By midweek, the lightbulb had slowly begun to flicker over the heads of the editors of the Guardian and theIndependent as the realisation dawned on them that the relationship between Adam Werritty, a 2:2 graduate in public policy from Edinburgh University, and Dr Liam Fox, a GP-turned-Thatcherite Conservative 16 years his senior, is entirely a smokescreen for a wider issue.
The issue is of course influence: who wields it and who falls under its spell.
The Need for Influence
One of the hallmarks of a liberal democracy – along with free speech, a free press and universal suffrage – is a free and fair political process that is transparent, accountable and functions within a system of checks and balances. The question that remains is how does this idealised democratic utopia fit in with today’s intertwined ‘twitter-verse’, with its status updates and perpetual drip-feed media which overwhelms us with a steady stream of brain candy?
In last week’s JumahPulse, I proposed the existence of a new globalised being, whose corporate controllers use this constant stream to subliminally reinforce their own agenda while justifying the privilege of a tiny elite to dictate everything from the price of bread to the next global menace against which war must be waged. George Orwell would be proud.
The influence of this “being” or “organism” pulsates along its nerves from the opulent minority in the centre, diverted down conduit after conduit until it reaches the cell – the actual powerhouse of the body, individually insignificant but a powerful collective held prisoner by its own submissiveness.
The Invisible Hand
What the newspapers finally realised was that this country’s Defence Secretary – a man who is responsible not only for the security of the UK (and the enormous budget that goes with it) but also holds sway over decisions of wars and peace, alliances and enemies – was influenced, advised and perhaps impelled by a cabal of wealthy, influential Neoconservatives who, for the most part, are not even British citizens.
The register of those who had the Fox’s ear (so to speak) reads like the Christmas card list of Beelzebub. Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Banks and Big Neocons all had unprecedented access to our elected official. It was mostly channelled though “Atlantic Bridge”, a charity that Adam Werritty ran out of Fox’s parliamentary office. Its main purpose was to forge links between right-wing Neocons from the Tea Party movement in the US to right-wing Neocons within the UK Tory Party. On its board were Michael Gove, George Osborne, Chris Grayling and William Hague with Margaret Thatcher as patron. It counted on the support of prominent older Conservatives, including another former PM, John Major, as well as Michael Ancram and Michael Howard.
Whether it was the £25,000 that US drug giant Pfizer paid David Cameron’s press secretary to work as the “sole employee” of the charity, or events sponsored by failed bank Lehman Brothers (before it went bust), the grubby fingerprints of the corporate machine are all over this “charity”.
Follow the Money
One quote that some journalists are using is the famous remark from the 1974 book on the Watergate scandal All the President’s Men, where the informant “Deep Throat” advises the investigative journalist to “follow the money” in order to understand the situation.
If one takes a moment to digest the twisted and circuitous path that “the money” has taken in the case of Atlantic Bridge, it seems like no coincidence that there has been a rapid and widespread appearance of right-wing US Neoconservative ideas in the policy decisions of Tory ministers: be it the stealth privatisation of education and the NHS or the expansion of the privatisation of prisons. Almost invariably, these policies serve only to benefit Big Business.
When in 1961 Dwight Eisenhower warned against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”, he probably could not have fathomed a world in which the prime minister of a liberal democracy turns up in countries freshly reeling from revolution with a posse of arms dealers and a sales pitch which goes something like this: “Here are the arms (that you were tortured with) which we sold to your previous dictator. Would you like to buy some more?”
Three of the most prominent of Werritty’s backers are also leading lights in the funding, whitewashing, and public glorification of “The Only Democracy in the Middle East”. One of those three, Poju Zabludowicz, is also the chief funder of BICOM, the Britain Israel Communication and Research Centre, a leading lobby group that last surfaced during Peter Oborne’s groundbreaking Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, “Britain’s Israel Lobby”.
By far and away the most outrageous breach of public trust was the close ties the UK branch of Atlantic Bridge had with the murky backer of its American sister branch. This backer was none other than prominent US lobby group American Legislative Council (ALEC) which, despite the official sounding name, is in reality a group of corporate executives who wine and dine legislators and then present them with pre-drafted “model” legislation.
There appear to be no depths to which ALEC will not stoop in order to further the causes of its clients. This includes its grotesque alliance with huge US tobacco companies (ALEC cast doubt on the science around smoking) and private prison providers, which is the area in which ALEC’s most recent controversy lies. ALEC’s lobbying was behind some of the most draconian US sentencing laws ever passed, which caused an explosion in the US prison population thereby increasing the business of the private prisons ALEC represented and also giving them access to a vast pool of prison labour. These private prison providers used this labour to replace unionised workers thereby bypassing union regulations as well as decreasing pay. In anincident in 2005, more than 40 million pounds of beef infected with rat faeces processed by inmates were not recalled in order to avoid drawing attention to how many products are made by prison labour.
Just as ALEC bankrolls the US branch of Atlantic Bridge, if we follow the money back one step further we find that ALEC’s biggest backers are none other than the Koch brothers. These two brothers – Charles and David – are the owners of the US’s second-largest private company, Koch Industries, a vast private energy conglomerate with an annual revenue of about $98 billion.
The Koch brothers are also the major funders of the Tea Party; and they make their views on Muslims and Islam perfectly clear as they are also behind the wildly Islamophobic documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West”. This was distributed to 28 million people as a free DVD insert in newspapers in key US “swing states” in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election in an attempt to create a threatening climate of fear within the electorate. When this link between the Tea Party and the Koch brothers is understood, one can then put into context the blossoming relationship that the Tea Party has with the English Defence League.
Chair of the Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, has been conspicuously silent on this matter. It seems strange that as a cabinet minister she has no opinion on such a vast scandal involving her party being caughtin flagrante delicto with a blatantly Islamophobic, right-wing, morally corrupt outfit like ALEC. One wonders whether this is because she is just like so many other politicians whose motives for holding office oscillate between personal gain and self-promotion. Or perhaps I am being too harsh on our sister Sayeeda. Perhaps she is in no position to make her voice heard. If this is so, then she should reflect on the the appropriateness of the title “Chair of the Conservative Party”, a chair being an inanimate object, left in the background and entirely ignored – until it is inevitably sat on. Once again, I call on her either to make her voice heard on behalf of the Muslims of the UK as the highest-ranking Muslim politician in the Land or, if she finds her position untenable, to leave, as she is only giving legitimacy to the anti-Muslim agenda of this government.
Bankers Like a Party
Everyone likes a party and bankers are no different. They have a party they like and it is the Conservative Party. A study by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has found that a combination of hedge fund managers, private equity moguls and City bankers were responsible for over 50% or £11.4m of the Conservative Party’s annual income. This level of financial support from the City has doubled under David Cameron.
I am sure that bankers, being such deeply altruistic people wedded to a profession that values morality above all else, would expect no return for their money. Therefore it is no doubt merely a coincidence that the banks, despite a great deal of bluster, have been given an extraordinarily easy ride by the Conservative Party in the face of the worst economic downturn the UK has seen for decades. First, there was the limp-wristed dealagreed by George Osborne on bank bonuses which was described as “extraordinarily wrong” by a Lib Dem frontbencher who resigned in disgust over it; then there was “Project Merlin”, a deal which meant the banks would lend more money to small- and medium-sized business in order to boost the economy which, within 3 months of its announcement, was failing to meet any of its targets. Now we have “QE2″ - Quantitative Easing 2 - whereby the Bank of England will print £75bn more money and – stop me if you have heard this one before – hand it over to the banks.
Whilst we are waiting for QE2 to set sail towards the large monetary Bermuda Triangle that lurks in the square mile, it is worthwhile reflecting on the consequences of QE1, which saw the injection of £200bn into the markets in 2009-10. Recent research has found that instead of this money “trickling down” to the Average Joe and thus benefiting the economy, the banks actually used it to speculate on commodities such as oil and food, boosting prices, pushing up inflation and making life even harder for cash-strapped consumers. In fact, two years after this measure was implemented, UK workers are earning less than they did at the depths of the recession: real wages have fallen by £4bn, whereas profits are up by £11bn.
But we cannot blame all this country’s ills on an unsavoury relationship between the Conservative Party and banks. Upon closer examination, there are a whole host of unsavoury relationships ranging from William Hague’s personal intervention on behalf of two separate oil companies (both Tory party donors) who refused to pay £175 million in tax to the Ugandan government, to the ongoing conduct of the Inland Revenue, which sawHMRC forgive Goldman Sachs £10m and Vodafone £4.75bn in tax revenue. Suffice it to say that the one million people due for a nasty surprise this week when they are informed of their tax underpayment cannot look forward to such favoured treatment.
A Blinkered Media
Quite ridiculously, the Independent crowed last week about how the Fox episode demonstrated that the UK’s media holds politicians to account. What it failed to report was that the whole Atlantic Bridge fiasco was not unearthed by any journalist but rather by a blogger who became suspicious of it and went about his own investigations before reporting it to the Charity Commission which, two years later, released a report which was seized on by the Guardian. One wonders how many other equally furtive fake charities and think-tanks, backed by equally furtive individuals, exert undue influence over our elected officials. How many are out there that the media simply ignores? Unwilling or unable to investigate, most media outlets are probably too busy writing polemics about the “real” threat to liberal democracy: the niqab or minarets or Islamic schools.
In another example of lazy journalism: instead of researching the genesis of the idea of abolishing aspects of the Human Rights Act which so shocked the world at the Tory Party Conference recently, the media’s focus was firmly locked or blinkered on a story about a cat.
Last week, when I set out to write about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I was staggered by the breadth and scale – not to mention bare-faced audacity – of the crimes committed by the international community in Somalia. Similarly, this week, I had intended to include an overview of the economic manipulations carried out by financial institutions like Goldman Sachs which impact food prices and political stability throughout the world. However, I was stopped in my tracks by the circles of influence that encompass the government and appear to be influencing policy.
All Roads Lead to Jerusalem?
There is the – as yet unexplored – issue of the influence exerted upon our Defence Secretary by “The Only Democracy in the Middle East”. At least one former ambassador as well as the Guardian reported that MOD, Cabinet Office and FCO officials, along with the military, are speaking openly about the Mossad being the quiet influence on Werritty. It was soon after this disclosure that the notoriously thick-skinned Fox who, until that point had seemed to be digging himself in for the long haul, resigned suddenly. As one may expect in these situations, the official report of the Cabinet Office did not delve into these matters.
Another matter that appears to be disappearing rapidly down the rabbit hole is the role, in Atlantic Bridge, of the Chancellor and the Secretaries of State for Education and Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Messrs Osborne, Gove and Hague were all on its advisory board and yet no one appears to be asking what influence they were subjected to during their time there.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister was asked in Parliament to give an assurance that legislation would be introduced to ensure that the sources of funding for these so-called lobbying “think-tanks” be disclosed. His response was half-hearted to say the least, because he knows that they have been going out of their way to conceal the real sources of their funding. George Monbiot noted in his aptly titled article “Think of a Tank”that “‘free market thinktanks’ and their secret funders are a threat to democracy.”
Influence and Me?
What is the response of a Muslim when faced with this all-encompassing hegemony of influence that is directed out of this globalised fiend? One can choose to react in a variety of ways. One option is the way of the rioters: seeing the corruption that surrounds them, they become corrupt themselves thinking that, if the powerful can get away with it, why can’t they? Another response is that of those in denial: seeing the powerful nature of their enemies, they sink into a resigned stupor, paralysed by apathy, left to mutter about “Jewish conspiracies”. Another possibility is the retort of the outraged: a passionate call to protest that slowly fizzles out with the growing realisation that they have no considered answer to the status quo that doesn’t involve waving banners. This usually concludes with the protagonist sloping back home when the novelty has worn off attempting to console himself with the hollow comfort that “at least he did something”… before switching the TV back on to catch up on The X Factor.
I would suggest that the best response is that of believers. They refuse to give up their beliefs in the face of corruption, nor do they give in to despair or heady but directionless activism as both these ways lead to an eventual immersion back into this fleeting world and the pursuit of the gilt-edged trinkets and toys that distract us from reality.
The believers realise that they can never be slaves to this system because they are already slaves to The One. The believers look at the world and see not a glittering prize that needs to be captured above all else, but rather a bridge that needs to be crossed on their way to their ultimate goal. The believers are not fooled by the platitudes and promises of men. They reflect upon such men’s circles of influence and know that these are directionless pursuits by directionless people. They know that the only influence worth having is that of our leader, the blessed Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam). Above all, the believers know that whilst the powerful may feel that they are the ultimate deciders of our fate, that responsibility is Allah’s alone.
“And (then unbelievers) plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and Allah is the best of planners.”
(Al Quran 3:54)