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Whenever it truly matters, from Assange to Corbyn, George Monbiot cripples the left
Aside from his passion for the environment, Monbiot's position on every major issue chimes precisely with his employer, the Guardian. He is not his own man. He's owned
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Guardian columnist George Monbiot is, by his own admission, a very busy man. Dedicated as he is to issues such as soil loss, he has yet to find the time to throw his weight behind the campaign to free Julian Assange.
When thousands of supporters poured into London from all over the world at the weekend to besiege the British Parliament, creating a human chain around it, Monbiot, like his newspaper the Guardian, ignored the event.
Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been rotting in a UK high-security prison for years, as the United States works through a series of lawfare strategies to extradite him and lock him up indefinitely in a maximum-security jail on the other side of the Atlantic.
Assange’s crime is doing real journalism: he published incontrovertible evidence of US and British war crimes in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. That kind of journalism has now been reclassified by Washington as espionage and treason, even though Assange is not a US citizen and did none of the work in the US. Plots by the CIA to murder and kidnap Assange have also come to light.
Should his oppressors succeed, a very clear message will be sent to other journalists around the globe that the US is ready to come after them too if they disclose its crimes. The chilling effect on investigative journalism is already palpable.
So, you might imagine, even a journalist like Monbiot – one primarily concerned about soil loss and other environmental concerns – should be worried by Assange’s fate. In the circumstances he might consider it worth publicising this threat to the most fundamental of our freedoms: the ability to know what our governments are up to and hold them to account.
After all, Monbiot’s columns exposing the threats to our soil will be all the poorer if investigative journalism of the kind Assange excelled in before his silencing continues to be snuffed out by the US and UK’s joint terror campaign on whistleblowers and those who offer them a secure platform. How will we ever know what is being done behind our backs by governments and major corporations, or how they are keeping us in the dark about their political and environmental crimes and misdeeds, if fighters for transparency like Assange can simply be disappeared?
But Monbiot is apparently not persuaded. He is yet to find the space or time for a column on this, the biggest threat to media freedom in our lifetime.
When the Guardian columnist did take a week off from writing about soil loss and related topics, Assange’s plight, sadly, was still considered of insufficient import. As I have noted before, Monbiot decided it was more important to fill his empty slot in the paper’s commentary pages with denunciations of journalists like John Pilger for failing to be vocal enough in condemning Russia for invading Ukraine.
Monbiot, it seems, felt he had to prioritise defending journalism from the menace posed by independent journalists on the left over any threat posed by the combined force of the US and British national-security states.
But maybe the issue for Monbiot really is, as he has openly worried before, that he does not have anything sufficiently interesting to add to the topic because Assange’s persecution is already being detailed so fully by … a handful of independent journalists – those like John Pilger he wishes to bully into silence.
Monbiot apparently does not need to dedicate a column to Assange, one that might alert millions of Guardian readers to the continuing persecution of a western journalist and the related assault on journalism, because independent leftwing writers – ones being algorithmed into oblivion by social media platforms – are covering the issue already.
Breaking the rulebook
Those unsure whether Monbiot is arguing in good faith – and whether, aside from matters that touch directly on his environmental brief, he actually represents anything that can be seriously called “the left” – might consider his latest astounding tweet. He issued this one at the weekend, presumably adding so much to the burden of work that he could not find time to express his support for the human chain trying desperately to draw attention to the endless procedural and legal abuses at the heart the Assange case.
Nonetheless, we should celebrate the fact that Monbiot took time from his busy environmental schedule to watch the first of The Labour Files, Al Jazeera’s explosive four-part documentary. The programmes draw on a huge cache of leaked internal Labour party files that show how the party’s rightwing bureaucracy broke Labour’s own rulebook – as well as the law – to surveil, smear, bully and expel members that were seen as leftwing or supporters of Corbyn. Current leader Sir Keir Starmer appears to be colluding with, if not directing, this horror show.
These Labour officials – who have been regularly termed “whistleblowers” by Monbiot’s employer, the Guardian – worked secretly to sabotage the 2017 election, including by helping to weaponise antisemitism to ensure Corbyn was unelectable, while at the same time demonstrating what looks suspiciously like a deep-seated racism in the treatment of black and Muslim party members, often because the BAME community were seen as stalwart allies of Corbyn, given his long-time activism against racism.
So how did Monbiot respond to his belated exposure to the Labour Files? He tweeted:
I’ve just watched Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files: The Crisis, about the handling of anti-semitism allegations. I found it deeply shocking. But I’m very unsure of myself on this issue. Have there been any rebuttals? Is there substantive evidence countering its claims? Thank you.
Very unsure of himself? What surprising modesty and reticence from a journalist more usually ready with an opinion on a diverse range of topics – many concerning issues where he appears not to have read further than the headlines of his paper, the Guardian. Maybe it is too churlish to remember this 2011 Monbiot tweet on Assange, one that has fared badly with the passing of time:
Why does Assange still have so much uncritical support? Seems to me he’s acting like a tinpot dictator.
Or how about his sudden and unexpected expertise in tripartite extradition law, between the US, Britain and Sweden? In 2012, he confidently observed:
Harder to extrad[ite] him [Assange] from Sweden than UK, as US wld then have to go through 2 jurisdictions, not one.
In fact, as people who know a lot more than Monbiot about such matters pointed out at the time, this was nonsense. Nils Melzer, an international law professor and the former United Nations expert on torture, recently wrote a book that set out good reasons why Assange’s lawyers would have assessed he was likely to be in far greater jeopardy in Sweden, where the extradition process was even more politicised than in the UK.
Similarly, Monbiot has regularly chosen to offer his uninformed opinions on events taking place in far-off lands, from Syria to Ukraine. Why then the sudden loss of confidence when it comes to a matter happening on his doorstep, one that played out over seven years on the front pages of the establishment media, including his own newspaper, and whose evidentiary basis had been aired well before The Labour Files, in a leaked Labour internal report and the Forde inquiry’s report into that leak.
Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files doesn’t cover much new ground. It deepens and enriches the evidence for abuses that were already in the public domain, including the collusion of newspapers like the Guardian with the Labour party bureaucracy in smearing as antisemites Corbyn and his supporters in the party, including many Jewish members.
There has long been masses of information for Monbiot to get his teeth into, had he chosen to break with the enforced Guardian and media consensus and look into the matter. But like his colleagues, from the Daily Mail to the Guardian, he remained silent or amplified the lies rather than risk the career damage of challenging them as those independent journalists he so excoriates dared to do.
Following the herd
In fact, Monbiot’s seeming good-faith request for more evidence to assess the Al Jazeera documentary is treachery of the worst kind. Had he really wished to be better informed, he could have spoken long ago to Jewish Labour party members like Naomi Wimborne Idrissi who have been vilified and purged from Labour because they disputed the confected political and media narrative that Corbyn was an antisemite.
Rather than show solidarity with them, or question what was happening, Monbiot once again followed the corporate herd; once again he ensured there was no one defending, let alone representing the views of, the British left as it was being defamed in the establishment media; and once again he helped to provide the veneer a supposed bipartisan consensus that Corbyn and his supporters were beyond the pale.
In 2018, at the height of the antisemitism witch-hunt, Monbiot tweeted:
It dismays me to say it, as someone who has invested so much hope in the current Labour Party, but I think @shattenstone is right: Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 comments about “Zionists” were antisemitic and unacceptable.
There is a reason that Monbiot suddenly professes to be interested in questioning whether the rampant, evidence-free antisemitism claims against Corbyn and large swaths of the Labour party were valid. Because, with the broadcasting of the Al-Jazeera documentary, he finds himself increasingly cornered. He looks ever more the charlatan, a journalist who withdrew from the struggle, standing silently by while the only chance to stop Britain’s endless political drift rightwards was eviscerated with lies promoted by the corporate media that pays his salary.
And he did so, of course, in tandem with the campaign cheerled by his own newspaper, the Guardian, to demonise the Labour left, as Al Jazeera documents.
Rather than take a stand against the McCarthyism occurring right under his nose, witch-hunts that destroyed the British left’s chances of making the Labour party a meaningful alternative to the Conservatives’ “free market” zealotry, he focused his guns on leftwing journalists. He misrepresented as apologism for Putin their critiques of western hypocrisy and of Nato’s pursuit of a proxy war in Ukraine.
Monbiot is a bad-faith actor for a further reason. Here is a reminder of his faux-naïve questions about The Labour Files:
Have there been any rebuttals? Is there substantive evidence countering its claims?
These hollow concerns should stick in his craw. Monbiot is a journalist. He knows as well as I do that Al Jazeera lawyered its programmes over and over again until it was certain that every part of them could be stood up, knowing that otherwise they would attract law suits like flies to a carcass. The feeding frenzy would have crippled the station.
Monbiot knows, as I do, that if Al Jazeera had made a single solitary slip-up, the BBC, the Guardian and everyone else would be using it to discredit all the other claims in the four programmes. The noise would drown out every other issue raised in the programme.
Monbiot knows, as I do, that the blanket silence from a corporate media deeply implicated in the fabrication of the Labour antisemitism narrative is proof alone that Al Jazeera’s claims are true – as are the deceitful responses from senior Labour politicians who, when challenged, profess not to have watched, or in some cases even heard of, the documentary. One doesn’t need to be a veteran poker player to spot the tell in that conspiracy of silence.
Monbiot knows all of this. He is playing dumb, in the hope that his followers will fall for his act. In asking his questions, he is not trying to shed light on the Al Jazeera revelations. He is trying to keep those revelations obscured, in deep shadow, for a little longer.
CIA talking points
There is a pattern with Monbiot, one that he has been repeating for years. His position on every major issue, aside from his genuine passion for the environment, chimes precisely with that of his employer, the Guardian. He goes only as far as he is given licence to. He is not on the left, he is not a dissident, he is not even his own man. He is owned. He is a salary man. He is a corporate stooge.
Even his environmentalism, invaluable as it invariably is, has been cynically weaponised by the Guardian. It provides a hook to draw in leftists who might stray elsewhere – and thereby help fund genuinely independent outlets – were they not offered a sop to keep them loyal to the Guardian corporate brand. Monbiot is the media equivalent of a promotional line to keep a supermarket’s shoppers satisfied.
On foreign affairs, he promotes CIA talking points, advancing Washington’s ever expanding, ever more lucrative war on terror – wars that ravage the environment he supposedly cares about and constantly deflect our energies and attention from doing anything to tackle the ever more urgent climate crisis.
He readily castigates anyone who tries to point this out as a Putin apologist, choking off the ability of the left – the one group equipped to challenge establishment propaganda – to air meaningful foreign policy debates.
At home, he has equivocated on the biggest, most vital issues of our times.
He indulged the Corbyn smears, even when it meant ushering in a fanatical rightwing government that is driving the destruction of the environment at break-neck speed. Even now, he professes doubts about the latest weighty evidence from Al Jazeera that confirms the earlier, equally weighty evidence that those smears were never rooted in any kind of reality.
He has whispered his support for Assange, while doing nothing to galvanise the left into fighting not only for Assange’s personal freedom but for the freedoms of other journalists and the whistleblowers they depend on. In doing so, he has stifled efforts to shine a light into the very darkest corners of the machinery of the security state so that the public can know what is being done in its name. And further, in abandoning Assange he has abandoned the only journalist who had built a counter-weight, in Wikileaks, to take on that machinery.
Far more is at stake here than simply griping about Monbiot’s failings. Just as Monbiot follows the company line set by the Guardian, never daring to stray far from the path laid down for him, so much of the left all too readily follows Monbiot, taking their cues from his take on events even though all too often he is simply regurgitating the consensus of the liberal wing of the establishment in which the Guardian is embedded.
Monbiot is treated by much of the left as a figurehead, one whose environmentalism earns him credibility and credit with the left on foreign policy issues, from Syria to Ukraine, in which he echoes the same talking points one hears from Keir Starmer to Liz Truss. While on matters at home, like Assange and Corbyn, he sucks the wind out of the left’s sails.
As the saying goes, if Monbiot did not exist, the establishment would have had to invent him. Their dirty work looks so much cleaner with him onboard.
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