Liberals muddying the waters around the WikiLeaks fallout is all about letting the warmongers off the hook, argues Lindsey German
No one is above the law. That was Theresa May’s response to the arrest of Julian Assange following his forced eviction from the Ecuadorean embassy in London and his incarceration in Belmarsh high-security prison.
It’s not true of course. Plenty of people are regularly seen to be above the law, from tax evading companies to slum landlords. Most germane to Assange’s case are those who could and should face charges for war crimes, but who are feted on the BBC and remain favoured members of the British elite.
Because we should remember that Assange faces extradition charges to the US for exposing a series of appalling cases which the authorities had denied, minimised or covered up. Without the exposure of Wikileaks, especially to do with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there would be much less information and knowledge about atrocities carried out in those conflicts, and much more impunity on the part of politicians and generals in their conduct of future wars.
There is something badly wrong about a society which imprisons those – like Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange – who tell the truth about wars, while doing nothing about those like Tony Blair and George Bush who took us into an illegal war costing the lives of over 1 million people and who have never expressed a minute’s regret for it.
I have been very surprised about the political reaction to the case. Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn made clear from the start their opposition to his extradition to the US, a position which is the only correct one. Otherwise, we are saying that it is ok for someone to face justice in a country governed by Donald Trump, which still runs the torture camp in Guantanamo Bay, and which has the death penalty. He could not expect anything like a fair trial. It’s unsurprising that May and Jeremy Hunt support the extradition, but it is shameful that any Labour MPs do.
Many of them seem to prefer to ignore any inconvenient political truths about the US justice system (we only have to look at the bullying treatment of Manning over the years). Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was incredibly mealy-mouthed about it, saying that Assange should be extradited to Sweden where he faces a potential rape charge (although there has so far been no extradition request from Sweden and the Swedish government was not informed about Assange’s imminent arrest, unlike the US), but avoiding the actual issue confronting him. Similarly, a letter from 70 MPs to Sajid Javid called for him to be extradited to Sweden.
If there is a call for Swedish extradition of Assange to answer rape charges he should go – although it should be made clear by the Swedish authorities this would not involve further extradition to the US. But to counterpose this to opposing his extradition to the US is clearly wrong, and is in danger of minimising the threat to him if he goes there.
The inference that Jeremy Corbyn is isolated in opposing the extradition is also wrong. Amnesty International, the UN, even the Guardian editorial (from the paper which benefited so much from the WikiLeaks story but then fell out with Assange) – all oppose the extradition. So it shouldn’t be so hard for supposedly left MPs to do the same.
Could it be that some of them want to use the Assange case to attack the left, in particular Abbott and Corbyn? There is a narrative going around that Assange is a hero of the left, that the rape allegations are politically motivated, and that there is a kneejerk ‘anti-imperialism’ that sees any opponent of the US as the good guy. None of this applies to me or to the people I work with in the anti-war and socialist movement. I don’t think most see Assange as a hero, but as someone who is being attacked for exposing things the rich and powerful didn’t want exposed. The rape allegations must be taken in good faith as should any such allegations, otherwise we are on a slippery slope of not believing women in these cases. Opposition to imperialism means just that and does not imply support for anyone who might share that view.
These allegations come above all from a layer of pro-war liberals who try to find ‘humanitarian’ grounds for intervention. They are a false caricature which conveniently dovetails with support for more intervention. The Assange case at root is about war, journalistic exposés, and the right to challenge government and military power. So whatever one’s own view of Assange, let’s keep that in focus.
Brexit: Labour must fight on the real issues, not the agenda of May or Farage
The big story this week should be about the complete meltdown in the Tory party. It faces losses in the local elections and in the Euros if they indeed happen following Britain’s latest extension inside the EU. Anecdotal evidence suggests Tory activists are in hiding and that there is huge anger with the government. May’s standing is falling by the day and she has absolutely no chance of recovering it. Her own party is at war and only united in that no one thinks she is a suitable leader or can last much longer.
In recent weeks the Tory share of the polls has fallen, and in recent polls, Labour is nearly always ahead. Whereas when Labour is doing badly, this is discussed ad nauseam, when it does better then there is radio silence.
Instead, blame Jeremy Corbyn is the daily message pumped out from the media. Not only over Assange, but over antisemitism and Brexit. This in itself is recognition of the fear of a Corbyn government which now stalks the establishment, including many right-wing Labour MPs. The latest attack on Corbyn is the eminently forgettable leader of Labour’s MEPs, who claims that the party will lose many votes unless it adopts a second referendum as its policy. The problem with this argument is that it is directly contradicted by polls on the Euro elections, which show Labour coming first – not bad at all for elections which tend to favour minor parties. Serious political commentators seem to agree that they will be much worse for the Tories than Labour.
The second referendum is effectively an attempt to overthrow the first referendum result and would be seen as such in many Labour voting areas. Labour’s policy of trying to unite both sides depends on raising class politics which can be much more unifying than what we have seen over the last three years. The new broadcast title ‘The Land Brexit forgot’ highlights those issues like child poverty, housing, stress at work, failing public services which are largely being ignored by the Tories – and it is absolutely right to do so.
The danger otherwise is that the main beneficiaries will be Farage’s new Brexit party and the ever rightward-moving UKIP. While Labour tops the Euro polls, the combined votes of these two is even higher. It is an absolute travesty that working class people should even think of voting for public school-educated, former stockbroker Farage, let alone his fellow candidate Annunziata Rees-Mogg, member of a phenomenally wealthy family, privately educated, who joined the Tory Party at the age of 5 and is a former leader writer for the Telegraph. Nor should they fall for UKIP which describes Islam as a ‘death cult’ and has links with the fascist ‘Tommy Robinson’.
Can someone also explain why we are being made to have Euro elections while most politicians turn round and claim there is no appetite for a general election? Perhaps because the place which has really lost its appetite is the majority of the House of Commons, which fears a Corbyn government above most things?
Margaret Hodge and truth – a troubled relationship
Just a word here on Margaret Hodge, who secretly recorded a private conversation on antisemitism which she held with Jeremy Corbyn in February. She then leaked this to Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times – a paper which had its union smashed by Murdoch three decades ago, which is consistently anti-left and anti-Labour. The aim is to maintain the antisemitism charges against Corbyn week after week, even though this leak shows Corbyn in a good light, since he is worried about problems of investigating charges. Last week’s front-page splash was largely rehashed old stories.
She accused Corbyn of being a liar last year. Surely her action is evidence of lies and deceit? Not to say disloyalty to the people and party which ensured her election?
Revolution in permanence
Great to hear the news from Sudan and Algeria in recent weeks. It shows the power of people organised on the streets and of mass revolutionary movements. Striking here is how overthrowing one leader has not satisfied either movement, and they have stayed on the streets until there is more substantial change. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote after their experiences of the 1848 revolutions that they were a process and had to be followed through until not just political but social and economic change was achieved. This they called revolution in permanence. Let’s hope the people of Sudan and Algeria continue on this path, and that it spreads across Africa and the Arab world, and that it energises European politics as well.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- The world turned upside down - election briefing 11 November
- Why have the Greens joined an anti-Labour alliance? - election briefing 8 November
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- The battle that will shape a generation – weekly briefing
- Trump’s coming to London during the election
- It's going to be a tough battle, but Labour can win