He’s baaaaaaack. Looking hale and hearty from his country estate regime, WikiLeaks star-fleet commander Julian Assange yesterday appeared at London’s Frontline Club to announce 2011 release 1.0 — a record of thousands of secret Swiss bank account details of tax cheats and other nefarious accounts, which may or may not have been leaked to him by Rudolf Elmer, a former Swiss bank worker due to be prosecuted for the release of bank secrets. “May not have” because as Assange said, WikiLeaks doesn’t reveal its sources. “May have” because Elmer was standing beside him at the time; they spent a couple of minutes arranging how to hold up the info CDs for the photo opp, and finally because Elmer said he’d given Assange the info.

How soon WikiLeaks can release the information remains to be seen. It is still releasing the Cablegate archive at a painfully slow pace, and increasingly playing footsie with several major media players around release of the material. The site’s old archive is still available, but only in a raw state, and the organisation appears to be still in an ad-hoc mode. Still, you can’t fault Assange’s determination not to play favourites: Switzerland was one of the few places where he might have claimed an asylum of sorts. The release of the documents will put him afoul of Switzerland’s numerous commerce-specific laws.

Meanwhile, in Parliament, Labour is hunkering down for a marathon session. Literally. In the House of Lords, it’s attempting to delay the Tories’ electoral reform bill with a blizzard of amendments. If they can head off the bill, then a referendum timed to coincide with the Scottish elections in May won’t occur. The referendum is principally intended to offer preferential voting (called AV here) to the populace — a compromise substitute for the full proportional system that the Lib-Dems wanted. Labour is iffy at best about that, but it is dead against the other (non-referendum) provisions in the bill, which attempt to reduce the number of Commons seats (from 650 to 550), and change the mode of constituency boundary setting. In the UK, constituency boundaries don’t shift randomly like the Oz situation (“the left side of Pargeter St has now been transferred from Bjelke-Petersen to Stott-Despoja”) but tend to try and conform to old community boundaries, even when shifted (“Little Frotter has been divided to form Felching-Upper and Spankston, along the old parish line of Sodding-Golightly”). Traditional boundaries allow for a greater variation in constituency numbers — indeed they vary by as much as 35% from smallest to largest (excluding a couple of very low population Scottish constituencies). The new bill wants to override this, to hold new constituencies to a 5% maximum variation.

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The old system favours Labour unfairly; the new one benefits the Tories, which is why Labour is fighting the bill — which has obviously passed in the Commons — tooth and nail in the Lords.

The government responded by calling a series of all-night sessions, so that they could get through the 100-plus amendments Labour has tabled, even at the glacial speed with which they’re being dealt. The news has had various bulletins about cots being brought in and dorms set up, rosters being formed, celeb Lords offering entertainment, etc, etc, all of which makes the real purpose of the whole exercise dead clear — it’s simply a desire to recreate some demented mix of boarding school/Colditz all over all again. By day four it’ll be all humbugs and h-ndjobs behind the strangers’ gallery. Day seven, they’ll be digging a tunnel under the woolsack. Day nine, back to h-ndjobs. The bill? What bill? Oh that. The betting is running evens on its passing.

The Irish government has narrowly avoided crisis and an early election, as T-shirt, sorry PM, Brian Cowen survived a vote of no confidence, following a denunciation of him by former friend, foreign minister Micheal Martin, who said that the handling of the IMF intervention was a “watershed moment” — and also that he was “shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here”.

Martin had been widely tipped to replace Cowen after the general election  planned for March — if, as is certain, Fianna Fail gets a drubbing. Martin’s early move stems less from principled opposition to the IMF process, many suspect, than the prospect that FF could come through with sufficient numbers to be part of a coalition government. Martin, leading the party into the election, would have then avoided a fight for the leadership, and be in position to claim that he was leading the “new FF”, voice of moderate reason, etc, etc.

In the end, Fianna Fail deputies backed Cowen in the secret ballot. But, with a bit of luck, the Irish will reject them utterly, vote in a Labor/Sinn Fein/Independents coalition, reject the IMF deal, default and blow a hole in the euro and the EU. By March.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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