The Times, 19 July 2010

Index on Censorship Blog

So, I can't speak for you lot, but I haven't spent the week reading Peter Mandelson's diaries. I haven't compared and contrasted them to Alastair Campbell's recollections of the same events. I haven't felt moved to accuse him of betraying everything the Labour party is trying to do, or has ever done. And I haven't reconsidered my understanding of the last thirteen years in the light of his words. What I have done is skim-read about ten thousand newspaper columns in which the writers do one or more of the above. I've even skimmed over the meta-articles, in which the writer points out that all the jumping up and down and name-calling provoked by Mandy so far merely serves to prove that he was telling the truth all along.

And the reason I haven't read his book, or excerpts or his book, or comments on articles about his book is because, if I am absolutely honest, I don't care. I can't imagine my view of the last ten years or so of government will be remotely influenced by hearing, again, that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown didn't get on very well. I'm just not interested anymore. They're both gone, best of luck to 'em, now can we talk about the something else? Like the fact that my GP is now supposed to be good at all kinds of things beyond doctoring, when I'm not completely sure she's even up to mustard on that. Or the fact that the BBC might lose its licence fee, even though we will then end up with telly that makes Channel 4 look interesting.

Or we could talk about books which have a real impact in the real world, and not just in the op-ed pages and on the Daily Politics (much as I love it). Alan Shadrake, a freelance journo, has been arrested in Singapore, for writing a book about Singaporean Justice. And Singaporearn Justice seems to be as much of a contradiction in terms as Mandelsonian Loyalty (see how I tricked you into thinking that section was over and then called it right back? I am sneaky beyond belief).

And Shadrake is 75 years old, has recently recovered from cancer, and has high blood pressure, so being arrested might not be the same walk in the park for him that it might be for you or me. In spite of his illness, he still found time to write 'Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock'. He has interviewed the country's most prolific (is that the word, in this context?) hangman. And he hasn't snuck away from Singapore like any other person in their right mind would do. He's stayed there to promote the book, and now he's been arrested. Arrested and charged with defamation, for which he could be imprisoned for two years.

You might be wondering who he defamed. The country's most prolific hangman, perhaps? Or a judge? Or a policeman? Wrong every time, sunshine - he's charged with defaming the country's judicial system. How can it be possible to defame a system? Has he hurt the feelings of individual lawyers? All of them? And if so, couldn't they bill someone for an extra hour, cackle softly, and grow the fuck up? I hope Index readers will jump up and down and make noise about this: his lawyer hasn't been allowed to see him yet, and Singapore's justice system doesn't need another victim.