the campaign by Stonewall. This was democracy in action. Free speech for all.

It was only on 12 April 2012, in the early afternoon, that the establishment began to cave in to the ‘politically correct’.

An email to the advertising contractor said “….the Guardian newspaper is sniffing around asking if we are running this – are you comfortable with us running this- we really need to know as soon as we can?”

Funny, how the Guardian sniffing around can turn political giants into jelly!

Before we knew it the Guardian was in full swing. At 16.27 on the same day, the Guardian published an article on its website “an angry response from gay rights campaigners” and generated a social media campaign against the Core Issues Ad.

Enter Mr Vernon Everitt, Managing Director of Marketing and Communications at TfL with an email at 16.45 to his Communications team saying:

“We might not have a legal reason to block it, but how does this meet our criterion for avoiding issues of public controversy? I find it pretty hard to reach a judgment about these things without having done some sort of analysis as to how this meets or fails to meet our advertising policy. It is also not very helpful being asked to exercise that judgment in isolation without some sort of analysis of precedent – i.e. what have/haven’t we allowed in this area previously. Can CBSO or someone here answer please to help us reach a conclusion?

Enter Mr Guto Harri, Director of External Affairs for Boris Johnson who acts as Chairman of Transport for London who has been telephoned by the Guardian and is asking for the Mayor’s response. Mr Harri emails Mr Everitt asking what was happening. Vernon Everitt responded:

“I’ve just been alerted to the fact that our ad agency has accepted it. The ads standards people have cleared it. I don’t like it. Shall I get it pulled? The only thing is that banning it now will create a splash, but that may be better than this being paraded around London.”

After this email exchange Guto Harri and Vernon Everitt have a phone conversation where it is admitted that the ads don’t infringe any ad rules. This conversation is something that Mr Everitt does not refer to in his witness statements to the court.

Guto Harri then called Boris Johnson:

I told him as succinctly as possible … the nature of the advertisement (probably including the fact that it was an echo of the Stonewall advertisement), how they had slipped through the net, that the press were already onto this and that public reaction was considerable and very hostile. The Mayor was very clear in his reaction and I clearly remember him saying words to the effect that he was not having buses driving around London telling gay people that they are sick and can be cured. It was clear to me that the Mayor wanted these advertisements to be stopped. His view, and my view, was that it was not appropriate for these advertisements to be running and that TfL should sort this issue out.

Please note how distorted this has become; the Core Issues ad was a mirror of the Stonewall campaign and yet now the establishment narrative is that they are promoting ‘gay cure’.  The ad was never about ‘gay cure’ (not a term that Core Issue Trust would ever endorse). The establishment, knowingly and deliberately, is seeking to perpetuate hard this gross misinterpretation.

The Core Issues Trust was simply stating the reverse of the Stonewall ads. No more or less. ‘There are people who claim to live in each camp. Yes people claim to be gay, non-gay, ex-gay and even post-gay. Get over it.’

Is the State about to prohibit such descriptors?

Does the State determine, decree, give permission for certain sexual states but not others?

Guto Harri informed Vernon Everitt. Guto Harri had a conversation with the Guardian Journalist. In the late afternoon the story was running in the Guardian “Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor, has pulled an ‘offensive’ Christian advertising campaign against homosexuality which was due to appear on London’s buses next week and asserts the power of therapy to change the sexual orientation of gay people. A clearly angered Johnson said: ‘London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses’.  The mayor immediately put the wheels in motion to halt the campaign after being alerted to the plans by the Guardian….. Johnson used his discretion as chair of Transport for London to instruct the transport body to ditch the advertising campaign…

The Core Issues ad says nothing about cures, conversion therapy or treatment. Core Issues never talks in those terms. Its premise is that people should be free to define themselves as they want.

The Mayoral re-election campaign was in full flow: Boris took credit for pulling the ad and confirmed his role in letters to Hazel Blears MP and to Councillor Adams saying, “I believe that London should be a city where everyone should have the opportunity to live their life free from persecution and prejudice. As I felt that these adverts would go against this view, I instructed that they be immediately stopped.

Contrast this immediately with the evidence given to the Court in a witness statement, signed May 14 2014, by Boris Johnson and upon which we were refused our request to cross examine him ‘live’:

“I had not seen a copy of the proposed advertisement at the time I was asked to express my views. I gave my opinion on the basis of the description I was given by Guto Harri. It was, however, perfectly clear to me straight away from the description that it was saying something offensive to a wide group of people in London, not just gay people but for example their friends and families, that is, being gay was an illness that could be cured. In my view, it was inappropriate that such an advertisement should be allowed to be displayed on London’s public transport network. I saw the advertisement subsequently and it confirmed my initial view.

7. I felt very strongly that the advertisement should not run, and I expressed that view to Guto Harri, who I knew was in communication with TfL. As Mayor of London and Chair of TfL, and as a human being, I was giving my opinion on a matter which could offend a wide group of Londoners.  It is not unusual for me to do so – in my role as Chairman of TfL and Mayor I often express views on issues relevant to Londoners. I hoped that my opinion would be respected, and followed by TfL. It was, however, up to Tfl to take the decision it thought fit. I believed it likely that TfL would agree, but I did not instruct TfL to do anything.

8. If TfL had not stopped the advertisement following my strong expression of a view on the subject, I could have directed TfL to do so. On this occasion I did not make a formal Mayoral decision or sign a direction to TfL …


11. … The fact that this issue arose during a period of electoral campaigning was unconnected to the views that I expressed. I reached my view solely on the basis of my concern that the advert was likely to offend. I remained Mayor during this period and I remained aware of the importance of promoting equality and tolerance and understanding between all groups and faiths in London.  I did not consider the electoral implications of stopping the adverts. There was no thought in my mind that stopping the advert would increase my prospects of re-election.”

Boris didn’t consider the electoral implications? Really, Mr Johnson.

Are you saying on oath, two years after the decision that you didn’t really instruct for the ads to be pulled? Then why did you claim exactly that?

Either Boris told the truth on 12/04/2012 when he said that he instructed the adverts to be pulled and continued to confirm and affirm this in the media and electoral husting space and in letters to MPs and Councillors (in order, in his mind, to avoid a negative Guardian generated media storm and gain political capital);


Boris told the truth to the Court in his statement to the court dated 14 May 2014 when he says that he did not instruct the ads to be pulled.

Boris Johnson cannot have it both ways. These two statements cannot be squared off and they have been exposed by way of discovery of contemporaneous email communications and witness statements which the ‘little man’ Core Issue Trust had to push for. Boris wanted it all buried.

Please let’s also be clear here; this evidence was not available to us at the first hearing before Mrs Justice Lang because TfL and the Mayor did not choose to disclose it. It was only after the first hearing, and after Freedom of Information requests that we were made aware of the incriminating emails and only upon an application to the Court of Appeal that the matter was reopened and sent back to Mrs Justice Lang.

You would have thought Mrs Justice Lang would want to thoroughly expose such gross disregard for the truth, especially as originally she had ruled that Stonewall’s adverts were offensive too, and, that despite such a ruling the Stonewall ads have continued to run until this day whilst the Core Issues ad has been censored.

More unbelievable facts:

  • Tfl and The Mayor’s Office put no litigation hold on emails on his matter despite knowing there was to be a legal challenge.
  • The Mayor’s office said that all emails from his office were routinely deleted after three months.
  • Until the final day of the third hearing on this matter  (July 2014) Counsel for TfL and Boris Johnson was trying to get new witness statements submitted by Vernon Everitt to try and close off all the loopholes in their evidence.
  • Imagine if we’d tried to do anything similar, even at the first hearing let alone at the third. We would have been laughed out of court.

And Mrs Justice Lang closed down any possibility of us testing the evidence by way of cross examination. This was unfair and inefficient. As a result of not allowing cross examination, TfL and Boris were sheltered from answering direct questions about their actions, additional witness statements had to be considered and email communication continued between the judge and the involved parties for two weeks after the case was heard in court about what statements meant.  This is no way to conduct a major freedom of speech court case.

If Mrs Justice Lang was going to deny cross examination, then she, herself, needed to consider the gaps in the information given by Boris and TfL and give the evidence and the wording their plain meaning. If she had done that then her conclusions would have to have exposed Boris.

Instead, Mrs Justice Lang concludes in her judgment “The dispute at the hearing about the correct meaning of the word “instruction” was in danger of becoming a debate about semantics.”

Boris’s two statements that cannot be reconciled are now being explained away by a high court judge as a matter of semantics.

Big Boris has arrived.

Who would have thought in modern day Britain that our great heritage of freedom of speech and freedom of religion would boil down to this?

Explaining away freedom by doing academic somersaults and using semantics. Truly, an exercise in Groupthink.

In George Orwell’s 1984, before he is reprogrammed, Winston Smith says ‘Sanity is not statistical’. He was right.

If I am the only one left saying 2+ 2 = 4, that doesn’t make it untrue.

This decision marks a dark day for freedom; for transparency in our courts. It is a dark day for trusting the courts to do justice; to hold to accounta powerful executive that promotes one ideology and suppresses another. Or, if nothing else, at least to ensure the ‘means’ are not used to justify their political ‘ends’.

This whole sorry affair is, and history will prove it to be, a spectacular failure all ‘round. 2+2 =4.

Find out more about Core Issues Trust
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