Andy McSmith's Diary: Magnitsky's law will be the legacy he deserved

Our man in Westminster

Next week will mark a grim anniversary, four years to the day since a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died of ill treatment in prison because he refused to end his lone campaign to expose corrupt officials who had embezzled more than £140 million from Russian taxpayers.

Unfortunately for his persecutors, Magnitsky wrote everything down, including names. An act passed by the US Congress empowers the American government to refuse visas and freeze assets of the people on his list, but nothing prevents them coming to London, where one even tried to bring a libel case that was thrown out of court.

Today, there was a ceremony in the Commons to launch a book by a young Paris based Russian journalist, Elena Servettaz, who has collected essays from more than 50 people, including 19 from Russia or Belarus, who want more governments to pass a Magnitsky Law, something neither the UK nor the EU is keen to do.

Magnitsky's widow, Natalya Zharikova, was there. She told me: “This book shows how many people cared about Sergei.” So was William Browder, the London based investment fund manager who hired Magnitsky to represent his firm and so feels a personal responsibility for what became of him - and who is, by the way, the grandson of Earl Browder, war time head of the American Communist Party.

The Tory MP Dominic Raab is pushing for a British Magnitsky Law. “I don't want the henchmen of despots and dictators waltzing into this country spending their money or sending their kids to school here. That offends me,” he said.

William Hague has said that the Magnitsky scandal is of “utmost concern” to the UK, and Cathy Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, is also “concerned” - to which Servettaz retorted “to express one's concern is a far cry from promising that those guilty would have to pay a price.”

But as she also remarked: “The people responsible for Sergei Magnitsky's death were hoping this story would turn out like George Orwell's 1984, when enemies of the party were turned to dust.” At least that has not happened.

Ukip divides and conquers... itself

A factor which may impede the seemingly irresistible rise of UKIP is the unfailing tendency of fringe parties to fall apart at the first whiff of success. While UKIP's most highly publicised internal row centred on its eccentric MEP, Godfrey Bloom, their self-inflicted troubles in Lincolnshire are a more blatant opportunity thrown away.

They did so well in the local elections in May that they emerged as Lincolnshire's official opposition with 18 county councillors. The numbers were so good that they could reasonably dream of taking Boston and Skegness off the Tories at the general election. Then the local UKIP leader, Chris Pain, had the mother of all fallings out with the party chairman, Steve Crowther, and was expelled from UKIP. Five of his fellow councillors thought this was harsh, and joined him in forming a separate group on the council.

Though Councillor Pain insists that it was a “working group” not a separate party, UKIP's national leaders did not agree. Today, those five were expelled from UKIP. That makes two competing UKIP groups on the council, neither big enough to be the official opposition, and Boston and Skegness is looking safe for Mark Simmonds, the incumbent Tory.

To Hunt for an answer on migrants

Tristram Hunt, the new rising star of Labour's shadow cabinet, keeps interesting company. He is listed on the website of Balanced Migration, a predominantly Tory offshoot of the pressure group Migrationwatch that has the backing of a half dozen other Labour MPs.

That connection has prompted a rival group, Migration Matters, which takes a more sanguine view of immigration, to pose some questions for Mr Hunt. For example, Migrationwatch was quoted in the Daily Express as saying that “the impact of having four million net migrants enter the country under Labour is now coming home to roost. The schools in Birmingham are a perfect example.”

Does the newly promoted Shadow Secretary of State for Education agree, Atuk Hatwal, director of Migration Matters, wondered. It will be interesting to find out.

Stringfellow elects to advise Cameron

In case David Cameron is not getting all the advice he needs on how to win the next election from his £500,000 Australian strategist Lyndon Crosby, 73 year old Peter Stringfellow has offered some extra words of wisdom, in an  interview with the London Loves Business website: “To win the next election, David Cameron should help Boris get a safe seat and make him deputy PM. He should then do a deal with Nigel Farage, bring him into the cabinet and give him one or two areas for UKIP MPs.”

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