Andy McSmith's Diary: Another day, another Tobias Ellwood embarrassment

Does the Foreign Office minister know something we don't about the case of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi?

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Indy Politics

Tobias Ellwood, the Foreign Office minister, has – as I wrote this week – refused to answer questions in the Commons about the fate of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, on the grounds that his case is still being considered by the Saudi Supreme Court and the UK could not interfere in another country’s judicial process. Everyone else who has followed the case thinks that his right of appeal is exhausted, and his public flogging could resume at any time. I asked the Foreign Office either to confirm or correct what Ellwood told MPs, and, after several attempts, received a brief reply from a spokeswoman: “We understand that Badawi’s case is still with the Supreme Court.”

This came as a surprise to Amnesty International’s Karla McLaren, who said: “If the Foreign Office have reason to believe that Raif’s case is still being considered by the Supreme Court, then they know something we don’t. Everyone else is under the impression that Raif’s cruel sentence has already been confirmed by the Supreme Court.”

Another possibility, of course, is that in his anxiety to avoid awkward questions, the minister misled the House of Commons, and the Foreign Office is now too embarrassed to admit it. If so, I am sure they will want to correct the mistake soon to avoid raising cruel hopes. Badawi, who has a young family, has suffered 50 lashes already, with 950 more hanging over him. If he survives that, there is a 10-year prison sentence to be served and a hefty fine to be paid – and all simply for expressing opinions of which the Saudi regime does not approve.

Corbyn dating

Here a piece of hypothetical trivia: if Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership and led his party to victory in 2020, he would be the oldest person in British history to assume the office of Prime Minister, and the oldest holder of that office since Winston Churchill’s return in the 1950s. No, I am not suggesting that is the number one reason not to vote Corbyn.

An act of self-defence?

Martial Arts Guardian is a niche, online publication run by a karate instructor from Manchester, a jujutsu instructor from Wigan, and a Krav Maga instructor from the Isle of Man. The fifth monthly issue is in preparation. But an obstacle has arisen in the way of the founders’ attempt to register their publication’s name as a trademark. An ominous lawyer’s letter has arrived, complaining that they are trampling on the rights of another publication with a similar name, a national newspaper called The Guardian, and hinting at unpleasant consequences unless they back off.

This roused the curiousity of the UK Press Gazette, who counted at least 50 other publications with similar names, such as the Farmers Guardian and the Crewe Guardian, none of which appear to see the arrival of an online martial arts magazine as a threat to their identity.

Nuclear fission

Richard Benyon, who was an environment minister in the Coalition, has written a vitriolic attack on the policies of Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, whose government was the first in the world to abolish the carbon tax. “True Conservative values include ... a belief in protecting the natural world,” Benyon argued in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Meanwhile, in other news, Benyon’s parliamentary colleague, the new Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, has abolished subsidies for wind farms, and has now begun a consultation on whether to cut subsidies for solar panels. She is, however, fiercely defending subsidised nuclear power.