I am awake at this unholy hour because I am about to start the tortuous Sunday rail journey between Ramsgate and Diss, in order to attend Julian Assange’s fortieth birthday party at Ellingham Hall.
I am not sure who else is going, but the initial invitation did not give train information, but did tell you where to land your private plane or helicopter. I am going because I think Wikileaks do essential work and because I think Julian is an extraordinary mand and is being stitched up – his appeal against extradition is on Tuesday and this week he could be in a cell in Sweden on those entirely ludicrous sexual assault charges. I am also gong because I hope that some of the whistleblowing community might be there. And I am going because it says “party”!
Nonetheless, I worry that the amusing fact that the invitation tells you where to land your private jet or helicopter, actually is an indication of where Wikilleaks is going wrong.
That is perhaps strange for me to say of a thriving organisation with funds and staff, who have exposed much more of government wrongdoing than I ever managed. But I could not understand why Julian was using the celebrity media lawyer Stephens rather than one of our great, solid human rights lawyers. I emailed wikileaks several times before the trial to say they had absolutely the wrong kind of lawyer, and that there were several much more appropriate human rights lawyers used to dealing with politically motivated criminal charges, with a terrific record and respect in the courts, and who may well take it on pro bono. I got no reply. I presumed that this was because Wikileaks were being loyal to lawyers who believed in them, had been their lawyers before criminal charges arose, and who worked for them for nothing. But I now read that Assange has unpaid legal bills of £200,000. I think that Don King haired lawyer bloke who yelled a lot was a major mistake.
I also worry that they managed to fall out with David Leigh of the Guardian, for whom I have huge respect (which he has made plain to me is not mutual, but that is another story). I was myself very offended indeed when I was kicked off the panel of Assange’s New Statesman debate on whistleblowing. I suspect it was a combination of establishment objections, and a desire to curry favour with the New Statesman and Al Jazeera, for both of whom I made room. But the whole Stephens/Al Jazeera/stately home/celebrities in private jets thing indicates to me a fascination with the bubble celebrity which will leave you crying when it bursts.
I am one of Assange’s admirers, not one of his detractors. I am going along to show my genuine support. There may in fact be a good turnout, because this is probably the best chance this weekend for the radical chic wealthy to get together and thrill over the wounds of Murdoch. There is an auction of donations to raise funds for his legal expenses, which I hope goes well – personal bids will establish a reserve price, and then the items will go on to ebay. I do hope that goes well too. And I hope when Assange’s celebrity dies down, those helicopter riders will still support him.
I just doubt it.