New Statesman and Frontline Club present debate with Julian Assange

Assange will take part in his first adversarial debate since the release of the WikiLeaks cables.

This house believes whistleblowers make the world a safer place
Saturday 9 April 2011, 5pm, Kensington Town Hall

Join the Frontline Club and New Statesman for a provocative public debate featuring Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, speaking for the proposition in his first adversarial debate since the release of the WikiLeaks cables.

Over the past 12 months, official secrecy has been challenged like never before. Three of the biggest ever leaks of classified information – the Iraq War Logs, the Afghanistan War Logs and Cablegate – shook the world and prompted governments to reconsider how they share information.

Since the start of the Obama administration in 2009, the US government has brought charges against five defendants suspected of leaking classified information. Before Obama, the US government had only ever filed similar charges three times in 40 years.

For this very special event at Kensington Town Hall, the New Statesman and the Frontline Club host a challenging debate in which some of the most prominent public figures on secrecy and transparency issues will go head to head.

Amid the intensifying crackdown on whistleblowers, the debate will ask: are UK and US officials correct to argue that those who publish leaks threaten national security? Or do we need them to expose wrongdoing because, as transparency advocates argue, governments always abuse secrecy?

The event will feature an interactive section where the audience will be able to vote on the motion.

Chair: Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman.

Other panellists to be confirmed imminently.

All tickets are now sold out. We are doing our best to try and offer more tickets to the public. If you register for the waiting list for this event we will be able to get in touch as soon as possible with further announcements and let you know if it will be possible to purchase further tickets. Register for the waiting list here.

For any other inquiries contact events@frontlineclub.com – or call 020 7479 8940

For media and press inquiries please contact events@newstatesman.co.uk – or call 020 7936 6456

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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