Sunday 18 February 2024

If Enough Voices Are Raised

This week, the brave and indomitable Stella Assange will have to watch once again as her husband Julian faces the strong possibility of being sent in chains to some American dungeon, where he will be buried alive for the rest of his days. Julian is already (indefensibly) locked up on remand in Britain’s most ferocious prison, Belmarsh. What did he do? He did what reporters do. He received and partially published documents which gravely embarrassed the USA.

In the words of my colleague Andrew Neil, who, like me, opposes Mr Assange’s extradition, the material revealed ‘war crimes covered up. Torture. Brutality. The rendition and incarceration of suspects without due process. The corruption of inquiries trying to hold it to account. The bribery of foreign officials to look the other way when America did bad things.’

It is simply not true, as is often claimed, that Mr Assange endangered the lives of Americans in the service of their country. He took careful steps to avoid this and no evidence has ever been produced of any such thing.

The High Court in London will consider, on Tuesday and Wednesday, his final appeal against the decision to extradite him to the USA on political charges of ‘espionage’. The UK Government’s determination to hand him over to the USA runs right against the extradition treaty we have with Washington. This explicitly bans any extraditions on political grounds.

I believe this cruel injustice can be stopped if enough voices are raised against it. If Julian Assange is jailed in the USA, free journalism will be dealt a mortal blow. I appeal most especially to some of our nation’s clearest and most thoughtful media voices, Charles Moore, Danny Finkelstein, Matthew Parris and Janice Turner, to speak out now while there is still time.


The best, most reliable and most comfortable express trains ever built in this country, the InterCity 125s, are apparently being exported to Mexico. I cannot get confirmation (or denial) of this from the Transport Department, from the company allegedly involved or their PR firm, hence the word ‘apparently’. But specialist railway journals suggest the operation is well under way, with some of the trains seen being loaded aboard a freighter at Great Yarmouth. The Mexican government announced last November that it was planning to reopen 5,000 miles of passenger services, foolishly shut down some years ago.

I don’t blame them for wanting the high-speed trains, a fine British product beautifully renovated and maintained over nearly 50 years. They were still operating here until quite recently (I last saw one in Taunton in July).

But for me the real problem is that their hugely expensive electric replacements, on which I travel most days, have not been a success. Many are out of service, causing overcrowding and cancellations for long months.

On Thursday, the carriage in which I was riding began to shake alarmingly, with an accompaniment of loud bangs, when it hit one of the increasingly frequent patches of bumpy track. I have had smoother rides on the Mandalay to Rangoon Express, and cannot remember anything so bad on any British train. On my own line, several services have recently been downgraded to 1990s diesel railbuses instead of sleek Japanese bullet trains – though in fact the ancient British Rail workhorses have more comfortable seats and are not much slower in practice.

So often, this country gets rid of valuable technology of its own, such as the Harrier jet, then saddles itself with more expensive and less effective foreign substitutes.


  1. A pity about most of his column today. We all like a greatest hit from time to time but come on.

    1. He has been playing that one for a very long time.