Tag: john rentoul

Why Owen Smith is a Red-Tory

By Daniel Margrain

Last week a prominent independent journalist claimed on Twitter that my assertion Owen Smith was effectively a Tory was “intellectually lazy”. Coincidentally, a few days later on Thursday’s (September 8) edition of BBC’s Question Time during the Labour party leadership debate between challenger Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, a studio audience member and Corbyn supporter accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”.

Smith responded angrily to this suggestion by denying this was the case and asserted that the claim amounted to a term of abuse. Smith’s view was supported the next day (September 9) on Twitter by Smith supporter, John McTernan who said that such a suggestion was “ludicrous”. Of course, nobody is claiming that Smith, in the literal sense, is a Tory, but his voting record in the House of Commons and his commercial activities outside it, would indicate that he might as well be.

So let’s take a look at his record. Since at least July, the public relations professional, Smith, has pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn. This implies that Smith is first and foremost concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position.

The ‘soft-left’ Smith had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them. This is one of the significant passages from a section of the study that Smith was keen to promote:

“The focus groups… explored areas of choice that do not yet exist in the UK – most specifically the use of direct payments and the ability to choose to go directly to a specialist without first having to see the GP.”

In other words, Smith favours direct payments from the public to doctors as a replacement for current NHS services. This policy strategy is consistent with the 1988 Tory ‘self-funding’ privatization blueprint for the NHS drawn up by Oliver Letwin and John Redwood. In the document ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS’, Letwin and Redwood suggest that the aim of charging is to “replace comprehensive universal tax funding for the NHS.”

Smith’s conflation of greater choice with an ability to pay, represents one more stage in the execution of Letwin and Redwood’s plans. The implementation of these plans were accelerated by Blair and Brown as documented by Leys and Player in their book The Plot Against the NHS. Smith intends to continue where Brown and Blair – then Lansley and now Hunt – left off as part of the final stages of the wholesale Letwin-Redwood privatization blueprint of which the 2012 Health & Social Care Act  is a major component part.

Since the 2015 general election, the Tory government have explicitly admitted that the NHS should be modelled on US-style “accountable or integrated healthcare” which is where Smith’s connections to Pfizer come in. In addition to his Policy and Government Relations role for the giant US corporation, Smith was also directly involved in Pfizer’s funding of Blairite right-wing entryist group Progress. Pfizer gave Progress £52,287 while the latter has actively pursued the agenda of PFI and the privatisation of NHS services.

So while Smith’s image is largely predicated on his attempt to convince the Labour membership that in policy terms he publicly supports Corbyn’s position that the NHS should remain a universally free at the point of delivery service, in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies that have continued under the Tories as well as assiduously courting the arms industry of which his support of Trident is a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July last year by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In an Orwellian rejection of socialist values, Blairite Iraq war apologist and establishment gatekeeper, John Rentoul, affirmed his support for the policies of Owen Smith on Twitter:

As the graphic above shows, and as Craig Murray correctly posits:

“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”

The graphic below highlights the hypocrisy of Smith and, by extension, his total contempt for ordinary Labour party members.

 

 

Smith’s acquiescence to corporate power is indicative of a wider democratic deficit within the liberal democracies of the West in an era of globalization more generally. But his close relationship to the PLP and the Tory-Labour establishment consensus that they represent, reflects a relatively recent historical pattern in which governments of both the left and the right have prioritized the interests associated with private capital over and above that of labour.

Thus the first serious attacks on the welfare state in Britain came not in 2008, or even with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but several years previously, with that of a Labour government in 1974. Contrary to popular belief, dismantling the welfare state was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that Thatcher and her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the neoliberal ideas of the Chicago School.

These ideas were subsequently picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair following his election victory in 1997. It was during this point that the introduction of competition into public services, ideas about the state as purchaser of public services and the outsourcing and privatization of health and social care services, became the norm.

The privatization of the NHS, made possible by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, arguably poses the most immediate threat to the welfare state in the UK in its totality in which the outsourcing of services becomes the default position. The functioning of a welfare state that increasingly serves the minority interests of capital at the expense of fulfilling the needs of the majority of the population, is a process driven by a neoliberal-driven ideological consensus rather than any pragmatic attempts at ameliorating deficits and the encouragement of socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

It’s the continued satisfying of minority elite interests rather than the wider public good that Owen Smith and the establishment – of which he is a part – are embedded. That’s fundamentally the reason why there is nothing that separates Owen Smith from the neoliberalism of Blair, Brown, Miliband, Major, Thatcher and May.

Whether one agrees with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics or not, he at least offers a genuine alternative to the consensus view that Smith represents. Even the right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, recognizes that the emergence of Corbyn is important to the adversarial nature of political discourse and, by extension, to democracy itself. If the UK was a healthy democracy instead of an effective corporate-political-media oligarchy, this development would be welcomed. Instead, Corbyn is demonized and smeared at almost every opportunity.

 

Black Friday & the Red Scare

By Daniel Margrain

The decision last Friday (August 12) by three Appeal Court judges to overturn High Court judge Hickinbottom’s determination four days earlier, ostensibly to prevent the right of 130,000 members to vote in the forthcoming Labour leadership election, is arguably among the most strangest of decisions to have been made in an English court. The five Labour members – Christine Evangelou, Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and an unnamed minor – who initially brought the case and whose legal fees were crowdfunded, had claimed that Labour’s rulebook made no provision for treating them differently and none had ever been made in any of the party’s previous leadership elections.

They also argued that when they joined, the Labour website and other communications said they would be ‘a key part of the team’, and thus eligible to vote in any leadership election as the graphic below illustrates:

Mr Justice Hickinbottom agreed. In last Monday’s initial written judgment on the six-month cut-off point, Hickinbottom said:

“At the time each of the claimants joined the party, it was the common understanding as reflected in the rule book that, if they joined the party prior to the election process commencing, as new members they would be entitled to vote in any leadership contest. That was the basis upon which each claimant joined the party; and the basis upon which they entered into the contract between members. For those reasons, the claimants’ claim succeeds.”

Hickinbottom said that a refusal to allow the 130,000 a vote was an unlawful breach of contract, adding that any attempt to reverse the decision “would have no chance of success at appeal”. And yet four days later after Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol had used Labour members’ money to fund the appeal to challenge the right of members to vote, the anti-Corbyn plotters were celebrating the reinstatement of a six-month cut-off point.

The bizarre nature of the judgement that is widely acknowledged to disadvantage Corbyn and to vindicate McNicol – at least temporarily – effectively endorses ballot rigging and gerrymandering as well as setting a precedent in terms of allowing the retrospective altering of contracts. Announcing the appeal court’s decision last Friday, Lord Justice Beatson said:

“On the correct interpretation of the party rules, the national executive committee has the power to set the criteria for members to be eligible to vote in the leadership election in the way that it did.”

This announcement came on the back of revelations by Wikileaks that the second of the three Appeal Court judges, Sir Philip Sales QC, who overruled the previous High Court decision, had been a Blair insider for years, having been recruited as Junior Counsel to the Crown in 1997.

The literature cited by WikiLeaks  reveals that Sales used to be a practising barrister at law chambers 11KBW, of which Tony Blair was a founder member and, as a key part of Blair’s legal team, he defended the Government’s decision against holding a public inquiry into the Iraq War in the High Court in 2005.

The conflict of interest issue that is raised by Sales’ close connection to Blair is bound to raise eyebrows given the nature of what clearly amounted to a breach of contract which was nevertheless overruled in favour of the NEC of which the Blairite establishment is embedded.

It has since come to light that the Labour machine broke the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) code after having advertised that a promise to vote for a leader was a condition of membership. There are also serious questions to be answered in terms of the basis in which the appeal which was instigated by the ‘NEC Procedures Committee’ was brought. But, as Eoin has highlighted, no such Committee is mentioned on the official list of NEC Committees.

The wider context to all these shenanigans stems from the moment Corbyn was elected leader of the party. From the outset, the intention of the Labour Party establishment has been to depose Corbyn through a sustained strategy of subversion and attrition. The latest wave of attacks began following the failed attempt – instigated by multi-millionaire donor, Michael Foster – to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper.

This was followed by ballot rigging in which 130,000 members who joined the party after Corbyn’s election victory were prevented from voting. The Labour machine did this by invoking a back-dated retrospective six month rule. Members were then informed that there was a legal problem with that because these members were told when they joined they had a right to vote in leadership elections.

In order to get around this, the machine introduced a 48 hour window in which anybody at all could join if they paid £25. Then they discovered that an enormous amount of people had paid the £25 and so began to ‘weed out’ anybody who they discovered had used the word ‘Blairite’ on social media sites. This was regarded as sufficient enough reason to debar members from voting.

Finally, the 130,000 members got justice in the High Court last Monday only to be confounded four days later. The attempt by Labour members of parliament to overthrow their democratically elected leader using this kind of war of attrition strategy will start all over again the day after Corbyn is re-elected next month.

We know this because Blair apologist John Rentoul – who is himself heavily implicated in the propaganda offensive against Corbyn – conceded as much on George Galloway’s Talk Radio Show last Friday evening when he insisted that Corbyn will continue to be subjected to a war of attrition including yearly elections that “will result in his eventual defeat.”

Rentoul tripped up on his own propaganda after admitting to Galloway that there are no more than 4,000 Trotskyite entryists out of a total of 600,000 members who have joined the party under Corbyn. He then contradicted himself by claiming that the small minority of ‘dormant’ Trotskyist members had ‘flooded back’ into the party having “taken advantage of naive and idealistic new members.” This is classic ‘reds under the bed’ scare politics.

The notion that hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised, social media savvy members are having their arms twisted by a relatively tiny handful of ‘shady individuals’ influenced by a revolutionary political figure who died more than a century ago, is clearly ludicrous.

Nevertheless, this is all part and parcel of a far reaching ‘scorched earth’ media propaganda offensive against Corbyn and his supporters, the latest and arguably the most repugnant of which was the recent Mail on-line edition in which anti-Corbyn Labour donor, Michael Foster, was quoted as describing Corbyn’s team as ‘Nazi Stormtroopers’. Clearly the irony is lost on Foster that during the 1930s, the Daily Mail supported Hitler and campaigned against the admission of Jewish refugees into the UK.

The establishments demonization of the left is not new. It fits into a wider media narrative that depicts all those who oppose the neoliberal hegemony of the state as subversive, dangerous and an inherent threat to civilization  As Craig Murray argues:

“A key weapon of the neo-liberal establishment in delegitimising the emergence of popular organisation to the left, is to portray all thinkers outside the Overton window as dangerous; actively violent, misogynist and racist.”

Murray illustrates, by recourse to various evidence-based case studies, “the obvious and glaring disparity” between what the media purports are the kinds of violent actions activists supposedly engage in, and the actual peaceful protests they collectively involve themselves in.

George Galloway emphasized that the kind of biased anti-Corbyn propaganda, which he claims is an integral part of a coup that has been coordinated by Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandleson is:

“unremitting, it is Goebbelian; it is a shame and a disgrace on anyone who calls themselves a journalist or a broadcaster. All rules have been thrown to the wind; all journalistic norms have been abandoned. It is open season on a good and honest man. It fills me with disgust.”

The abandonment of journalistic rules outlined by Galloway is not restricted to what is considered by many to be the tabloid end of the spectrum. On the contrary, it often includes the ‘respectable’ and ‘liberal’ journalism of which Channel 4 News, for example, is part. The analysis of the Cathy Newman interview below is an excellent dissection and exposition of the propaganda system as it operates as part of the latter:

Whether, the media will wear Corbyn down leading to his eventual removal as Rentoul suggests, or whether the former wins the war is an open question. The fact that Corbyn has recently secured a majority of his supporters on the NEC is a massive boost to his leadership and would seem to indicate that Corbyn’s arch enemy, Iain McNicol’s days are numbered. Nevertheless, it’s clear to me that the time has now come for Corbyn to come down much harder than he has done thus far on the traitors who are unremitting in their determination to undermine his authority.

 

 

Breaking the Depleted Uranium Ceiling

It is an astonishing fact that, despite near universal recognition now that the war in Iraq was a disaster, no major British social institution is headed by a single one of the majority of the population who were opposed to the war.

Every Cabinet Minister actively supported the war. Of the fifteen Tory MPs who rebelled and voted against the war, not one is a minister. Civil servants officially have no politics but privately their opinions are known. There is not one single Permanent Under Secretary of a UK government department who was known to be against the war and most were enthusiasts. Simon Fraser, PUS at the FCO, was an active Blairite enthusiast for the war. Though no Blairite, the Head of MI6 Alex Younger was also an enthusiast.

The BBC was of course gutted following its revealing of the truth about Iraqi WMD, and the subsequent murder of David Kelly. Following the ousting of Greg Dyke, both Governors and Directors-Generals have been known supporters of the war. Of the 107 bureaucrats in the BBC who earn over 100,000 pounds pa, insiders estimate that only five were opponents of the war. Craig Oliver – who has now left the BBC for Cameron’s media operation – and James Purnell are absolutely typical of the BBC Iraqocracy.

Every current editor of a UK national newspaper supported the Iraq war. At the time of the war there was one editor opposed – Piers Morgan – who subsequently became a derided and marginalised figure. Not only are the editors firmly from the neo-con alliance, but the high profile commentators who cheered on the war – David Aaronovich, Nick Cohen, Melanie Phillips, John Rentoul, Rod Liddle etc. – have all seen their careers flourish. None has suffered from their appalling lack of judgement. There is no similar raft of commentators who were against the war who enjoy such constant media promotion and massive salaries. Many, like Peter Oborne, have suffered unexpected career glitches. There is no head of a major TV channel in the UK who was against the war in Iraq.

The theme runs through all the public professions. Of the hundreds of academics who took firm positions against the Iraq War, I cannot find a single example who went on to become a University Vice-Chancellor or Principal. By contrast actual war criminals Richard Dearlove and Valerie Amos were parachuted into academic leadership posts. The Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces were all true believers, compared to the massive scepticism that existed among senior officers.

The Iraq test even extends into the heads of institutions apparently quite unrelated, such as City of London banks and insurance companies. There are a tiny number of heads of FTSE 100 companies who were against the war.

It is not that there is an Iraq test. It is that Iraq is the touchstone for adherence to the neo-liberal consensus. All these professionally successful people share a number of attitudes, of which support for the Iraq War is a good indicator. There is a very strong correlation between support for the Iraq War and fierce Zionism. But there is also a strong correlation between support for the Iraq War and support for austerity economics. The strongest correlation of all lies in support for the Iraq War and for “business-friendly” tolerance of corporatism, TTIP, multinational tax avoidance, low taxation and marketization of public services including in education and health.

To return to where I started, the quite extraordinary thing is that there is a near-universal recognition in wider society that the Iraq War was both completely unjustified and a dreadful strategic blunder. Yet its support is a major pre-condition for membership of the governing elite.

The answer of course lies in its value as an indicator for a broad range of neo-liberal consensus attitudes. That is why, both the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn provide such a threat to the Establishment, through denying those attitudes. The fascinating thing is that the SNP and the Labour Party could be the only public institutions in the UK of any note with an anti-Iraq War leadership. The significance is that, in slightly different ways, both the prominence of the SNP and of Jeremy Corbyn are the result of a public revolt which the Establishment has been trying, absolutely desperately, to cut off.

Ed Miliband did not actually vote against the Iraq War, contrary to popular myth. Having both the Labour and SNP parties led by people who reject the raft of values symbolised by the Iraq test, who have broken through the depleted uranium ceiling, is a massive, massive threat to the meritlessocracy. Institutional control appeared to be complete and impermeable. Suddenly they face the danger of the opinions of ordinary people carrying weight. Expect the media control mechanisms to whir into still greater overdrive.

The above article was written by the former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, originally posted on his blog on August 1, 2015.

Tweet this post