Before the last British general election, I expressed the hope that under David Cameron’s leadership, the Conservatives might become a centrist counterpart to New Labour. In retrospect, this was very naive, and the left-wing Cassandras were right: whereas Cameron’s coalition government has followed a generally progressive, Blairite foreign policy, its domestic policy has been aggressively Thatcherite; arguably more so than was Thatcher’s own. The dynamic at work within the Conservative Party appears to be the opposite to that within the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair in the 1980s and 1990s: instead of a moderate leader reining in the radicals, the radicals are pushing the leader away from the centre ground. In the words of the Daily Telegraph‘s Peter Oborne, the Conservative Party is ‘out of control’. Cameron appears to have wanted to temper his government’s economic Thatcherism with some socially and constitutionally liberal policies such as legalising gay marriage and House of Lords reform, but this is not being permitted him by his party; a party that did not even win the last election, but behaves as if it has a mandate to reshape the country according to its own image.
Indeed, what is striking about this contemporary Conservative Party is not merely its actual politics, but the arrogance and sense of entitlement that its politicians and supporters exhibit. My own experience in working with a Tory-dominated organisation, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), which I left at the start of this year, has confirmed me in this view. The HJS is a registered charity that describes itself as a ‘think-tank’, and is perhaps the loudest voice in Britain in favour of war with Iran, if necessary to prevent the country acquiring nuclear weapons. But over and above this, it acts as a network for members of the British elite, particularly Tories, in which – to put it tactfully – boundaries become somewhat blurred.
Aspiring Conservative Party politician Alan Mendoza is a director of at least six registered companies, including the Henry Jackson Society. He received £75,000 in remuneration in 2011 for his work as Executive Director of the HJS; it was an increase of 63.64% on the £45,833 he received for the job in 2010. Mendoza is not only the HJS’s Executive Director, but also one of its trustees, therefore a member of the body that determines his own remuneration. Meetings of the HJS’s board of trustees are quorate with only three of the eight members present, and Mendoza is the only trustee whose signature appears on the trustees’ report and accounts for 2011. The HJS is currently advertising for a personal assistant for Mendoza, with a salary of up to £30,000.
Mendoza is not the only HJS trustee to enjoy also a staff position in the organisation. Lady Caroline Dalmeny was appointed to the board of trustees in July 2010. She was formerly of Saatchi and Saatchi and the Conservative Central Office, and was political assistant for Michael Portillo when he was Secretary of State for Defence and for Lord Strathclyde, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. According to Tatler, ‘Auctioneer Lord Dalmeny’s wife hosts fabulous shooting weekends at their Scottish estate, Dalmeny House. She also once played a cameo part in a film, Scooterman, alongside Ed Stoppard, and has written about the joys of having a “manny” – she’s a mother of five children under 10, including triplets. Makes cracking roast beef.’
During 2011, Dalmeny’s husband, Lord Harry Dalmeny, UK deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, donated interest-free loans totalling £250,000 to the Henry Jackson Society. In 2012, Lady Dalmeny was appointed Associate Director of the HJS, therefore Mendoza’s immediate office subordinate. She has a BA (Hons) from UCL, and is in the process of completing a postgraduate degree at King’s College London. The HJS website describes her as ‘an expert in defence, military history and international relations, an activist for the rights of women in failed states [who] is currently focusing on Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Africa and US-UK relations.’ Her work has not yet appeared on the HJS website.
The HJS is a registered charity, and according to the Charity Commission’s guidelines, ‘a charity cannot exist for a political purpose, which is any purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in this country or abroad.’ Nevertheless, when Mendoza was asked in July 2008 by the organisation ConservativeHome ‘to offer 100 word thoughts on how the Conservatives might make some ground on foreign policy’, he responded in his capacity as Executive Director of the HJS, asserting that with ‘Labour heading down the route of international irrelevance, Conservatives should have the courage to explore where to stand on’ various issues.
It is a moot point whether the Charity Commission will ensure that the HJS will abide by its guidelines. The Charity Commission’s new chair, William Shawcross, told the Civilsociety.co.uk website this month: ‘Most of the 160,000 registered charities don’t require regulation – they’re small and they get on with their work properly and independently and it’s only a few that do require to be looked at.’ Shawcross is politically somewhat to the right of Lord Voldemort, and on 19 October 2011 was appointed a member of the board of directors of none other than the Henry Jackson Society.
Shawcross agitated for a Conservative victory in the last general election, on the grounds that ‘New Labour has forced Britain to become a mere piece of the bland but increasingly oppressive Bambiland of the E.U., promoting such PC global issues as gay rights (except in Muslim lands) and man-made climate change’, and ‘Those who hate the rise of the British National Party should blame Labour, not the poor white voters whom Labour abandoned and whose lives have been changed forever by uncontrolled immigration. Last week, two London taxi drivers told me that they were going to vote BNP because it’s the only party that cares at all about them.’ Shawcross has described Guantanamo Bay as representing ‘model justice’ and as being ‘probably the best-run detention centre in the world and with more habeas corpus rights for detainees than anywhere else’, and has claimed that ‘Rupert Murdoch has been the bravest and most radical media owner in Britain in the last 40 years’, whose ‘real crime is to have challenged liberal conventions in the US and here.’
It was announced on 29 August 2012 that Shawcross was the government’s preferred candidate to head the Charity Commission, and he was elected to the role at a meeting of the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons on 5 September. At the meeting, his membership of the HJS featured prominently in the discussion. One of the participants, Labour MP Paul Flynn, had this to say: ‘A pre-appointment hearing to decide whether William Shawcross is sufficiently politically independent to do the job as head of the Charity Commission. Three of us thought he was not. Four Tories thought he was.’ The chair of the Public Administration Select Committee was Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, himself a member of the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society, for which he has contributed analysis. Another Conservative member of the committee that elected Shawcross was Robert Halfon MP, who declared ‘that I was a founding patron of the Henry Jackson Society when it was first set up and I am fairly involved with the organisation.’ Halfon is also a member of the HJS’s Political Council. In the view of Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, Shawcross’s appointment was a ‘declaration of intent’ on the part of the government to deal with ‘Labour’s new fifth columnists’ in the ranks of the charities.
Flynn said during the meeting that ‘The Henry Jackson Society is a promoter of a particular view in this House, which is representing rightwing American opinion.’ Shawcross promised that, were he elected chair of the Charity Commission, ‘Obviously I would wish to resign all my memberships of the Henry Jackson Society and other charities with which I am involved.’ Since his election, the old HJS charity has been formally dissolved and a new HJS charity has been registered, of which Shawcross is no longer listed as a trustee. However, he was until recently still listed on various corporate databases as a member of the board of directors of the Henry Jackson Society registered company, whose membership is otherwise identical to the board of trustees of the registered charity.
Shawcross’s biography on the Charity Commission’s website makes no mention of his past involvement with the HJS. However, the website still lists him as the sole trustee of the charity ‘Response’, as does his personal website. Shawcross has a somewhat uneven record as regards respecting Charity Commission guidelines; he chaired Response for 23 years, but as the website Civilsociety.co.uk revealed this month, he ‘did not bother to file its annual update within the recommended good-practice deadline for four out of the last five years… the charity, Response, only filed its updates for 2011 and 2012 five days before Shawcross was announced as preferred candidate for the job [of Charity Commission chair], and the updates for 2010 and 2009 were submitted in June and May of this year.’
Still, no doubt all the rules are being obeyed to the letter.
Update: Since this article was published, Shawcross’s resignation from the board of directors of the HJS has been published as having occurred on 30 September 2012. This article has been modified accordingly.
Below: Alan Mendoza turns on the charm in a debate over Iran at the Cambridge Union Society.
Readers will, I hope, forgive the name-dropping, but it isn’t every day that a childhood friend is one step away from becoming Labour leader, and two steps from becoming our next prime minister. I haven’t seen Ed or David Miliband for over twenty years, but at the age of around eleven and twelve, I used to meet up regularly with Ed to, ahem, exchange ZX Spectrum games, and I still remember the note of despair in his voice, when one of our laborious attempts to ‘back up’ a game proved unsuccessful. I saw less of David, who was older, but the last time we met made a vivid impression on me, when he was a rising star in Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party of the late 1980s. Kinnock was then desperately trying to modernise the Labour Party, thereby earning the hatred of left-wing hardliners, who viewed him as a traitor to socialism (‘Kneel’). I was one such Kinnock-hating hardliner; a teenage member of the Labour Party Young Socialists, which was dominanted by the Trotskyist ‘Militant’ tendency, with which I was then in sympathy. David turned up at a party, dressed immaculately in suit and tie, looking more like a business executive than the activist of a left-wing party, and I thought to myself, ‘He really has sold out’. I told him that I was feeling very disillusioned with the turn the Labour Party was taking. He knew exactly what I meant, but didn’t want to argue with me; ‘Faith !’, he urged me.
Of course, it was the people like David who turned out to be the revolutionary pioneers, and the people who stuck to the politics that I then adhered to who were the reactionaries. The Milibands’ parents Ralph and Marion, and my own parents, belonged to a broadly Marxist and ‘New Left’ intellectual and social circle, some of whose members were close to the journal New Left Review (NLR) and the publishing house Verso, or were members of the International Marxist Group, the British wing of the ‘Fourth International’ originally founded by Leon Trotsky. Other members of this circle included Tariq Ali, Susan Watkins, Robin Blackburn, Perry Anderson, the late Peter Gowan and others. Some of these people have evolved politically over the past quarter of a century, while others have not, but to the best of my knowledge, not one of their children – children like me, David and Ed – has remained true to that vision of politcs as it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
This is not surprising when you consider the respective achievements of those who did remain true to that vision of politics, and those who ‘sold out’ and moved toward the centre or moderate left. The New Labour revolution, of which David and Ed were pioneers, brought the UK the minimum wage; freedom of information; gay civil partnerships; peace in Northern Ireland; devolution in Scotland, Wales and London; a more multiethnic population through mass immigration; and in foreign affairs, humanitarian interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, at least three of which have been successful. By contrast, the only ‘achievement’ in the same period of the members of the New Left circle who remained hardline anti-capitalists and ‘anti-imperialists’ has been to contribute to the anti-war demonstrations over Iraq in the first half of the 2000s that, although large, dissipated after failing to prevent or halt the war, leaving nothing behind.
Shortly after the Kosovo war of 1999, I spoke with Tariq Ali and his partner Susan Watkins, the editor of NLR, who bemoaned David Miliband’s role in supporting the British intervention in Kosovo: ‘What would his father say ?’ Ali, Watkins and Perry Anderson – NLR‘s intellectual guru - have by contrast remained faithful to the politics of anti-capitalism and ‘anti-imperialism’, which has meant the publication by NLR and Verso of books and articles sympathetic to the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il. According to a Guardian editorial earlier this year celebrating NLR‘s fiftieth birthday, probably written by Seumas Milne, ‘Left-wing in an age in which prospects for the left are so bleak, serious in a celebrity culture and thoughtful in a time of instant opinions, the NLR remains a necessary publication.’ Necessary, perhaps, for ageing lefties of Milne’s type, who have an emotional need to convince themselves that the dead-end politics of yesteryear are still somehow ‘radical’. For what young person today honestly believes that Castro’s Cuban dictatorship is a harbinger of a better world, as opposed to a clapped-out anachronism ?
What is most offensive about this brand of politics isn’t even its moral bankruptcy. It is the peculiar combination of intellectual bankruptcy and unwarranted arrogance. Ali, Anderson and co. simply haven’t had any original political ideas since the 1980s at best; they stopped evolving over two decades ago, yet still feel they represent the cutting-edge, radical alternative to the neo-liberal order. They are like old-age pensioners sitting on the park bench, muttering to one another about how the whole world has gone to pot, and how things were much better in the old days, and periodically shouting at teenagers that they didn’t fight in the War so that young people could go around dressed like that. Or like ageing baby-boomers who are still awestruck by how technologically advanced are their calculator digital-watches and portable cassette-players, with which they listen to the music of dangerous, anti-establishment bands like Wham and Duran Duran. The NLR is the political equivalent equivalent of a calculator watch; it is ‘new’ in the same way that the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is ‘democratic’.
The Miliband brothers were born of Marxist parents at a time when radical left-wing politics still had some rationale; they took what was best in their parents’ politics and moved forward. Others have been left behind.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left