Teaching Miss Middleton

Will Andrew Roberts be giving lessons to a future queen?

Yesterday, Johann Hari sent a dramatic message on Twitter:

Kate Middleton is being advised by a far right-winger who blames concentration camp victims for their own deaths.

This linked to the following on Hari's own blog, which stated:

It has been revealed that a far right-winger who blames concentration camps victims for their own deaths is giving history lessons to Britain's future queen, Kate Middleton. Rod Liddle discloses in passing here that Andrew Roberts is "tutoring" her in the run-up to the royal wedding. To find out just who this "historian" is, read my exposé of him here. If Kate plays close attention to her new teacher's lessons, we can expect the wedding to be livened up by declarations that massacring unarmed civilians is "necessary" . . .

The semi-humorous Rod Liddle piece to which Hari linked in support of this news stated:

The historian Andrew Roberts is to give Kate a lesson in the history of the House of Windsor. "Mainly German and not terribly bright" should do it, I would have thought.

It appears that Liddle's intended meaning was that the first sentence was correct and the second sentence was a mirthful exaggeration or gloss.

However, it currently appears the only source for the Liddle assertion was in turn a parody piece by "Talbot Church" in the Independent of a couple of weeks earlier:

Mindful that not everyone knows the proud history of the royal family, aides have asked pint-sized historian Andrew Roberts to talk the bride-to-be through the history of the House of Windsor.

There appears to be no other published source.

So, is Andrew Roberts to be providing tuition to Kate Middleton?

I asked Clarence House, which categorically denied that Roberts had been asked or would be asked.

A royal aide told me:

Andrew Roberts has not been invited to give constitutional history or other lessons to Miss Middleton. There are no plans to approach Andrew Roberts.

Clarence House also asked me to state:

Prince William's private office will organise a series of private meetings with key individuals for Miss Middleton to meet both before and after the marriage, with regard [to] preparing her to become a member of the royal family. These will include senior members of the royal household, key advisers to Prince William and Prince Harry, and representatives from some of Prince William's charities and other affiliations.

I also asked Andrew Roberts, via his agent, but have so far had no reply.

So, what is correct?

Will the historian Andrew Roberts be giving tuition to Kate Middleton, as Hari and Liddle confidently assert?

Or was Hari's worrying tweet based only on a semi-parody, which was in turn derived from a parody in Hari's very own newspaper?

Could Johann Hari and Rod Liddle really have got something like this wrong?

Who knows?

But I offer a royal wedding commemorative mug to the first person who can evidence the news that Andrew Roberts is to give such tuition.

UPDATE: Andrew Roberts has now also categorically denied the appointment.

FURTHER UPDATE: Johann Hari now admits that his tweet and blog post were based on a factual error and that Andrew Roberts was never invited to tutor Kate Middleton.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman.

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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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.