Tuesday, June 23, 2009

John Bercow and the Adventure Of The Changing Wikipedia Page

Last night, when writing a post about the newly elected Speaker Bercow, I went to Wikipedia to get a link about the man's expenses. Previously, I remembered reading that he was one of the most expensive MPs. Last night, his entry had changed - now he was one of the cheapest MPs for 2008/9, with a grudging concession that he had been more expensive before. 

A comment from Obnoxio allowed me to track the changes and find out that the entry had indeed changed. The original read:
Bercow has consistently been one of the most expensive members of the House of Commons, in terms of claims on the additional costs allowance.

In the financial years 2007-8, 2006-7, 2004-5 and 2002-3 he had the distinction of occupying joint first position in a league table of most expensive members of the House of Commons, while in 2003-4 he was the joint third most expensive Member.
Last night, it had changed to:
In 2008/09 Bercow was one of the cheapest MPs in terms of total expenses, coming 631st out of 645.

In terms of the "additional costs allowance", he has been one of the most expensive over the past six years.
Now, both entries may be factually correct, but they paint a very different picture of Speaker Bercow. The first one makes it clear that Bercow has been one of the most expensive MPs, and therefore is at the heart of the endemic corruption that has caused such scandal in the Commons. However, the amended entry starts by claiming that Bercow is one of the cheapest MPs. From bad guy to good guy in one quick edit. Magic.

So what does this change prove? I've no evidence that Bercow was in anyway connected with it, and in fairness he's probably been very busy recently and therefore probably not that focussed on what was going on with his Wikipedia entry. All this edit conclusively proves is that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, and it is very easy for the facts to be slanted away from the interpretation you prefer.

Given the above, why does this change matter? Because, it is indicative of a far wider problem - namely, the reinvention of John Bercow as the great reformer rather than being the Big Spender. The House of Commons were meant to elect someone to reform the Commons; instead they have elected someone who is up to his neck in the very scandal he is meant to be ending. There'll be a lot of spin around Bercow, as the House of Commons closes ranks around the person they've chosen to be their speaker, and the sneaky edit to Wikipedia is a good example of the rewriting of history for (the completely undeserving) John Bercow.

Some will argue that it is too early to write Bercow off, and they are probably right. After all, he was only elected last night. But everything about his election stinks, from the piss poor candidates who put themselves forward through to the growing amnesia of some about Bercow now he has emerged as Speaker. To round off this post on the new Speaker I'll use the words of Tory Bear:
Bercow wasn't the best candidate, he isn't clean and he sure as hell isn't honest. Let it not be forgotten that he has paid thousands of pounds back that he avoided paying in capital gains tax, an offence that has cost the careers of fellow MPs such as Kitty Usher. Not only that but Bercow topped the list of claimers of the Second Home Allowance and is paid around £35k to serve as an advisor to a Cayman Island healthcare company. Everything that the House needed has been spat back in the face of the voters.

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At 1:44 pm , Blogger Costello said...

Aye. Suspicious stuff but it's par for the course with wikipedia articles on politicians. I've reinserted the deleted info anyway - http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Bercow&diff=298116680&oldid=298116171 - be interesting to see how quickly/if it's removed again.

At 10:38 am , Blogger Macheath said...

If only George Orwell had foreseen Wkipedia!


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