Friday, 22 March 2013

Spartacus: The Day the Government Condoned Plagiarism

EDIT: March 25th
My analysis of the situation has now been corroborated by Professor Beresford himself in an open letter to DWP ministers.

Let's say hypothetically that I wrote a book or an academic paper.
Let's also say hypothetically that a famous person were kind enough to write and sign a foreword to my book or paper.

What do you think would happen if I then tried to pass off what they had written as my own work? Let's say I quoted something from their foreword and said it was from me because it was now part of my book or paper.

Quite rightly there would be outrage. The famous author or academic would come down on me like a ton of bricks. And I would deserve it. No one should ever take credit for someone else's work.

But equally this goes the other way. If the famous person had written something someone found controversial, no one could say that I personally wrote it.

Yet on Thursday 21st March 2013 I was astonished to see our government do exactly this.

The minister for the DWP Mark Hoban had categorically refused to see a delegation of disability representatives with MP Michael Meacher. When pressed why he insisted that he would not see Spartacus in particular. Michael Meacher was shocked by this given that he feels that Spartacus is currently one of the leading disability groups and prepared for constructive discussion about important issues surrounding ESA and the WCA. He therefore asked for an adjournment to discuss this " wholly unreasonable and unacceptable behaviour of DWP ministers".

The adjournment took place on Thursday. The full video of the debate can be seen on this blog. Also available on Michael Meacher MP's blog is a text transcript of his opening statement (lovely praise for Spartacus incidentally :) ) and all objections raised.
Mark Hoban was absent and his place was taken by minister for disability Esther McVey After a lot of waffle the reason given was that they felt a meeting wouldn't be "constructive".
Their justification was a single quote out of the 6 or 7 reports produced by Spartacus. Her precise wording is as follows:
[the Minister for Employment] did not necessarily feel that the dialogue would be constructive because of the words used by Spartacus in this regard:
The WCA is a statement of political desperation. The process is reminiscent of the medical tribunals that returned shell shocked and badly wounded soldiers to duty in the first world war or the ‘KV-machine’, the medical commission the Nazis used in the second world war to play down wounds so that soldiers could be reclassified ‘fit for the Eastern front"

The problem is that the quote is not by any of the Spartacus authors. It is in the foreword to the People's Review of the WCA, written by Professor Peter Beresford OBE, BA Hons, PhD, AcSS, FRSA Dip WP Professor of Social Policy Brunel University.

Were I to quote anything from that passage in any academic text or book, I would HAVE to put the author as Professor Beresford, not the spartacus authors. The source is a Spartacus document, yes. The author is not.

The difference appears to elude McVey who by the by, not only attributed the quote to Spartacus, but mentions "other such comments".

I personally wrote a great proportion of the original "Spartacus Report".
There were no other such comments. In fact there were none at all. I took great care to be polite throughout.
What was said yesterday came perilously close to slander.

I'm not even going to go on to address the reasonableness of refusing to meet a delegation on the basis of that single quote when held up against Spartacus's strong history of constructive, reasonable, rigorous and factual research and debate.  

If the government is desperate enough to cherrypick a single quote out of literally hundreds of pages in order to justify ignoring us, and if the only one it can find is not even written by one of our authors, then I don't think there is much more to say.


  1. I was appalled when watching the so called debate. Michael Meacher was calm, concise and well informed and very reasonably asked the question. McVey simply tried to run down the clock by saying WCA was all labour's fault and the current government was wonderful and Spartacus were all horrible. You could see her clock watching and refusing to make way, leaving until about 30 seconds were left before actually giving that quote. I was disgusted. It's politics at it's worst, but I think I have a bit of a crush on Michael Meacher now.

  2. They're scared of Spartacus.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Can I ask......what experience has Esther got before she became Minister for disability?

    1. According to Wikipedia

      "McVey has worked in the family business which specialises in demolition and site clearance,land reclamation and regeneration.

      She returned to the family business after University, while undertaking a post-graduate course in radio journalism at City University, London before embarking on a career in the media, both as a presenter and producer.

      McVey was a co-presenter of the summer holiday Children's BBC strand But First This in 1991, and has subsequently presented and produced a wide range of programmes, co-hosting GMTV, BBC1's science entertainment series How Do They Do That?, 5's Company, The Heaven and Earth Show, Shopping City, BBC2's youth current affairs programme Reportage, and Channel 4's legal series Nothing But The Truth with Ann Widdecombe. McVey has debated at the Oxford Union and took part in Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues at the Liverpool Empire Theatre.

      McVey returned to Liverpool and set up her own business, Making It (UK) Ltd, which provides training for SMEs as well as providing office space for new start up businesses and through which she founded Winning Women.

      McVey was nominated for Merseyside Woman of the Year and Cheshire Woman of the Year 2004/05."