While waiting for Sue…

by | Blog

Whatever “formidable” civil servant Sue Gray uncovers about the Prime Minister, his wife and their coterie of pals, advisers and party backers, there are a few other events going on worth our attention.

One takes place in the High Court on Monday morning to Julian Assange: will he be allowed to appeal the High Court’s ruling on extradition to the United States?

Try to hold these two pictures in your mind for a moment. One is of a journalist exposing war crimes and corruption being detained in a high-security prison and at risk of life-long incarceration. The other is of a provably mendacious Prime Minister living high on the hog at taxpayers’ expense and with piles of memoirs money still to come his way even if Ms Gray and Tory MPs evict him from No 10.

Then, if you didn’t detect much coverage of last week’s impressive Commons debate, spend a few moments learning about Slapps. No, not what wobbly MPs might fear at the hands of party whips, but the means by which we can all be intimidated from speaking out through the fear of huge legal costs.

Using the protection of parliamentary privilege, MPs named prestigious London law firms who generate huge fees from wealthy clients keen to keep the public in the dark about their activities. Tory MP David Davis opened this debate on lawfare and Labour MP Apsana Begum spoke powerfully of her own shocking experience of it. [1]https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2022-01-20/debates/4F7649B7-2085-4B51-9E8C-32992CFF7726/LawfareAndUKCourtSystem?highlight=lawfare#contribution-61B08842-CF97-4224-BFE0-29C311B22728 jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1244_1_1').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1244_1_1', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'top center', relative: true, offset: [-7, 0], });">))

The UK libel laws already greatly inhibit those of us of limited means who have been defamed as I well know. [2]https://www.newstatesman.com/uncategorized/1999/08/why-i-had-mandelsons-life-pulped But the practice of lawfare greatly adds to the inhibition on free speech and dissent by incentivising some lawyers to profit by employing bullying tactics, ones in which news organisations are sometimes complicit.

The debate was impressive not only for its cross-party nature, but because it showed what MPs can do when they exert their right to expose abuse by naming names. Will the Government and the lawyer-led Labour party do anything about it?

One area Ms Gray seems unlikely to explore in any depth is the intimacy of many journalists and government. Sure, she may touch on the video of ex-Guardian political correspondent Allegra Stratton and the Downing Street farewell party of James Slack of The Sun, but that will only be scratching the surface of a dependent relationship.

Jonathan Cook digs deeper into this complicity [3]https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2022-01-21/no-10-lockdown-parties-why-the-media-are-complicit/ in a piece for which Ms Gray’s efforts may prove little more than an appetising hors d’hoevre. She, after all, is a tax-funded bureaucrat with limited powers of discovery, and with a career and pension to bear in mind.

She will not be alone this week in thinking of her future. Sheffield Council’s chief executive Kate Josephs is reportedly on annual leave while hers is settled by an investigating committee after she celebrated leaving her previous job in charge of the Covid Taskforce. [4]https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/politics/kate-josephs-sheffield-council-ceo-goes-on-annual-leave-as-committee-is-set-up-to-consider-further-action-3531640

Another career, one which will probably take a general election to settle, is that of Christian Wakeford. A week ago he was the Tory MP for Bury South, as vocal in his criticism of Labour as he now is of Boris Johnson.

Wakeford’s warm embrace by Sir Keir has not been shared by the many thousands of activists whose commitment to politics is less about career than conviction. [5]https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10430697/Labours-Left-ask-Christian-Wakeford-welcome-Starmer-wont-let-Jeremy-Corbyn-in.html

Time will tell in the cash-strapped and membership-shrunken party that Labour has become whether Ms Gray’s inquiries prove harmful to many more in Westminster than the current occupant of No 10.

Meanwhile conviction journalist Julian Assange continues to rot in prison.