Long stories short
- Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi died aged 86.
- The EU offered Tunisia a €1 billion aid package in a bid to reduce migration.
- Novak Djokovic became the first man to win 23 tennis Grand Slams, equalling Serena Williams.
Trump, Johnson, Sturgeon… Putin?
Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and questioned yesterday by Scottish police investigating the alleged misuse of £600,000 of Scottish National Party funds.
So what? She’s the third former national leader in the English-speaking world in as many days to be brought low by the law rather than voters or political opponents. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson were criminally indicted and left with little choice but to quit, respectively, on Friday.
There’s a jaded response to this confluence of misfortunes which says they were all foreseeable and baked into the political pudding. Historians may take a different view.
Sturgeon was home by tea-time without being charged. But her Sunday in custody was still a body blow for Scottish independence.
- The last two SNP leaders have both now been arrested after leaving office.
- Their party’s vote share has slid by 10 points in six months in one set of opinion polls.
- Its current leader, Humza Yousaf, is Sturgeon’s anointed successor but is now under intense pressure to suspend her.
It’s a calamitous spectacle that will boost Labour’s hopes of gaining at least 20 seats from the SNP next year. If so, the weekend of 11 June could make the difference between a hung parliament and an outright Labour majority at the next general election.
Johnson’s decision to resign as an MP was announced in a furious 1,000-word denunciation of a “hit-job” by the committee that has been investigating whether he lied to parliament over lockdown parties. They decided he did. But his actions may speak louder. His resignation triggers one by-election and those of two allies denied peerages in his resignation honours list will trigger two more that will help answer urgent questions such as:
- How big and solid is Labour’s poll lead over the Tories?
- How lame is the duck called Rishi Sunak?
- What scope is there for yet another rebellion from the right wing of his party?
At the Kite festival co-hosted by Tortoise at the weekend, Michael Gove, who wrecked Johnson’s chances of leading the party after the 2016 referendum, said his departure left him with “a profound sense of sadness”. But John Major, the former PM, said Johnson had ransacked parliamentary convention and proved his own worst enemy. And Chris Patten, the former party chairman, called Johnson a “moral vacuum”, to sustained applause.
Trump’s indictment on 37 counts under the Espionage Act for taking classified papers to Florida can’t stop him running for president again and it’s already helping him raise funds. But the “witch hunt” argument that plays so well with his base won’t play elsewhere:
- Bill Barr, Trump’s own attorney general while in office, took to Fox News at the weekend to explain why his ex-boss has no chance arguing that the secret documents were his to declassify, because they weren’t. They were the governments.
- The affidavit used to justify the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago last year made clear despite redactions that officials feared Trump could, intentionally or not, reveal the identities of “clandestine human sources”, aka US spies.
- The best-known person convicted under the Espionage Act while Trump was president, Reality Winner, received a 63-month sentence for much less. She sent a single classified document to a news website.
What to make of these legal takedowns? The victims see abuse of process for score-settling. Optimists see the rule of law working as intended within systems of checks and balances. Historians may see the endpoint of the great populist upsurge of 2016-23.
And Putin? He’s under no threat at all from any system of his own making, but there’s a warrant out for his arrest the moment he steps outside his country because of his indictment for war crimes by the ICC. And – per the Atlantic Council – of 18 heads of state or heads of major military forces pursued by international justice in the modern era, 15 have faced some kind of tribunal. Only one is still at large. None has died a free man in his bed.
The law lives.
Also, in the nibs
Photograph Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images
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