Breivik's trial now focuses on victims

Breivik's trial continues - but the attention is no longer on the killer.

The court lecture played faithfully into the absurd image he has constructed for himself – Commander Anders Behring Breivik, the gallant defender of Norway.

"If anyone wants to throw something, you can throw it at me,” Commander Breivik admonished the Olso court after the brother of one of his victims hurled a shoe.

The accused gunman and bomber murdered 77 people on July 22 last year, most of them teenagers executed at close range. But they were legitimate targets. Vibeke Hein Bæra, hit gently by footwear aimed at him, was an innocent bystander. Commander Breivik was honour-bound to intervene: “Don’t throw things at my lawyers.”

It was one of several opportunities he has taken to try to regain the attention of a court which has moved on despite him, and attempt to re-establish himself as the hero of his own trial. The contrast with the genuine heroism of some of the survivors from his rampage on the holiday island of Utoya last year could hardly be starker.

Tonje Brenna, 24, terrified, under fire, watching her friends die around her, picked up and carried a wounded 14 year old girl to the relative safety of a steep cliff edge. She slid down to shelter only after guiding others, then held the wounded girl in her arms, willing her to stay awake, while Commander Breivik stood at the top of the rock face, letting out yelps of joy as his bullets found their teenage targets.

Faced with this story of heroism - one of many heard by the court over the last three weeks - Commander Breivik smiled contemptuously and shook his head.

Beneath Ms Brenna, in the shallow water of the lake, a 17 year old boy, Viljar Hanssen, shot five times, felt for his eye. He couldn’t find it. Instead he reached through the gap in his head and touched his brain. While trying to take stock of his injuries – the three fingers dangling by a thread from his hand, the wounds in his shoulder, arm and leg, and the bullet hole in his head – Viljar could only think of his brother. He had kicked him to safety when the first shots found his own flesh and ordered the younger boy to swim to safety.

Disfigured now, unable to run and ski the way he could before and still unsure about the effects the missing part of his brain might have on his life, Viljar made the court laugh by saying that at least missing an eye meant he didn’t have to look at his would-be killer while he testified. When he described his delight at discovering his brother was unhurt then spoke unselfishly, with stirring fraternal compassion, about the younger boy’s own island ordeal, several in the court cried. Almost nobody was left unmoved.

Commander Breivik took notes. Nothing he has seen so far has shaken his belief that he is the only real hero at the trial. He is defending Norway against “Islamic colonisation” by striking at the heart of the “leftist” establishment. Presumably that is why he was screamed, “today you will die Marxists,” at the unarmed children he was gunning down on the island, and why he was satisfied enough at his work to call the police and proclaim, “this is Commander Breivik... Mission accomplished.”

He is not a commander in the established sense.  He’s not been in any of the forces; never even served his normally obligatory year’s national service. He is, however, part of an imagined pan-European chivalric order, The Knights Templar, similar to the online guilds he was so familiar with from playing World of Warcraft 16 hours a day for a whole year.

He also has a uniform. There are camp pictures of him wearing it in the manifesto he emailed to hundreds of supposedly like-minded right-wingers in the hours before the slaughter. But he has dropped his demands to be allowed to wear it in the court – presumably on the advice of his defence team who would argue that in seeking to be sentenced as a sane man, he should ditch anything which might make him look anything but.

There must be disappointment. The uniform was supposed to have been part of the propaganda front Mr Breivik believed he would be able to sustain throughout the course of this ten week trial. But the media have largely been and gone. He has already been given his legal opportunity to preach his ideology and has now been pushed aside. Now, try as he might to wrestle back some attention, as brave witnesses to the Utoya massacre relive their island nightmares, he has been relegated to a sideshow in his own show trial.

Mark Lewis tweets @markantonylewis
 

One of the survivors of Breivik's massacre Photograph: Getty Images
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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred