The week in review: Julian Assange’s circus of ugly
It must be quite confusing being Julian Assange. On the one hand, he's been sat in a small room for two months, with only the prospect of further imprisonment to comfort him. On the other, he causes enormous global waves of political scandal by tapping away on his keyboard. He lives in a yin-yang of boredom and excitement.
The Wikileaks founder is now at the centre of a very modern media storm, encompassing international relations, gender politics, criminal allegations, left-wing soul-searching, freedom of information, the rise of the Chavez-inspired Latin American left, extradition treaties, anti-American conspiracy theories and good, old fashioned computer hacking.
Assange started the week with a speech on a first-floor balcony of Ecuador's embassy. The Ecuadorian government may have many qualities, but hair styling is not among them. His brazen blonde curtains had been snipped down to a prisoner-like uniform head casket. In a rare misunderstanding of his PR requirements, he came out in a shirt and tie rather than the Che Guevara top his followers would have preferred. By the time he started reading out a seemingly interminable list of Latin American countries, the Evita Peron comparisons were complete. He is an orator of considerable self-importance but he does not live up to it. The speech was as empty as a Michael Bay movie.
South American countries were happy to play in Assange's game and stick their nose up at Britain. The Foreign Office ploy to threaten Assange with revoking the Ecuadorian embassy's sovereignty has massively backfired. Britain is fairly irrelevant to their trading interests, but because of its close association with the US, South American presidents can pose in anti-imperialist colours without risking too much. It's more damaging for Britain, which has gone to a great deal of effort trying to prise open emerging markets across the Atlantic.
But if Assange's behaviour was making a mess of Britain's diplomatic status, it was doing far worse things to the state of the left. Something about the intricacies of Assange's alleged sexual crimes prompted all sorts of dark, murky thoughts to creep out the cupboard. Great figureheads of the British left, including, but not restricted to, Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, John Pilger and Ken Loach, humiliated themselves with glaring logical failures and a sexual morality that could, if we were extremely generous, be described as antiquated.
George Galloway was the worst of the lot. His sage dating advice included the immortal line "this is something which can happen, you know" and "you're already in the sex game". It was like Stalin writing a column for Cosmopolitan magazine. There was outrage, even from within his own party. Salma Yaqoob, the leader who is in the curious position of having a lower political position and far less profile than her most famous member, did herself proud by quickly disassociating herself from the comments.
If anyone was tempted to conclude that sexism and victim blaming was the sole province of the left, Senate candidate Todd Akin stepped up to offer some of the most ignorant comments on sex since Oscar Wilde went on trial. "If it's a legitimate rape," he observed, madly, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole [pregnancy] thing down."
Ugly thoughts from a simple mind. Remarkably, the Bank Holiday arrived with Galloway and Akin still in their respective jobs. A Republican lunatic and a Communist firebrand united by their shared idiocy. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Perhaps when they get under the covers the two men can compare notes.