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Anti-Blair site sparks real-world row

Angry councillors, censorious ISPs and boycotts

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A satire site mocking Tony Blair has become the centre of a bizarre row that has pitched Labour councillors against militant bloggers and seen wild accusations thrown at both the Labour party and one of the country's biggest ISPs.

Backing Blair, which we linked to last week, was apparently pulled offline on Monday by its ISP, Fasthosts. When the people behind the site asked why, they say they were told it was due to "Excessive traffic to a potential copyright violating item - london_underground.swf". The Flash movie was a jokey satire on the London Underground sung to the Jam's Going Underground.

Since the hosting deal they had signed up to was unlimited bandwidth, this led to strange rumblings of thought.

A carefully worded post then pointed the finger at the Labour Party. There had been government people accessing the site, and councils, and connections from Telewest - the ISP used by many Labour party members. Of course, none of this proves a thing, but the over-zealous Labour troops do have form in such matters, once surreptitously posting anti-Plaid Cymru messages on various political newsgroups. That happened just prior to the 2001 general election, and with the next one expected in May, the dots were joined.

Sadly, the conspiracy isn't true, with Fasthosts assuring us that there was no complaint by anyone and the action was taken because the Flash movie was heavily linked to by bloggers across the world and was causing "a massive drain" on the web server the site is hosted on. "The file was not deployed in the right way," said a spokesman and with so much attention, the company had little choice.

But before the fire could be allowed to die down, along came Labour councillor Gareth Davies with a huge fan.

Mr Davies, a councillor for Cramlington in Northumberland had already spied Backing Blair and made a faintly ridiculous appeal for it to reveal its backers in the interests of a fair election (even more conspiracy theories?).

When Backing Blair suggested the Labour Party had been behind the "complaint", Mr Davies took the opportunity to prick an ego or two with a blog post calculated to annoy, in which he suggested that those behind it thought a little too much of themselves to believe the Labour Party could even be bothered.

And so began a rabid campaign between bloggers and Mr Davies, with the odd post by Backing Blair, exchanging insults, IP logs and groundless accusations - the usual thing.

Then, just to top it off, up popped a new blog site "Defend Backing Blair.co.uk" (why not Backing Backing Blair?) which decided to stage a drop-in protest at Fasthost’s HQ in London on Monday 7 March. Why Monday 7 March? Presumably because that's when the blog's owner isn't too busy with homework.

With Fasthosts’ address given and posts starting to appear like wildfire, not to mention a one-man crusade to get the site noticed, Backing Blair felt the need to intervene: "Jim, we've explained this in public, and we've explained it in private. Let me make this absolutely clear: we do not think it is a good idea. In fact we would consider what you propose to be incredibly counter-productive. It's a mystery to us why you insist on continuing."

But continuing he is, and Fasthosts, for one hopes he goes through with it. A spokesman told us it is looking forward to greeting him and whatever supporters wish to join the protest. "There's no conspiracy theory, and technically it's not even us that is hosting the site, but we are always welcome to meet people interested in the internet and we'll give them a cup of tea if they come, what with the cold mornings," Fasthosts spokesman told us.

Now that is the Britain we know and love.

That shouting match in full

It's the Labour Party!
It's the Tories!
It's No.10!
It's the councillor!
It's your egos!
Kill Fasthosts!
No Jim, stop Jim

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