Enemy of the States

Edward Case
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Every government has dirty secrets it would rather stayed out of the public domain, but if there’s one nation that really doesn’t take kindly to having its self image as knights in shining armour besmirched by something as unpalatable as the truth, it’s the USA.

Which makes the plea deal offered to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after years of fighting for his extradition to face charges under the espionage act for publishing military secrets all the more surprising.

Since the 2010 posting online of video of an American helicopter targeting and killing civilians in Baghdad during the Iraq war followed by the Chelsea Manning-leaked documents regarding hidden statistics of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, successive administrations have been unwavering in their determination that Assange should face the full weight of US payback.

Now, after seven years of refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London followed by five years incarceration in Belmarsh Prison, he will finally be a free man after pleading guilty to one charge of revealing state secrets – nothing but a face-saving exercise – for which he will be sentenced to time served.

After 14 years, which included a suspiciously timed accusation of sexual assault that was dropped when it became clear that it wasn’t going to get him out of the embassy, I don’t think anyone could blame Assange for taking a deal, whether you see him as a truth seeking journo or an irresponsible self publicist.

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For days, cabinet ministers were sent out to squirm as keeping on message became impossible with every interviewer in the land steering their questions to just one subject – the latest calamity to befall the Conservative campaign.

When the word “gate” is tagged onto a political scandal you know you’re in deep poo and the investigation by the Gambling Commission into bets made on a July election by the Tory campaign director, the party data chief, two candidates, one of the prime minister’s protection detail, five other Met officers and a member of the Welsh Parliament in the days before the date (quel surprise we all thought) was announced.

Craig Williams, candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr and a close aide to Rishi Sunak, has admitted that he had a “flutter” (only a Tory could describe a £100 bet as a flutter) on an election date three days before it was announced and Bristol North West candidate Laura Saunders, the wife of campaign director Tony Lee is also under investigation.

The protection officer was immediately suspended by the Met, the senior party figures went on a leave of absence yet it took until Tuesday for Sunak to withdraw the party’s support for Williams and Saunders, too late to take them off the ballot and a decision made after much dithering about barely an hour after James Cleverly had appeared on TV uncomfortably sticking to the I can’t say anything because the Gambling Commission says so line (you’re the bloody Home Secretary – for another week anyway – so what if you get told off?)

Michael Gove, who despite standing down has stuck around for the election campaign, has said he believes this latest tawdry episode could be even more damaging than drinkies in Downing Street during lockdown and I’m inclined to agree.

This is about honesty and integrity. Compared to what could turn into a criminal investigation, Partygate is just the Eton Rifles engaging in high jinks.

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Labour had their own sticky moment on Tuesday when they immediately withdrew party support for the candidate for Suffolk Central and North Ipswich, Kevin Craig, after it was revealed that he had bet against himself winning the seat.

What hope is there when an election is just an opening for chancers and headline grabbers?

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Taylor Swift is not my mug of latte, but even the stone cold heart of this writer was melted by the looks of pure joy on the faces of Prince William and Princess Charlotte as they posed for a selfie with the singer at her concert in London.

No matter how much they have been protected from the details, they will be aware that their mum is not well and being able to enjoy a public outing with their dad that didn’t involve people in uniform saluting and seeing him dance like no one was watching to Shake It Off would have been food for their little souls.

Idiots corner:

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan trying to convince us that no one on the doorstep cares about Gamblegate.

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Edward Case

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