Will Obama and Cameron save Gary McKinnon?

Mother of hacker facing extradition threat is hopeful -- exclusive interview and photo.

Amid the discussions of BP, Afghanistan and al-Megrahi, Barack Obama and David Cameron found time to talk about Gary McKinnon, an Asperger's sufferer living in north London, due to be extradited to the United States after hacking into multiple government computer systems Stateside.

McKinnon's case has attracted huge attention -- not least from Cameron and his co-pilot Nick Clegg, who while in opposition supported his mother's campaign for Gary to be tried in the UK rather than face a heavy sentence in the US.

When I met Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, on 26 May, she was distraught after hearing an interview with Clegg who appeared to backtrack on the issue. This morning, she sounded a little different.

"I couldn't believe it," she said, describing the moment she turned on the news last night to see Cameron and Obama answering a question about McKinnon at their joint press conference. She had noticed Obama's smile when the issue was raised, and the hopeful reference to an "appropriate solution" being found.

But she was most amazed by the fact that Gary's case had been discussed at all. "These talks are so sensitive . . . that David Cameron brought it up is absolutely brilliant."

Still, she remains cautious. No formal word is yet to emerge from the Home Office, where Theresa May is still considering the complexity of the extradition. Sharp says she has been given conflicting hints as to when she will hear anything -- possibly before parliament breaks for the summer recess, or perhaps not until September.

Either way, she is happy that the case is back in the news, and therefore applying pressure to the government to keep Gary in Britain.

What about Gary himself? "He caught some of it," Sharp says, mentioning how she rang him immediately to tell him to switch on the television to see two of the most powerful leaders in the world discussing his plight.

While nothing is certain, that sight alone is cause for muted celebration, and a direct result, says Sharp, of "people power" -- the thousands of people and organisations who have written to the Home Office on Gary's behalf. That aside, Cameron is bound by his own words, spoken when the previous government announced McKinnon's extradition in July 2009:

Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to face trial.


Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.