Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Patricia Hewitt

The Blair Years Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 20 2016 where it was given the title Saviour or Serpent.

Colman's Column3

Tony Blair has announced that he may return to British politics. This is somewhat surprising considering the universal loathing that is today felt for the man following the repercussions of the ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his more recent sordid quest for riches, a quest which has led him to consort with many dodgy dictators.

An examination of Blair’s rule may be enlightening for those masochistic Sri Lankans who believe that this island nation’s polity is supreme in its incompetence, inefficiency and corruption and its politicians unrivalled in their practice of the dark arts of Machiavellian manipulation.

Euphoria

I for one have not forgotten the euphoria which greeted Blair’s election. On the bright morning of 2 May 1997, I wandered down to the Imperial War Museum. A complete stranger, a very tall man conducting a poll for MORI, embraced me, shouting “Isn’t it great”. I was as enthralled as he was. I even got a job with MORI. This was like a new dawn after 18 years of Tory rule. Blair introduced the longest-lasting non-Tory government since 1762.

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Dysphoria

In 2006, when Blair made his final speech to a Labour Party conference, a MORI poll put the public’s ‘satisfaction’ rating of Blair at 20 per cent, lower than Thatcher on the eve of her fall. There had been a time during Blair’s premiership when approval ratings surged to levels of surpassing those conjured up in totalitarian regimes.

I voted for Labour in that 1997 election and felt that I had personally achieved something. Many of us were drunk with joy. It was a sobering experience to walk around the Imperial War Museum and to see the remembrance of so many lost lives. My grandfather had fought in the First World War. I wonder if my father’s experience in the Second World War had truncated his life so cruelly. Little did I suspect on that morning at the museum that Blair would be complicit in so many needless deaths.

Dawn and Disillusion

 

Professor Anthony King described the Labour landslide, as being akin to “an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth”. Blair entered Downing Street on a wave of optimism and good will, promising to restore trust in politics and breathe new life into Britain’s tired institutions.

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Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of what became known as the “sleaze factor”. There was what seemed like an endless succession of sex scandals. It was later revealed that boring old Major himself had had a four-year affair with health minister Edwina Currie. During Blair’s stewardship sleaze continued and the tired institutions continued to languish.

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“Our mission will be the renewal of our public services. There is nothing more important to making Britain a fairer and stronger country.” Did he succeed?

Health

I was working as a management consultant in the NHS when Conservative Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke introduced his “reforms”. The “internal market” introduced in 1991 split health authorities (which commission care for their local population) from hospital trusts (which compete to provide care). GP fundholding gave some family doctors budgets to buy care on their patients’ behalf.

Critics saw this as creeping privatisation but Clarke claimed that his reforms prevented Margaret Thatcher from abandoning the NHS. Nevertheless, he brought in many people from the business world and the giant accountancy firms. My boss was the redoubtable Sheila Masters (now Baroness Noakes), a foul-mouthed gorgon imported from Peat-Marwick. Trade journal Accountancy Age described her as “the country’s most high profile accountant”. I had a report published by HM Stationery Office which showed that the reforms seemed to require an army of accountants and managers to implement them. Doctors and nurses felt that money that should be going towards patient care was being wasted on management.

Old Structures, New Labour Words

The Labour victory encouraged hope that the internal market would be abandoned. However, the key element, the purchaser/provider split – was retained, but, typical of New Labour, words were spun: purchasing became commissioning; contracts became service agreements. GP Fundholders became Primary Care Trusts. Hospital Trusts were allowed to continue.

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The public and NHS staff had high expectations that things would improve quickly. When that did not happen there was anger and despair. Blair’s first Health Secretary was Frank Dobson (his successors were Alan Milburn, John Reid, Patricia Hewitt and Alan Johnson). Dobson was allowed to stay in such a high profile job, for which he was poorly qualified, as a sop to old Labour. In those early days, the spin meisters were careful to avoid words like “competition” and “choice”. which might alienate any socialists still lurking in the party, preferring to stick with the vague concept of “modernisation”.

Dobson was eventually forced to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London and was replaced at Health by Alan Milburn, an old Trot who became converted to the market in health and today makes a good living from private health care. Initially, Milburn called for extra money to resolve the NHS crisis, but rejected using the private sector. “That”, Milburn declared, “would be a Trojan horse for privatisation.” Later, he resurrected competition and advocated reintroducing the Tories’ internal market. Blair did not understand Milburn’s reorganisation.

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The government persisted with PFI (Private Finance Initiative) as a method of financing building in the NHS and other public services despite repeated demonstrations of its costliness and other disadvantages.

Muddlehead

Civil servants did not dare mention their foreboding. Milburn’s successor Patricia Hewitt knew that Blair “did not do detail”, but she was unprepared for quite how patchy his knowledge was.

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Nigel Crisp was appointed as Chief Executive of the NHS and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health on 1 November 2000. He was the only person so far to combine these posts. Blair was described as “muddleheaded” –  he could not describe a coherent and complete model of what he wanted to achieve. So he could not explicitly tell Nigel Crisp what to do.

crisp

Expensive Poor Outcomes

By 2005, the NHS was costing £43 billion a year more than in 1997. The country’s health had improved but, in terms of the number of doctors, the use of technical equipment, the number of patients being treated and the cure rates for cancer and heart disease, Britain still ranked near the bottom of the international league tables. Compared to other European countries, Britain’s premature death rates were higher and clinical outcomes worse. The government was embarrassed when Robert Winston, IVF pioneer, medical doctor, scientist, television presenter, said: “We gave categorical promises that we would abolish the internal market. We have not done that. Our reorganisation of the health service was . . . very bad. We have made medical care deeply unsatisfactory for a lot of people.” Funding, he said, was “not as good as Poland’s”. Note that he said “we”. Winston was a staunch believer in New Labour, a Labour peer and the chair of the Lords’ select committee on science and technology. His This Is Your Life on TV had featured a guest of honour appearance by Tony Blair. At the 2006 BMA conference, not only the nurses but also the doctors damned Labour for causing “a real and imminent danger to the NHS”.

winston

Hyperactive Lack of Substance

The incoming government had made a pledge to stick with Conservative spending plans and not raise income tax levels. Even when large amounts of money were promised, Chancellor Gordon Brown refused to release them because of his feud with Blair. There is no space here to go into the detail of the new government’s twists and turns and changes of mind about what to do about the NHS. There was a plethora of new initiatives, the government appearing hyperactive, unable to allow one new scheme to settle down and produce some results before introducing a new one.

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The triumph of style over substance, lack of concentration, poor management of human resources and avoidance of confrontation is common to Blair’s approach to all the major issues that he had intended to tackle. The war between Blair and Brown cast a gloomy cloud over the entire Blair premiership. More on that next week.

Dawn and Disillusion: the Bathetic Blair and Brown Era

Islington Child Abuse Part Two

Colman's Column3

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 15 2016.

 

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Last week I began to look at the question: why have the English media not given more prominence to allegations that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did not assist, and may indeed have obstructed, the investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of children in care homes in his Islington constituency?

Liz Davies was a social work team manager in the London Borough of Islington where she exposed wide scale abuse of children within the care system. Dr Davies is now Emeritus Reader in Social Work at London Metropolitan University. For several months in 1989, she had been talking to groups of children she suspected were being abused. She and her co-workers heard of sinister adults preying on children who were lured into private houses or abused in care homes. One house in the community was known to be used as a “brothel” for abusing children. The social workers became convinced a paedophile ring was at work in the area.

This is not the place to go into the details of the scandal. Much useful information can be found on Dr Davies’s blog: https://lizdavies.net/about-2/ There is also a wealth of information here: http://islingtonsurvivors.co.uk/.  The Islington survivors network is currently collating new evidence with more survivors and witnesses coming forward.

Morris Fraser

I noted in last week’s column that particular issues were prone to conspiracies-paedophile rings, military intelligence and Northern Ireland.

Dr Morris Fraser was the senior psychiatric registrar at the Royal Victoria Hospital’s child guidance clinic in Belfast. He also wrote the book Children in Conflict, about how the Troubles in Northern Ireland affected children. In 1971 he had sexually assaulted a member of his Belfast boy scout troop in London. The Metropolitan Police failed to inform the Royal Victoria about his London conviction which also went unreported in the media. Another conviction in New York in 1974 on several counts of sodomy on children went unreported.

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Fraser was a member of the Paedophile information Exchange (PIE), which was granted ‘affiliate’ status within the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), a pressure group which was later renamed Liberty. At the time, the NCCL was being run by Patricia Hewitt, the future Blairite Health Secretary now making a fortune from private health care. Also prominent in the NCCL at the time were Harriet Harman, the Labour Party’s acting leader before Corbyn’s election, and her husband Jack Dromey, also now a Labour MP. Henry Hodge, the husband of Margaret Hodge, leader of Islington Council,  a resident of Islington,was chairman of the NCCL when the PIE was granted affiliate status.

 

PIE was mainly based in Islington and had its international office there. Fraser sent boys to Kincora and took a Kincora boy to his home in Islington to be abused.

In 1988, Fraser co-founded the Azimuth Trust, which gave sailing holidays to dozens of vulnerable boys in Devon and Cornwall as victims for a paedophile ring. He was also one of eight men charged in New York as part of an organised abuse network. Fraser continued to have access to vulnerable children and to sexually abuse them for a period of about 20 years.

 

A study into Fraser’s activities was recently produced by Irish academic Dr Niall Meehan. Meehan said: “It must be surely assumed that Fraser was allowed to continue his work in return for providing some form of services to the authorities.” It is understood a Freedom of Information request regarding Fraser was turned down for reasons of national security.

Paedophile Information Exchange

Although he was never officially implicated in abuse at Kincora, there seems to have been organised child sexual abuse occurring wherever Fraser lived or worked. A former Kincora resident alleged that he was abused by Fraser, who had extensive links to paedophile groups in England and was close to Peter Righton, the former director of education at the National Institute for Social Work, and a consultant for the National Children’s Bureau.

righton

 

Righton was a founding member of PIE, which wanted the age of consent reduced to four. Both men contributed to the book   Perspectives on Paedophilia. That book is still available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Perspectives-Paedophilia-Brian-Taylor/dp/0713437189) with a positive review. “An amazingly open and detailed description of a
sequence of pedophile relations, extentively (sic) illustrated with photos.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/10948796/Paedophilia-is-natural-and-normal-for-males.html

Tom O’Carroll is a former chairman of the now disbanded  PIE. In 1981, O’Carroll was convicted for conspiracy  to corrupt public morals because of the contact ads in the PIE magazine and went to jail for two years. A barrister in the case, Peter Thornton, later a QC and senior circuit judge, wrote about it the following year in Rights, the NCCL newsletter. Thornton was critical of the charges, which he said had been “too remote from any tangible misdemeanour” and he suggested that O’Carroll had been convicted on little evidence. In 2002, a nine-month sentence given to O’Carroll for evading a prohibition on the importation from Qatar of indecent photographs of children was overturned by the Court of Appeal. On 20 December 2006, he was jailed for 2½ years conspiring to distribute indecent photographs of children – these were obtained from his co-defendant Michael John De Clare Studdert’s vault of 50,000 pornographic images of children. In December 2015 O’Carroll faced charges of indecent assault and gross indecency against two brothers aged nine and ten and pleaded guilty to one count of indecently assaulting one boy and one of gross indecency with the other. He was given a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years, placed on the sex offenders’ register for ten years and made the subject of an indefinite sexual harm prevention order. O’Carroll joined the Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn became party leader in September 2015. He wrote a creepy article about child mascots at sporting events. He said they “must look the part… be lean, well-proportioned, athletic and good-looking”, with “every suggestion” that they have “been favoured by the gods.’” After a series of complaints from anti-paedophile activists, O’Carroll, now aged 70, was expelled from the party only in February 2016. John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, who has campaigned against child abuse, and criticised Corbyn for his inaction on the Islington child abuse, said: “I led the calls this morning for Tom O’Carroll to be immediately kicked out of the Labour Party. Which local branch let him in?”

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Former army officers Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell, who tried to expose the abuse at the care home, have expressed their disquiet at the refusal of Northern Ireland police to reveal what they knew about Fraser. Wallace tried to expose a paedophile ring involving loyalist paramilitaries and politicians in the 1970s, which included him authoring an army memo naming alleged abusers in 1973.

Islington Connections

Fraser lived in Islington in 1990, at a time when paedophile networks had infiltrated Islington children’s homes. This may just be coincidence as he was working at University College Hospital. However, it would not be uncharitable to suspect that he had seen an opportunity to abuse children in Islington. He had also travelled to Turkey, Holland and Denmark to abuse children. In 1993, he was convicted for possession of child pornography.

Another PIE member, Peter Righton, is connected to Islington via the Islington-Suffolk Project, which sent children in care on holidays to Lord Henniker’s estate in Eye, Suffolk. Righton and his partner were invited to live on Lord Henniker’s estate after Righton’s 1992 conviction for importing images of child abuse. (Although there have been no allegations of child abuse on the Thornham Magna estate in Suffolk).

https://bitsofbooksblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/henniker-major/

In 1979, John Rea Price,  Islington’s Director of Social Servicesand Peter Righton sat on the same steering committee to establish a course for training staff to work with disturbed young people. Righton went on to become governor of New Barns school working with disturbed young people, and Islington Council were one of the local authorities to place children there. New Barns school was the subject of a major child abuse investigation after Righton’s arrest. Righton lectured on social work at North London Polytechnic in Islington in 1970.When Social Work Today reported Righton’s arrest there was no mention of the fact that he had long been associated with the magazine and had written dozens of articles for it. The magazine also downplayed the connection between the National Children’s Bureau and Righton. In April 1992, just two months before the article was published, John Rea Price was appointed as Director of the National Children’s Bureau, having recently resigned as Director of Islington Social Services after 20 years in post. In October 1992, not long after his departure, the Islington Children’s Homes scandal became public.

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White Report

The White Report on the Islington child abuse scandal concluded that there was a culture in Islington council that tolerated sexual relationships between care staff and teenage boys. It also blocked the investigation of people from gay or ethnic backgrounds. “This is a recipe for disaster,” the report said. The report concluded that the ultimate responsibility for the disaster within social services lay with the council and senior officers. The buck ultimately stopped with Margaret Hodge, who had been council leader since 1982.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/158173/response/382362/attach/4/The%20White%20Report%20redacted.pdf

Corbyn and Hodge

We have the testimony of several people that Corbyn was informed of the horrors going on in his constituency. Five social workers visited him and journalist Eileen Fairweather contacted him separately. Some of the victims said that they told Corbyn what was going on and that he promised to do something but didn’t.

Although Corbyn was the local MP when Hodge was council leader and they were both Labour Party members, they were not close. In June 2016, together with Ann Coffey, she submitted a letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party chairman requesting a vote on a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. She said she was tabling the motion because Corbyn had failed to convince Labour voters to vote remain in the European Union referendum and that he “had failed a test of leadership”.

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I knew her husband Henry Hodge quite well in the early 80s when he was a prominent left-wing human rights lawyer. Unusually for a solicitor, he later became a judge. He died in 2009. I found him a very likeable companion and agree with an obituarist’s view: “He was a genial, very affable man, with an amused twinkle almost always in his eye. AIT (he was President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal) stakeholder meetings and the like were made all the more bearable by his self deprecating and humorous chairing.” There was much criticism when Margaret Hodge was appointed the UK’s first Minister for Children in 2003. The Hodges were neighbours and friends of the Blairs and would not share much of Corbyn’s political philosophy. Nevertheless, Islington council was noted for the kind of ‘political correctness’ condemned in the White Report and which Corbyn espouses today.

Although Corbyn said little about the allegations of abuse at the time, Hodge described Eileen Fairweather’s exemplary and courageous investigation as “gutter journalism” and described victim Demetrious Panton as mentally ill.  Panton is now a highly respected lawyer and Labour Party advisor.

A senior media executive alleges that Margaret Hodge has for years used her wealth (although her Oppenheimer family steel fortune has dwindled rapidly because of the attention of vulture funds), influence and patronage, as chair of the powerful Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and a source therefore of many other stories of interest to journalists, to buy off papers or broadcasters who start to look into Islington. It is interesting to note that Margaret Hodge’s son-in-law, Joe Caluori, is now chair of the Islington social services committee.

 

More next week on lack of media attention to Corbyn and child abuse.

Ad Hominem, Mr Corbyn

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday August 4 2015.

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I had vowed that I would take a break from writing Colman’s Column until the Sri Lankan parliamentary election was over. However, I have been drawn into discussions about another election, the election of a new leader of the UK Labour Party. The discussions brought out a few issues about the nature of political debate and critical thinking in general, which also have relevance to the Sri Lankan polity. It reminds me of the depressing nature of the responses to Rajiva Wijesinha’s contributions to the Sri Lankan debate; hardly anyone provides a cogent argument against Professor Wijesinha’s points, preferring instead personal insults that would seem immature in a kindergarten.

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Surprisingly, the leading contender for the Labour Party leadership as I write is Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing MP for Islington in north London. Although an MP since 1983, Corbyn has previously shown no discernable interest in power or leadership, preferring to espouse human rights causes. He has been a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition. He has been writing a weekly column for the Communist Morning Star since 1983.

I have been a life-long Labour Party supporter. I have never voted Conservative and can envisage no circumstances (a huge bribe or severe torture might be inducements) in which I would ever do so. My sympathies lie with the left of the Labour Party and I would  be a natural Corbyn supporter. I sympathised with the views expressed by novelist Will Self in a recent TV interview when he said many young people were attracted to Jeremy Corbyn because he offered real socialist alternatives to the tired old middle of the road tactics.

Nevertheless, I have a big problem with Corbyn. It is the history of Islington Council and child abuse. John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, wrote an open letter to Corbyn about this and said that Corbyn’s behaviour in relation to the Islington care homes scandal made him unfit to be leader of the Labour Party.

From 1994 to 1997, I was a ministerial advisor on child protection for the Department of Health. I have seen the files. I know what was going on. There were serious and credible allegations that some care homes for children in Islington operated as brothels, with small children hired out for sexual abuse.   Islington Council doggedly tried to obstruct the investigation. The main culprit was Margaret Hodge (former minister for children – the irony!) who now chairs the Parliamentary Accounts Committee but was then leader of Islington Council. She was strongly supported in her obstructionism by Jeremy Corbyn.

The reaction from Corbyn’s supporters to Mann’s charges was disappointing and depressing. Someone whose intelligence, knowledge and compassion I deeply respect asked if “the author” had written a similar open letter to Harriet Harmon and Patricia Hewitt. Both were former leaders of the National Council for Civil Liberties who both became Labour ministers. The NCCL earned criticism during the Islington scandal for seeming to be sympathetic to the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation campaigning on behalf of child molesters.  This is what rhetoricians call the tu quoque move; in Northern Ireland they call it “what-aboutery”. The technique involves avoiding dealing with a specific charge by shifting attention to another alleged crime.

Others sought to smear John Mann by saying he was smearing Corbyn. They accused Mann of digging up ancient history to undermine Corbyn’s campaign. One cried in horror that Mann was trying to influence the vote – surely trying to influence the vote is legitimate in a democracy?

As recently as November 2014, Corbyn in effect lied to the House of Commons. He implied that, although there had been instances of sexual abuse of children in Islington, the council had investigated and done their best to put things right. In fact, he knows fine well that Islington Council fought tooth and nail to avoid an investigation. When a report was prepared, they blocked its publication for 20 years. Does the Labour Party want a leader that lies to the House of Commons? What is worse is the foolishness of trying to cover this up. It has been all over the internet for many years.

A Channel 4 report claimed that senior Labour politicians knew what was going on in Islington as early as 1988. Liz Davies, a social worker, became alarmed at the number of children coming to her with stories of abuse. Every morning there was queue of children outside her office. They told of sinister adults preying on children who were lured into private houses or abused in care homes. Davies’s colleague, David Cofie, reported his concerns direct to Hodge. Davies asked for more resources to tackle the problem, but Hodge turned the request down. Davies and Cofie continued their investigations and wrote 15 separate reports. Their warnings still went unheeded, even as they uncovered appallingly serious allegations.

It was Hodge’s successor as council leader, Derek Sawyer, who commissioned the White Report. Ian White was Director of Social Services for Oxfordshire. His report was a damning one and blamed the failures of Islington social services on extreme left wing culture fostered by Hodge and Corbyn. More than 30 care workers were involved in abuse. All but one went on to work with children elsewhere.

The White Report  was completed in 1995 and received a good deal of attention in the media at the time. However, the text was not published until 2014, in heavily redacted form.  Islington Council has been covering up for over 20 years. They shredded every incriminating file, sacked whistleblowers, slandered victims. One of the victims, Demetrious Panton, was sexually  abused from 1978 and his allegations were ignored for ten years. Margaret Hodge said he was mentally ill. He is now 46, a PhD in philosophy and a successful lawyer and, ironically, an advisor to the Labour Party. Hodge eventually apologised for what she had said.

Despite what he told the House in November 2014, Corbyn was deeply complicit in the cover-up. The heroes were the investigative journalists of the London Evening Standard who provided much solid evidence to the Department of Health, which enabled us to force Islington to take action.

At the time I am writing  this article, Corbyn has not responded personally to Mann’s specific charges. An anonymous spokesman issued an official statement: “This is a new low in the leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn has a long record of standing up for his constituents.” It is noteworthy that the statement makes absolutely no attempt to address Mann’s very specific points.

Corbyn promised social workers that he would pass their concerns on to the Secretary of State for Health. There is no indication that he did so. Rather than supporting fellow MP Geoffrey Dickens in his campaign to have the scandal investigated, Corbyn complained to the Speaker about Dickens visiting Islington. On February 17 1986, Corbyn called Dickens “irresponsible” in the House and asked him to unreservedly withdraw his allegations about child brothels in Islington and to make a public apology.

Home Secretary Theresa May has been trying to establish a wide-ranging inquiry into historic child sexual abuse. Two chairpersons have been forced to resign, one because her brother was  a former  minister implicated in cover-ups, another because she was a friend of Leon Brittan, one of the senior politicians under suspicion. The Statutory Inquiry opened on 9 July 2015, chaired by Dame Lowell Goddard QC, a New Zealand High Court judge who had no ties to the UK bodies and persons likely to be investigated.

Mann concludes his open letter to Corbyn: “Your carefully worded excusing of Islington Council in the House of Commons equally demonstrates why it is inappropriate for you to attempt to lead the Labour Party at the critical time of the Goddard Enquiry, as child abuse is the issue that will haunt this Parliament.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political Corruption UK –Style

 

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 15 2012

 

 

In the Labour landslide of 1997, little Alistair Burt lost his parliamentary seat of Bury North, which he had first won in 1983. He lost to David Chaytor who was later jailed for fiddling his expenses. Burt returned to parliament in 2001, taking over the safe Tory seat of Bedfordshire North East from Sir Nicholas Lyell.

Burt had his own problems in the expenses scandal. He seems to be rather fond of little bites. Between 2004 and 2005, he claimed more than £13,000 in hotel expenses. He regularly claimed for alcohol and snacks from mini bars of hotels such as the Savoy. In March 2004, he claimed £2 for a packet of Pringles, £3 for a bag of mixed nuts. The following month he claimed £3.55 for a ‘night beverage’ and £6 for another two bags of mixed nuts.
Burt agreed to repay a total of £229.24 for hotel sundries. “I do accept that the climate has changed, and although I thought these were perfectly fair subsistence charges I will repay them immediately,” he said. “I am genuinely sorry for any error made, in relation to any claim, which is considered excessive.” How can a man looking after 30 countries at the Foreign Office have time to fill in a form to claim a refund for peanuts?

Burt over-claimed payments for his London flat by £200 per month for five months in 2006. He apologised for what he described as an ‘oversight’. However, he said that because he had not claimed for food during the period, he should not need to repay the money. He was let off and allowed to keep the GBP 1,000. The taxpayer-funded rent at his latest flat comes to £1,890 per month. For more on Burt see:
http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=28632.

The venal and venial fiddling by MPs revealed by the Daily Telegraph is shameful, but more worrying than politicians lining their own pockets, is the systemic undermining of democracy by lobbyists. The London Sunday Times set up a sting operation against Peter Cruddas, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, forcing his resignation. He was secretly filmed offering influence over policy in return for donations to party funds.

Voters are not getting what they voted for. They are getting what wealthy donors want. The case of NHS ‘reforms’ is a prime example. In the early 90s when Kenneth Clarke, now Justice Minister in the coalition government, was Health Minister the government was trying to privatise everything to endow the supposedly entrepreneurial sector with a licence to print money exploiting what had been regarded as public utilities. There would be no risk in their investment as guarantees against failure would be provided by the taxpayer.  New Labour continued privatisation of the NHS by stealth. Health Secretary Alan Milburn became an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm backing private health companies in Britain and works 18 days a year advising Cinven, a private equity, which owns 37 private hospitals. In January 2008, it was announced that another Labour Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, had been appointed ‘special consultant’ to the world’s largest chemists, Boots. Hewitt also became a ‘special adviser’ to Cinven.

After Labour left office, Hewitt was secretly filmed by Channel 4 News claiming she could influence policy in return for cash payments. Not one of the 20 politicians approached in the sting put the phone down. The amounts asked were so similar, wrote Philip Clothier in Prospect magazine, “£3000-£5000 a day plus — that it almost felt these politicians had agreed a rate among themselves beforehand, or at least that such a rate was now deemed commonplace in Westminster…. The more I watched and listened, the more it seemed reasonable to conclude that our candidates had fallen out of love with politics… Patricia Hewitt’s monthly diary was assessed in the numbers of days that she was away from Westminster rather than at it. She fitted her interview with us in between two votes at Westminster. .. In their attempts to show off their access to all areas, they painted an image of Westminster as one big club where the members just pretend to be different for the public’s sake.”

At the last UK election, David Cameron recognised that the public did not want any further privatisation of the NHS and neither did the medical profession and promised no further reorganisation. Private health care organisations had donated more than £750,000 to the Conservatives since David Cameron became leader. John Nash, private equity tycoon had given £21,000 to health secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal office. Despite his election promises, when Cameron became PM a Health Bill was proposed, which meant further privatisation.

Tory peer Lord Stanley Fink (Fink by name, fink by nature) replaced Cruddas as the party’s principal treasurer. Known as the ‘godfather’ of the hedge fund industry, Fink has himself donated more than £2 million to the Conservative Party. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ)found that hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms contributed more than a quarter of all the Tories’ private donations, with three of the City’s hedge fund giants, Michael Farmer, Andrew Law and Fink together contributing £636,300. The general public can have no love for predatory capitalists who left the banks in ruins and demanded taxpayer support. They would not vote for these crooks. That carries no weight with governments.

 

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/feature-viewpoint/item/5002-political-corruption-united-kingdom-style.html#sthash.JzDfOGU2.dpuf

 

Democracy and Money

This article was published in The Nation on 04 February 2012 .

 

The corrupting effect of money on politics has been witnessed in many democracies. In the UK, it was cash for questions, cash for influence, cash for honours and cash for peerages followed by the unsavoury spectacle of MPs fiddling their expenses.

 

In October 1994, The Guardian alleged that lobbyist Ian Greer had bribed MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith to ask parliamentary questions on behalf of Harrods owner Mohammed Al -Fayed at GBP2,000 per question. There had previously been allegations against another two Conservative MPs, Graham Riddick and David Redinnick. The Downey report on the Hamilton affair also condemned conservative MPs Michael Brown, Sir Michael Grylls, Sir Andrew Bowden and Sir Peter Hordern.

 

Peerages and party funding

 

 

In the UK, bribery and corruption is not limited to the Conservative Party. New Labour came up with the spiffing wheeze of offering peerages to those who donated to party funds. In March 2006, several nominations for life peerages by Tony Blair were rejected by the Appointments Commission. They had lent, at the suggestion of Lord Levy (Blair’s tennis partner, a former pop impresario known as “Lord Cashpoint” – manager of luminaries such as Alvin Stardust and Bad Manners), large sums of money to the Labour Party. There was a long and involved police investigation during which many MPs, including Blair (three times), were questioned. Levy was arrested. The Labour Party acknowledged that it had taken loans worth $24.5 million from individuals, more than three times what it had previously reported. It did not say who had made the loans, which accounted for most of the $31 million Labour said it had spent on the May 2005 elections. The case was eventually dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service but the Labour Party’s funds were disastrously hit by returning the loans and Blair’s own reputation was further undermined.

 

 

Veiled reforms

 

 

Also questioned by police was Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt. Hewitt was also one of the MPs named in the 2010 sting into political lobbying by Channel 4. Hewitt appeared to claim that she was paid £3,000 a day to help a client obtain a key seat on a Government advisory group.

 

 
While in charge of the health service, Hewitt pushed ‘reforms’ to privatise it. In January 2008, it was announced that Hewitt had been appointed ‘special consultant’ to the world’s largest pharmacists, Boots. Hewitt also became a ‘special adviser’ to Cinven, a private equity which owns 37 private hospitals. Her predecessor, Alan Milburn, (he once ran a small radical bookshop in Newcastle called Days of Hope – known locally as Haze of Dope), has joined Beckham, Britney and Beyonce as a well-paid advisor to Pepsi-Co. Milburn also became an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm backing private health companies in Britain and works 18 days a year advising Cinven. The revolving door between the government and civil service and such companies surely must qualify as corruption.

 

 
Not many UK citizens would vote for the privatisation of the NHS. That does not stop their elected representatives selling it off for a fast buck.

 

 

Corporate interests

 

 

In the USA, no candidate can get elected without huge funding. This allows corporate interests to call the shots and to ensure ‘pork-barrelling’ and ‘earmarking’. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the human rights of ‘persons’ when it comes to campaign contributions.
In 2002, investigative journalist Greg Palast published a book called The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The book focuses on the 2000 US presidential election and provides great detail on the methods used to prevent many black voters from voting. Chapters are available in PDF on the internet. One of the most illuminating chapters is entitled The Bushes and the Billionaires who Love Them.

 

 
(http://web.archive.org/web/20050120154301/http://www.gregpalast.com/bestdemocracymoneyc
anbuychapter2.pdf)

 

 
Palast writes: “The Fortunate Son rode right into the White House on a snorting porker stuffed with nearly half a billion dollars: My calculation of the suffocating plurality of cash from Corporate America (‘hard’ money, ‘soft’ money, ‘parallel’ spending and other forms of easy squeezy) that smothered Al Gore runs to $447 million. They called it an election but it looked more like an auction.”

 

 
Super PACs

 

 

In the 2012, US presidential election cycle alone, political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs have spent over $25 million so far. Move to Amend is a national coalition of people and organisations working to amend the US Constitution to explicitly state that a corporation is not a person with Constitutional rights and money is not equal to free speech.

 
The problem is compounded by globalisation. Classical liberal theory sees capitalism and democracy as independent systems with disparate goals. Democracy restricts economic processes only to protect basic rights and does not limit wealth. Capitalism creates a large, wage-dependent class lacking the political power of the wealthy. Unrestricted global capitalism has created multi-national, non-democratic bodies with the impunity to override the environmental or labour laws passed by sovereign legislatures.

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