Carole Cadwalladr should now return her Orwell Prize

27 November 2020

6:10 AM

27 November 2020

6:10 AM

A small but significant event has just occurred. This morning the legal case between Arron Banks and the journalist Carole Cadwalladr was due to start. The case came about because of Cadwalladr’s claim that Arron Banks – who was a founder of the Leave.EU campaign (the non-official Leave campaign) – was offered money by the Russians. Cadwalladr has been going around for years making these and other unfounded accusations in every forum and on every platform she can manage. It is not as though her campaign has been obscure. The Observer newspaper has supported her, and as her entirely unsubstantiated claims grew, she was shamefully awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism.

Although she claimed to see Russian agents everywhere it was finally Banks who decided to sue Cadwalladr. She crowdfunded – posing as the underdog truth-teller against the big rich Russian agent – and then last night (having rinsed her supporters for cash till the last minute) she pulled out of the hearing. As Guido reports here she conceded that she had no evidence and could not go ahead with the case. She is now reportedly forced to pay a first down-payment of £62,000 in costs, with more to come.

Perhaps it is necessary to say at this point that I have never met either Banks or Cadwalladr and have no special love for either of them. But what has just happened is something that should cause a certain ripple of consequences.

Firstly, it should be noted that the campaign of defamation which Cadwalladr has engaged in over recent years has been poisonous. I have read many of her unsourced, unsubstantiated claims with amazement that they were ever published. For years she has pumped these claims about Russian agents and Russian money throughout our body politic. In the process she has not only attacked individuals, but every member of the British public who voted for Brexit in 2016.

Cadwalladr and her financial backers have for years pretended that the British public were misled into voting for Brexit. Instead of listening to the genuine concerns of their fellow citizens they engaged in a smear-campaign against us. They pretended there were not serious reasons to vote the way we did, but only vacuous, stupid people, led down the wrong road by agents of a foreign power. It was an outrageous claim, outrageously encouraged and tolerated by Cadwalladr’s colleagues and peers because she seemed to be confirming their own bigotries and prejudices.

She and her friends pumped poisonous toxins into post-2016 Britain, from a position of considerable privilege and with some serious financial backing of their own. Now, when Cadwalladr has to stand up just one of her claims in court it turns out – as some of us guessed all along – that she cannot. She never had the evidence to justify her attacks on Banks or the British public.

A decade ago Cadwalladr’s predecessor Johann Hari was forced to hand back the Orwell Prize for journalism after being found to be dishonest in his reporting. Perhaps this year Cadwalladr could do the decent thing and voluntarily hand back her award as well. Her behaviour has in fact been far more damaging to this country and the journalistic trade than Hari’s ever was. It is one thing if a newspaper wants to continue to publish the unsubstantiated claims of a conspiracy theorist. It is quite another that a distinguished award for journalism should continue to encourage such behaviour.

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