The Orange Book gave the Lib Dems cohesion that is now slipping away. Photo: Flickr/Phillip Taylor
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Orange Bookers call for a stronger Lib Dem message

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Orange Book, and those originally galvanised by this liberal bible are distressed by the Lib Dems’ lack of direction.

“I know this is heresy, but our whole message for the general election is not about what we believe in.”

These were the words of former Home Office minister and the “Orange Booker’s Orange Booker” according to some in his party, Jeremy Browne. He was addressing a fringe event during Lib Dem party conference based on the 10th anniversary of the Orange Book – a collection of essays that established the Lib Dems as a party of a more economically liberal centre ground.

Browne was decrying the fact that his party is going into this election with a vague, centrist message – concentrating on coalition with either of the two main parties – rather than championing the more cohesive liberal message of ten years ago. Though Browne didn’t contribute to the book, he has said that he basks “in the reflected glory” of those who wrote for it.

His argument is that the “biggest problem” for his party is that “wealth creation, people starting businesses, people trying to start a trade”, etc, are the voters who “should feel the Lib Debs are empathetic with them, but they don’t. They don’t see that as where our heart beats.

“We have become too trusting of the state; we should be in favour of big people, not big government.”

The dilution of the Orange Bookers’ defining economic message is not the only gripe of those on the Lib Dems’ right wing. The book’s co-editor, Paul Marshall, told the same audience, at an event held by the IEA, that “the way the party is presenting itself is very muddle-headed”. According to him, this is because it “disagrees with itself” on three key areas: delivery of public services, the nature of markets, and equality.

The Orange Bookers are not necessarily calling for a wholesale return to the book's teachings of ten years ago. In fact, it wasn’t an entirely consistent text, and had essays in it that jarred with one another. But what they are looking for is a reason to “reinvent the Lib Dems if they didn’t already exist”, some soul-searching to which Browne referred. And this can only be done with some semblance of a plan to unite the party’s thinking on economics and social policy that differs from Labour and the Conservatives.

Yet this aim seems near impossible at the moment, due to enduring tensions within the party. As Lib Dem Voice editor Stephen Tall puts it: “To many in our party, ‘Orange Booker’ is a term of abuse”.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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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.