Is this his moment? Photo: Getty
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Have Labour pulled ahead? It's complicated

The first post-debate poll has good news for Labour. But don't get too excited. 

Labour are in good spirits this morning after the first post-debate poll showed the party taking a four-point lead, and putting the party a point ahead in our rolling poll.

It’s worth remembering that it’s only one poll. David Cameron will surely not be so underwhelming in the next debate, this Thursday on ITV – in the Sunday Times, Tim Shipman and James Lyons report that the Prime Minister is studying the performance of Hilary Clinton and Mitt Romney in their multi-candidate debates to learn what to do and not do.

Remember too – spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t yet watched Coalition, the new drama about the last election – that in the first post-debate polling last time, the Liberal Democrats surged to 30 per cent in the polls, only to end up on 23 per cent on the day itself.

And it’s worth noting that YouGov seem more vulnerable than other pollsters to differential response rates – they picked up a bigger swing towards Yes in the last days of that campaign, detected a mini-Tory bounce after David Cameron’s conference speech, and are now showing a debate boost for Ed Miliband. Beneath the headline figures, government approval is basically unchanged, at minus 11 percent compared to minus 12 per cent before the debates. But the Labour leader’s ratings on general approval and economic competence are greatly improved.

On the other hand, Labour’s campaign appears to be finding some rhythm while the Conservatives are beginning to get the jitters. Tory MPs were being told last year that they would overhaul Labour in January, then February, then the Easter Weekend.  Labour’s “40 in 40” plan – each day from now until polling day will be defined by a different policy – should keep everyone on the same hymn sheet while giving the party’s big beasts enough moments in the sun to keep everyone happy.

So what we do know is that Miliband’s performance in the debates has put a spring in the step of his activists and parliamentary candidates. It’s not yet clear whether that feelgood factor has spread any further than that.

Update 30/03/15: The latest ComRes poll for the Daily Mail has the Conservatives ahead by four points on 36 per cent to 32 per cent. I wouldn't read any more into it than the YouGov poll showing a Labour lead.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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.