Category Archives: UK Politics

Crashing Out in Hartlepool: Labour Ills and Teflon Boris

By-election results make poor predictors.  The government of the day can often count on a swing against it by irritated voters keen to remind it they exist.  It’s an opportunity to mete out mild punishment.  But the loss of the seat in Hartlepool by the British Labour party is ominous for party apparatchiks.  For the first time in 62 years, the Conservatives won the traditional heartland Labour seat, netting 15,529 votes.  Labour’s tally: 8,589.  The swing against Labour had been a devastating 16%.

The scene of Hartlepool is one of profound, social decay.  Its decline, wrote Tanya Gold on the eve of the by-election, “meets you like a wall of heat.”  She noted an era lost, the trace of lingering memories.  Hartlepool was once known for making ships.  “Now it makes ennui.”  Male unemployment is a touch under 10%. Rates of child poverty are some of the highest in the country.  Services have been withdrawn; the once fine Georgian and Victorian houses are mouldering.

The seat presented the Conservatives an opportunity to take yet another brick out of Labour’s crumbling red wall.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson made visits to back his candidate, Jill Mortimer, hardly a stellar recruit.  Labour was suffering establishment blues.  They struggled to find a pro-Brexit candidate.  Their choice – Paul Williams – was a Remainer who formerly represented the seat of Stockton, which returned a leave vote of 69.6%.  It was a statement of London-centric politics, the Labour of the city rather than the locality; the Labour of university education rather than the labour of regional working class.

Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, formerly shadow defence secretary, is bitter about the estrangement and emergence of what are effectively two parties.  “A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of the brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party,” he lamented in an article for the conservative think tank Policy Exchange.  “They mean well, of course, but their politics – obsessed with identity, division and even tech utopianism – have more in common with those of Californian high society than the kind of people who voted in Hartlepool yesterday.”

Energy had been expended on such causes as trying to pull down Churchill’s statue rather than “helping people pull themselves up in the world.”  The patriotism of the voters had not been taken seriously enough.  “They are more alert to rebranding exercises than spin doctors give them credit for.”

Labour’s campaign in Hartlepool was not so much off-message as lacking one.  “Today,” penned progressive columnist and Labour Party supporter Owen Jones, “we saw the fruits of a truly fascinating experiment”.  It was one featuring a political party going to an election “without a vision or a coherent message against a government that has both in spades.”

The tendency was repeated in local elections, with ballots being conducted across Wales, England and Scotland in what was called “Super Thursday”.  The Teesside mayoralty was regained by Ben Houchen for the Conservatives by a convincingly crushing 72.7%, three times that of Labour, prompting Will Hutton to see a new ideology of interventionist conservatism.  Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could do little other than call the results “bitterly disappointing” and sack the party’s chair and national campaign coordinator, Angela Rayner.  He is chewing over the idea of moving his party’s headquarters out of London. The feeling of panic is unmistakable.

What is even more startling is the enormous latitude that has been given to Johnson.  Despite bungling the response to the initial phases of the pandemic, an insatiable appetite for scandals and a seedy, authoritarian approach to power, Labor voters have not turned away, let alone had second thoughts about this Tory.  His mendacity and pure fibbing is not something that turns people off him; the stream of Daily Telegraph confections from the 1990s on what those supposedly nasty bureaucrats in Brussels were up to had a lasting effect on Britain’s relations with Europe.  Mendacity can work.

Last April, Jonathan Freedland examined the prime minister’s resume of scandals and found it heaving.  He shifted the cost of removing dangerous cladding in the wake of the Grenfell fire, along with other hazards, to ordinary leaseholders.  He slashed the UK aid budget and reduced contributions to the UN family planning program.  He delayed lockdowns in March, September and the winter in 2020, moves that aided Britain lead Europe’s coronavirus death toll.  There were the contracts to supply personal protective equipment to Tory donors and the frittering away of £37 billion on a test-and-trace programme “that never really worked.”  And that was just a modest sampling.

The refurbishment scandal is particularly rich, given the bundle Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have spent on their private residence.  The public purse will foot the bill to the value of £30,000, but the amount spent was more in the order of £200,000.  With a very heavy axe to grind, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former advisor and confidant turned blogging snitch, suggested that the PM’s grand plan was to have that inflated amount covered by donors.   “The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.”

Johnson, for his part, claims that he covered the costs himself, though he refuses to answer questions put to him on whether Lord David Brownlow initially covered it, and was then repaid.  Not declaring this transaction would have broken electoral law.  The Electoral Commission has not found the affair particularly amusing, and is investigating the refurbishment transactions.

The disaster that befell Labour in the 2019 general election sees little prospect of being reversed.  Starmer, generally seen as the more decent chap, is rapidly diminishing as a chance for Downing Street honours.  As for Johnson, Freedland suggests that the good fortune of the scandal ridden PM reveals an electorate “still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago.”

The post Crashing Out in Hartlepool: Labour Ills and Teflon Boris first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is

Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth.  Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

Maybe the real scandal lies with us, the electorate, still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago… For allowing this shameless man to keep riding high, some of the shame is on us.

Freedland is far from alone in peddling this line. Kuenssberg, in her BBC piece, offers a variant:

An insider told me: “He frequently leaves people with the belief that he has told them one thing, but he has given himself room for manoeuvre,” believing that, “the fewer cast iron positions you hold the better, because you can always change political direction.”

The verbal flourishes and rhetorical tricks are part of the reason why he has prospered. “A lot of his magic has been those off-the-cuff comments, that’s why a lot of the public like him,” says an ally.

In other words, we see what we want to see. Johnson is the vessel into which we pour our hopes and dreams, while he has the tough challenge of making our melange of hopes and dreams a tangible, workable reality.

Liberal journalists have been on this “blame the voters” path for a while. When it was Corbyn and his “dangerous” socialism being pitted against the Tories’ crony capitalism, the Guardian enthusiastically joined the smear campaign against Labour. That included evidence-free claims of an “institutional antisemitism” crisis under Corbyn’s leadership.

And yet despite the media’s best endeavours, Corbyn appalled journalists like Freedland at the 2017 general election by winning Labour’s biggest rise in vote share since 1945. Corbyn denied the Conservatives a majority and was a few thousand votes from winning outright – something Starmer can only dream of at the moment, despite Johnson’s exposure as an inveterate liar and conman. And Corbyn achieved this while the Labour party machine, and the entire corporate media, were vehemently against him.

Dangerous populism

It was in the wake of Corbyn’s unexpected success at the polls in 2017 that the Guardian unleashed its “New Populism” series, seeking to warn of a supposedly dangerous new political phenomenon that lumped the then-Labour leader in with right wing populists such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They were all part of a new wave of authoritarian, cult-like leaders who barely concealed their sinister, racist agendas, gulled supporters with promises divorced from reality, and most likely had secret ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In short, the Guardian’s thesis was that “the people” kept voting for these leaders because they were stupid and easily duped by a smooth-tongued charlatan.

This narrative was aggressively promoted by the Guardian, even though Corbyn had nothing in common with the right wing authoritarians with whom he was forced to share star billing. He had spent his long political career on the backbenches, cultivating a self-effacing politics of communal solidarity and “standing up for the little guy” rather than pursuing power. And far from being a nationalist or nativist, Corbyn had dedicated decades to internationalism and fighting racism – though admittedly, in challenging the anti-Palestinian racism of Israel and its Zionist supporters he had left himself prey to disingenuous claims of antisemitism.

But after several years of emotional and ideological investment in “the people are dumb” approach, the Guardian seems in no hurry to drop it – until, or unless, the people can be persuaded to vote for an eminently safe, status-quo candidate like Starmer. The paper’s target has simply switched from Corbyn to the more plausible figure of Boris Johnson.

The Guardian dares not contemplate any alternative explanation for why voters continue to prefer the narcissist, corrupt, lying Johnson over Labour’s “Clean Up Westminster” Keir Starmer. But its reluctance to consider other explanations does not mean they cannot be found.

A corrupt system

The problem is not that most voters have failed to understand that Johnson is corrupt, though given the corrupt nature of the British corporate media – the Guardian very much included – they are hardly well positioned to appreciate the extent of Johnson’s corruption.

It is not even that they know that he is corrupt but do not care.

Rather, the real problem is that significant sections of the electorate have rightly come to the realisation that the wider political system within which Johnson operates is corrupt too. So corrupt, in fact, that it may be impossible to fix. Johnson is simply more open, and honest, about how he exploits the corrupt system.

Over the past two decades, there have been several way-stations exposing the extent of the corruption of the UK’s political system, whichever party was in power.

Labour under Tony Blair overrode popular dissent, expressed in the largest marches ever seen in the UK, and lied his way to a war on Iraq in 2003 that led to the killing and ethnic cleansing of millions of Iraqis. UK soldiers were dragged into a war that, it quickly became clear, was really about securing western control over the Middle East’s oil. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq spawned a new nihilistic Islamic cult that rampaged across the region and whose embers have yet to be snuffed out.

Five years later, Gordon Brown oversaw the near-implosion of the British economy after Labour had spent more than a decade intensifying the financial deregulation begun under Margaret Thatcher. That process had turned the financial sector into the true power behind No 10. Both Brown and his Tory successor, David Cameron, not only refused to hold to account any of the white-collar criminals responsible for the collapse of the financial system, but instead rewarded them with massive bailouts. Ordinary people, meanwhile, were forced to tighten their belts through years of austerity to pay off the debts.

And in the background throughout this period, a global and local environmental catastrophe has been gradually unfolding that the political system has shown no capacity to address because it has been captured by corporations who benefit most from continuing the environmental degradation. The system has instead dissembled on the threats we face to justify inaction.

No price to pay

The truly astonishing thing is that those who lied us into the Iraq war, destabilising the Middle East and provoking an exodus from the region that has fuelled a surge in xenophobic politics across Europe; those who broke the financial system through their greed and incompetence and lied their way out of the consequences, forcing the rest of us to foot the bill; and those who lied about the ecological catastrophes unfolding over the past half century so that they could go on lining their own pockets; none of them paid any price at all for their mendacity, for their deceptions, for their corruption. Not only that, but they have grown richer, more powerful, more respected because of the lies.

One only needs to look at the fate of that unapologetic pair of war criminals, Tony Blair and George W Bush. The former has amassed wealth like a black hole sucks in light, and preposterously is still regularly called on by the media to pontificate on ethical issues in British politics. And the latter has been rehabilitated as a once-wayward, now beloved, irreverent uncle to the nation, one whose humanity has supposedly been underscored simply by making sure he was filmed “sneaking” a sweet to his presidential successor’s wife.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, a remedy to Britain’s self-evidently flawed political system was thrown up – in the form of Corbyn. He was a throwback, the very antithesis of the modern politicians who had brought us to the brink of ruin on multiple fronts. He was not venal, nor a narcissist. His concern was improving the lives of ordinary people, not the bank balances of corporate donors. He was against colonial-style wars to grab other countries’ resources. The things that made him a laughing stock with the political elite – his cheap clothes, his simple life, his allotment – made him appealing to large sections of the electorate.

For many, Corbyn was the last gasp for a system they had given up on. He might prove their growing cynicism about politics wrong. His success might demonstrate that the system could be fixed, and that all was not lost.

Except that is not how it played out. The entire political and media class – even the military – turned on Corbyn. They played the man, not the ball – and when it came to the man, any and all character assassination was justified. He had been a Soviet agent. He was a threat to Britain’s security. His IQ was too low to be prime minister. He was a secret antisemite.

Lying, cheating and stealing

In the United States, then-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer warned Donald Trump back in 2017 that the US intelligence services would “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you” should the president try to go up against them. Maybe Trump hoped that his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would offer some protection. Pompeo, a former head of the CIA, understood the dishonest ways of the intelligence services only too well. He explained his agency’s modus operandi to a group of students in Texas in an unusually frank manner in late 2019: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. That’s, it was like, we had entire training courses!”

With the campaign to destroy Corbyn, many saw how the British system was just as skilled and experienced as the US one in its capacity to lie, cheat and steal. Corbyn’s treatment offered an undeniable confirmation of what they already suspected.

Over the past two decades, in an era when social media has emerged as an alternative information universe challenging that of the traditional corporate media, all these episodes – Iraq, the financial crash, ecological catastrophe, Corbyn’s political assassination – have had deeply damaging political ramifications. Because once people sensed that the system was corrupt, they became cynical. And once they were cynical, once they believed the system was rigged whoever won, they began voting cynically too.

This should be the main context for understanding Johnson’s continuing success and his invulnerability to criticism. In a rigged system, voters prefer an honestly dishonest politician – one who revels in the cynicism of the system and is open about exploiting it – over one who pretends he is playing fair, one who feigns a belief in the system’s ultimate decency, one who lies by claiming he can pursue the common good.

If the system is rigged, who is really more mendacious: Johnson, who plays dirty in a dirty system, or Starmer, who pretends he can clean up the Westminster cesspit when all he will really do is push the ordure out of view.

Johnson is transparently looking out for his mates and donors. Starmer is looking out for a rotten system, one that he intends to makeover so its corruption is less visible, less open to scrutiny.

Liberals are mystified by this reading of politics. They, after all, are emotionally invested in a supposedly meritocratic system from which they personally benefited for so long. They would rather believe the lie that a good political system is being corrupted by rotten politicians and a stupid electorate than the reality that a corrupt political system is being exploited by those best placed to navigate its corrupt ways.

The post Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Labour disclosure “shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn”, activists say

A group of Labour activists fighting through the courts to discover why they and others were investigated or expelled from the UK’s Labour Party for antisemitism say they have flushed out proof of bad faith from their accusers.

The group, who call themselves Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J), say the new disclosure confirms their claim that leading Jewish organisations intentionally politicised the meaning of antisemitism to entrap left-wing critics of Israel and undermine Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

As a result, the number of cases of antisemitism in Labour was inflated, falsely feeding the public impression that the political party under Corbyn had attracted Jew haters, say the Labour activists.

The suggestion that groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement “weaponised” antisemitism against Corbyn is currently seen as grounds by Labour to suspend or expel members.

But according to LA4J, evidence revealed in their legal case has now vindicated that claim.

The activists note that Jewish groups that waged a campaign of attacks on Corbyn over an antisemitism code of conduct drafted by the party in 2018 are now “deafeningly silent” on discovering that Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, has been secretly using exactly the same code.

When it was first published, the Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations erupted in outrage, alleging that the 16-point code was proof of “institutional antisemitism” in the Labour party – and even that Corbyn posed a threat to Jewish life in Britain.

But the admission by Starmer’s officials that they are using the same code of conduct to investigate members has gone entirely unremarked three years later.

That is despite a submission to the courts from Labour’s own lawyers that the code had been kept secret because its publication might prove “politically incendiary”.

LA4J points out that back in 2018 the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement and other groups insisted that Corbyn replace the code with an alternative, controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

According to the activists, the current silence of these Jewish groups, after Starmer’s officials have conceded that they are using Corbyn’s code rather than the IHRA definition, further indicates bad faith.

Despite public statements to the contrary, the organisations knew that the IHRA definition was unworkable for Labour’s disciplinary procedures back in 2018, LA4J say.

“If Labour believes that the code issued by Corbyn was ‘incendiary’, the question is where is the bushfire now, when Starmer’s team admit they are using the very same code,” Chris Wallis, a spokesman for LA4J, told Middle East Eye.

“One of the things this case suggests is that groups like the Board of Deputies hoped to weaponise antisemitism as a way to attack Corbyn.”

Disciplinary process ‘back to front’

The group’s legal action is due to reach the High Court in June. It will be the first wide-ranging legal examination of Labour’s disciplinary procedures relating to antisemitism. In October 2019, the High Court ruled that the suspension of then-Labour MP Chris Williamson for “bringing the party into disrepute” over antisemitism allegations was illegal, though the judge did not overturn a second suspension that ousted him from the party.

Eight party members, including three Jews, are pursuing the case after they were investigated for alleged antisemitism. LA4J estimates that at least 30 Jewish members of the party have been accused of antisemitism, some repeatedly.

Late last year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UK’s equalities watchdog, issued a report critical of Labour’s handling of antisemitism cases, especially over what it termed “political interference” by Corbyn’s office, which it said had resulted in “a lack of transparency and consistency in the complaints process”.

However, the EHRC found that in practice such interference chiefly harmed the interests of those accused of antisemitism rather than their accusers. Corbyn’s officials often tried to speed up investigations in the hope of ending the barrage of criticism from Jewish organisations.

LA4J argue that hundreds of members have been drummed out of the party in a process that has lacked the transparency and fairness demanded by the EHRC. The procedure, they say, has failed to provide those under investigation with an opportunity to challenge the allegations.

Most members receive a “notice of investigation” that typically cites social media posts as evidence of antisemitism. In some cases, members have been accused of sharing articles from prominent websites, such as Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, known to be harshly critical of Israel for its repeated violations of Palestinian rights.

No explanation is made in the notice of why party officials believe the posts to be antisemitic. Instead, it is required of those under investigation to demonstrate why their posts should not be considered antisemitic.

The notices also demand that members under investigation not publicise their case or the information that is being used against them. It is unclear whether they are even allowed to seek legal advice. Instead, they are encouraged to get help from a GP or the Samaritans to aid their “wellbeing”.

Wallis, a former BBC radio drama producer who has been under investigation since last year, is one of the eight members taking the party to court.

“The disciplinary process has been entirely back to front,” he said. “We were never told about the secret code being used to judge our cases and it was never explained how what we did was antisemitic. The assumption was that we were guilty unless we could prove otherwise, and we were expected to incriminate ourselves.”

‘Sickness’ in Labour

At a preliminary hearing in February, the Labour Party argued that the courts had no place adjudicating on its handling of antisemitism cases. However, the judge approved the High Court hearing for June and awarded costs against Labour.

In what appears to be an attempt to avoid a second adverse ruling, Labour officials made the disciplinary process more transparent last month by divulging how it assessed antisemitism cases.

Starmer’s officials published on the party’s website the same antisemitism code of conduct that had been drafted during Corbyn’s time as leader. They did so despite a submission from one of Labour’s senior lawyers during February’s court hearing that such an admission could prove “politically incendiary”.

That was because a wide range of Jewish leadership groups rounded on Corbyn and Labour over the code when it was first published in July 2018.

Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, set up to protect Jewish communities from antisemitic attacks, lambasted Corbyn in an article in the Guardian headlined “Labour’s antisemitism code exposes a sickness in Jeremy Corbyn’s party”.

A blog on the Trust’s website added that the code “brazenly contravenes basic anti-racist principles”.

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, both claiming to represent Britain’s Jewish community, stated that the adoption by Corbyn’s officials of the code would “further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle antisemitism within the Labour movement”.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a Labour party affiliate connected to the Israeli Labor party, argued that the code was “a get out of jail free card” for antisemites, and claimed it breached equalities legislation.

Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s chief rabbi, called the code “a watershed moment” for Labour and warned that it sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.

Dozens of rabbis backed him, accusing the Labour leadership of having “chosen to ignore the Jewish community”.

And the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a pro-Israel lobby group, argued that “the code seems to be designed to give free rein to certain forms of antisemitic discourse”.

‘It was about who was in charge’

But despite the outpouring of concern back in 2018, note LA4J, Jewish organisations have remained silent since Labour revealed that the same antisemitism code of conduct introduced under Corbyn is being used by Starmer’s officials in disciplinary cases.

“This was never about what was going on inside Labour, as was claimed,” said Wallis. “It was about who was in charge. The aim was to remove Corbyn at all costs.”

Labour’s stated goal in drafting the code in 2018 was to assist with ironing out problems in the IHRA definition, which was being aggressively lobbied for by leading Jewish groups.

In particular, Corbyn’s code provided additional context to help judge aspects of the IHRA’s 11 potential examples of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel.

The code warns that the IHRA text “is not a legal definition, and on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as antisemitic”.

The Labour antisemitism code also emphasises a need for “respectful debate” between party members when talking about contentious political matters around Israel and warns that the party “will not tolerate name-calling and abuse”.

The concern among Corbyn’s team was that the definition would shift the focus of antisemitism away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel, and expose activists supportive of Palestinian rights to investigation.

The imprecision of the IHRA definition, and its politicisation of antisemitism, had already been widely criticised, including by a former Court of Appeal judge and the British parliament’s home affairs select committee.

Kenneth Stern, the chief architect of the IHRA definition, had also weighed in to note that it was unsuitable for use in disciplinary procedures and was being “weaponised” by elements of the Jewish community to stifle criticism of Israel.

Jewish organisations, on the other hand, argued that Corbyn was using the Labour code to avoid adopting the IHRA definition in full with all its examples, and implied that his motivation was to make Labour hostile to British Jews.

Facing the backlash, and concerted criticism in the media, Corbyn’s officials appeared to discard the code and instead adopted the IHRA definition in full a few weeks later, in September 2018.

Definition ‘not fit for purpose’

It is unclear whether Corbyn’s officials ever used the 2018 code to adjudicate in disciplinary cases. But LA4J say its adoption by Starmer’s officials – and their efforts to hide the fact that they were using the code – confirm that the IHRA’s definition was indeed unworkable.

Jenny Manson, a co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, which was set up in 2017 to show support for Corbyn among Jewish party members and is now supporting LA4J, said that the weaknesses of the IHRA definition must have been clear to organisations like the Jewish Labour Movement and Board of Deputies.

“Their current silence shows that they must have known the IHRA definition wasn’t fit for purpose as it was,” she said. “The additional code of conduct was needed. They opposed it in 2018, it seems clear, only because they were looking to damage Jeremy [Corbyn].”

Although LA4J argue that the code is fairer than the IHRA definition, they also say it has been widely misused against members as officials have sought to placate Jewish groups accusing Labour of being institutionally antisemitic.

Diana Neslen, an 82-year-old Orthodox Jew who has been investigated for antisemitism and sanctioned by the party, said: “Even a quick look at [the code] suggests that all of us have been wrongfully accused. Indeed, we should never have been investigated in the first place.”

LA4J hopes that, with the code no longer secret, Labour members will have a better chance to challenge current and future investigations conducted against them by party officials.

Neslen warned, however, that existing injustices needed to be addressed too: “What are they going to do about the hundreds of people already judged under the secret code, including me?”

She and LA4J have called for those suspended or expelled to have their cases reopened and the evidence reassessed in a transparent manner.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council were all approached by Middle East Eye for comment. None had responded by the time of publication.

According to LA4J, their court case highlights how little evidence there was for the claim that antisemitism within the Labour party had been an especial problem under Corbyn’s leadership.

Levels of antisemitism in Labour appear to be lower than in the wider British public, within which about five percent of people could “justifiably be described as antisemites”, according to research published by the Community Security Trust in 2017.

Corbyn’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, issued figures in April 2019 that showed disciplinary action had been taken against just 0.08 percent of Labour’s 540,000 members, even after the strict application of the antisemitism code and “political interference” by Corbyn’s officials in speeding up disciplinary proceedings.

During the latest legal proceedings, Labour has revealed equivalent figures for Starmer, relating to the period between May last year and last month. Although details about the investigations are not precise, in the worst-case scenario an even smaller percentage of Labour members were found to be antisemitic.

These figures, the LA4J argue, suggest that Labour has not had an “antisemitism problem” under either Corbyn or Starmer.

That impression is shared by most Labour members. According to a YouGov poll commissioned last month by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, a significant majority – 70 percent – believe that Labour does not have a serious problem with antisemitism.

Most appear to agree with Corbyn’s reaction to the Equalities Commission report that the claims against Labour were “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. That statement led to Starmer expelling Corbyn from the Labour parliamentary party.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Labour disclosure “shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn”, activists say first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Starmer isn’t “too cautious”: he is ruthlessly tearing Labour apart

The completion of Keir Starmer’s first year as Labour leader might have passed without note, had it not been the occasion for senior party figures to express mounting concern at Labour’s dismal performance in opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

At a time when Labour ought to be landing regular punches on the ruling party over its gross incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, and cronyism in its awarding of multimillion-pound coronavirus-related contracts, Starmer has preferred to avoid confrontation. Critics have accused him of being “too cautious” and showing a “lack of direction”.

Dissatisfaction with Starmer among Labour voters has quadrupled over the past 10 months, from 10 percent last May to 39 percent in March. His approach does not even appear to be winning over the wider public: a recent poll on who would make a better prime minister gave incumbent Johnson a 12 percentage-point lead.

Increasingly anxious senior Labour MPs called late last month for a “big figure” to help Starmer set aside his supposed political diffidence and offer voters a clearer idea of “what Keir is for”.

That followed a move in February by Starmer’s team to reach out to Peter Mandelson, who helped Tony Blair rebrand the party as “New Labour” in the 1990s and move it sharply away from any association with
socialism.

‘Cynically’ evasive

But there is a twofold problem with this assessment of Starmer’s first year.

It assumes Labour’s dire polling is evidence that voters might warm to Starmer if they knew more about what he stands for. That conclusion seems unwarranted. A Labour internal review leaked in February showed that the British public viewed Starmer’s party as “deliberate and cynical” in its evasiveness on policy matters.

In other words, British voters’ aversion to Starmer is not that he is “too cautious” or lacklustre. Rather, they suspect that Starmer and his team are politically not being honest. Either he is covering up the fact that Labour under his leadership is an ideological empty vessel, or his party has clear policies but conceals them because it believes they would be unpopular.

In response, and indeed underscoring the increasingly cynical approach from Starmer’s camp, the review proposed reinventing Labour as a patriotic, Tory-lite party, emphasising “the flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”.

However, the deeper flaw in this assessment of Starmer’s first 12 months is that it assumes his caution in taking on the Tory government is evidence of some natural restraint or reticence on his part. This was the view promoted by a recent commentator in the Guardian, who observed: “‘Starmerism’ has not defined itself in any sense beyond sitting on the fence.”

But Starmer has proved to be remarkably unrestrained and intemperate when he chooses to be. If he is reticent, it appears to be only when it serves his larger political purposes.

All-out war

If there is one consistent thread in his first year, it has been a determined purging from the party of any trace of the leftwing politics of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as a concerted effort to drive out many tens of thousands of new members who joined because of Corbynism.

The paradox is that when Starmer stood in the leadership election last spring, he promised to unify a party deeply divided between a largely leftwing membership committed to Corbyn’s programme, on the one hand, and a largely rightwing parliamentary faction and party bureaucracy, on the other.

As an internal review leaked last April revealed, party officials were determined to destroy Corbyn even while he was leader, using highly undemocratic means.

Even if Starmer had chosen to be cautious or diffident, there looked to be no realistic way to square that circle. But far from sitting on the fence, he has been busy waging an all-out war on one side only: those sympathetic to Corbyn. And that campaign has involved smashing apart the party’s already fragile democratic procedures.

The prelude was the sacking last June of Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary – and the most visible ally of Corbyn in Starmer’s shadow cabinet – on the flimsiest of pretexts. She had retweeted an article in the Independent newspaper that included a brief mention of Israel’s involvement in training western police forces in brutal restraint techniques.

Real target

A few months later, Starmer got his chance to go after his real target, when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published its highly flawed report into the claims of an antisemitism problem in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.

This provided the grounds Starmer needed to take the unprecedented step of excluding Corbyn from the parliamentary party he had been leader of only months earlier. It was a remarkably provocative and incautious move that infuriated large sections of the membership, some of whom abandoned the party as a result.

Having dispatched Corbyn and issued a stark ultimatum to any MP who might still harbour sympathies for the former leader, Starmer turned his attention to the party membership. David Evans, his new general secretary and a retread from the Blair years, issued directives banning constituency parties from protesting Corbyn’s exclusion or advocating for Corbynism.

Corbyn was overnight turned into a political “unperson”, in an echo of the authoritarian purges of the Soviet-era Communist party. No mention was to be made of him or his policies, on pain of suspension from the party.

Even this did not suffice. To help bolster the hostile environment towards left wing members, Starmer made Labour hostage to special interest groups that had openly waged war – from inside and outside the party – against his predecessor.

During the leadership campaign, Starmer signed on to a “10 Pledges” document from the deeply conservative and pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews. The board was one of the cheerleaders for the evidence-free antisemitism allegations that had beset Labour during Corbyn’s time as leader – even though all metrics suggested the party had less of an antisemitism problem than the Conservatives, and less of a problem under Corbyn than previous leaders.

Alienating the left

The Pledges required Starmer to effectively hand over control to the Board of Deputies and another pro-Israel group, the Jewish Labour Movement, on what kind of criticisms Labour members were allowed to make of Israel.

Opposition to a century of British-sponsored oppression of the Palestinian people had long been a rallying point for the UK’s left, as opposition to the treatment of black South Africans under the apartheid regime once was. Israel’s centrality to continuing western colonialism in the Middle East and its key role in a global military-industrial complex made it a natural target for leftwing activism.

But according to the Pledges – in a barely concealed effort to hound, alienate and silence the party’s left – it was for pro-Israel lobby groups to decide who should be be declared an antisemite, while “fringe” Jewish groups, or those supportive of Corbyn and critical of Israel, should be ignored.

Starmer readily agreed both to adopt the board’s conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and to disregard prominent Jews within his own party opposed to pro-Israel lobbying. His office was soon picking off prominent Jewish supporters of Corbyn, including leaders of Jewish Voice for Labour.

One of the most troubling cases was Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who was suspended shortly after she appeared in a moving video in which she explained how antisemitism had been weaponised by the pro-Israel lobby against left wing Jews like herself.

She noted the pain caused when Jews were smeared as “traitors” and “kapos” – an incendiary term of abuse, as Wimborne-Idrissi pointed out, that refers to “a Jewish inmate of a concentration camp who collaborated with the [Nazi] authorities, people who collaborated in the annihilation of their own people”.

In suspending her, Starmer’s Labour effectively endorsed that type of ugly demonisation campaign.

Israeli spy recruited

But the war on the Labour left did not end there. In his first days as leader, Starmer was reluctantly forced to set up an inquiry into the leaked internal report that had exposed the party bureaucracy as profoundly hostile to Corbyn personally, and more generally to his socialist policies. Senior staff had even been shown trying to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign.

But once the Forde Inquiry had been appointed, Starmer worked strenuously to kick it into the long grass, even bringing back into the party Emilie Oldknow, a central figure in the Corbyn-era bureaucracy who had been cast in a damning light by the leaked report’s revelations.

A separate chance to lay bare what had happened inside Labour head office during Corbyn’s term was similarly spurned by Starmer. He decided not to  defend a defamation case against Labour brought by John Ware, a BBC reporter, and seven former staff in Labour’s disciplinary unit. They had worked together on a Panorama special on the antisemitism claims against Corbyn that did much to damage him in the public eye.

These former officials had sued the party, arguing that Labour’s response to the BBC programme suggested they had acted in bad faith and sought to undermine Corbyn.

In fact, a similar conclusion had been reached in the damning internal leaked report on the behaviour of head office staff. It quoted extensively from emails and WhatsApp chats that showed a deep-seated antipathy to Corbyn in the party bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, Starmer’s office abandoned its legal defence last July, apologising “unreservedly” to the former staff members and paying “substantial damages”. Labour did so despite “clear advice” from lawyers, a former senior official said, that it would have won in court.

When Martin Forde, chair of the Forde inquiry, announced in February that his report had been delayed “indefinitely”, it seemed that the truth about the efforts of Labour staff to undermine Corbyn as leader were being permanently buried.

The final straw for many on the party’s left, however, was the revelation in January that Starmer had recruited to his team a former Israeli military spy, Assaf Kaplan, to monitor the use of social media by members.

Much of the supposed “antisemitism problem” under Corbyn had depended on the Israel lobby’s efforts to scour through old social media posts of left wing members, looking for criticism of Israel and then presenting it as evidence of antisemitism. As leader, Corbyn was pushed by these same lobby groups to adopt a new, highly controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It shifted attention away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.

A former Israeli spy trained in the dark arts of surveilling Palestinians would be overseeing the monitoring of party members’ online activity.

Tory party of old

Far from sitting on the fence, as his critics claim, Starmer has been ruthless in purging socialism from the Labour party – under cover of claims that he is rooting out an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly inherited from Corbyn.

In a speech last month, Mandelson – the former Blair strategist who Starmer’s team has been consulting – called on the Labour leader to show “courage and determination” in tackling the supposedly “corrupt far left”. He suggested “large numbers” of members would still need to be expunged from the party in the supposed fight against antisemitism.

Starmer is investing huge energy and political capital in ridding the party of its leftwing members, while exhibiting little appetite for taking on Johnson’s right wing government.

These are not necessarily separate projects. There is a discernible theme here. Starmer is recrafting Labour not as a real opposition to the Conservative party’s increasingly extreme, crony capitalism, but as a responsible, more moderate alternative to it. He is offering voters a Labour party that feels more like the Tory party of old, which prioritised tradition, patriotism and family values.

None of this should surprise. Despite his campaign claims, Starmer’s history – predating his rapid rise through the Labour party – never suggested he was likely to clash with the establishment. After all, few public servants have been knighted by the Queen at the relatively tender age of 51 for their radicalism.

In safe hands

While head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer rejected indicting the police officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, and his department effectively cleared MI5 and MI6 officers of torture related to the “War on Terror”.

His team not only sought to fast-track the extradition to Sweden of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who exposed western war crimes, but it also put strong pressure on its Swedish counterpart not to waver in pursuing Assange. One lawyer told the Swedes in 2012: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”

Starmer’s actions since becoming Labour leader are very much in line with his earlier career. He wants to prove he is a safe pair of hands to the British establishment, in hopes that he can avert the kind of relentless vilification Corbyn endured. Then, Starmer can bide his time until the British public tires of Johnson.

Starmer seems to believe that playing softball with the right wing government and hardball with the left in his own party will prove a winning formula. So far, voters beg to differ.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Starmer isn’t “too cautious”: he is ruthlessly tearing Labour apart first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Impossible Peter Oborne

On the face of it, Peter Oborne is impossible.

It’s not possible to be educated at Sherborne independent school, at Cambridge University, to work as political editor of the Spectator, as chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, as a journalist at the Evening Standard, as a commentator at the Express, to make nearly 30 documentaries for Channel 4, BBC World and BBC Radio 4, to appear endlessly on high-profile radio and TV programmes, to be made Society of Editors Press Awards Columnist of the Year twice, and still speak out honestly on systemic corporate media corruption.

US author and ethical logician Upton Sinclair explained why it just doesn’t happen:

‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’1

Oborne is different. In February 2015, he resigned as chief political commentator at the Telegraph, warning:

‘If major newspapers allow corporations to influence their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy itself is in peril.’

More to the point:

‘The Telegraph’s recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers.’

In 2019, Oborne was interviewed on BBC Radio 2 by the BBC’s media editor and (now) Today programme presenter, Amol Rajan, formerly editor of the Independent. In the interview, Oborne named and shamed ‘client journalists’ cosying up to power, before tearing up all the unwritten ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ on ‘mainstream’ interviewing and inclusion by savaging Rajan himself:

‘You, yourself, when you were Independent editor, notoriously sucked up to power. You are a client journalist yourself… you were a crony journalist yourself. It’s time this system was exploded… Your record was and is shameful. Where to start?’.

Rajan responded like a Club Secretary ruling on a breach of Club etiquette:

‘It’s unbecoming of you, Peter, it’s unbecoming.’

Or consider this comment from Oborne on the arch-propagandist Daniel Finkelstein, former executive editor of The Times (also known as Baron Finkelstein of Pinner in the London Borough of Harrow, OBE):

‘As any newspaperman will recognise, Daniel Finkelstein has never in truth been a journalist at all. At the Times he was an ebullient and cheerful manifestation of what all of us can now recognise as a disastrous collaboration between Britain’s most powerful media empire and a morally bankrupt political class.’

In his searingly honest new book, The Assault on Truth, Oborne directs his fire at a very specific, crucial target:

‘I have never encountered a senior British politician who lies and fabricates so regularly, so shamelessly and so systematically as Boris Johnson. Or gets away with his deceit with such ease.’2

Oborne is well qualified to comment, having been hired by Johnson as his political editor at the Spectator in 2001. Oborne adds:

‘It has become all but impossible for an honest politician to survive, let alone flourish, in Boris Johnson’s government.’ (p. 6)

With every example fortified by meticulous footnotes and references, Oborne nails Johnson’s lies again and again:

‘Johnson went on the Andrew Marr show to claim the Labour leader had “said he would disband MI5”. Marr did not demur, but to be sure I looked at the Labour manifesto. It contained no mention of MI5 but did pledge to “ensure closer counter terrorism co-ordination between the police and the security services, combining neighbourhood expertise with international intelligence”.’ (p. 22)

And:

‘Boris Johnson said that Corbyn “would whack corporation tax up to the highest in Europe”. Not true. Labour had said it would raise the main rate of corporation tax to 26 per cent. This would not be anything like the highest in Europe. At the time of Johnson’s claim, the rate of corporation tax in France was 31 per cent, and in Belgium the rate was 29 per cent.’ (p. 23)

Oborne highlights this particularly cynical example of lie-based electioneering from Johnson:

‘During a ten-minute speech, viewers learn that he is building forty new hospitals. It sounds a hugely impressive election pledge.

‘Actually it’s a lie which the prime minister has already repeated often during the campaign, and would go on to repeat on many more occasions. At best the government has only allocated money for six hospitals.’ (pp. 15-16)

The devil is in the footnoted details at the bottom of the page:

‘Under Tory plans, six hospitals were allocated funding for rebuilding programmes between 2020 and 2025. Up to thirty-eight other hospitals would receive money to develop plans for upgrades between 2025 and 2030, but not to undertake any building work.’ (p. 16)

Oborne’s conclusion:

‘There is irrefutable evidence that Conservative Party lies and distortions in the 2019 election were cynical, systematic and prepared in advance. Johnson’s Conservatives deliberately set out to lie and to cheat their way to victory. The strategy triumphed.’ (p. 37)

So how on earth did Johnson get away with it?

‘Britain’s mainstream reporters and editors collectively turned a blind eye to the lies, misrepresentations and falsehoods promoted by Johnson and his ministers.’ (p. 7)

But this was only part of the problem:

‘Many senior journalists went a step further. They actively collaborated with Downing Street in order to distribute false information helpful to Johnson’s cause.’ (p. 121)

This democracy-killing media bias was pushed yet further by the relentless media campaign smearing Corbyn:

‘the mainstream press paid almost no attention to Johnson’s habitual lying, in sharp contrast to their treatment of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was subject to constant attack’. (p. 119)

The difference being that Corbyn didn’t lie – he was attacked for everything and anything he said, or did, or didn’t do.

The particular problem, as Oborne observes, is that ‘Johnson’s government was a media class government.’ (p. 115) Johnson and Michael Gove are both journalists massively supported by former colleagues and allies:

‘The truth was that press barons were determined to install the troika of Johnson, Gove and [Johnson’s adviser] Cummings in Downing Street.’ (p. 117)

Michael Gove, after all, was the protégé of Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun, The Times and Fox News:

‘When Murdoch’s News International group was on its knees following revelations of criminal phone hacking, Gove came eloquently to the defence of press freedom at the Leveson inquiry. Murdoch did not forget: Gove and his wife Sarah Vine were invited to his wedding to the former model Jerry Hall.

‘Murdoch also supported Johnson, but his principal sponsors were the Barclay brothers, shadowy owners of the Daily Telegraph, house journal for the Conservative Party. “Many congratulations to Boris Johnson who has of course just been appointed Prime Minister,” enthused the paper when he entered 10 Downing Street. “Boris is the first Telegraph journalist since Sir Winston Churchill to lead the country.”

‘Associated Newspapers, owners of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail, which employed Sarah Vine, also backed Johnson. Together these three groups accounted for more than 30 per cent of British newspaper readers. All their titles backed Johnson. The same applied to the Evening Standard, which serves London, an area of predominantly Labour and Remain voters. Under the ownership of Evgeny Lebedev it became an unlikely ally of the Tories, backing Johnson for both Conservative leader and prime minister.’ (pp. 117-118)

This is seriously damning and courageous stuff (there have been no reviews of The Assault on Truth in the Murdoch Press, Associated Newspapers or the Telegraph group – see below), but Oborne goes much further:

‘A great deal of political journalism has become the putrid public face of a corrupt government. There is only one good reason to be a journalist: to tell the truth. We should not go into our trade to become passive mouthpieces of politicians and instruments of their power. Too much of the media and political class have merged. The unnatural amalgamation has converted truth into falsehood, while lies have become truth.’ (p. 7)

Chomsky’s ‘Basic Principle’

Oborne’s book is a wonderful test for Noam Chomsky’s ‘basic principle’ determining ‘mainstream’ inclusion:

‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.’3

An idea of the extent to which The Assault on Truth would be allowed to exist could already be gleaned from the reaction to an article written by Oborne in October 2019 on ‘the way Boris Johnson was debauching Downing Street by using the power of his office to spread propaganda and fake news’. (p. 130) Oborne submitted the piece for his weekly Saturday column for the Daily Mail:

‘I received a call from the editor, who indicated, with his customary exquisite good manners, that he would prefer I wrote about another subject’. (p. 131)

Oborne then offered the piece to The Spectator, ‘but the editor explained his refusal to publish on the reasonable grounds that the newspaper’s political team had cultivated excellent insider sources and publishing my piece would invite charges of hypocrisy’. (p. 131)

Channel Four’s Dispatches showed strong interest before also withdrawing. Oborne finally resorted to publishing his article on the website openDemocracy. He wrote:

‘Papers and media organisations yearn for privileged access and favourable treatment. And they are prepared to pay a price to get it.

‘This price involves becoming a subsidiary part of the government machine. It means turning their readers and viewers into dupes.

‘This client journalism allows Downing Street to frame the story as it wants. Some allow themselves to be used as tools to smear the government’s opponents. They say goodbye to the truth.’

The dramatic response:

‘This article marked the end of my thirty-year-long career as a writer and broadcaster in the mainstream British press and media. I had been a regular presenter on Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster for more than two decades. It ceased to use me, without explanation. I parted company on reasonably friendly terms with the Daily Mail after our disagreement.’ (p. 132)

These are huge losses for a professional journalist:

‘The mainstream British press and media is to all intents and purposes barred to me. I continue to write for the website Middle East Eye, for openDemocracy and from time to time for the British Journalism Review.’ (p. 133)

Oborne’s comments inevitably recall the fate that befell US journalist Gary Webb, an investigative reporter for nineteen years, focusing on government and private sector corruption, winning more than thirty awards for his journalism. In 1990, Webb was one of six reporters at the San Jose Mercury News to win a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on California’s 1989 earthquake. Webb described his experience of mainstream journalism:

‘In seventeen years of doing this, nothing bad had happened to me. I was never fired or threatened with dismissal if I kept looking under rocks. I didn’t get any death threats that worried me. I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as I could tell. It encouraged enterprise. It rewarded muckraking.’4

But Webb was in for a terrible surprise:

‘And then I wrote some stories that made me realise how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.’

In 1996, Webb had written a series of stories on how a US-backed terrorist army, the Nicaraguan Contras, had financed their activities by selling crack cocaine in the ghettos of Los Angeles. Webb documented direct contact between drug traffickers bringing drugs into Los Angeles and Nicaraguan CIA agents who were administering the Contras. Moreover, he revealed that the US government knew about these activities and did little or nothing to stop them. The country’s three biggest newspapers, The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, turned on Webb, declaring the story ‘flawed’ and not worth pursuing. Webb commented:

‘Never before had the three biggest papers devoted such energy to kicking the hell out of a story by another newspaper.’ (p. 306)

Webb’s career had been cynically and brutally terminated.

The Reviews

To recap, The Assault on Truth makes two key claims: 1) Boris Johnson regularly, systematically and shamefully lies and fabricates, and 2) ‘A great deal of political journalism has become the putrid public face of a corrupt government.’ (p. 7) One of the book’s nine chapters, ‘The failure of the British press’, is entirely devoted to this second issue.

How have these claims, in particular the media analysis, been received?

In the Observer, Tim Adams’ 817-word review devoted around two-thirds of its analysis to the case against Oborne’s supposed hypocrisy and U-turns, and 100 words to the case against the British press.

This is already curious. As discussed, Oborne is a highly respected, very high-profile journalist. It is essentially unknown for someone of his stature to turn so forcefully on political lying, particularly systemic press lying. Why would a journalist commenting in the liberal Observer deem it important to devote so much space to Oborne’s alleged U-turns, and just two or three sentences to damning media criticism that is as rare as hens’ teeth? Shouldn’t the liberal press be celebrating such an unusual exposure of press lying? Adams wrote:

‘There have been some spectacular U-turns from political observers in the past five years – Piers Morgan’s desperate and tragically belated efforts to distance himself from Donald Trump, for example – but no reverse-ferret has been quite so vehemently trumpeted as that of Peter Oborne. Back in 2016, in his Daily Mail column, Oborne was proclaiming a new dawn of Conservatism, with Labour in collapse and David Cameron a busted flush. A “glittering prospect of 12 uninterrupted years as prime minister” awaited the winner of any leadership campaign, he suggested, and Boris Johnson’s years as mayor gave him “huge credibility” for the role.’

Adams portrayed Oborne as an enthusiastic dupe of Johnson:

‘Up until about spring 2019, it seems, Oborne continued to be cheerfully taken in by this music hall act.’

Anyone who reads Oborne knows that he is very generous in giving credit where credit’s due, even when he strongly disagrees on deeper issues of policy and political philosophy. For example, despite self-identifying as a Tory, he has repeatedly and strongly praised Labour’s foreign policy and ethical stance under Jeremy Corbyn.

In fact, the claim that Oborne was ‘duped’ by Johnson is nonsense. To take only two examples, in September 2018, Oborne described Johnson’s foreign policy as ‘morally abhorrent’ and his officials ‘shoddy’. In November 2017, Oborne noted of the catastrophe in Yemen that Johnson ‘scarcely lifted a finger on this calamity’ and did ‘virtually nothing of any significance to help’.

Adams similarly claimed Oborne ‘celebrated’ Trump’s election triumph in the Mail with a piece headlined: ‘At last! He may be a bigot, racist and misogynist but Donald Trump’s revolution could finally bring back family values’.

As Adams is well aware, commentators do not choose the headlines (Oborne did not choose this one). In the piece supposedly celebrating Trump, Oborne wrote:

‘The majority of commentators have issued angry cries of condemnation in response to Donald Trump’s surprise victory.

‘That is understandable. For he is beyond doubt a bigot, a racist and a misogynist.’

He added:

‘As a tax-avoiding billionaire, he will never be a genuine champion of the poor. He has no serious programme for government. He will fail.’

Trump was, Oborne wrote, an ‘odious man’.

Adams’ few words on the press simply ignored the most damning claims. In answer to the question, ‘What led the British people to put a liar into Downing Street?’, Adams commented:

‘A large part of the answer to that question Oborne lays at the door of “mainstream newspaper reporters and editors” who “collectively turned a blind eye to the lies, misrepresentations and falsehoods promoted by Johnson and his ministers” in order for him to bluster his way to power.’

As we have seen, Oborne’s whole point is that ‘mainstream’ media did not just turn a blind eye; they functioned as fully-supportive parts of Johnson’s lie machine.

The ‘blind eye’ comment cited by Adams is from page 7 of the book. He then quoted Oborne from page 137. In between, he wrote:

‘Certain political correspondents are identified as having given Johnson an easy ride – Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC and Robert Peston of ITV among them.’

But Kuenssberg and Peston are not mentioned at all. Did Adams actually read the book?

The Independent (online) devoted 491 words to Oborne’s book. In his review, Martin Chilton spent 431 words on Johnson and 60 words in two sentences on Oborne’s media analysis:

‘Part of the problem is that Johnson’s “claims” are simply not held up to inspection by most of the popular press.’5

Again, as with Adams, this conveniently ignored Oborne’s most damning assertion – that the press contribution to the lying was highly active, not passive. Chilton continued:

‘Oborne, who formerly worked for the Daily Mail and The Telegraph, says his new book will “make me enemies”, especially for statements such as “a great deal of political journalism has become the putrid face of a corrupt government”.’

Chilton was clearly keen to keep his head down, gesturing vaguely in the direction of harsh truths that Oborne spelled out with great clarity.

In the Guardian, William Davies’ review totalled 1,261 words. Of these, 109 words discuss Oborne’s media analysis:

‘It’s not just the contemporary Conservative party that appals Oborne, but developments in his own profession. Newspapers, their owners and their staff have colluded with politicians to smear and fabricate without fear. Oborne’s efforts to expose these practices have not been without personal cost. Finding no mainstream media outlet that was willing to publish him on the topic of journalistic malpractice around Johnson, he took his evidence to openDemocracy, who published his article “British journalists have become part of Johnson’s fake news machine” in October 2019. Sombrely he reports that, since the piece appeared, “the mainstream British press and media is to all intents and purposes barred to me”.’

This was something, but Davies preferred to focus on Oborne’s personal plight, rather than highlighting particular examples of journalistic corruption, or delving deeper into the significance of the chapter Oborne devotes to the issue – one of the most important chapters ever written on the UK press.

Thus, national UK newspaper reviews of Oborne’s important and damning claims about the UK press received some 269 words in coverage in the middle of a grand total of three UK national newspaper reviews. We asked Oborne for his reaction on how his book has been received:

‘I haven’t been able to find any review of my book anywhere in the Murdoch press, Associated Newspapers or Telegraph group. They reviewed my earlier books. However this book (which has also been ignored by mainstream broadcasters) demonstrates that the British print and broadcast media have been complicit in Johnson’s serial dishonesty. It’s not just that they turn a blind eye to Johnson’s habitual and systematic dishonesty. I show in the book that the British media class collaborate with Downing Street in pumping out Johnson’s smears, deceptions and falsehoods. They have been an essential part of his machinery of deception. So maybe that’s why they have ignored the book.’ 6

Conclusion

In reality, of course, Peter Oborne is not impossible. The corporate media is not monolithic, not run by conspiracy. Honourable, rational human beings can make it past the corporate political and media gatekeepers. And when they do, they’re dealt with.

Jeremy Corbyn got through and was unethically cleansed by a spectacularly dishonest, cross-spectrum smear campaign that rendered him unelectable. Comedian Russell Brand got through, appeared in a powerful BBC interview on Newsnight watched by 12 million people, and was unethically cleansed by Guardian liberals smearing him as a ‘Jesus clown’, ‘misogynist’ and ‘religious narcissist’. Brand was so badly beaten up he retired from political commentary and became a self-help guru.

Oborne also got through. His meticulous book – superbly written by a high-profile journalist with impeccable credibility and experience – has simply been ignored by the vast majority of newspapers and magazines that have been, as Oborne says, ‘an essential part’ of Johnson’s ‘machinery of deception’. The rest have blown past his media criticism in a couple of anodyne sentences. Blink and a casual reader would have missed even these mostly oblique, soft-pedalled references.

Oborne received this treatment despite major omissions that made his message far more palatable than it might otherwise have been. Remarkably, for example, his book contains no criticism at all of the BBC or ITV. As discussed, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s infamously biased reporting in favour of Johnson and against Corbyn is not even mentioned.

More importantly, while Oborne does expose active media lying, he perceives it as a ‘failure’ of the British press. By contrast, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s ‘propaganda model of media control’ – the model on which our own analysis is based – views this media bias as a success – the corporate media arm of the larger, profit-maximising state-corporate system is simply doing what it has evolved and been designed to do! Oborne does not venture into an analysis of the fundamental nature of corporate capitalist media that would locate him even more firmly among the ‘wild men [and women] on the wings’, casting him even further adrift from the ‘putrid’, stagnant ‘mainstream’.

Nevertheless, this was a vanishingly rare opportunity for the public to witness a media insider making a complete nonsense of the myth promoted by the BBC’s leading client journalist Andrew Marr; namely, that journalism is ‘a crusading craft’ run by ‘disputatious, stroppy, difficult people’ relentlessly challenging power.

This is the deception on which all other deceptions depend. It is too precious to be seriously challenged, and journalists know it.

  1. Sinclair, ‘I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked,’ Oakland Tribune, 11 December 1934.
  2. Peter Oborne, The Assault on Truth – Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism, Simon & Schuster, 2021, p. 18.
  3. Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill and Wang, 1992, p. 79.
  4. Webb, in Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into The Buzzsaw – Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press,’ Prometheus, 2002, pp. 296-7.
  5. Martin Chilton, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, The Independent, 31 January 2021.
  6. Peter Oborne, email to Media Lens, 15 March 2021.
The post The Impossible Peter Oborne first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour should feel right at home

The revelation this week that the British Labour Party recently appointed a former Israeli military spy to work in its headquarters, reporting to the office of leader Keir Starmer, is truly extraordinary in many different regards.

It is hard to believe the Labour leadership did not know who Assaf Kaplan was or appreciate the likely backlash to placing someone with his background in charge of the party’s social media work. That may explain the continuing reluctance from the Labour leadership to comment.

In his online CV, Kaplan had drawn attention to his years spent in the notorious Israeli military intelligence unit 8200, which has a long and ugly record of surveilling Palestinians.

One of the unit’s main tasks, highlighted by a group of whistleblowers in 2014 and widely publicised in the British media, is to gain damaging information to blackmail individual Palestinians. They are then threatened into collaborating with Israel’s military authorities against fellow Palestinians.

Unit 8200 is the lynchpin of Israel’s success in maintaining its 54-year occupation, by engineering a policy of divide-and-rule among Palestinians and foiling any efforts they make to liberate themselves from Israeli oppression.

Tone deaf

If Labour officials did not know the significance of Unit 8200, or how the invitation of a former Israeli “military intelligence officer” into Labour headquarters would look to swaths of party members, that in itself is an indictment.

A near-civil war has been raging for some time in Labour over the suspension and expulsion of party members whose social media accounts have been scoured for anti-Israel sentiment by pro-Israel groups. To now put a former Israeli officer trained by a cyberwarfare unit in charge of monitoring social media for Labour is, on the best interpretation, completely tone deaf.

It simply highlights how indifferent Labour under Starmer is to the sensitivities of many of its members – and, of course, Palestinians – in stark contrast to the party’s strenuous and divisive efforts to placate each and every demand from the pro-Israel lobby.

Meddling in politics

If Kaplan’s work in Unit 8200 did not raise a red flag, other details lurking in his social media accounts should have rung alarm bells. Not only was he once an operative for Israel’s military spying machine, but he was also an online “friend” of the disgraced Shai Masot, a far more prominent Israeli spy.

Four years ago, an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera exposed Masot, who worked at the time in the Israeli embassy in London, interfering at the highest levels of British politics. Masot was filmed in clandestine talks with Conservative Party staff about how to “take down” a British foreign minister, Alan Duncan, who was seen by Israel as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

More damagingly for Starmer, Masot was also exposed working closely with pro-Israel activists inside the Labour Party to bring down his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. That included efforts by Masot to set up “youth movements” intended to operate as a front for the Israeli government.

Transcripts from sections of undercover filming not aired by Al Jazeera reportedly show the then director of the Jewish Labour Movement, Ella Rose, who had previously worked at the Israeli embassy, speaking of the JLM’s close relations with Masot.

The goal of these Israeli-organised groups was to undermine Corbyn from within, because of his public role in the Palestinian solidarity movement and his trenchant criticisms of Israel.

Dirty tricks

After the four-part investigation was aired, Israel had to carry out a damage-limitation operation, quickly returning Masot to Israel and portraying him – unconvincingly – as a rogue operator.

In fact, Masot’s work was entirely in line with the remit of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry to use dirty tricks to sabotage prominent individuals and movements abroad that criticise Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

A few months before Masot’s exposure, the Israeli media had reported a feud at the embassy in London. The Israeli foreign ministry had complained that the strategic affairs ministry was carrying out potentially illegal activities in the UK and jeopardising the diplomatic mission.

So why, before he took up his new UK post, was Kaplan moving in the same social or professional circles in Israel as the disgraced Masot? In a sign of just how embarrassing this information is for the Labour Party, Kaplan appears to have hurriedly erased his military intelligence past after it was exposed by the Electronic Intifada website.

The decision to appoint Kaplan is all the more remarkable given that Starmer has been extolling his efforts to move past the legacy of his predecessor, Corbyn. For five years, Labour was mired in endless controversy around Israel, Zionism and Jews.

Corbyn had to endure relentless, evidence-free claims from pro-Israel lobby groups, echoed by the mainstream media, that Labour had become institutionally antisemitic on his watch. These smears were chiefly designed to stop Corbyn from winning power.

Rope to hang Corbyn

Starmer’s own campaign to win the leadership included a pledge that he was a Zionist supporter of Israel “without qualification” and a commitment to those same lobby groups that they would get to oversee, and even dictate, Labour policy on Israel-related matters.

It emerged after his election that Starmer had accepted – and concealed – a large, £50,000 ($68,000) donation to his campaign from Trevor Chinn, a member of a leading Israel lobby group, Bicom. The organisation was founded by Poju Zabludowicz, whose Israeli father made his wealth from the arms trade.

In the past, Chinn has donated to several Labour MPs who worked to undermine Corbyn: Joan Ryan, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel; Tom Watson, who served as Corbyn’s highly antagonistic deputy; and Owen Smith, who led an early challenge to unseat Corbyn as leader.

Starmer’s campaign to distance the party from Corbyn reached its climax in October, when the UK government’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission issued a report after its investigation into Labour antisemitism claims. The report quietly exonerated Labour of any charge of institutional antisemitism, but the watchdog’s inconsistent findings offered Starmer and the UK media just enough rope to hang Corbyn.

Starmer incensed much of the membership by taking the unprecedented step, in the wake of the report, of stripping Corbyn of his place in the parliamentary Labour Party, forcing him to sit as an independent.

Deliberate provocation

It is hard not to view Kaplan’s appointment as either an astounding and entirely unnecessary self-inflicted wound, or as a deliberate provocation. Most of Starmer’s critics will regard it squarely as the latter.

It fits too neatly with Starmer’s behaviour since he was elected leader last April. Since then, he has been working overtime to cosy up to pro-Israel lobby groups that were not only deeply opposed to Corbyn, but actively worked to oust him.

In addition to expelling Corbyn as a Labour MP, Starmer has purged the party of members critical of Israel, including Jewish members, and silenced by diktat all support for Corbyn in constituency parties.

Why, after what amounts to a mini-reign of terror within Labour to get matters related to Israel off the party’s radar – and out of media headlines – would Starmer now plunge Labour into a new potential row about Israel?

Gagging orders

The answer is that the recruitment of a former Israeli spy into the inner sanctums of Labour headquarters will ultimately prove a minor and temporary controversy for him.

It will antagonise only the swath of members who supported Corbyn, for whom he has shown utter contempt and who have been battered into silence by what are effectively gagging orders from his new general secretary, David Evans.

It will not likely cause controversy with the Jewish Labour Movement, which was reportedly revived by political allies of Israel as a weapon against Corbyn” in 2015. Rather, they will be further enthused by Starmer.

It will raise barely a flicker of interest from most Labour MPs, who were desperate for Corbyn to be gone, and many of whom belong to another pro-Israel lobby, Labour Friends of Israel.

And it will be largely ignored by the British mainstream media, which has been giving the establishment-friendly Starmer a far easier ride than they ever gave Corbyn.

Ugly Labour politics

If anyone doubts this, just recall the hasty hushing up by the media of, and indifference of most Labour MPs towards, Al Jazeera’s expose four years ago.

After brief indignation over Masot’s efforts to oust Duncan, the documentary series was quickly forgotten by the media. It was certainly not brought back into the spotlight in relation to the campaign of antisemitism smears against Corbyn, despite its very obvious and pressing relevance.

The Masot affair, as well as this new one, reveal something very ugly about Labour – and British – politics.

Corbyn was widely criticised, mostly over activities that predated his becoming leader, for bringing the issue of Israel onto Labour’s agenda. His opponents argued that his foreign policy concerns overshadowed Labour’s more important domestic agenda. Could he not just forget about Israel?

Anti-Palestinian stance

But the decision of Starmer’s Labour to now invite a former Israeli spy into party headquarters – after a previous one, Masot, failed to gain a foothold – shows that the problem was never about getting Israel out of Labour politics. It was about getting the issue of Palestinian suffering, one of the most enduring legacies of British imperialism, out of Labour politics.

The antisemitism controversy was never really about supposed anti-Jewish racism from Corbyn’s supporters. It was about fighting anti-Zionists in the Labour Party, and in so doing, making support for the Palestinian cause harder to express – which has indeed been the result.

The current party leadership wants any discussion of the Palestinian issue, and Britain’s continuing colonial role, cleansed from the party.

Skewed values

In Kaplan’s job description, under a category titled “values/behaviours”, it says that applicants must show a “commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion” and “to the Labour Party’s goals, values, policies and codes of conduct”.

What Starmer has made clear is that Labour’s values give no weight at all to the injustices still being suffered by Palestinians because of Britain’s historic meddling in the Middle East.

Labour has also demonstrated that it has no commitment to “equality, diversity and inclusion” when it comes to Palestinian and Jewish members critical of Israel. Indifferent to the optics, Starmer’s Labour sacked its only senior Palestinian party official this month, reportedly over his support for Corbyn.

Imagine the outcry if Labour had sacked its only senior Jewish official. Rather, Labour’s vision of “equality, diversity and inclusion” springs from the same ideological worldview as its sister party in Israel – an Israeli Labor party that decades ago established a single political framework governing the lives of Israelis and Palestinians that B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group, described this week as “apartheid”.

In the racist context of British politics, including Labour politics, there is no cost to screwing over Palestinians time and again. This is why Starmer will happily ride out the short-lived controversy – one restricted to ordinary party members – over appointing a former Israeli spy to his party headquarters.

Lucrative laboratory

For Palestinians, this decision cannot but be deeply offensive. For many years, scholars have been noting how Israel has turned the occupied Palestinian territories into a giant and lucrative laboratory in which it battle-tests weapons and military equipment for export.

But equally importantly for Israel, it turns ordinary Palestinians into guinea pigs for experiments in how to surveil, control, divide and exploit them. Unit 8200, in which Kaplan worked for many years, is at the heart of that infrastructure of terror that keeps Palestinians afraid and oppressed.

Israeli academics, such as Jeff Halper, have pointed out that Israel parlays this expertise into political and diplomatic power. Other states are queueing up to mine the lessons learned by Israel from surveilling Palestinians so that they can use similar techniques on their own populations back home. The need for these military and intelligence skills – learned from oppressing Palestinians – is reflected in Israel’s wide diplomatic backing by other states.

Starmer’s Labour Party is showing it is no different. It will profit directly from the skills of one of the graduates of Unit 8200, benefiting from the lessons Kaplan learned in a military organisation that spies on and extorts Palestinians.

That should not sit well with anyone in a party that claims to be left-wing, anti-racist and progressive, and to care about social justice. And yet, there are unlikely to be any meaningful repercussions for either Kaplan or Starmer from this ugly alliance.

The post Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour should feel right at home first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“A Ghastly Future”? Israeli Apartheid, Biden, Starmer, Assange And Mass Extinction

Back in 2017, before WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was silenced by Twitter, he used the platform to highlight an immutable truth:

‘The overwhelming majority of information is classified to protect political security not national security.’

Power hates being exposed. It hates having its inner machinations, its selfish priorities and ugly operations opened up to public scrutiny.

The omission of inconvenient facts, and the silencing of inadmissible viewpoints, are core features of the so-called ‘mainstream’ news media. Thus, it should be obvious by now why we always put ‘mainstream’ in quotation marks. Because, as increasing numbers of the public surely now recognise, the major news media are not impartial, or fair, or balanced. Nor do they truly represent and reflect the concerns and priorities of the vast majority of the population. Instead, the major newspapers and broadcasters represent, defend and project the interests of powerful state and corporate elites. The state-corporate media will not, and cannot, undertake consistent and reliable public scrutiny of these elites. That would make no sense since the mass media is the propaganda operation of state-corporate power.

Since we began Media Lens twenty years ago in 2001, we have amassed over 5,000 pages of media alerts detailing numerous examples of dangerous, power-friendly omissions, distortions and imbalances in UK state-corporate media. Rather than go for easy and obvious targets like the Sun, Express and Mail, we have focused on those media outlets the public is supposed to regard as the most fair, balanced, probing and challenging of governments and Big Business. ‘Thus far and no further’, as Noam Chomsky has described the most open or most liberal end of the narrow spectrum of establishment media.

BBC News deserves particular scrutiny, not least because it regularly declares itself  ‘the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster’. That is not much of an accolade given that public trust in the media is crumbling; particularly in a country which has some of the worst ‘news’ media anywhere on the planet. The UK has an overwhelmingly right-wing and establishment press dominated by rich owners, and edited by compliant editors with the required ideologically-aligned views. As for the Guardian, which has always been a ‘liberal’ gatekeeper on behalf of power, investigative journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported in 2019 that the paper has been:

‘successfully targeted by security agencies to neutralise its adversarial reporting of the “security state”, according to newly released documents and evidence from former and current Guardian journalists.’

Moreover, other than a recent belated and mealy-mouthed defence, for many years the Guardian essentially abandoned and abused Julian Assange, along with the rest of the ‘mainstream’ media, after exploiting him and WikiLeaks.

Couple all that with the fact that BBC News regularly follows the skewed, power-serving agenda set by UK press coverage, and it is no surprise that overall British public trust in the media is so low. As we noted last year, the extensive annual Eurobarometer survey across 33 countries revealed that the UK public’s trust in the press is rock bottom. Indeed, 2020 was the ninth year out of the past ten that the UK had come last.

BBC Silence Over Israel As An Apartheid State

One of the most egregious recent omissions by BBC News was last week’s groundbreaking report by leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem naming Israel as ‘an apartheid state’ and ‘a regime of Jewish supremacy’:

‘In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.’

Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories has long been recognised. For example, in 2004, a prominent South African professor of international law, John Dugard, then UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, wrote that there is ‘an apartheid regime’ in the territories ‘worse than the one that existed in South Africa.’

Noam Chomsky concurred:

‘In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by “apartheid” you mean South African-style apartheid.

‘What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce…

‘The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.’

All this was damning enough. But the publication of the new B’Tselem report was the first time that Israeli human rights and legal experts had publicly stated that apartheid exists not just in the Occupied Territories, but throughout the whole region that Israel claims for itself.

As the Israel-based British journalist Jonathan Cook observed:

‘By calling Israel an apartheid state and a “regime of Jewish supremacy”, B’Tselem has given the lie to the Israel lobby’s claim – bolstered by a new definition promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that it is antisemitic to suggest Israel is a “racist endeavour”.

‘B’Tselem, a veteran Israeli Jewish organisation with deep expertise in human rights and international law, has now explicitly declared that Israel is a racist state. Israel’s apologists will now face the much harder task of showing that B’Tselem is antisemitic, along with the Palestinian solidarity activists who cite its work.’

As far as we are aware, there was no mention of the report on any of the flagship BBC News at 6 or 10 television programmes. Nor was there anything to be found on the BBC News website. Presumably, the BBC deemed it unworthy of the public’s attention. We challenged BBC foreign editor Andrew Roy, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and BBC digital news editor Stuart Millar for a response. Not one of them replied. It is perhaps significant that Millar moved to the BBC from the Guardian where, as deputy editor of Guardian US, he had scoffed at Julian Assange:

‘I like to think that #Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it’s so convenient for Harrods’

This is the archetypal sneering ‘mainstream’ journalist’s view of anyone who seriously exposes the truth and challenges power.

As for B’Tselem’s landmark report detailing the reality of the Israeli state as an apartheid regime, it is possible that there were sporadic brief mentions in some outlying parts of the BBC. Longtime readers will recall that the BBC infamously buried revelations by Scott Ritter, a former chief UN weapons inspector, that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of any weapons of mass destruction, at 3am on the BBC World Service.

In response to the B’Tselem report, John Pilger pointed out via Twitter:

‘Israel is top of the league for vaccinating its own people [against coronavirus]. The accolades say Israel is the “example”. False. Israel is denying the vaccine to Palestinians whose land and lives it controls. WHO has pleaded with Israel: to no avail. Apartheid in action.’

Glossing Over Brutal Imperialism

Here in the UK, the Tory government’s criminally incompetent response to the coronavirus pandemic has led to an appalling death toll – now the highest death rate of any country in the world – while ministers robotically repeat the mantra of ‘following the science’, with one U-turn after another. Meanwhile, many people are suffering tremendous hardship, losing their jobs or struggling to earn a living, or even unable to feed their children adequately.

As Phil Miller, a staff writer for the excellent investigative journalism website Declassified UK, noted:

‘The UK now has over 100,000 covid deaths. That’s a result of government failure on a grand scale. The lack of calls for Johnson and ministers to resign is extraordinary’

It is extraordinary. But, tragically, it is a natural consequence of how the state-corporate media represents and defends elite power, of which it is a key component. Any real dissent is smeared, swept to the margins or simply blanked. With the power of corporate media manifest in the demolition of Jeremy Corbyn’s prospects of becoming Prime Minister in 2019, it is entirely predictable that there is now no substantive political opposition to a destructive, elite-serving Tory government.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s lame Blairite successor, is a stalwart establishment figure who, at best, would only ever paper over a few cracks in the edifice of neoliberal economics. This is the corporate- and finance-driven system that is crushing the vast majority of the world’s population, destroying the natural environment and species at an alarming rate, and driving us all towards the precipice of climate breakdown. As we have noted before, and as we will see again below, no world leader anywhere is doing anything remotely sufficient to address this disaster.

Starmer has actually called for the Labour party to emulate incoming US President Joe Biden’s ‘broad coalition’ to ‘see progressive values triumph over the forces of division and despair’. The stone-cold reality that Biden, set to be inaugurated today (20 January), represents huge financial interests and corporate power, and has an appalling record in supporting US imperialism and wars, appears to have escaped Starmer’s attention. But then, Starmer is also seemingly oblivious to the UK’s own imperial past and blood-soaked complicity in war crimes. How else could a Labour leader write:

‘We are at our best when the world knows we have the courage of our convictions and a clear moral purpose.’

Wiping away the blood of countless US/UK atrocities across the globe, he continued:

‘For the United States of America and for Britain, this is the time to return to the world stage. This is the time for us to lead.’

To gloss over Britain’s brutal past and present – to ignore the grievous crimes committed against Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, to name a few – is an insult to the UK’s many victims. For a supposed ‘progressive’ to do so is surely absurd. It can only result from being blind to the propaganda system so cogently explained by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (Vintage, 1988). In this system, we are immersed in a brainwashing environment of mass media in which even the more ‘reputable’ news outlets such as Associated Press regurgitate doctrinal statements such as:

‘For decades, the U.S. has been an advocate for democracy abroad, using diplomatic pressure and even direct military intervention in the name of spreading the principles of a pluralistic system with a free and fair vote for political leaders. These tactics have generated both allies and enemies, and this year’s presidential vote perhaps more than any other is testing the strength of the values it promotes around the world.’

A safe pair of hands like Sir Keir would never recognise, far less, criticise such assertions for the dangerous, ideological and ahistorical nonsense that they are. Instead, Starmer is locked into an elite-friendly mindset apparent whenever he proclaims his establishment credentials, as here via Twitter:

‘This is also an important moment for the world. It is a chance to reassert America’s place as a force for good on the world stage. A nation that will work with Britain and other allies to defeat this pandemic and fight climate change.’

The reply from Media Lens reader Ryan Moon was apt:

‘When, specifically, has the US (& UK) been a “force for good in the world”? Supporting Suharto & Pinochet maybe? In Yemen & Libya? In the Chagos Islands? Nicaragua might have a few choice words about that description, too. Grow a spine.’

Biologist and science writer Richard Dawkins, like so many other prominent members of the liberal commentariat, once again revealed his deep ignorance of history and world affairs:

‘With few exceptions like Putin & Farage, the entire world welcomes President Biden and Vice-President Harris. After four years of lies, venal hypocrisy and vicious hostility to decency and humane values, America has taken a major step towards making America great again.’

Historian Mark Curtis, co-founder of Declassified UK, responded:

‘The thing is, @RichardDawkins, while you’re right to welcome the demise of the contemptible Trump, as I do, the “lies, venal hypocrisy and vicious hostility to decency and humane values” are just routine features of every US presidency, especially in foreign policy.’

Meanwhile, it was no surprise to see a senior Guardian journalist unleashing purple prose in praise of Biden. David Smith, the Guardian’s Washington DC bureau chief, declared that ‘with empathy and humility, Biden sets out to make America sane again’. The ideological rhetoric continued to gush out across Guardian column inches:

‘After the mental and moral exhaustion of the past four years, Biden made America sane again in 15 minutes. It was an exorcism of sorts, from American carnage to American renewal.’

Readers with long memories will recall similar Guardian effusions of liberal ordure when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to ‘rebrand America’ and serve as the eloquent ‘cool’ figurehead of US corporate and imperial might. That is the Guardian worldview in a nutshell.

The harsh truth is that the corporate media, including BBC News and the Guardian, has a stranglehold on any prospect for changing society. The transfer of US power from Trump to Biden provided the briefest permissible glimpse of mild scepticism being broadcast from corporate newsrooms. This was most notable with Trump vociferously contesting the US presidential elections results, claiming election fraud on a grand scale. The repeated buzz phrase from journalists reporting Trump’s claims was ‘without offering evidence’. Thus, BBC news presenter Mishal Husain told the nation’s television audience on 8 November last year:

‘President Trump has been out on the golf course and made further claims of election fraud without offering evidence.’

The point was emphasised in a news piece by BBC North America correspondent Nick Bryant:

‘the president took to the golf course this morning continuing to make unsubstantiated claims that the election was rigged.’

This narrative was repeated across the ‘mainstream’ media.

But those important caveats – ‘without further evidence’ and ‘unsubstantiated claims’ – are routinely missing when propaganda declarations are, or were, made by the US/UK about Iraq’s mythical ‘WMD’; or when the public is told that the West’s ‘security’ and military forces need to counter the ‘threat’ from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or whoever the latest ‘enemy’ happens to be;  or that ‘we’ need to keep Saudi Arabia as an ‘ally’; that Israel only ever ‘retaliates’ in the face of Palestinian ‘provocation’, that the US is a neutral ‘peace broker’ in the Middle East; or that the US/UK defend freedom and human rights around the world. On and on flow the propaganda assertions, without serious challenge from a compliant media. Suddenly, when it really matters, the media’s supposed enthusiasm for ‘fact checking’ dries up.

Julian Assange And Guardian Hypocrisy

We have seen the ugly truth in the brutal, inhumane treatment of Julian Assange, arguably the most important Western dissident, journalist and publisher in recent years, by western ‘democracies’, the major news media, and a cruel system of court ‘justice’ operating in London. During a recent online conversation, acclaimed film director Ken Loach nailed the despicable role of the Guardian, in particular, in persecuting and undermining Assange:

‘It’s one of those cases that clarifies the role of the media […] there’s a collusion of silence. There doesn’t need to be an active conspiracy; they all understand the steps of the dance. “We’re going to keep quiet about this”. The Guardian did publish some [WikiLeaks] material, but then turned on Julian. And typical with the liberal press, there’s a degree of hypocrisy. They want to have a foot in both camps. They want to be both seen as part of the responsible establishment; they also want to speak truth to power. But they’re compromised on both fronts. And their attacks on Julian Assange were critical in undermining his presence as a journalist, and being seen as a journalist. And the scurrilous attacks on him, for year after year; [and their] failure to really campaign against the torture for ten years.’

He added:

‘There could not be a clearer case of shoot the messenger, and let the scoundrel go free. I mean, here you have people – Bush, Blair, propagandists like Alastair Campbell – wheeled out on the BBC, like Newsnight. They have season tickets to the current affairs programmes that tell us what to think. They are responsible for – what – up to a million deaths, four, five, million people made homeless, destruction of Iraq; the most atrocious war crimes, in an illegal war – an illegal war, so every activity is illegal on account of that, war crimes – they should be indicted. The man who told us about those crimes is condemned to rot, at the very least, and is in danger of never seeing the light of day again, or of being executed, and we know some politicians in the States have called for precisely that. There could not be a more outrageous, a more egregious example of the messenger being crucified and the scoundrels, the villains, the criminals getting away with this.’

As musician Brian Eno said during the discussion:

‘Julian is a threat [to power] because he exposes an illusion that we are generally being told to support. And that illusion is that we live in a democracy. So, the fundamental concept of democracy is that people make decisions about their future, and about the state they live in. And the fundamental assumption of democracy is that people have the information on which to make those decisions. So, clearly, for democracy to work we have to have good information, otherwise we’ll make bad decisions.’

‘The Gravity Of The Situation Requires Fundamental Changes To Global Capitalism’

The most compelling evidence that there is no functioning democracy in capitalist societies is all around us: global environmental collapse and climate breakdown.

A new scientific report this month warns that the planet is facing a ‘ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals’ that threaten human survival. The study, published in ‘Frontiers in Conservation Science’ by a group of 17 experts, observes that:

‘The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.’

Somewhat couched in academic language, the urgency and starkness of the warning are nevertheless clear:

‘The gravity of the situation requires fundamental changes to global capitalism, education, and equality, which include inter alia the abolition of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing externalities, a rapid exit from fossil-fuel use, strict regulation of markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying, and the empowerment of women.’

They added:

‘the mainstream [sic] is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization.’

Meanwhile, the climate crisis has been worsening, with 2020 declared by scientists as the joint hottest year ever recorded, despite the pandemic lockdowns. There were record Arctic wildfires and Atlantic tropical storms.

The European Commission’s Matthias Petschke said:

‘The extraordinary climate events of 2020 […] show us that we have no time to lose. We must come together as a global community, to ensure a just transition to a net zero future. It will be difficult, but the cost of inaction is too great…’

In the wake of the US presidential election last November, the BBC’s John Simpson had tweeted:

‘According to the New York Times, exit polls showed that 84% of people who voted for Trump thought that global warming wasn’t an important issue.’

But, of course, if political leaders everywhere believed that climate breakdown is an important issue – the overriding issue facing humanity – they would be tackling it with the urgency that it requires now.

As climate campaigner Greta Thunberg pointed out last week:

‘In 2010 our leaders signed “ambitious goals to protect wildlife and ecosystems”. By 2021 they’d failed on every single one. Each day they choose not to act. Instead they sign more “ambitious” non-binding future goals while passing policy locking in destructive business as usual.’

This was her acerbic summary of political discussions at the One Planet Summit in Paris on 11 January:

LIVE from #OnePlanetSummit in Paris:

Bla bla nature

Bla bla important

Bla bla ambitious

Bla bla green investments

Bla bla great opportunity

Bla bla green growth

Bla bla net zero

Bla bla step up our game

Bla bla hope

Bla bla bla…*

*locking in decades of further destruction

We have arrived at this terminal stage of capitalism because we are being held in a death-grip by a system of economics and exploitation that is coated with a veneer of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘progress’ and other convenient ideological myths. The corporate media has sold the public those myths, perpetuating and deepening the various interlocking crises that threaten to wipe out homo sapiens, along with countless other species.

We can still escape the worst if we face up to reality. As Gail Bradbrook and Jem Bendell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and founder of Deep Adaptation respectively, explain:

‘Our power comes from acting without escape from our pain.’

They continue:

‘Paying attention fully to what is around us and in front of us, even though it hurts, is to be fully alive. […] Once we accept that anxiety and grief will be constant companions in this struggle, we can stay fully present to what is happening and respond accordingly. It means we do not grasp desperately at the latest idea of what might fix the climate and ecological emergency. Instead, we can help each other stay fully present to the difficult mess, so that we can try to reduce harm, save what we can and plant some seeds for what might come next.’

A good start would be to reject the corporate media.

The post “A Ghastly Future”? Israeli Apartheid, Biden, Starmer, Assange And Mass Extinction first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How the left is being manipulated into colluding in its own character assassination

There was a fascinating online panel discussion on Wednesday night on the Julian Assange case that I recommend everyone watch. The video is at the bottom of the page.

But from all the outstanding contributions, I want to highlight a very important point made by Yanis Varoufakis that has significance for understanding current events well beyond the Assange case.

Varoufakis is an academic who was savaged by the western political and media establishments when he served as Greece’s finance minister. Back in 2015 a popular leftwing Greek government was trying to oppose the imposition of severe loan conditions on Greece by European and international financial institutions that risked tipping the Greek economy into deeper bankruptcy and seemed chiefly intended to upend its socialist programme. The government Varoufakis served was effectively crushed into obedience through a campaign of economic intimidation by these institutions.

Varoufakis describes here the way that leftwing dissidents who challenge or disrupt western establishment narratives – whether it be himself, Assange or Jeremy Corbyn – end up not only being subjected to character assassination, as was always the case, but nowadays find themselves being manipulated into colluding in their own character assassination.

Here is a short transcript of Varoufakis’ much fuller comments – about 48 minutes in – highlighting his point about co-option:

The establishment, the Deep State, call it whatever you want, the oligarchy, they’ve become much, much better at it [character assassination] than they used to be. Because back in the 1960s and 1970s, you know, they would accuse you of being a Communist. They would accuse me of being a Marxist. Well, I am a Marxist. I’m really not going to suffer that much if you accuse me of being a left-winger. I am a left-winger!

Now what they do is something far worse. They accuse you of something that really hurts you. Calling somebody like us a racist, a bigot, an antisemite, a rapist. This is what really hurts because if anybody calls me a rapist today, right, even if it’s complete baloney, I feel as a feminist I have the need to give the woman, implied or involved somehow this accusation, the opportunity to speak against me. Because that is what we left-wingers do.

Varoufakis’ point is that when Assange was accused of being a rapist, as he was before the US made clear the real case against him – by trying to extradite him from the UK for exposing its war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan – he could not defend himself without alienating a significant constituency of his natural supporters, those on the left who identify as feminists. Which is exactly what happened.

Similarly, as Varoufakis notes from earlier conversations he had with Assange, the Wikileaks founder was in no position to properly defend himself against accusations that he colluded with Russia and Donald Trump to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

At the time, Assange’s supporters were able to point out that the leaked emails were true and that they were in the public interest because they showed deep corruption in the Democratic party establishment. But those arguments were drowned out by a narrative confected by the US media and security establishments that Wikileaks’ publication of the emails was political interference because the emails had supposedly been hacked by Russia to sway the election result.

Because Assange was absolutely committed to the principle of non-disclosure of sources, he refused to defend himself in public by confirming that the emails had been leaked to him by a Democratic party insider, not the “Russians”. His silence allowed his vilification to go largely unchallenged. Having already been stripped of support from much of the feminist left, particularly in Europe, Assange now lost the support of a sizeable chunk of the left in the US too.

In these cases, the one who stands accused has to defend themselves with one hand tied behind their back. They cannot hit back without further antagonising a substantial section of their supporters, deepening divisions within the left’s ranks. The victim of this kind of character assassination is caught in the equivalent of reputational quicksand. The more they fight, the deeper they sink.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened to the UK’s former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when he was accused of being a racist. If he or his supporters tried to challenge the claim that the party had become antisemitic overnight under his leadership – even if only by citing statistics that showed the party hadn’t – they were immediately denounced for supposed “antisemitism denial”, posited as the modern equivalent of Holocaust denial.

Notice Ken Loach, who was also on the panel, nodding in agreement as Varoufakis speaks. Because Loach, the noted left-wing, anti-racist film-maker who came to Corbyn’s defence against the confected media campaign smearing him as an antisemite, soon found himself similarly accused.

Jonathan Freedland, a senior columnist at the liberal Guardian, was among those using precisely the tactic described by Varoufakis. He tried to discredit Loach by accusing him of denying Jews the right to define their own experience of antisemitism.

Freedland sought to manipulate Loach’s anti-racist credentials against him. Either agree with us that Corbyn is an antisemite, and that most of his supporters are too, or you are a hypocrite, disowning your own anti-racist principles – and solely in the case of antisemitism. And that, QED, would prove you too are motivated by antisemitism.

Loach found himself with a terrible binary choice: either he must collude with Freedland and the corporate media in smearing Corbyn, a long-standing friend, or else he would be forced to collude in his own smearing as an antisemite.

It’s a deeply ugly, deeply illiberal, deeply manipulative, deeply dishonest tactic. But it is also brilliantly effective. Which is why nowadays rightists and centrists use it at every opportunity. The left, given its principles, rarely resorts to this kind of deceit. Which means it can only bring a peashooter to a gun fight.

This is the left’s dilemma. It’s why we struggle to win the argument in a corporate media environment that not only denies us a hearing but also promotes the voices of those like Freedland trying to destroy us from the centre and those supposedly on the left like George Monbiot and Owen Jones who are too often destroying us from within.

As Varoufakis also says, the left needs urgently to go on the offensive.

We need to find ways to turn the tables on the war criminals who have been gaslighting us in demanding that Assange, who exposed their crimes, is the one who needs to be locked up.

We need to make clear that it is those who are so ready to smear anti-racists as antisemites – as Corbyn’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, has done to swaths of Labour party members – who are the real racists.

And we need to unmask as war hawks those who accuse the anti-war left of serving as apologists for dictators when we try to stop western states conducting more illegal, resource-grab wars with such devastating results for local populations.

We must get much more sophisticated in our thinking and our strategies. There is no time to lose.

The post How the left is being manipulated into colluding in its own character assassination first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The US and UK may not will Assange’s death, but everything they are doing makes it more likely

There was a hope in some quarters after Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled on Monday against an application to extradite Julian Assange to the US, where he faced being locked away for the rest of his life, that she might finally be changing tack.

Washington has wanted Assange permanently silenced and made an example of – by demonstrating to other journalists its terrifying reach and powers of retaliation – ever since the Wikileaks founder exposed US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago.

There were reasons, however, to be suspicious of what Baraitser was really up even as she made her ruling in Assange’s favour. This district judge has a record of nodding through extradition cases, including several that have recently been overturned on appeal by a higher court.

During the hearings back in September, Baraitser had endlessly indulged lawyers representing the US while showing absolute disdain for Assange’s legal team, obstructing them at every turn. Her contempt for Assange and his political and moral worldview was on show throughout the proceedings. She often arrived in court with a prepared script she read from, barely feigning a pretence that she had listened to the legal arguments presented in court.

Her script always favoured Washington’s line, apart from on those occasions when she took an even more hostile position towards Assange than requested by the US. That included sealing him off from the rest of the court in an impregnable perspex box, treating him more like Hannibal Lecter than a publisher and journalist fighting for press freedom.

Much of the time, Baraitser sounded unnervingly like a prosecution barrister rather than the judge.

First a dangerous ruling

So it was barely surprising, as I explained in my last post, that, while denying the extradition claim, she supported all the arguments advanced by the US accruing to itself the right to prosecute Assange – and any other journalist – for the crime of doing journalism. She ignored the facts, the expert testimony presented in court and the legal arguments – all of which favoured Assange – and backed instead what amounted to a purely political case made by the US.

She disregarded warnings from Assange’s legal team that acceptance of the political rationale for extradition amounted to an all-out attack on fundamental journalistic freedoms. She established a terrifying legal precedent for the US to seize foreign journalists and prosecute them for “espionage” if they expose Washington’s crimes. Her ruling will inevitably have a profoundly chilling effect on any publication trying to dig out the truth about the US national-security state, with terrifying consequences for us all.

But while she enthusiastically backed the political case for Assange’s extradition and trial, Baraitser at the same time got the Wikileaks founder off the hook by accepting the humanitarian concerns raised by medical and prison experts. They had counselled that extradition to the US could be expected to lead to Assange spending the rest of his life in a barbaric US super-max prison, exacerbating mental health problems and the risk of suicide.

Then, a perverse ruling

Her ruling, while deeply disturbing in its political and legal implications, did at least suggest that Baraitser was ready to take a compassionate approach in regard to Assange’s health, even if not his journalistic exposure of western war crimes. He should have walked free there and then, had the US not immediately said it would appeal her decision.

Given Assange’s discharge by Baraitser, his team hoped that bail – his release from a high-security prison while the lengthy appeals process unfolds – would prove a formality. They hurried to make such an application after the extradition ruling on Monday, assuming that the legal logic of her decision dictated his release. Baraitser demurred, suggesting that they prepare their case and make it to her more fully on Wednesday.

It now seems clear the judge manipulated Assange’s defence team. Apparently like Assange’s lawyers, former British ambassador Craig Murray, who has attended and reported on the hearings in detail, was lulled by Baraitser into assuming that she wanted a cast-iron case from the defence to justify a decision to release Assange on bail.

There were good reasons for their confidence. Any move to prevent his release would look perverse given that she had decided Assange should not be extradited or stand trial in the US.

Suicide danger

They were deceived. Baraitser denied bail, effectively signalling that she thinks her ruling might be wrong and overturned in a higher court. That is extraordinary. It suggests that she has no confidence in her own judgment of the facts of the case. As Murray has noted: “There was little or no precedent for the High Court overturning any ruling against extradition on Section 91 health grounds.”

Any appeal by the US against Baraitser’s ruling to discharge Assange will be hard to win. Its lawyers will have to prove that she was wrong not on her interpretation of the law, but in assessing verifiable facts. They will have to show that she was deceived by prison experts who warned – based on submissions made by the US itself – that Assange would be subjected to permanent, inhuman solitary confinement in a US super-max jail or that she was misled by medical experts who warned that in these conditions Assange would be at significant risk of suicide.

But the perversity of Baraitser’s decision runs deeper still. Her ruling keeps him locked up in Belmarsh, a high-security prison in London that is Britain’s version of a super-max jail. Her refusal to free him, or put him in house arrest with a GPS monitoring tag, flagantly contradicts the expert assessments she concurred with during Monday’s extradition decision: that Assange is at high risk of suicide. Those expert evaluations are based on his current state – caused by his incarceration in Belmarsh.

Unlike Assange, most of Belmarsh’s inmates have been convicted or charged with major crimes. But while Assange long ago served out his only offence, a minor violation of the UK’s bail regulations, he has been routinely held in even worse conditions than the other prisoners.

If Assange’s mental health is in such poor shape and he is so likely to commit suicide, it is because of the horrifying regime of abuse he has already faced in Belmarsh over the past nearly two years – a regime classified as torture by the UN’s expert on the subject, Nils Melzer. Raising Assange’s hopes of release and then shutting him back in his cell, denying him the chance to see his partner and two young children for the first time since March, risks tipping him over the edge – an edge Baraitser herself is only too aware of and on which she based her decision to deny extradition.

No ‘flight risk’

In fact, the judge was up to something else entirely in delaying the bail hearing till Wednesday, two days later. She wanted – as presumably did those who have been supervising her behind the scenes – to refashion the image of her court, which for months has given every appearance of being entirely beholden to the US administration.

As the corporate media briefly raised its head from its slumber to meaningfully acknowledge for the first time the Assange hearings, she wanted to ensure those reports noted how independent her court was. For two days, commentators could crow about British legal sovereignty and humanitarian values, even as most tacitly accepted her dangerous premise that the US has a justified claim to extradite Assange.

When Baraitser slammed the cell door shut once again on Assange, leaving him exactly where he was before she discharged him, her decision was presented as little more than a technical ruling based on a reasonable assessment of Assange’s “flight risk”.

In fact, Assange is no flight risk, and never was. He didn’t “jump bail” in 2012 by heading into the Ecuadorean embassy. He sought political asylum there to escape the very real threat of being extradited to the US for his journalism. He was accepted by the Ecuadorean authorities because they believed his fears were genuine.

Back then, a Swedish prosecutor had revived demands Assange return to Sweden for questioning over flimsy sexual assault allegations – allegations that had been dismissed by a previous prosecutor. That investigation, we now know, was kept alive at British insistence. Nonetheless, Sweden refused to give assurances that they would not extradite Assange on to the US, where a grand jury was drawing up charges against him.

Illicit collusion

Assange’s decision to seek asylum in the embassy has, of course, been entirely vindicated by the fact that the US did indeed seek his extradition – as soon as they could get their hands on him.

Baraitser even let the cat out of the bag herself at the bail hearing, disrupting her own narrative that he had “absconded” in 2012, when she stated – as evidence against Assange! – that he entered the embassy to evade the threat of extradition to the US.

In doing so, she undermined the narrative promoted for years by every corporate media outlet in the UK that Assange had “holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy to flee the Swedish investigation”. (In fact, that statement was typically corrupted even further by the media, including notably the Guardian, which repeatedly referred not to an investigation, one going nowhere, but to entirely imaginary “rape charges”.)

Baraitser exploited and accentuated Assange’s suffering to make her court look good, to add a veneer of credibility to her deeply flawed political ruling, and to create the impression that she was making her judgment based on the facts rather than illicit collusion with US authorities denying Assange his rights.

Where next?

Where does the case head now?

Assange’s only immediate hope is that his legal team can appeal the bail decision and win, or that the US throws in the towel and decides not to submit its own appeal on the extradition ruling within the next couple of weeks.

If Washington does press for an appeal, as still seems likely, Assange faces many more months in Belmarsh high-security jail, in declining health in Covid-infested conditions he may not survive if he catches the disease. As experts have warned, the toll taken by nearly two years of almost no contact with other humans, no mental stimulation, no prospect of release – his case ignored by most of his peers and the public – will intensify his sense of despair, his deep depression, and the danger that he tries to take his own life.

His death looks increasingly like an outcome Britain and the US desire, and possibly one that they have been striving towards. That is certainly the conclusion of Yanis Varoufakis, a public intellectual and former Greek finance minister who has seen up close himself how ready European and US elites are to ruthlessly crush dissent.

But even if Assange’s death is not the goal of the US and UK authorities, they have recklessly ensured that possibility grows ever more likely, and will continue to do so until they swiftly bring his incarceration and torture to an end.

The post The US and UK may not will Assange’s death, but everything they are doing makes it more likely first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Proxy Jailor: Denying Assange Bail

History, while not always a telling guide, can be useful.  But in moments of flushed confidence, it is not consulted and Cleo is forgotten.  A crisp new dawn can negate a glance to the past.  Having received the unexpected news that Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States for charges of breaching the Espionage Act of 1917 and computer intrusion had been blocked by Justice Vanessa Baraitser, his legal team and supporters were confident. All that was left was to apply for bail, see Assange safely to the arms of his family, and await the next move by wounded US authorities.

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray, human rights activist and veteran reporter on the Assange case, was initially buoyant in his column.  “I fully expect Julian will be released on bail this week, pending a possible US appeal against the blocking of his extradition.”  He further got “the strong impression that Baraitser was minded to grant bail and wanted the decision to be fireproof.”

That fireproofing never came.  On Wednesday, January 6, the application for bail by Assange’s legal team was rejected.  Counsel for the US government, Clair Dobbin, built the prosecution’s case around the strong possibility that the publisher might flee the clutches of UK authorities even as the US was gathering its wits for an appeal to the High Court.  “His history shows he will go to any lengths to get away.”

Forums would welcome this disreputable character: Mexico, for instance, had offered to “protect Assange with political asylum.”  The defence might well say that he would not flee due to poor health, but could they be sure?  A “flight risk” had little to do with mental wellbeing.  Remember, she pressed, what he did during the Swedish proceedings, how he “ruthlessly” breached the trust of those who fronted the bail money. Those who had offered surety for him, such as the Duchess of Beaufort, Tracy Worcester, had also failed in ensuring that Assange presented in court in 2012.  Beware, warned Dobbin, of sinister networks of operatives he could call upon to aid him vanish.  WikiLeaks had, after all, facilitated the escape of Edward Snowden.

Dobbin’s tone and manner – gloomy and Presbyterian, as Murray described it – was all judgment.  She insisted to the court that, “any idea that moral or principled reasons would bear on Mr Assange’s conscience turned out to be ill-founded indeed.”  And she had much to go on, as Baraitser’s own judgment had essentially accepted virtually everything the prosecution had submitted bar grounds of mental health and the risk posed to him in US prison facilities.

As for the basis of whether an appeal would succeed, Dobbin was convinced the prosecution were on to something.  The judge, she respectfully submitted, had erred on a point of law in applying the incorrect test on the prison conditions awaiting Assange.  The test was not whether measures taken by US prison authorities would make suicide impossible; the only issue was for authorities to put measures in place to lessen its prospects.  Reprising her role in attacking various defence witnesses who had put together a picture of grotesque danger awaiting Assange, including the ADX supermax prison in Colorado, Dobbin was convinced that the US system stood the test.

Sidestepping the defence evidence on this, more thorough than anything supplied by the likes of US Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg during the trial, Dobbin argued that no thorough assessment of the facilities for treatment and prison conditions had taken place.

Baraitser proved accommodating to Dobbin’s whipping submission.  “Notwithstanding the package offered by the defence, I am satisfied he might abscond.”  Having discharged Assange, she promptly repudiated her own ruling in a fit of Dickensian jurisprudence.  “The history of this case is well known…  Assange skipped bail and remained in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to the US.”  Assange would remain in Belmarsh prison pending the US appeal.

In her Monday judgment, Baraitser had acknowledged the signs of potential suicide shown by Assange during his stay in Belmarsh.  The prison adjudication report confirmed that, on May 5, 2019 “during a routine search of the cell solely occupied by Mr Assange, inside a cupboard and concealed under some underwear, a prison officer found ‘half a razor blade’.”  Baraitser even went so far as to accept, based on the assessment of defence witness Professor Michael Kopelman, that the finding of the razor was not merely a “disciplinary infraction” but one of the “very many factors indicating Mr Assange’s depression and risk of suicide.”

On Wednesday, her tune was indifferent to the consequences of sending Assange back to a maximum security prison stocked with Britain’s most notorious inmates.  Continuing her long spell of denial on the seriousness of COVID-19 in the UK prison system, she swatted the submission by defence counsel Edward Fitzgerald QC that there had been 59 cases specific to Belmarsh before Christmas and that the prison remained locked down.  Dobbin demurred on this point, showing an email sent by prison authorities at 10.49 pm the previous night claiming that only 3 positive tests for COVID for Belmarsh had been returned.

The result is that Assange continues to be punished, facing brutal carceral conditions while he awaits the next move by US prosecutors, despite having already served his sentence of skipping bail.  As a dejected Murray wrote, “Julian is living his life in conditions both torturous and tortuous.”

Amidst the banal cruelties of Wednesday’s proceedings came a smidgen of hope for Assange.  G. Zachary Terwilliger, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia handling the prosecution, had to admit to being uncertain about what a Biden administration would do.  Speaking to NPR, Terwilliger suggested that any decision taken on Assange would “come down to resources and where you’re going to focus your energies.” But he is not waiting to find out: a position at the law firm Vinson & Elkins awaits.

The UK, having adopted a position as Washington’s proxy jailor, is not about to quit its sordid role. Assange’s wellbeing and health continue to be jeopardised by his stay in Britain’s most notorious prison, where determined despair, as Baraitser herself has acknowledged, can take their toll.

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