Tuesday, 10th January, 2015
On 20th October, 1947, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. This began what was later to be called McCarthyism (named after the most anti-communist member of Congress, Joseph McCarthy).
Waldron Smithers, the Conservative MP for Orpington, asked Clement Attlee, the prime minister, if he intended to create a similar House of Commons committee to investigate communist sympathizers working for the BBC. Attlee understandably rejected the idea.
This is all in the public record. However, a recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that Smithers continued with his campaign. The story is contained in a file released recently by the National Archives. On the front of the brown card cover is a note that the file must be closed "indefinitely".
Inside the file is papers that show that in June 1952, Smithers wrote to Winston Churchill, the prime minister at the time, about the possible infiltration of left-wing elements working for the BBC. Smithers told Churchill "we have traitors in our midst" and that he suggested he set up a "committee presided over by an English judge or QC… who could make an extensive enquiry into communist activities and report to you".
Smithers was particularly worried about communist sympathizers in the BBC: "In the event of war or a major crisis… these fellow travelers, with their intimate knowledge of the mechanisms of broadcasting, could in half an hour cut wires and damage equipment seriously to hamper broadcasting." He included a list of BBC employees who he understood were communists, or sympathizers, including Anatol Goldberg, the head of the BBC Russian service.
Apparently, Smithers did not like the tone of Goldberg. Peter Fraenkel, who worked with Goldberg at the BBC, claims that Goldberg's approach was more subtle - to listen to people, and then ask them questions like: "The revolution was supposed to deliver this and this this… has it done so?" As a propaganda technique this was very successful, as BBC Russian service was believed to be more popular and more trusted than its US-sponsored rivals.
Churchill was concerned enough to send Smithers's letter to MI5. They wrote back saying the prime minister should not be worried. "In the considered view of the Security Service, communist influence in the BBC is very slight and does not constitute a serious security danger." It was pointed out that MI5 had been monitoring the staff of the BBC for many years. They believed there were only 147 left-wingers out of a staff of 12,200. It was argued that a major inquiry, like that suggested by Smithers, "might cause much embarrassment without serving any useful purpose".
The file includes other letters concerning the possible left-wing infiltration of the BBC. In 1953 it was reported that there had been a sharp drop in the number of "communist sympathizers" on the BBC staff. There were now less than a 100 and most of those were in junior positions. The Director General Sir Ian Jacob was aware of the "risks" that they'd try to influence the content of broadcasts, but that "he is certainly on the watch for any signs of this - he is of course helped by knowing precisely who the suspects are and what positions they hold". Jacob was a former political adviser to Churchill and was later a Tory councillor in Suffolk.
Jacob does not appear to have been asked to keep a watch out for "right-wing" Conservatives who might be trying to influence the political content of BBC programmes. Of course that does not appear to be a problem at the BBC. Otherwise, why would they have employed Nick Robinson as chief political correspondent. In 1985 he was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and caused considerable embarrassment with his right-wing extremist views.
Robinson's senior editor, Thea Rogers, was also a strong supporter of the Conservative Party. In 2012 she left the BBC to become special advisor to the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne. In July, 2015 the chancellor told thousands of teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and civil servants that they would face another four years of having pay rises limited to 1% a year. At the same time he gave Rogers a 42% pay increase and she now receives £98,000 a year.
Then there is Robbie Gibb, the current editor of all BBC TV’s political programmes. Before he joined the BBC he was a vice-chairman of the extreme right wing Federation of Conservative Students and went on to become chief of staff to the senior Tory MP Francis Maude.
Andrew Neil, is the presenter of five hours of television a week including This Week, the Daily Politics and Sunday Politics. He is another with a right-wing background. He is a former Rupert Murdoch editor, was a researcher for the Conservative party and is chairman of the Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine. He also argued his free market views at the Hayek lecture at the rightwing Institute of Economic Affairs in November 2005.
It is interesting to note that David Cameron replaced his previous press secretary, Andy Coulson, with the then editor of BBC News, Craig Oliver. Soon afterwards, London mayor Boris Johnson recruited BBC political correspondent Guto Harri, to head his media team. When Harri moved on to work for the Murdoch empire he was replaced by Will Walden, a BBC news editor at Westminster.
For over twenty-five years Jeremy Paxman presented Newsnight. It was only after he left the show that he admitted that he had been a long-time supporter of the Conservative Party and in the past had been approached to become the Tory candidate as London mayor. He was replaced by Evan Davis, who in 1998, published a book, Public Spending, where he argued for the privatization of public services.
Although the BBC only seems to employ Conservative supporting presenters. As soon as Melvyn Bragg became a Labour peer, he was immediately banned from appearing on any BBC programmes that might have any political content.
I was talking recently to a senior figure in the insurance industry. He said that he had a distressing time over the Christmas period dealing with flood victims. The most upsetting thing about this was that a large number of those who lost everything were not insured. After previous floods their insurance premiums were unaffordable.
However, they thought they would be protected by Flood Re, the government-backed flood insurance scheme announced at the time of the 2012 floods. They would have been if it had been introduced as promised but the scheme will not be available until April 2016. The scheme authorizes insurance companies to levy £10-£50 on everyone's home insurance to create an industry-managed fund to subsidize the hard-to-insure in flood-prone areas.
One of the reasons for the delay is that Mark Hoban, the chairman of Flood Re, only works one day a week. The former Minister of State for Work and Pensions resigned from the House of Commons in 2015 claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family and his business interests. As a senior member of the Conservative Party he has been able to build up a lucrative portfolio of jobs. This includes being paid £150,000 for one day's work a week for Flood Re.
This is clearly a very important task so why did not give it to someone who could devote all their energies to the job? According to Flood Re's chief executive, Brendan McCafferty, Hoban got the job because of his political contacts, citing his "wealth of experience" from government "as we enter a crucial stage in the implementation of Flood Re". It seems to me that the most important aspect of having good political contacts is that he helps you to get well-paid part-time jobs. (19th January, 2016)
Since war broke out in Syria almost five years ago, 6.5 million people have been internally displaced, almost 4.4 million forced to flee as refugees, and more than 250,000 killed. One in every five displaced persons worldwide last year was Syrian. A new joint report from the World Bank and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) claims that 90% of the 1.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and Lebanon are living in poverty. The majority of them are women and children.
The same day that the report was published, it was announced that the first 1,000 Syrian refugees have now arrived in the UK under the government's scheme to resettle vulnerable people living in refugees camps, David Cameron has said he had met his pledge to bring the first 1,000 people to the UK by Christmas. The UK government has promised to accept 20,000 Syrians over five years.
European leaders are gathering in Brussels today for an end of year summit which will include discussions on the of one and a half million refugees that have entered Europe this year. The European Commission estimated last month that another three million refugees could arrive before the end of 2016. Cameron is unwilling to become involved in negotiations about taking more refugees and recently told journalists that the current crisis might be the thing that might be responsible for the British people voting to leave the European Union.
Seventy-seven years ago this month, world leaders were discussing another migration crisis. This one involved the desire by the Jewish community to leave Nazi Germany. The failure to agree on a way of dealing with this crisis resulted in about 180,000 German Jews dying in concentration camps.
Once in power Adolf Hitler began to openly express anti-Semitic ideas. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The day after the March, 1933, election, stormtroopers hunted down Jews in Berlin and gave them savage beatings. Synagogues were trashed and all over Germany gangs of brownshirts attacked Jews. In the first three months of Hitler rule, over forty Jews were murdered.
On 1st April, 1933, a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful. As a child Christa Wolf watched the SA organize the boycott of Jewish businesses. "A pair of SA men stood outside the door of the Jewish shops, next to the white enamel plate, and prevented anyone who could not prove that he lived in the building from entering and baring his Aryan body before non-Aryan eyes."
Armin Hertz was only nine years old at the time of the boycott. His parents owned a furniture store in Berlin. "After Hitler came to power, there was the boycott in April of that year. I remember that very vividly because I saw the Nazi Party members in their brown uniforms and armbands standing in front of our store with signs: "Kauft nicht bei Juden" (Don't buy from Jews). That of course, was very frightening to us. Nobody entered the shop. As a matter of fact, there was a competitor across the street - she must have been a member of the Nazi Party already by then - who used to come over and chase people away."
Over the next few years the hostility towards Jews increased in Nazi Germany. This was reflected in the decision by many shops and restaurants not to serve the Jewish population. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" and "Jews enter this place at their own risk" began to appear all over Germany. In some parts of the country Jews were banned from public parks, swimming-pools and public transport. Germans were also encouraged not to use Jewish doctors and lawyers. Jewish civil servants, teachers and those employed by the mass media were sacked. In the 12 months of Hitler taking power, over 40,000 Jewish people left Germany.
The number of Jews emigrating increased after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race in 1935. The first Reich Law of Citizenship divided people in Germany into two categories. The citizen of "pure German blood" and the rest of the population. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour forbade intermarrying between the two groups. Some 250 decrees followed these laws. These excluded Jews from official positions and professions. They were also forced to wear the "Star of David".
Adolf Hitler urged Jews to leave Germany. One of the major reasons why so many refused was that they were unable to take their money with them. Hitler arranged for 52,000 to emigrate to Palestine. To encourage them to go the German government allowed "Jews who left for Palestine to transfer a significant portion of their assets there... while those who left for other countries had to leave much of what they owned behind". Richard Evans has argued: "The reasons for the Nazis' favoured treatment of emigrants to Palestine were complex. On the one hand, they regarded the Zionist movement as a significant part of the world Jewish conspiracy they had dedicated their lives to destroying. On the other, helping Jewish emigration to Palestine might mitigate international criticism of anti-semitic measures at home."
As Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, the authors of Crystal Night: 9-10 November 1938 (1974) have pointed out: "After five years of National Socialism, the German government angrily acknowledged that threats and intimidation had not rid the Reich of its Jews. About a quarter of the total had fled but the other three-quarters still preferred to stay in Germany."
The main reason that the Jews did not leave was that they had nowhere to go. On 6th July 1938, a conference of 32 nations met at Evian in France to discuss the growing international problem of Jewish migration. The conference made an attempt to impose general agreed guidelines on accepting Jews from Nazi Germany. According to Richard Evans, the author of The Third Reich in Power (2005): "One delegation after another at the conference made it clear that it would not liberalize its policy towards refugees; if anything, it would tighten things up... Anti-immigrant sentiment in many countries, complete with rhetoric about being 'swamped' by people of 'alien' culture, contributed further to this growing reluctance."
Adolf Hitler took note of what the world politicians were saying about the Jews wishing to leave Germany. He concluded that he would have to change tactics in order to obtain better results. New plans were drawn up but first they had to wait for an excuse to begin this new campaign to force the Jews out of the country. This opportunity came on 9th November, 1938, when Nazi official, Ernst vom Rath, was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish refugee in Paris. At a meeting of Nazi Party leaders later that day, Joseph Goebbels suggested that there should be "spontaneous" anti-Jewish riots. Reinhard Heydrich sent urgent guidelines to all police headquarters suggesting how they could start these disturbances. He ordered the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Germany. Heydrich also gave instructions that the police should not interfere with demonstrations and surrounding buildings must not be damaged when burning synagogues.
Heinrich Mueller, head of the Secret Political Police, sent out an order to all regional and local commanders of the state police: "(i) Operations against Jews, in particular against their synagogues will commence very soon throughout Germany. There must be no interference. However, arrangements should be made, in consultation with the General Police, to prevent looting and other excesses. (ii) Any vital archival material that might be in the synagogues must be secured by the fastest possible means. (iii) Preparations must be made for the arrest of from 20,000 to 30,000 Jews within the Reich. In particular, affluent Jews are to be selected. Further directives will be forthcoming during the course of the night. (iv) Should Jews be found in the possession of weapons during the impending operations the most severe measures must be taken. SS Verfuegungstruppen and general SS may be called in for the overall operations. The State Police must under all circumstances maintain control of the operations by taking appropriate measures."
Joseph Goebbels wrote an article for the Völkischer Beobachter where he claimed that Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) was a spontaneous outbreak of feeling: "The outbreak of fury by the people on the night of November 9-10 shows the patience of the German people has now been exhausted. It was neither organized nor prepared but it broke out spontaneously." However, Erich Dressler, who had taken part in the riots, was disappointed by the lack of passion displayed that night: "One thing seriously perturbed me. All these measures had to be ordered from above. There was no sign of healthy indignation or rage amongst the average Germans. It is undoubtedly a commendable German virtue to keep one's feelings under control and not just to hit out as one pleases; but where the guilt of the Jews for this cowardly murder was obvious and proved, the people might well have shown a little more spirit."
The Jewish community was forced to pay the costs of Kristallnacht: "The Jews were ordered to replace all damaged property, though their insurance - when they had any - was confiscated. At the same time new decrees were issued denying the 500,000 of them a chance to earn a livelihood. They were forbidden to participate in trade or the professions; they were dismissed from all important posts in incorporated companies. Against them as a race was levied a fine of a billion marks, nominally $400 million-roughly half their remaining wealth."
On 21st November, 1938, it was announced in Berlin by the Nazi authorities that 3,767 Jewish retail businesses in the city had either been transferred to "Aryan" control or closed down. Further restrictions on Jews were announced that day. To enforce the rule that Jewish doctors could not treat non-Jews, each Jewish doctor had henceforth to display a blue nameplate with a yellow star - the Star of David - with the sign: "Authorised to give medical treatment only to Jews." German bookmakers were also forbidden to accept bets from Jews.
Joseph Herman Hertz, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, asked Sir Michael Bruce, a retired British diplomat, if he could travel to Germany to assess the situation. He was horrified by what he found and went straight to the British Embassy to see Sir Neville Henderson, the British ambassador, who hoped he would contact Lord Halifax, the British foreign secretary, about what could be done to help. "I went at once to the British Embassy. I told Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes everything I knew and urged him to contact Hitler and express Britain's displeasure. He told me he could do nothing. The Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson, was in London and the Foreign Office, acting on instructions from Lord Halifax, had told him to do nothing that might offend Hitler and his minions."
After Kristallnacht the numbers of Jews wishing to leave Germany increased dramatically. The problem was that the world's politicians reacted in a similar way to those dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. Sweden had taken in a large number of Jewish refugees since 1933. However, the government felt it had taken too many already. According to one source "this attitude was shared by the Jewish minority in Sweden, who were apprehensive that an influx of Jewish refugees might arouse anti-semitic sentiments".
Philip Noel-Baker, the Labour Party representative for Derby, and a leading Quaker, argued in the House of Commons, that Neville Chamberlain had been morally wrong to make concessions to Hitler and it was time to change policy towards Nazi Germany. He proposed a two-point programme: the threat of reprisals, to halt the arrest and expulsion of the Jews; and the immediate creation of a rehabilitation agency for the hundreds of thousands of emigrants.
"I think they (the Government) might in some measure stay the tyrant's hand in Germany by the means I have suggested. Certainly they can gather the resources, human and material, that are needed to make a new life for this pitiful human wreckage. That wreckage is the result of the mistakes made by all the Governments during the last twenty years. Let the Governments now atone for those mistakes. The refugees have surely endured enough. Dr Goebbels said the other day that he hoped the outside world would soon forget the German Jews. He hopes in vain. His campaign against them will go down in history with St Bartholomew's Eve as a lasting memory of human shame. Let there go with it another memory, the memory of what the other nations did to wipe the shame away."
Chamberlain's rejected Noel-Baker's proposals but did have a meeting with Edouard Daladier, the prime-minister of France on 24th November. Daladier claimed that France had already accepted 40,000 Jewish refugees and urged Britain and the United States to do more. Chamberlain told Daladier that Britain was weekly admitting 500 hundred Jewish refugees: "One of the chief difficulties, however, was the serious danger of arousing anti-semitic feeling in Great Britain. Indeed, a number of Jews had begged His Majesty's Government not to advertise too prominently what was being done."
The Jewish National Council for Palestine sent a telegram to the British government offering to take 10,000 German children into Palestine. The full cost of bringing the children from Germany and maintaining them in their new homes, as well as their education and vocational training would be paid for by the Palestine Jewish community and by "Zionists throughout the world".
The Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, told his Cabinet colleagues that the proposal should be rejected because of a forthcoming conference to be held in London, between the British government and representation of Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Jews, and the Arab States". He argued that "if these 10,000 children were allowed to enter Palestine, we should run a considerable risk that the Palestinian Arabs would not attend the Conference, and that, if they did attend, their confidence would be shaken and the atmosphere damaged." (33)
Neville Chamberlain was very unsympathetic to the plight of the Jews. He wrote to a friend: "Jews aren't a lovable people; I don't care about them myself." On 8th December, 1938, Stanley Baldwin, a former Prime Minister, made a radio broadcast calling on the British government to do more for the Jews in Nazi Germany. "Thousands of men, women, and children, despoiled of their goods, driven from their homes, are seeking asylum and sanctuary on our doorsteps, a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest... They may not be our fellow subjects, but they are our fellow men. Tonight I plead for the victims who turn to England for help... Thousands of every degree of education, industry, wealth, position, have been made equal in misery. I shall not attempt to depict to you what it means to be scorned and branded and isolated like a leper. The honour of our country is challenged, our Christian charity is challenged, and it is up to us to meet that challenge."
Six days later Chamberlain announced that the government would allow a total of 10,000 Jewish children to enter the country. However, their parents would have to remain in Nazi Germany. He also stated that Jewish refugee organisations in Britain would have to maintain them and would be responsible for finding homes for the children. Anne Lehmann, a twelve-year-old girl from Berlin arrived soon afterwards. She was placed with a non-Jewish couple, Mary and Jim Mansfield, in the village of Swineshead. Anne never saw her parents again as both died at the hands of the Nazis.
A Jewish boy who had witnessed the destruction of the synagogue in the village of Hoengen was another child who was allowed to live in Britain later wrote: "Standing at the window of the train, I was suddenly overcome with a maiming certainty that I would never see my father and mother again. There they stood, lonely, and with the sadness of death... It was the first and last time in my life that I had seen them both weep. Now and then my mother would stretch her hand out, as if to grasp mine - but the hand fell back, knowing it could never reach. Can the world ever justify the pain that burned in my father's eyes?... As the train pulled out of the station to wheel me to safety, I leant my face against the cold glass of the window, and wept bitterly." His parents died in an extermination camp three years later.
An estimated 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps after Kristallnacht. Up until this time these camps had been mainly for political prisoners. However, in January 1939, Reinhard Heydrich ordered police authorities all over Germany to release all Jewish concentration camp prisoners who had emigration papers. They were to be told that they would be returned to the camp for life if they ever came back to Germany. Josef Stone later recalled that his father benefited by Heydrich's order as he was released from Dachau after he had obtained permission to emigrate to the United States. "He was away for about four or five weeks... I remember that when he came home, it was late in the evening. I remember when he rang the doorbell he looked strange to us. Although he never had much hair... now he was completely bald."
It has been estimated 115,000 Jews left Germany in the ten months or so between November 1938 and September 1939. It has been calculated that between 1933 and 1939, approximately two-thirds of the Jewish population of Germany left the country. Almost 200,000 had been given refuge in the United States and 65,000 in Britain. Palestine, with all the restrictions imposed on it, accepted 58,000. It is estimated that between 160,000 and 180,000 of those left in Germany died in the concentration camps. (18th December, 2015)
Ian Barlow is the chairman of the board of HM Revenue & Customs. As the man charged with dealing with those multimillionaires who are always finding ways of avoiding paying tax, one would have expected the appointment of someone who has a good record of public service. That is not the case with Ian Barlow. He is in fact has a long record of helping rich people pay very little tax. As head of tax at KPMG he came up with various tax avoidance schemes that he sold to his clients. As Private Eye recently pointed out, these schemes were almost always defeated in the courts and variously described as "entirely artificial" and "unacceptable".
The KPMG who were fined $455 million in US a few years back for selling abusive tax schemes. The KPMG who along with other such firms likes to sell “effective supply chain management services” – oherwise known as shifting profit into tax havens.
Why would the HM Revenue & Customs appoint such a man to be at the top of the country's tax authority? It seems that the panel selected for the task included Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive, who had been brought in by David Cameron to give a commercial edge to Whitehall. It was Barlow of course, who was employed by BP from 2001 to 2008 to give the company advice on tax matters. Other members on the panel included Phil Hodkinson, a director of the Guernsey-based insurance fund Resolution. Also on the panel was Rona Fairhead, who has a record of setting up Luxembourg tax avoidance schemes.
When this matter was raised by The Guardian a spokesman for HMRC said: “Ian Barlow was appointed as someone with extensive experience of tax and business management, which brings huge value as well as challenge to HMRC’s Board and executive management. HMRC was aware of his previous role as a senior partner of KPMG and was satisfied there was no impediment to his appointment as lead non-executive, given the nature of his involvement and the length of time that has passed. He has also demonstrated a clear commitment in recent years to promoting corporate responsibility in tax planning as an issue for board-level oversight, which HMRC believes is an important initiative in tackling corporate tax avoidance.” (18th November, 2015)
A report commissioned by the investment bank Bank of America Merrill Lynch has suggested that a "robot revolution" will transform the global economy over the next 20 years. "We are facing a paradigm shift which will change the way we live and work,” the authors say. “The pace of disruptive technological innovation has gone from linear to parabolic in recent years. Penetration of robots and artificial intelligence has hit every industry sector, and has become an integral part of our daily lives."
The report highlights the changes that will be taking in the employment market. "The trend is worrisome in markets like the US because many of the jobs created in recent years are low-paying, manual or services jobs which are generally considered ‘high risk’ for replacement... One major risk off the back of the take-up of robots and artificial intelligence is the potential for increasing labour polarisation, particularly for low-paying jobs such as service occupations, and a hollowing-out of middle income manual labour jobs."
The authors calculate that the total global market for robots and artificial intelligence is expected to reach $152.7bn (£99bn) by 2020, and estimate that the adoption of these technologies could improve productivity by 30% in some industries. However, cutting the costs of doing business will cause social inequality.
Another report published by Oxford University suggests that this robotic revolution could leave up to 35% of all workers in the UK, and 47% of those in the US, at risk of being displaced by technology over the next 20 years. Most of the jobs at risk are at the bottom of the income scale. (6th November, 2015)
The media have kept very quiet about what has been going on in Portugal the last few weeks. Pedro Passos Coelho, the leader of the right-wing Forward Portugal Alliance (PAF) has over the past four years has pushed through a raft of tough pay, pension and public spending cuts as well as tax hikes as part of Portugal’s €78bn bailout agreement.
In the general election on 4th October, a left-wing coalition, campaigning on anti-austerity policies has won 50.7% of votes cast. The moderate Socialist party and its allies – the Communists, Greens and Left Bloc – now control 122 seats in Portugal’s 230-seat parliament and the party leader, António Costa, has insisted a leftist alliance could form a stable and durable government. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, described the prospect of a radical anti-austerity coalition in Portugal as “very negative”.
President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a former leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), has made it clear he has grave reservations about any Portuguese government propped up by what he described last week as an anti-European, hard-left faction. has controversially nominated Passos Coelho as prime minister. Even if the prime minister’s four-year programme is voted down and the government collapses, Cavaco Silva could in principle opt to leave him in place at the head of a caretaker government with limited powers until fresh elections can be held next June – potentially triggering a full-blown political crisis.
Cavaco Silva has justified trying to form a minority government by arguing that no governing coalition in Portugal had ever featured an “anti-European” party that had campaigned to take the country out of the euro – as both the Communists and the Left Bloc have done. He believes that only a government that complied with eurozone rules and could maintain the confidence of international lenders, investors and financial markers was “absolutely crucial to the financing of our economy, economic growth and job creation”, Cavaco Silva insisted, adding that in his view, Portugal’s future outside the EU would be “catastrophic”. The president’s remarks suggest that economic imperatives are now taking precedence over the democratic process and that a coup d’état has taken place. (29th October, 2015)
According to the Electoral Commission in April 2015 the IT company Fujitsu Services donated £45,000 to the Conservative Party. The company has had a difficult relationship with the government over the last few years. Fujitsu was was the major supplier on the failed NHS Programme for IT. After being sacked, Fujitsu sued the government and won £700m.
This payment began to make more sense when last month when the defence secretary Michael Fallon announced he was giving Fujitsu a £500m IT contract to provide the Ministry of Defence's New Style of IT (NSolT). Past failures seem not to have been a factor in the decision. I wonder if giving £45,000 to Fallon's favourite charity played any role in this? (30th September, 2015)
Today the Independent on Sunday commented that the "election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is the most extraordinary event in British politics since the universal franchise." That I think is putting it too strong but the fact that he began the campaign as a 200-1 outsider of four and ended up by winning 59.5% of the vote - 251,417 of the 422,664 votes cast - is indeed an amazing achievement.
The right-wing press appear to be certain that the Corbyn victory means that the Labour Party cannot win the next election. Peter Mandelson, the architect of New Labour, writing in The Sunday Times, compares the election of Corbyn with that of Michael Foot in response to Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister: "They (Corbyn's policies) are far to the left of Labour's historic mainstream, basically a rehash of the early 1980s leftism that allowed Margaret Thatcher to secure a series of electoral victories. It was a political programme that wouldn't work then and most certainly will not work three or more decades later."
Of course it is fairly common for politicians to quote examples from history when it appears to support their argument. When he decided to support the invasion of Iraq, he ignored the warnings of those on the left who wanted to compare the situation with previous invasions of Vietnam and Afghanistan. Instead, Mandelson wanted to compare it to fighting Adolf Hitler in the Second World War.
Let us look at the case of Thatcher and Foot in the 1980s. Mandelson ignores the fact that when Thatcher was elected as leader of the Conservative Party, many members of her own party claimed that the majority of the British public would never vote for her because of her right-wing stance on a wide-range of issues. They, like Mandelson, believed you only win elections by holding the centre ground. What these theorists don't take into account is that the electorate like conviction politicians.
Mandelson also ignores the fact that Foot in the first few months after his election as Labour leader, opinion polls showed a double-digit lead over Thatcher. In early 1981, four senior politicians from the right-wing of the party, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and William Rodgers, left Labour to form the Social Democratic Party. Thatcher still remained unpopular, and polls suggested that the SDP would form the next government. This was the common view until Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands on 2nd April 1982. The patriotic fervour that followed the outbreak of war gave Thatcher a great boost in the polls and enabled her to win the 1983 General Election. It was this series of events that indicated to Tony Blair that invading Iraq would help his long-term future as Prime Minister. Of course, this only happens if the war is short and victorious.
Mandelson is also wrong about the Labour Party is always defeated when it advocates left-wing policies. Clement Attlee had a landslide victory over Winston Churchill in the 1945 General Election. That government introduced the National Health Service and nationalized a whole range of industries. It also carried out major tax reforms that dramatically redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor. Harold Wilson was elected in the 1964 and 1966 general elections with manifestos that were seen as left-wing at the time. Attlee and Wilson both realised that in 1945 and 1964 people in Britain were aware that the electorate wanted a move towards a more equal society.
It is no coincidence that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected on a socialist programme that aims to reduce the inequality that has grown since the early 1980s. He said in his victory speech that “grotesque levels of inequality within our society” were not inevitable, necessary or right.
His economic policies have also proved popular. He wants to reduce the deficit, but not through spending cuts. Instead Corbyn would fund its reduction via higher taxes for the rich and a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion while tackling "corporate welfare" and tax breaks for companies.
Corbyn's New Labour critics suggest that by refusing to serve in his shadow cabinet his authority will be undermined and he will be forced to resign. However, this does not take into account the size of his majority. The Labour Party today is very different to the one that lost the last election. Two-thirds of the party have joined since Corbyn entered the campaign.
The Guardian carried out a survey of these new members and claimed that they fell into two categories. This includes young people who have become disaffected by the current political system. As Corbyn said yesterday, young people “have been written off as a non-political generation who (are) simply not interested, hence the relatively low turnout and low level of registration of young people in the last general election. They weren’t. They are a very political generation that were turned off by the way in which politics was being conducted.” My daughter falls into that category.
The second group identified by the newspaper were people over sixty who had been members of the Labour Party in the period after the war but left when they saw Tony Blair move to the political centre in order to gain the support of the right-wing media barons. I, and many of my friends, fall into this category. Blair did win three elections using this strategy. However, at the sametime, he oversaw a growth in inequality and involvement in foreign wars.
The Sunday Telegraph described Corbyn's victory a "leap to the left, back to the past". It said his victory speech "sounded well rehearsed then it might be because it is a speech he has been giving ever since he entered Parliament in 1983". It was "a speech full of old left-wing ideas, nursed like grudges." It is clear that our newspaper barons are indeed worried that a Corbyn government might well return to the socialist ideas of the past. Can we be surprised by this when the current political philosophy of the ruling elite has proved to be such a failure. (13th September, 2015)
On Friday morning (21st August), the BBC ran a story on its website entitled, Cedric Belfrage, the WW2 spy Britain was embarrassed to pursue. The right-wing press had the same story. The Daily Mail used the headline, More prized than Philby, the film critic turned Soviet agent who passed secrets while working for British security services in the US - but was never tried whereas the Financial Times went with Cedric Belfrage — ‘sixth man’ Soviet spy who hid in plain sight.
Later that day the BBC and Channel 4 broadcast the same story. These newspaper articles and television programmes had the same information and was clearly based on some kind of press release about the journalist, Cedric Belfrage, who died in 1990. It must have accompanied the latest release of intelligence documents that had arrived in the National Archives. They all included quotes from Professor Christopher Andrew, the official historian of MI5. He told The Daily Mail: "Moscow were so pleased with him (Belfrage) they held him as a key asset and held him in higher regard than Philby, a member of the notorious Cambridge Five spy ring."
MI5 also provided quotes from Svetlana Lokhova, who is described as an expert on Russian intelligence (this is not supported by a search on the web although she does seem to have been a student at Cambridge University, where Andrew has taught for many years). Lokhova argues "I think he was one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had". Gordon Corera of the BBC tells us that "Ms Lokhova and Prof Andrew both say the fact the KGB has never revealed anything about Belfrage suggests he was important".
The BBC and the right-wing press have completely fallen for this exercise in disinformation. Cedric Belfrage did indeed pass information to the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Although posing as a Soviet agent he was in fact working for British Security Coordination (BSC), an intelligence unit based in New York City ran by William Stephenson. He later worked for the FBI where he infiltrated a Soviet spy network based in the city.
If Gordon Corea and the other journalists working on this story had carried out a simple search for "Cedric Belfrage" on the net they would have arrived at my fully documented page on Cedric Belfrage and would have found evidence that contradicted the SIS press release. Even the much criticised Wikipedia had a far more accurate account of Belfrage than supplied by Andrew and his media stooges.
Belfrage the son of a wealthy physician, was born in London on 8th November 1904. He was sent to Cambridge University with a manservant and what he later called a '"meager" allowance of two pounds a week. In 1924 he began writing film reviews for the Kinematograph Weekly. Three years later he moved to Hollywood and was employed as a film critic of the New York Sun. He also worked as a press agent for Sam Goldwyn. Belfrage became a socialist after becoming friends with the novelist, Upton Sinclair.
Belfrage got a reputation for upsetting film studios. According to one source: "He became a press agent to a picture company at three pounds a week. He was fired. He went to New York and got a job as scenario reader with Universal Pictures. He was fired again. He then became a movie critic, which profession he kept up until 1930, when he had interviewed all the stars several times over and had been ejected from four major studios."
In the early 1930s he became the film critic of The Daily Express. One of his reviews in the newspaper upset "the entire film industry and in protest withdrew advertising from his paper. He quit dramatic reviewing for a time until the trouble blew over. He left on his round-the-world trip in January, 1934, and returned (to Hollywood) in December.... He then took up business at the old stand again."
In 1936 Belfrage became an active member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL). Other members included Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Walter Wanger, Dashiell Hammett, Donald Ogden Stewart, John Howard Lawson, Clifford Odets, John Bright, Dudley Nichols, Frederic March, Lewis Milestone, Oscar Hammerstein II, Ernst Lubitsch, Mervyn LeRoy, Gloria Stuart, Sylvia Sidney, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chico Marx, Benny Goodman, Fred MacMurray and Eddie Cantor. Another member, Philip Dunne, later admitted "I joined the Anti-Nazi League because I wanted to help fight the most vicious subversion of human dignity in modern history".
In 1937 Belfrage joined the American Communist Party, but withdrew his membership a few months later. He was too much a political maverick to accept the discipline of the party. For example, at one meeting, John Bright, asked V. J. Jerome, the leading party member in Hollywood: "Comrade Jerome, what if a Party decision is made that you cannot go along with?" Jerome replied: "When the Party makes a decision, it becomes your opinion."
Belfrage became active in the fight against fascism and developed a close relationship with Victor Gollancz and the Left Book Club. He wrote several books during this period on politics. This included Away From It All (1937), Promised Land (1937), Let My People Go (1937) and South of God (1938). Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author of Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987) has commented: "Belfrage, the author of the February 1938 choice (of the Left Book Club) Promised Land, an inner history of Hollywood - showing what happened to art under capitalism."
In June, 1940, Winston Churchill appointed William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, sent a message to Gladwyn Jebb, of the Ministry of Economic Warfare: "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA. I feel that he should have contact with the Ambassador, and should like him to have a personal letter from Cadogan to the effect that it may at times be desirable for the Ambassador to have personal contact with Mr Stephenson."
As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention."
An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. Roosevelt's top security advisor, Adolph Berle, sent a message to Sumner Welles, the Under Secretary of State: "The head of the field service appears to be Mr. William S. Stephenson... in charge of providing protection for British ships, supplies etc. But in fact a full size secret police and intelligence service is rapidly evolving... with district officers at Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Portland and probably Seattle.... I have in mind, of course, that should anything go wrong at any time, the State Department would be called upon to explain why it permitted violation of American laws and was compliant about an obvious breach of diplomatic obligation... Were this to occur and a Senate investigation should follow, we should be on very dubious ground if we have not taken appropriate steps."
An important British agent, Charles Howard Ellis, was sent to New York City to work alongside William Stephenson as assistant-director. Together they recruited several businessmen, journalists, academics and writers into the BSC. This included Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Ian Fleming, Ivar Bryce, David Ogilvy, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Maschwitz, A. J. Ayer, Giles Playfair, Benn Levy and Gilbert Highet.
Cedric Belfrage joined the BSC in December 1941. According to William Deaken, one of the senior figures in the organisation: "Belfrage was brought in as one of the propaganda people... he was a known communist." He was recruited by the BSC because if his contacts with American journalists. The strategy was to work with American journalists to persuade them to write articles that would advocate intervention in the Second World War.
Belfrage worked with organizations such as the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA) that had been founded by William Allen White. He gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News where he argued: "Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life."
According to William Boyd: "BSC's media reach was extensive: it included such eminent American columnists as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, and influenced coverage in newspapers such as the Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Baltimore Sun. BSC effectively ran its own radio station, WRUL, and a press agency, the Overseas News Agency (ONA), feeding stories to the media as they required from foreign datelines to disguise their provenance. WRUL would broadcast a story from ONA and it thus became a US 'source' suitable for further dissemination, even though it had arrived there via BSC agents. It would then be legitimately picked up by other radio stations and newspapers, and relayed to listeners and readers as fact. The story would spread exponentially and nobody suspected this was all emanating from three floors of the Rockefeller Centre. BSC took enormous pains to ensure its propaganda was circulated and consumed as bona fide news reporting. To this degree its operations were 100% successful: they were never rumbled."
Roald Dahl was assigned to work with Drew Pearson, one of America's most influential journalist as the time. "Dahl described his main function with BSC as that of trying to 'oil the wheels' that often ground imperfectly between the British and American war efforts. Much of this involved dealing with journalists, something at which he was already skilled. His chief contact was the mustachioed political gossip columnist Drew Pearson, whose column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, was widely regarded as the most important of its kind in the United States."
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, much of the BSC's security and intelligence work could legitimately be taken over the FBI and other United States agencies. William Stephenson told Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, that the very existence of the BSC was now threatened. In January 1942, the McKellar Bill was before Congress, requiring the registration of all "foreign agents". Stephenson told Menzies this "might render work of this office in U.S.A. impossible as it is obviously inadmissible that all our records and other material should be made public". (14) After some vigorous lobbying by Stephenson and others, the McKellar Bill was amended so that agents of the Allied "United Nations" would be exempt from registration and need only report in private to their own embassy.
Belfrage now did work for the FBI. This included infiltrating a Soviet network run by Jacob Golos. He was the most important Soviet agent in the United States. Golos had been recruited by Gaik Ovakimyan, the NKVD station chief in New York City. Secret Soviet intelligence cables from Golos as "our reliable man in the U.S." According to Allen Weinstein, the author of The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999): "Through bribes, Golos developed a network of foreign consular officials and U.S. passport agency workers who supplied him not only with passports but also naturalization documents and birth certificates belonging to persons who had died or had permanently left the United States."
The FBI became aware that Golos was running a travel agency, World Tourists, as a front for Soviet clandestine work. His office was raided by officials of the Justice Department. Some of these documents showed that Earl Browder, the leader of the Communist Party of the United States, had traveled on a false passport. Browder was arrested and Golos told Elizabeth Bentley: "Earl is my friend. It is my carelessness that is going to send him to jail." Bentley later recalled that the incident took its toll on Golos: "His red hair was becoming grayer and sparser, his blue eyes seemed to have no more fire in them, his face became habitually white and taut."
The FBI decided that he was worth more to them free than in prison. According to Bentley, United States officials agreed to drop the whole investigation, if Golos pleaded guilty. He told her that Moscow insisted that he went along with the deal. "I never thought that I would live to see the day when I would have to plead guilty in a bourgeois court." He complained that they had forced him to become a "sacrificial goat". On 15th March, 1940, Golos received a $500 fine and placed on four months probation.
The FBI now kept a close watch on Golos and on 18th January, 1941, one of its agents saw Golos exchange documents with Gaik Ovakimyan. The FBI also observed Golos meeting Elizabeth Bentley at the offices of the of the U.S. Service and Shipping Corporation. The agents wondered if she might be a Soviet spy as well and she was followed. On 23rd May, 1941, Ovakimyan was arrested and deported.
Belfrage later explained to the FBI that under orders from BSC he had passed files to Russian contacts during the war in order to get material back in return. "My thought was to tell him certain things of a really trifling nature from the point of view of British and American interest, hoping in this way to get from him some more valuable information from the Communist side."
In 1945 Belfrage went to work for the "Psychological Warfare Division" that was under the direct control of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. As Belfrage pointed out, at last "albeit kicking and screaming, democratic capitalism had joined with Soviet socialism to wipe from the earth the war virus in the most pestilent form - fascism." Belfrage welcomed the new power he had been given in the occupation of Germany. "We were part inquisitors, part entrepreneurs but with privileges denied to a Beaverbrook or Hearst. Waving the conqueror's wand, we simply requisitioned real estate, materials, and equipment for use by the new "democratic" press we were required to create."
Professor Christopher Andrew told the BBC that the fact the KGB has never revealed "anything about Belfrage suggests he was important". Maybe the reason why no former Soviet intelligence agent has not come forward with information about Belfrage is because he was not important. However, we do know a fair amount of what his Soviet handlers did think about Belfrage.
The Soviets gave Belfrage the code-name, UCN/9. He was also known as "MOLLY". We know about this because of the declassified Venona files. After the war a team led by Meredith Gardner was assigned to help decode a backlog of communications between Moscow and its foreign missions. By 1945, over 200,000 messages had been transcribed and now a team of cryptanalysts attempted to decrypt them. The project, named Venona (a word which appropriately, has no meaning), was based at Arlington Hall, Virginia.
It was not until 1949 that Gardner made his big breakthrough. He was able to decipher enough of a Soviet message to identify it as the text of a 1945 telegram from Winston Churchill to Harry S. Truman. Checking the message against a complete copy of the telegram provided by the British Embassy, the cryptanalysts confirmed beyond doubt that during the war the Soviets had a spy who had access to secret communication between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain.
Meredith Gardner and his team were able to work out that more than 200 Americans had become Soviet agents during the Second World War. They had spies in the State Department and most leading government agencies, the Manhattan Project and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This included Elizabeth Bentley, Marion Bachrach, Joel Barr, Abraham Brothman, Earl Browder, Karl Hermann Brunck, Louis Budenz, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Coe, Henry Hill Collins, Judith Coplon, Lauchlin Currie, Hope Hale Davis, Samuel Dickstein, Martha Dodd, Laurence Duggan, Gerhart Eisler, Noel Field, Harold Glasser, Vivian Glassman, Jacob Golos, Theodore Hall, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Joseph Katz, Charles Kramer, Duncan Chaplin Lee, Harvey Matusow, Hede Massing, Paul Massing, Boris Morros, William Perl, Victor Perlo, Joszef Peter, Lee Pressman, Mary Price, William Remington, Alfred Sarant, Abraham George Silverman, Helen Silvermaster, Nathan Silvermaster, Alfred Stern, William Ludwig Ullmann, Julian Wadleigh, Harold Ware, Nathaniel Weyl, Donald Niven Wheeler, Harry Dexter White, Nathan Witt and Mark Zborowski.
These agents were never prosecuted using this evidence because the FBI and the CIA did not want the Soviets to know they had broken their code. However, the Soviets knew as early as 1949 because one of Gardner's assistants, William Weisband, was also a Soviet agent. To make sure that the FBI was unaware that they knew that the code was about to be broken, they continued to use it. The "operatives" were instructed "every week to compose summary reports or information on the basis of press and personal connections to be transferred to the Center by telegraph." As Allen Weinstein, the author of The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) has pointed out the "Soviet intelligence's once-flourishing American networks, in short, had been transformed almost overnight into a virtual clipping service."
Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Joseph Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Stalin began to worry that the Allies wanted Adolf Hitler to destroy Soviet communism. It was important for Stalin to be convinced that a Second Front would eventually be achieved.
Cedric Belfrage was part of this project. In 1995-96 over 2,990 fully or partially decrypted Soviet intelligence cables from the Venona archives were declassified and released by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. This included cables that concerned Belfrage. One dated 19th May, 1943, from Vassili Zarubin stated that UCN/9, had informed them that there was a "growing movement" for "opening a second front in Europe".
This information about the desire for a Second Front had been obtained by BSC agent, David Ogilvy, who worked for the Audience Research Institute, that had been set-up by George H. Gallup and Hadley Cantril. According to the official BSC history, from 1941 Ogilvy was "able to ensure a constant flow of intelligence on public opinion in the United States, since he had access not only to the questionnaires sent out by Gallup and Cantril and to the recommendations offered by the latter to the White House," but also to "internal reports prepared by the Survey Division of the Office of War Information and by the Opinion Research Division of the U.S. Army".
It is also clear that since joining the British Security Coordination (BSC) in December 1941, Belfrage had not told the Soviets of the existence of the organisation. In June, 1943, Pavel Klarin, the Soviet vice-counsul in New York City, and a senior NKVD officer, was requested to investigate the existence of this organization. On 21st June he replied: "The organization 'British Security Coordination' is not known to us. We have taken steps to find out what it is. We will report the result in the next few days."
By this time Jacob Golos was having doubts about Belfrage. His assistant, Elizabeth Bentley, later told the FBI "Belfrage was an extremely odd character, and rather difficult to deal with. Although passionately devoted to the cause, he still considered himself a patriotic Britisher, and hence he would give us no information that showed up England's mistakes or tended to make her a laughing-stock."
In September 1943, Golos broke off contact with Belfrage. The official reason was that Golos had shown some of the material provided by Belfrage to Earl Browder. He had used some of this information in an article that he had written for an article that appeared in a magazine controlled by the Communist Party of the United States (CPUA). Terrified that the FBI might trace the source of the leak, the Soviets decided to have nothing more to do with Belfrage. However, the real reason is that another Soviet agent, HAVRE (the true identity of this agent has never been discovered), had reported that Belfrage had failed to give Golos details about the BSC. This suggested to the Soviets he was working as a double agent.
In 1944 Bentley left the CPUA and the following year she considered telling the authorities about her spying activities. In August 1945 she was on holiday to Old Lyme. While in Connecticut she visited the FBI in New Haven. She was interviewed by Special Agent Edward Coady but she was reluctant to give any details of her fellow spies but did tell them that they she was vice-president of the U.S. Service and Shipping Corporation and the company was being used to send information to the Soviet Union. Coady sent a memo to the New York City office suggesting that Bentley could be used as an informant.
On 11th October 1945, Louis Budenz, the editor of the Daily Worker, announced that he was leaving the CPUA and had rejoined "the faith of my fathers" because Communism "aims to establish tyranny over the human spirit". He also said that he intended to expose the "Communist menace". Budenz knew that Bentley was a spy and four days later showed up at the FBI's New York office. Vsevolod Merkulov later wrote in a memo to Joseph Stalin that "Bentley's betrayal might have been caused by her fear of being unmasked by the renegade Budenz." At this meeting she only gave the names of Jacob Golos and Earl Browder as spies.
Another meeting was held on the 7th November 1945. This time she the FBI a 107 page statement that named Cedric Belfrage, Victor Perlo, Harry Dexter White, Nathan Silvermaster, Abraham George Silverman, Nathan Witt, Marion Bachrach, Julian Wadleigh, William Remington, Harold Glasser, Charles Kramer, Duncan Chaplin Lee, Joseph Katz, William Ludwig Ullmann, Henry Hill Collins, Frank Coe, Abraham Brothman, Mary Price and Lauchlin Currie as Soviet spies. The following day J. Edgar Hoover, sent a message to Harry S. Truman confirming that an espionage ring was operating in the United States government. Some of these people, including White, Currie, Bachrach, Witt and Wadleigh, were named by Whittaker Chambers in 1939.
There is no doubt that the FBI was taking her information very seriously. As G. Edward White, has pointed out: "Among her networks were two in the Washington area: one centered in the War Production Board, the other in the Treasury Department. The networks included two of the most highly placed Soviet agents in the government, Harry Dexter White in Treasury and Laughlin Currie, an administrative assistant in the White House."
The FBI then carried out interviews with all those named by Bentley. It is the interview with Cedric Belfrage that is referred to in the documents released by the National Archives last Friday. Gordon Corera explains the fact that the FBI did not prosecute Belfrage because he "had not broken any US laws because he had passed on British secrets". This is of course completely false. The Venona files show that Belfrage was communicating to the Soviets internal reports prepared by the Survey Division of the Office of War Information and by the Opinion Research Division of the U.S. Army. The reason why Belfrage was not prosecuted was that he had only been following the orders he was receiving from British Security Coordination (BSC).
These media stories about Belfrage had difficulty explaining why he was never prosecuted by the British authorities if the "information was of such value that he became more highly-prized by Moscow than notorious Cambridge spy Kim Philby". The BBC report explains this question by claiming that "concerns over embarrassment and the failure of MI6 to unearth evidence for a prosecution meant he appears to have been a spy who got away".
While it is true that "concerns over embarrassment" was the reason why Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess were allowed to escape to the Soviet Union and other Soviet spies such as Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, James Klugmann, along with many others, were never prosecuted. However, that is not the reason why Belfrage was never arrested. As one of the MI6 documents released on Friday revealed it would "be difficult for the Security Service to produce a strong enough case to warrant prosecution". In fact, it was impossible to find such evidence, and the SIS was fully aware of why this was the case.
The BBC, Channel 4, The Daily Mail and the Financial Times all used the SIS press release on Cederic Belfrage. However, The Guardian and The Independent went with a much more important story that came out of Friday's document release from the National Archives.
Richard Norton-Taylor pointed out that MI5 targeted the "Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing for 20 years, listening to her phone conversations, opening her mail and closely monitoring her movements". The released files show "the extent to which MI5, helped by the Met police special branch, spied on the writer, her friends and associates, long after she abandoned communism".
Doris Lessing had left the Communist Party of Great Britain after the brutal quashing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. Along with other Marxist intellectuals, including the historian Eric Hobsbawm, Lessing wrote an open letter criticising the CPGB for its "hopeless and gutless" failure to condemn the Soviet bloodbath in Budapest.
The SIS was well aware that Lessing was no longer a member of the CPGB. In 1957, an MI5 source described Lessing as “disgusted with the Russian action in Hungary” and quoted a letter she had published in Tribune (it had originally been sent to the Daily Worker but they refused to publish it). They continued to spy on her and in November 1962 an MI5 officer wrote: “She is known to have retained extreme left wing views and she takes an interest in African affairs as an avowed opponent of racial discrimination. In more recent years, she has associated herself with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”
We have come to a sorry state of affairs when the BBC joins forces with The Daily Mail to push false spy stories about a man who had a proud history of fighting against fascism (unlike the newspaper, that ran the story, see for example, British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany and Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascist). Or is it an attempt to persuade the new Tory government that it can be trusted to use its power to defend the status quo. (29th August, 2015)
Labour’s multi-millionaire donors have warned that they will stop giving money to the party if Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader. According to the Daily Telegraph this includes Assem Allam, Alan Sugar, John Mills and Richard Brindle.
This raises the question of why rich people want to fund the Labour Party? Before the arrival of Tony Blair the party received very little money from rich donors. Why should they as previous election manifestos had made it clear that the party intended to use the tax system to create a more equal society. However, this all changed under Blair as inequality increased rapidly under his premiership. As Peter Mandelson said on 23rd October 1998, the New Labour government was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.
It was the promise not to do anything about increasing the taxes of the rich that enabled newspaper proprietors such as Rupert Murdoch to give their support to Blair. The top rate of tax was 40% under the John Major government. It was kept as this historically low-rate until just before the 2010 General Election that Gordon Brown announced a new top rate of 50% on income over £150,000 per year. This cost Brown the support of Murdoch and New Labour lost the election.
One of the main reasons why millionaires give money to the Labour Party is to control its economic policy. They also benefit from receiving honours such as knighthoods and peerages. Currently, John Mills is the party's largest donor and openly criticised Corbyn's left-wing economic platform. He is the son of the senior MI5 agent, Kenneth Mills, who apparently helped to keep Fulgencio Batista in power until he was overthrown by Fidel Castro. In 2013, it was revealed Mills had donated £1.65 million to the Labour Party.
His brother, David Mills, is another Labour donor. Mills was involved when Formula One Racing secured a derogation from European limits on tobacco advertising after Bernie Ecclestone contributed more than one million pounds to the Labour Party during the 1997 General Election. In 2006 he was accused of money-laundering and alleged tax fraud, involving Silvio Berlusconi. On 17th February 2009, an Italian court sentenced Mills to four years and six months in jail. On 25th February 2010, the Italian Cassation Court ruled a sentence of not guilty because the statute of limitations expired.
Assem Allam has threatened to cut off access to his £340 million fortune should Labour elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader instead of parachuting in David Miliband. In March, 2015, he offered £1 million if Labour ended its union links. At the same time he gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph saying he liked David Cameron and Tory economic policy and encouraged Ed Miliband to be more right-wing.
As Private Eye (No. 1398) recently pointed out, Allam's company, Allamhouse Limited, has been donating money to the Conservative Party for sometime. This has increased since the Tory victory earlier this year. Although he does not need to influence the economic policies of the party, he might get a knighthood out of it.(19th August, 2015)
The decision of The Sun newspaper to publish footage of the Queen at six or seven years old performing a Nazi salute, has caused a great deal of controversy. Of course it is ridiculous to blame the Queen for her behaviour at such a young age. However, it does raise questions about the political attitudes of the royal family in the 1930s. Why did George VI and his wife Elizabeth, think it was such a humourous thing to get their daughter to give a Nazi salute?
The defenders of the royal family have quickly defended George VI's political position during the 1930s, and point out that it was his brother, Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson, who were Nazi sympathizers. That is definitely true. In July 1933 Robert Bruce-Lockhart reported the conversation that took place between Prince of Wales and the grandson of the former Kaiser, Prince Louis-Ferdinand: "The Prince of Wales was quite pro-Hitler and said it was no business of ours to interfere in Germany’s internal affairs either re Jews or anything else, and added that the dictators are very popular these days, and that we might want one in England before long." In 1934 he made comments suggesting he supported the British Union of Fascists. According to a Metropolitan Police Special Branch report he had met Oswald Mosley for the first time at the home of Lady Maud Cunard in January 1935.
The intelligence services were especially concerned about Wallis Simpson's numerous sexual affairs. They were especially worried about her relationship with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Ambassador to Britain. Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, had received information that Wallis Simpson was passing information to the German government, and conveyed his fears to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. A FBI report at the time stated: "Certain would-be state secrets were passed on to Edward, and when it was found that Ribbentrop... actually received the same information, immediately Baldwin was forced to accept that the leakage had been located."
Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden decided to restrict information shown to the King. The authors of Baldwin (1969) have pointed out: "Mrs. Simpson... was under close scrutiny by Sir Robert Vansittart and both she and the King would not have been pleased to realise that the Security Services were keeping a watching brief on her and some of her friends. The Red boxes sent down to Fort Belvedere were carefully screened by the Foreign Office to ensure that nothing highly secret should go astray. Behind the public facade, behind the King's popularity, the Government had awakened to a danger that had nothing to do with any question of marriage."
Chips Channon was a well-informed government minister. He recorded in his diary: "Much gossip about the Prince of Wales' alleged Nazi leanings; he is alleged to have been influenced by Emerald Cunard (who is rather eprise with Herr Ribbentrop) through Wallis Simpson." MI5 were also concerned by Simpson's relationship with Ribbentrop and was now keeping her under surveillance. Collin Brooks noted in his diary: "The suggestion has been made in many quarters that he could, if he wished, make himself the Dictator of the Empire."
The FBI continued to keep Wallis Simpson under surveillance and in one report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt he stated: "It has been ascertained that for some time the British Government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections, and there is a strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British Government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne... Both she and the Duke of Windsor have been repeatedly warned by representatives of the British Government that in the interest of the morale of the British people, they should be exceedingly circumspect in their dealings with the representatives of the German Government."
Clement Attlee the leader of the Labour Party, was strongly opposed to Wallis Simpson becoming Queen. "As a Privy Councillor I attended the meeting in St. James's Palace of the Accession Council....I thought that King Edward looked very nervous and ill-at-ease. I remember Baldwin expressing to me his anxiety for the future and his doubts as to whether the new King would stay the course. I had met him on several occasions, when he had been most charming, and I was struck by his genuine solicitude for the unemployed... It was not until a late stage that I became aware of the position which had arisen with regard to Mrs. Simpson. Then I went to Baldwin and asked him for information. Later, as the crisis developed, he invited me to tell him what I thought would be the Labour attitude to the various proposals which were being made, in particular that of a morganatic marriage. The talk was confidential, so that I could not consult the Party or even my intimate colleagues. I had to give him what, in my judgment, would be the reactions of the Party."
On 20th October, 1936, Stanley Baldwin met King Edward VIII at the king's country house, Fort Belvedere. The King once again stated his intention to marry Wallis Simpson. Baldwin replied that if this happened he would be forced to resign as Prime Minister. Mrs Simpson's biographer, Philip Ziegler, has argued: Once Mrs Simpson realized that marriage to her would cost the king his throne, she tried to change his resolve. Anticipating much hostile publicity when the story broke in the United Kingdom, she retreated first to Fort Belvedere, and then to the south of France. From there, in a series of distraught telephone calls, she tried to persuade Edward not to abdicate, even if this meant giving her up. She accomplished nothing; this was the only subject on which she was unable to dominate her future husband."
On 10th December, 1936, the king signed a document that stated he he had renounced "the throne for myself and my descendants." The following day he made a radio broadcast where he told the nation that he had abdicated because he found he could not "discharge the duties of king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." On the night of his abdication, 500 Blackshirts shouting support and giving the Fascist salute gathered outside Buckingham Palace chanting, "We Want Edward". The following day, Oswald Mosley demanded the question of the abdication be put to the British people in a referendum.
Conservative historians have reported that the abdication of Edward VIII brought an end to Nazi influence within the royal family. However, as Karina Urbach, the author of Go-Betweens for Hitler (2015) has pointed out, why is the royal family unwilling to release documents that will reveal the truth about the relationship between the monarchy and the Nazi regime of the 1930s. “The royal family can’t suppress their own history for ever,” said Karina Urbach of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. “This is censorship. Censorship is not a democratic value. They have to face their past. I’m coming from a country, Germany, where we all have to face our past.”
At the end of the war Anthony Blunt went on a secret mission for the royal family. According to Hugh Trevor-Roper, Blunt had been sent to retrieve documents that were believed to be in the hands of the royal family's many German relations. It was feared that the contents of these letters would be published in American newspapers. Blunt told Trevor-Roper that his mission had been successful and gave him some of the details of what was in the letters. It was clear that Blunt had made himself familiar with the contents of these papers.
It has been claimed that these documents included letters from the Duke of Windsor to Adolf Hitler. It has even been suggested that there was evidence in these documents that Windsor might have provided information about Britain's war plans: "This plan required the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to advance northward in the event of a German invasion of Belgium... The Ardennes was precisely the sector where General Guderian's XIX Panzer Group burst through on May 10, when Hitler unleashed his offensive in the West. This fact raises the possibility of a connection between the Duke of Windsor's activities at Allied GCHQ and the German decision of February 1940 to scrap their original attack plan in favor of a bold drive through the Ardennes to the Belgian coast so as to cut off the British forces."
These documents also showed that Windsor was close to breaking with his brother, King George VI, and moving to Nazi Germany. However, according to a telegram from Eberhard von Stohrer to Berlin, Windsor changed his mind the British media would "let loose upon himself the propaganda of his British enemies which would rob him of all prestige for the moment of possible intervention". Donald Cameron Watt, who has examined the Duke of Windsor section of the German Foreign Ministry files and says that important documents that refer to the Windsors' meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden are missing.
However, was it just the behaviour of the former Edward VIII that George VI wanted to cover-up? A few months after arriving back in the country, Anthony Blunt, who we now know was a Soviet spy, retired from MI5 to become Surveyor of the King's Pictures. John Costello has suggested that the KGB gave permission for Blunt to work for the royal family because it was in their interest to do so. "Once Blunt gained knowledge of the explosive royal secret, it became his gold-plated insurance policy. Even if his espionage was uncovered, Blunt would argue, his crime paled before the enormity of Windsor's wartime activities. And given the lengths to which the British government was willing to go to cover up these activities, Blunt would have been able to make a convincing case that he had a cast-iron guarantee against ever being publicly exposed. The Kremlin must also have appreciated that, in the Palace, Blunt could also provide a safety net for the other Cambridge agents. No one Blunt had recruited could ever be brought to public trial in Britain without implicating Blunt. Again, to expose Blunt would threaten the Windsor secret."
On 4th June 1963, Michael Straight was offered the post of the chairmanship of the Advisory Council on the Arts by President John F. Kennedy. Aware that he would be vetted - and his background investigated - he approached Arthur Schlesinger, one of Kennedy's advisers, and told him that Anthony Blunt had recruited him as a spy while an undergraduate at Trinity College. Schlesinger suggested that he told his story to the FBI. He spent the next couple of days being interviewed by William Sullivan.
Straight's information was passed on to MI5 and Arthur Martin, the intelligence agency's principal molehunter, went to America to interview him. Michael Straight confirmed the story, and agreed to testify in a British court if necessary. Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has argued that Straight's information was "the decisive breakthrough in MI5's investigation of Anthony Blunt".
Peter Wright, who took part in the meetings about Anthony Blunt, argues in his book, Spycatcher (1987) that Roger Hollis decided to give Blunt immunity from prosecution because of his hostility towards the Labour Party and the damage it would do to the Conservative Party: "Hollis and many of his senior staff were acutely aware of the damage any public revelation of Blunt's activities might do themselves, to MI5, and to the incumbent Conservative Government. Harold Macmillan had finally resigned after a succession of security scandals, culminating in the Profumo affair. Hollis made little secret of his hostility to the Labour Party, then riding high in public opinion, and realized only too well that a scandal on the scale that would be provoked by Blunt's prosecution would surely bring the tottering Government down."
Eight years after confessing to being a Soviet spy Blunt was appointed Adviser of the Queens's Pictures and Drawings. A post he held until his retirement in 1978. However, there is a far more important reason why Blunt was not prosecuted. He did not only have evidence that implicated the former Edward VIII. After all, most of this had been known about for sometime. It was information that related to Queen Elizabeth's father that really kept kept Blunt out of court. That is the reason why the royal family will never give permission to open up the archives.
What do we know about the political views of George VI during the 1930s? Probably the best source available is the diary kept by his prime minister during this period. Neville Chamberlain later reported that he was under considerable pressure from the King to pursue an appeasement policy. In a letter sent to Chamberlain on 27th September, 1938, the King said: "I am sending this letter by my Lord Chamberlain, to ask you if you will come straight to Buckingham Palace, so that I can express to you personally my most heartfelt congratulations on the success of your visit to Munich. In the meantime this letter brings the warmest of welcomes to one who by his patience and determination has earned the lasting gratitude of his fellow countrymen throughout the Empire." (23rd July, 2015)
David Cameron rewarded his wealthy banker friends in 2015 birthday honours. However, he did what he could to disguise the fact that they were bankers. As was recently revealed in Private Eye. For example, Henry Angest was given a knighthood for "political service". That means of course he was a large donor to the Conservative Party (an estimated £7 million). Angest also runs the private Arbuthnot Bank and the high-cost lender, Everyday Loans (an average of 74 per cent APR).
Jeremy Isaacs was given a CBE for "services to the NHS". That seems strange as he only has a minor job on the Imperial College NHS Trust board. The real reason is he donated £298,000 to the Tories. There is no mention that he was named in the official report into the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In 2008 he was its chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Asia and was largely responsible for the bank over-extended itself. When the bank collapsed he resigned and he was paid $5m compensation. Maybe it was some of this money he has been giving to the Tories. It could be argued that Cameron was giving him the honour for helping him bring down the Labour government in 2010.
Sarah Weller was given a CBE for sitting on the board of the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is a good job she did not receive it for being a director of Lloyds Bank. Weller was appointed to be "a strong advocate of customers" in February 2012. She did not do a very good job because the bank was fined £117m for ripping off customers "when handling Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) complaints between March 2012 and May 2013". (22nd July, 2015)
The scandal of corporate welfare.
George Osborne's budget will once again highlight the debate about the costs and benefits of social welfare. It is believed that today he will announce his plans to cut £12bn more from the social welfare bill.
In a fascinating article published in the journal, Renewal, a couple of years ago, Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer at York University, argued that the media ignores the subject of corporate welfare. "Whereas social welfare claimants are pilloried and castigated in the media for their irresponsible behaviour, corporate welfare claimants are often celebrated. Whereas social welfare recipients face increasingly tough conditions when they make a claim on the state, business recipients face few conditions and no real sanctions, even when their actions, for instance, on tax avoidance or lobbying against the welfare state, undermine the very future of public policy".
Corporate welfare is part of what David Cameron calls his government’s policy to make the UK “the most open, welcoming, business-friendly country in the world”. Cameron has promised the lowest corporation tax rate anywhere in the G7 and he has introduced tax exemptions for research and direct government support.
This policy is justified by governments by claiming that these corporations will generate extra taxes which will repay these subsidies. The reality is very different and it is more about repaying the money paid by corporations to the Conservative Party.
Farnsworth is today launching an online database of grants made to companies. His research, published in today's Guardian, is based on the figures for the financial year 2012-13 (the last year for which there is a near-complete set of accounts). In that year the government spent £58.2bn on subsidies, grants and corporate tax benefits. It took just £41.3bn in corporation tax receipts.
As the newspaper points out, many of the companies receiving the largest public grants over the past few years previously paid little or zero corporation tax. This include some of the best-known names in Britain, such as Amazon, Ford and Nissan.
Farnsworth comments that in 2012, Amazon was attacked by MPs on parliament’s public accounts committee for avoiding UK tax. Yet in the same period, the online retailer was awarded £16.5m in grants by the administrations of Scotland and Wales to help build distribution centres. (7th July, 2015)
Greeks go to the polls today to vote on whether to accept the bailout programme proposed by international lenders that would restart financial aid in exchange for further austerity and economic reform. It is a difficult decision for the Greek people to make but it is important for them to show the world that further cuts will not solve their economic problems. In fact, as leading economists have already pointed out, it will only make matters worse.
As Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning US economist has pointed out that the troika of international lenders (the European commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) is effectively demanding that the policy regime of the past five years be continued indefinitely. This is a policy that had completely failed. As it was bound to. As John Maynard Keynes argued correctly in the 1930s, you do not solve the problem of economic depression by cutting back government spending. In fact, you do the opposite. Britain's feeble politicians ignored his advice and choose to reduce unemployment benefits.
Luckily, for the world, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he took office in 1933, his economic advisers such as Harry Hopkins, Marriner Eccles and Henry Wallace, had accepted the theories of Maynard Keynes, who believed that technically advanced economies would need permanent budget deficits or other measures (such as redistribution of income away from the wealthy) to stimulate consumption of goods and to maintain full employment. It was argued that it was the attempt to balance the budget that was causing the recession. The New Deal did not only helped to solve the economic recession but also helped to stimulate the economy in Europe.
Joseph Stiglitz, another Nobel laureate in economics urging voters in Greece to say no. He claims that is the policies of the EC, ECB and the IMF that has caused the economic problems in Europe: “I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences.”
Thomas Piketty, Professor at the Paris School of Economics and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), agrees with Krugman and Stiglitz. All three admit that voting "no" offers no guarantees. Piketty believes that the only way forward is for Greece’s heavy debt burden to be restructured: "It’s a complicated choice. The question being asked is whether the plan from the creditors is good or not. If that is the question being asked, the answer for me is clear: it is a bad plan."
According to Krugman: "A no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present."
It is clear that countries such as Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal overspent in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. However, the idea of solving the problem by punishing the people living in the countries is not only immoral but is also economically illiterate. That is what President Herbert Hoover did in the USA and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald did in their response to the Great Depression. It failed then as it will fail today.
When discussing this problem you need to look at the motives of those institutions that lent money to Greece. The Greek government and the country’s major businesses borrowed heavily on the international money markets. As The Guardian recently pointed out: "Among others, they borrowed from French and German banks, often in return for French and German goods, not all of which worked. For instance, two diesel submarines bought from Germany from the bulging defence budget were never operational after the Greek navy failed to get them to work."
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), joined the rescue of Greece in 2010 alongside the EU and the European Central Bank (ECB), insisted on reductions to wages but told them to maintain defence spending. So while the defence equipment budget remained intact, soldiers suffered a near 40% drop in salaries. Once again, money is taken from people who would spend it on goods that would have helped the economy grow. Instead the money goes to international corporations who will invest it in the countries who will give them the greatest return. (5th July, 2015)
The owners of the British press gave its loyal support to the Conservative Party during the recent general election. This is not surprising as they would all have personally suffered from the tax changes being proposed by the Labour Party.
There is also something else that Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay brothers feel very strongly about. They are all concerned about the failure of their media organizations to make profits from their online operations. The way they see it is that as long as the BBC provide free content, they will find it very difficult to charge for their services.
According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron on his battle-bus said of the BBC: “I’m going to close them down.” He claims he was joking but it was disturbing to see John Whittingdale, given the job of culture secretary. As Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee he did a good job for several years of covering up the phone hacking scandal. When the Guardian first revealed the extent of the practice at the News of the World he apparently warned members of the committee not to call the newspaper's former editor, Rebekah Brooks, to testify due to the potential risk that their personal lives would be investigated in revenge.
Whittingdale, the man who received an OBE for being the Political Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, is a long-time opponent of the minimum wage. He also does not like the idea of equal pay. In 2014 Whittingdale along with six other Conservative Party MPs voted against the Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill which would require all companies with more than 250 employees to declare the gap in pay between the average male and average female salaries. Whittingdale believes strongly in the free market. For example, in 2012 Whittingdale received £8,000 for 32 hours' work as a non-executive director of Audio Network, an online music catalogue. I wonder why it was considered necessary to pay him such a lot of money for such little work.
Whittingdale shares his media master's views on the BBC. He once called the £145 licence fee “worse than the poll tax”. Other leading figures in the Tory Party such as Sajid Javid, the business secretary, complained this month that the licence fee was “a large amount for many families” and “needs looking at”. There has been a joint campaign between right-wing politicians and newspapers about the problems of people unable to pay the TV licence. They have even called for non-payment to be decriminalised. This measure would lose the BBC an estimated £200m a year. Add to this the £600m they would not obtain if the proposed measure of exempting over-75s from the licence fee is implemented. Whittingdale also appears to favour five more static years to add to the current seven-year licence fee freeze.
The media moguls argue continually for a subscription system, that would destroy the BBC as an effective organization. The best defence of the BBC is its popularity. Latest figures show 96% of people use the BBC every week, spending an average of 18.5 hours watching, listening or online. However, the media's long-term propaganda campaign appears to be working. One recent poll in a Murdoch newspaper showed “waning” public support for the BBC, with only 48% saying the licence fee is value for money, with a higher preferring funding by advertising. People voting in the Murdoch poll were not told the entire BBC has half the budget of Sky's subscription service. Is Murdoch really saying that Sky provides a better service than the BBC? (26th June, 2015)
William Hague is probably the first politician to leave government because he wants to spend more time with his history books (he has previously written books on William Pitt and William Wilberforce). It is possible that there might be other reasons for this decision.
I was informed fifteen years ago by a well-known journalist who had close links with the government that Hague would eventually end up in trouble for things that went on in the early part of his career. This story would also concern his mentor, Leon Brittain. However, like Richard Nixon, it might be the cover-up, rather than the actions of a young man, that might cause him the most trouble.
A report in the Mail on Sunday recently suggested that Hague is about to be criticised for his role in the cover-up a paedophile scandal nearly twenty years ago. In 1996, as Welsh Secretary in John Major's Government, Hague ordered an inquiry into allegations about what became known as the North Wales care homes scandal. The Waterhouse Inquiry lasted three years and cost £13 million. It has been widely criticised for only investigating staff in the homes and failing to follow up claims about prominent individuals. This included Tory politicians such as Sir Peter Morrison.
Pressure on Hague increased when former Tory MP, Gyles Brandreth revealed last year that Hague told him several years ago that Morrison was involved in the scandal that where up to 650 children were raped or assaulted in the Seventies and Eighties. Brandreth, who replaced Morrison as the MP for Chester, reported in his autobiography, Breaking the Code (2014): "The first, and only, official acknowledgement of my predecessor's possible involvement in child abuse came my way in 1996 when William Hague, then Secretary of State for Wales, came up to me in the House of Commons to let me know that he had ordered an inquiry into allegations of child abuse in care homes in North Wales between 1974 and 1990 – and that Peter's name might feature in connection with the Bryn Estyn home in Wrexham."
Another former Tory MP Rod Richards, a Welsh Office Minister who served alongside Hague, has also produced damaging information about the cover-up. Richards said he saw a handwritten note in a Government dossier in the Nineties which appeared to link Morrison with the scandal. However, as Brandreth pointed out: "When the Waterhouse report appeared... Sir Peter Morrison's name did not feature."
According to the Daily Mirror, there is other evidence against Hague being involved in cover-ups of Tory politicians sexually abusing under-age boys. Anthony Gilberthorpe was a party activist in the early 1980s and had high hopes of being selected for the safe Tory seat of Gloucester. At a Tory Party conference in 1983 Gilberthorpe was given money to recruit young boys for sex parties.
Gilberthorpe disapproved of these parties and in 1989 he sent Margaret Thatcher a 40-page dossier accusing Cabinet members of abusing underage boys at drug-fuelled conference gatherings. Gilberthorpe claims he named Keith Joseph, Rhodes Boyson, Michael Havers and at least one MP still serving today. He told the newspaper: “I outlined exactly what I had witnessed and informed her I intended to expose it.... I made it very clear to Mrs Thatcher most trusted ministers had been at these parties with boys who were between 15 and 16.... I also told her of the amount of illegal drugs like cocaine that were consumed."
Thatcher passed the dossier onto William Hague who invited Gilberthorpe to a meeting in a private room in the House of Lords tearoom. Gilberthorpe said: “I have no idea why William Hague was chosen to deal with my allegations... He introduced a high ranking civil servant who was also there." The civil servant then said "What you’ve said is extremely libelous and slanderous. This meeting is finished". Gilberthorpe added that “Mr Hague hardly said anything. I was ushered out and that was that. I was angry. I thought I’d hit a brick wall and there seemed no other place to go.”
Gilberthorpe's story about Morrison, Joseph and Boyson was supported by a dossier produced by Barbara Castle, who investigated allegations linking politicians to the Paedophile Information Exchange. This dossier, which also included the results of the investigation carried out by the Tory politician, Geoffrey Dickens, was passed to Don Hale, the editor of the Bury Messenger.
Hale agreed with Castle that he would run a story the week after she handed him her documents. "Obviously, I had to contact certain members named (in the dossier) and the home office for their responses. Each call was met with shock horror as to why I should be wasting my time asking these 'daft' questions as nothing was happening within parliament. When I explained the detailed nature of the information available and that I couldn't reveal my source, you could almost hear a pin drop as officials were unsure as to what to say or do."
While he was carrying out this investigation Hale was visited by the Liberal MP for Rochdale, Cyril Smith, who tried to persuade the journalist that it was "all poppycock". The next day special branch officers arrived at the newspaper's office, showed him a D-notice and warned him of imprisonment if he failed to hand over the dossier. Hale said: "I was sworn to secrecy by special branch at the risk of jail if I repeated any of the allegations."
Until the exposure of that other great friend of the Tories, Jimmy Savile, newspapers were reluctant to report on these events. Although I find it difficult to believe any member of the Tory paedophile ring will appear in court charged with child abuse, it is just possible those involved in the cover-up will get their reputations trashed. (23rd June, 2015)
Before I go round to my daughter's to celebrate Father's Day I thought I would post a couple of quotations on the wisdom of the father.
Mark Twain once commented: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
John Updike made a similar point when he said: "You know how it is with fathers, you never escape the idea that maybe after all they're right."
Father's of course are not always right. However, he can always unconditionally love his children. As Jim Valvano, the basketball coach, pointed out: "My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me." Hopefully, my daughter can say the same about me.
Being a father to my daughter Louise, has been, without a doubt, my greatest source of achievement and pride. In the words of Euripides: "To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter." (21st June, 2015)
President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (1974-1981) gave a television interview a couple of years ago that unfortunately got very little publicity. He revealed that he had always had a strong interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Soon after coming to power President Giscard d’Estaing made an official visit to the United States. This included a meeting with President Gerald Ford, who had been on the Warren Commission. In the interview Giscard d’Estaing recalled a discussion he had with Ford: "Once I was making a car trip with him, he was then President as I was myself. I said to him: 'Let me ask you an indiscreet question: you were on the Warren Commission, what conclusions did you arrive at?' He told me: 'It's not a satisfactory one. We arrived at an initial conclusion: it was not the work of one person, it was something set up. We were sure that it was set up. But we were not able to discover by whom.' "
That is of course not what the Warren Commission said when it published its report in October, 1964. It reached the following conclusions:
(1) The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor John Connally were fired from the sixth floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository.
(2) The weight of the evidence indicates that there were three shots fired.
(3) Although it is not necessary to any essential findings of the Commission to determine just which shot hit Governor Connally, there is very persuasive evidence from the experts to indicate that the same bullet which pierced the President's throat also caused Governor Connally's wounds. However, Governor Connally's testimony and certain other factors have given rise to some difference of opinion as to this probability but there is no question in the mind of any member of the Commission that all the shots which caused the President's and Governor Connally's wounds were fired from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.
(4) The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.
(5) Oswald killed Dallas Police Patrolman J. D. Tippit approximately 45 minutes after the assassination.
(6) Within 80 minutes of the assassination and 35 minutes of the Tippit killing Oswald resisted arrest at the theater by attempting to shoot another Dallas police officer.
(7) The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy.
(8) In its entire investigation the Commission has found no evidence of conspiracy, subversion, or disloyalty to the U.S. Government by any Federal, State, or local official.
(9) On the basis of the evidence before the Commission it concludes that, Oswald acted alone. (19th June, 2015)
The news that Jeremy Corbyn obtained the 35 nominations required to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party is to be welcomed. He is unlikely to win but at least we will get a debate over the wisdom of austerity and will add to the public understanding of the economic alternatives.
In the last General Election the three major parties supported the policy of austerity. Paul Krugman, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2008, pointed out during the election campaign: "Cameron is campaigning largely on a spurious claim to have ‘rescued’ the British economy – and promising, if he stays in power, to continue making substantial cuts in the years ahead. Labour, sad to say, are echoing that position. So both major parties are in effect promising a new round of austerity that might well hold back a recovery that has, so far, come nowhere near to making up the ground lost during the recession and the initial phase of austerity.”
Krugman went on to argue that the government has falsely sought to claim that the economy’s recovery was due to austerity when in fact recovery only began once the coalition adopted a less aggressive approach to deficit reduction in 2012. Krugman was highly critical of the Labour Party policy during the election. Although the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, predicted in 2010 that austerity would lead to lower growth and a higher deficit than the government was expecting, they gradually accepted the coalition’s narrative and it was left to the Green Party and the SNP.
Krugman quotes John Maynard Keynes as saying in 1937: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” He goes on to argue that " I often encounter people on both the left and the right who imagine that austerity policies were what the textbook said you should do – that those of us who protested against the turn to austerity were staking out some kind of heterodox, radical position. But the truth is that mainstream, textbook economics not only justified the initial round of post-crisis stimulus, but said that this stimulus should continue until economies had recovered. What we got instead, however, was a hard right turn in elite opinion, away from concerns about unemployment and toward a focus on slashing deficits, mainly with spending cuts. Why?"
Krugman suggests one of the major problems is the electorate do not have a very good understanding of economics. "Part of the answer is that politicians were catering to a public that doesn’t understand the rationale for deficit spending, that tends to think of the government budget via analogies with family finances."
Krugman is not alone in criticising the economic policies of the three major parties. The Centre for Macroeconomics polled 50 economists, asking them whether they agreed that the government’s deficit-reduction strategy had had a positive impact on growth and employment. One-third disagreed and a further third strongly disagreed. Only 15% agreed, with none strongly agreeing.
It could be argued that the Labour Party in 2015 made the same mistakes as it did in the past. In 1930 Britain was suffering from a terrible economic depression. Philip Snowden, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote in his notebook on 14th August that "the trade of the world has come near to collapse and nothing we can do will stop the increase in unemployment." He was growing increasingly concerned about the impact of the increase in public-spending. At a cabinet meeting in January 1931, he estimated that the budget deficit for 1930-31 would be £40 million. Snowden argued that it might be necessary to cut unemployment benefit. Margaret Bondfield looked into this suggestion and claimed that the government could save £6 million a year if they cut benefit rates by 2s. a week and to restrict the benefit rights of married women, seasonal workers and short-time workers.
In March 1931 Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party's first prime minister, asked Sir George May, to form a committee to look into Britain's economic problems. The committee included two members that had been nominated from the three main political parties. At the same time, John Maynard Keynes, the chairman of the Economic Advisory Council, published his report on the causes and remedies for the depression. This included an increase in public spending and by curtailing British investment overseas.
Snowden rejected the ideas put forward by Maynard Keynes and this was followed by the resignation of Charles Trevelyan, the Minister of Education. "For some time I have realised that I am very much out of sympathy with the general method of Government policy. In the present disastrous condition of trade it seems to me that the crisis requires big Socialist measures. We ought to be demonstrating to the country the alternatives to economy and protection. Our value as a Government today should be to make people realise that Socialism is that alternative."
When the May Committee produced its report in July, 1931, it forecast a huge budget deficit of £120 million and recommended that the government should reduce its expenditure by £97,000,000, including a £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits. On 5th August, Maynard Keynes wrote to MacDonald, describing the May Report as "the most foolish document I ever had the misfortune to read." He argued that the committee's recommendations clearly represented "an effort to make the existing deflation effective by bringing incomes down to the level of prices" and if adopted in isolation, they would result in "a most gross perversion of social justice".
When t he Labour Cabinet refused to accept the report, MacDonald formed a National Government that included Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and John Sankey. On 8th September 1931, the National Government's programme of £70 million economy programme was debated in the House of Commons. This included a £13 million cut in unemployment benefit. The result was an increase in unemployment and a deeper recession.
While t he Great Depression continued in Britain. Maynard Keynes took his ideas to the United States. President Herbert Hoover economic policies were similar to those of Ramsay MacDonald. In 1932 the national deficit was nearly $3,000,000,000 and the unemployment-rate was 23.6%. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 his Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, and aides within the Treasury Department favored an approach that sought to balance the federal budget. But other advisers in the President's inner circle, including Harry Hopkins, Marriner Eccles and Henry Wallace, had accepted the recent theories of Maynard Keynes, who argued that technically advanced economies would need permanent budget deficits or other measures (such as redistribution of income away from the wealthy) to stimulate consumption of goods and to maintain full employment. It was argued that it was the attempt to balance the budget that was causing the recession.
President Roosevelt was eventually convinced by these arguments and he recognized the need for increased government expenditures to put people back to work. An important part of his New Deal programme was increased spending on government expenditures for relief and work schemes. From 1933 to 1937, unemployment was reduced from 25% to 14%.
Roosevelt was much attacked by his political opponents for not concentrating on reducing the national deficit. However, as Roosevelt explained in a speech in 1936: "To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would have been confiscatory, or we should have had to set our face against human suffering with callous indifference. When Americans suffered, we refused to pass by on the other side. Humanity came first."
Unfortunately, the British government followed the failed policies of Hoover rather than the successful measures of Roosevelt. The governments of Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain continued to try and balance the budget. Something of course that is very difficult to do with high spending on unemployment benefits. This of course changed with the outbreak of the Second World War. It now became necessary to use deficit spending to achieve victory over Nazi Germany.
One of the main reasons why the British public voted in the way that it did in the 1945 General Election was because it remembered the way the Conservative leaders had behaved in the 1930s. Clement Attlee was the first prime minister in British history to accept the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes. At the beginning of the war the National Debt was 110% of GDP. By 1945 it was 200% but still the government did not cut back and by 1947 it was 238% of GDP. With this increased spending the government was able to build more than a million homes, 80% of which were council houses. They were also able to establish the National Health Service. However, full-employment meant that the government was gradually able to reduce the national debt. (16th June 2015)
The first Sunday Times Political Rich List, published this weekend, found that 25 individuals had given more than £1m each, accounting for 28% of £174.4m donated in private and corporate cash between 2010 and 2014. City financier Lord Farmer, who gave more than £5m to the Conservatives, while JCB chairman Lord Bamford and other members of his family were said to have given the Tories a combined total of £3.6m.
Other big donors to the Conservative Party include property developer David Rowland (£3.4m); banker James Lupton (£2.1m); hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze (£1.9m) and IM Group founder Lord Edmiston (£1.5m). The only wealthy individual to give to the Labour Party was Lord Sainsbury of Turville, former chair of Sainsbury and science minister under the last Labour government. He donated £542,329 to Labour but he stopped giving to the party directly since Ed Miliband became leader in 2010. (15th June 2015)
It has been reported today by Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission that thousands of working-class people are being denied jobs at top firms, as they effectively need to pass a “poshness test” to join elite employers. It is claimed that executives are more likely to judge potential recruits by how they speak than by how well they might do the job.
The research is the product of extensive interviews with staff from 13 elite law, accountancy and financial services firms, who together are responsible for 45,000 of the best jobs in the country. It finds that elite firms are systematically excluding bright working-class applicants from their workforce. Data collected for the project showed that as much as 70% of job offers in 2014 were to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to 4% and 7% of the population as a whole.
Discrimination comes about because the managers who conduct job interviews do not like working-class accents, the commission reported, but are impressed by young people who have travelled widely, which naturally favours those from well-off families. According to Alan Milburn: “This research shows that young young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs, Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry. Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances... In some top law firms, trainees are more than five times likely to have attended a fee-paying school than the population as a whole. They are denying themselves talent, stymieing young people’s social mobility and fuelling the social divide that bedevils Britain.” (15th June 2015)
Time Magazine recently reported that since Hillary Clinton left her post at the State Department she has been paid $10.2 million for giving 45 speeches. Of that money, almost $4.6 million came from clients looking to shape policy on issues as varied as taxes, trade policy, financial regulation and health care. "In many cases, Clinton agreed to answer questions onstage as part of the payment, ensuring that she was briefed on issues of concern to the executives writing her paychecks."
In all, the groups that Clinton was paid to address spent $72.5 million on federal lobbyists in 2014. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the money-tracking Center for Responsive Politics, commented: "It's big money. They're spending it because they have far greater sums riding on these decisions that they're trying to shape."
Since leaving office in 2001, Bill Clinton has made $82.8 million giving similar speeches. When questioned about their considerable wealth Hillary Clinton replied: "Bill and I have been blessed and we're very grateful for the opportunities that we had, but we've never forgotten where we've come from." (14th June 2015)
When the television broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman, was working for the BBC his annual salary was more than £1m. No wonder he gave such a tough time when interviewing Labour Party leaders calling for increased taxes on high-income earners. He defended the £145-a-year BBC licence fee that was needed to pay the high wages of people like himself: "It is perfectly right and proper for the Corporation to collect this revenue to fund its vital public service broadcasting."
Since leaving the BBC and joining Channel 4, Paxman's views on the licence fee has changed. Paxman recently told the Daily Telegraph that the BBC licence fee “clearly can’t last” and is becoming “harder to justify”. He then went on to say that the £145 fee was unsustainable in the long term, but said there was currently no alternative funding model and people should ask themselves “would the world be a better place without the BBC?” (14th June 2015)
Paul Dacre, eight years after his bypass operation, has now undergone further cardiac surgery. Maybe Lord Rothermere will take this opportunity to remove Dacre as editor-in-chief of DMG media, which publishes the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, the free daily tabloid Metro.
Since March 2012, the sales of the Daily Mail fell by 294,657 or 15%. The problem is even more serious for the Mail on Sunday. During the same period its sales have fallen from 1.82 million to 1.5 million. The circulation of The Sun is continuing the see the same sort of decline with 10.2 per cent less sales. Maybe the tabloids of Lord Rothermere and Rupert Murdoch did win the 2015 General Election and saved the media moguls from paying less tax, but it could be the last time that they play such an important role in our so-called democratic system. (14th June 2015)
Piers Morgan, when interviewed last October, commented: "All I've always said about this is to this day, nobody has ever been arrested in connection with any alleged offence involving hacking or anything else during the ten years I ran the Daily Mirror... That's what I've always stuck to and until that changes, I'll believe that the Daily Mirror operated on my tenure under the law."
As Private Eye recently pointed out a 195-page judgement issued by Mr Justice Mann that the Mirror Group admitted that no fewer than 25 articles which were published in the Daily Mirror during the period Piers Morgan was editor "would not have been published had it not been for preceding unlawful activity". (13th June 2015)
In the Queen's Birthday Honours, Sir Henry Angest, the banker, has been knighted in reward for "political service". The Independent reports that the Swiss-born multimillionaire banker has channelled almost £7m to the Conservatives in loans and donations over the last few years. This raises fresh concerns that the party is using the honours system to reward its donors.
Angest is chairman and chief executive of the Arbuthnot Banking Group and is also behind Everyday Loans. The company was acquired in 2012 by the Secure Trust Bank, which is owned by Arbuthnot and has Angest as its non-executive chairman. Although an Arbuthnot spokesman insisted it was not a payday loans company, because it only offered loans over periods of 13 months or more, its current average APR is 74.4 per cent.
Sir Henry’s link to Everyday Loans emerged in 2013, embarrassing the Conservatives at a time when the Government was promising to crack down on high-interest lenders. With his wealth estimated at £135m by the Sunday Times Rich List, Sir Henry has given the Conservatives a total of £1.9m in donations, either personally or through his companies. A spokesman for the government said: “Party donations do not play any part in the honours selection process.” (13th June 2015)
I attended an entertaining talk by Steve Bell at the Ropetackle Arts Centre last night. Bell made it clear that he sees himself as an anti-Tory cartoonist. One of the points he made was that David Cameron had complained about being portrayed with a condom over his head. I am not convinced this is really a very effective political image to communicate. Unlike that master-stroke of showing John Major wearing his Y-fronts outside his suit.
It was interesting to see the way the cartoons of Margaret Thatcher changed over the years. His comic strip Maggie's Farm appeared in the London listings magazine Time Out from 1979 and later in City Limits. It was after joining the Guardian in 1981 that he developed the image that he is best remembered. His final cartoon of Thatcher created a great deal of controversy on her death in April 2013. It showed Thatcher in a burning tomb saying: "Why is this pit still open?". Her words, a reference to the coal mines which closed in the 1980s, are delivered to a weeping David Cameron and George Osborne.
Steve Bell told us that his most important influence was James Gillray. I found this surprising as after 1793 he became a strong supporter of William Pitt and the Tories. When a friend asked Gillray why his prints were so critical of the Whigs he replied: "they are poor, they do not buy my prints and I must draw on the purses of the larger parties." Gillray's cartoon were especially critical of Radicals such as Charles Fox, Tom Paine and Sir Francis Burdett. Gillray also attacked Nonconformist religious leaders such as Joseph Priestley and Richard Price.
In 1795 Gillray met George Canning, a close friend of William Pitt, Britain's prime minister. Gillray began contributing to Canning's Tory magazine, The Anti-Jacobin. In 1797 Canning arranged for Gillray to receive regular payments from the government as a reward for his attacks on the Whigs. The journalist, William Cobbett, claimed that Gillray had been granted a pension of £200 a year for his attacks on radicals. Although I agree Gillray was a great draughtsman his willingness to be used by the establishment stops him from being a great artist.
In his talk Steve Bell argued that political cartoonists emerged in the 18th century. However, we have very fine examples of this art that dates back to the 16th century. One of my favourite artists from this period is Hans Holbein. In 1522 he was commissioned by a wealthy Protestant merchant to create an image of Martin Luther. When published it depicted Luther as the Greek super-hero and god, Hercules, attacking people with a viciously spiked club. In the picture, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, Duns Scotus and Nicholas of Lyra already lay bludgeoned to death at his feet and the German inquisitor, Jacob van Hoogstraaten was about to receive his fatal stroke. Suspended from a ring in Luther's nose was the figure of Pope Leo X.
Holbein was a Roman Catholic who felt uneasy about becoming involved in Protestant propaganda. Derek Wilson, the author of Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther (2007) has argued: "What was clever about this print (and what has made it difficult for later ages to determine its true message) was that it was capable of various interpretations. Followers of Luther could see their champion represented as a truly god-like being of awesome power, the agent of divine vengeance. Classical scholars, delighting in the many subtle allusions (such as the representation of the triple-tiaraed pope as the three-bodied monster, Geryon) could applaud the vivid representation of Luther as the champion of falsehood over medieval error. Yet, papalists could look on the same image and see in it a vindication of Leo's description of the uncouth German as the destructive wild boar in the vineyard and, for this reason, the engraving received a very mixed reception in Wittenberg." (13th June 2015)
Spartacus News (January 2015-June 2015)