Getting the Assange issue wrong

Some illiberal thinking by well-meaning liberals.

The Guardian today publishes this letter in support of Julian Assange.

Most sensible and liberal people will find something to endorse in the letter. Although the moral certainty of some of those involved in or supportive of WikiLeaks can be off-putting – and I, for one, am glad that their fingers are on "To publish" buttons only, rather than any others – there is no doubt that they are facing sustained and hostile actions intended to undermine their activity.

But at the end of this letter of support come demands that are flatly, horribly wrong: "We demand his immediate release, the dropping of all charges . . ."

No. This is a person accused of sex offences and against whom there is a European Arrest Warrant. It may well be that he will be able to defeat the attempt to extradite him, or it may be that he will be cleared of the allegations, or acquitted of any charges if tried. But as it stands, he should not be treated any worse or any better than any other person accused of such offences who is subject to a live extradition process.

When the allegations first broke back in August, it was immediately clear that many of his supporters were rushing in to smear or dismiss the complainants casually. This was an ugly and unfortunate reaction which, if anything, has intensified. Many observers – and not only feminists – are rightly disgusted by this display of instinctive or intended misogyny (including a great piece today by Libby Brooks, also in the Guardian).

Just as in August, the complainants deserve to be accorded respect. Assange, in turn, should have the benefit of the presumption of innocence. And, unless there is a good basis for defeating the extradition proceedings, there should now be a speedy procedure that will either determine any guilt or clear his name.

All this is simply "due process" and, once upon a time, well-meaning liberals wrote letters to the Guardian in defence of this liberal value, too.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. He is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.