by Nafeez Ahmed
The Conservatives have won the 2015 elections with a slim majority. Labour and the Liberal Democrats suffered unexpected crushing defeats, prompting their leaders, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, to resign. And despite winning a significant percentage of votes, UKIP only managed to win one seat, with its leader Nigel Farage also resigning after losing to a Tory MP.
But the Tory victory reveals precisely why British democracy is broken.
The ultimate determinant of which party won the elections was the money behind their political campaigns — the winning and losing parties correlate directly with the quantity of funding received. Yet there is also compelling evidence of another factor — interference from Britain’s security services.
The best democracy money can buy
As of the end of last year, the Electoral Commission found that the Tories received the largest amount of donations, at £8,345,687, the bulk of which came from financiers associated with banks, the hedge fund industry, and big business. Two million pounds worth of donations were associated with hedge funds, and a further £4 million with people attending private dinners hosted by senior Tories.
Next up in donations was Labour at £7,163,988, much of which came from trade unions, as well as corporate donors like PricewaterhouseCoopers, a major proponent of corporate tax avoidance; then the Liberal Democrats with £3,038,500, UKIP with £1,505,055, and the Green Party with £248,520.
That was last year. This year, donations continued to come in. In the final week of the campaign, the Tories managed to raise 10 times more donations than Labour — a total of a further £1.36 million — once again largely from hedge fund managers, property tycoons, and a telecoms firm that has avoided paying corporation tax in the UK since 2007.
Political parties appear to have achieved electoral success in direct proportion to the amount of money received to fund their political campaigns, indicating that the most important precondition for victory in Britain’s broken democracy is the party’s subservience to corporate power.
The role of party donors in determining election outcomes — by determining the effectiveness and reach of national public relations campaigns — has consistently been overlooked by the main parties, despite some obligatory lipservice that has gone nowhere tangible.
Over the last five years, 41% of all individual and corporate donations to British party political-related causes have come from just 76 extremely wealthy people, including City financiers, corporate moguls, and owners of multi-million pound businesses.
Public relations spin has increasingly played a critical function in permitting corporate power to translate its wealth into political power.
In their study of the subject, A Century of Spin (2007), Prof. David Miller and Dr. William Dinan, sociologists and directors of the public interest investigations body, Spinwatch, show how the corporate co-optation of PR has been used to subordinate liberal democracies to corporate rule, and to limit the scope of populist grassroots movements to influence the political party system.
Under a climate of economic uncertainty and lack of independent sources of news and information, public opinion has become evermore vulnerable to slick partisan campaigns that mobilise wealth to create highly effective media spin by which to manipulate voters.
The Tory-UKIP money machine
While UKIP has positioned itself as an independent counterweight to the ‘establishment’ parties, standing up for swathes of under-represented working people, the truth is the opposite.
A large bulk of UKIP’s funding boost came from former Tory donors, millionaire bankers, and corporate executives, pushing the fringe party to receive the third largest percentage of the vote.
But not all these former Tory donors are former Tory donors.
‘Former’ Tory donor Robin Birley, for instance, who owns a Mayfair nightclub and who is one of UKIP’s biggest donors, had also bankrolled the campaign of Tory MP Michael Gove, government chief whip.
Another major former Tory donor, Growth Financial Services, switched to UKIP in 2014, giving the party £90,000 before switching back to fund the re-election campaigns of two prominent Tory MPs, Amber Rudd and Mark Field, who sits on the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
Similarly, hedge fund millionaire Crispin Odey donated to UKIP in 2014, but in late March 2015 provided funds to support the re-election of Tory MP and climate denier Jacob Rees-Mogg.
In other words, a number of major Tory donors plugged into the heart of the Conservative Party establishment were funding both UKIP and Tory political opponents.
Days before the elections, Tory-UKIP funder Robin Birley told pro-Tory newspaper The Telegraph that UKIP supporters should strategically vote Conservative in seats that UKIP could not win — which was most of them. In seats that Tories were unlikely to win, he urged Tory supporters to vote UKIP.
This Tory-UKIP switch strategy, he said, would “stop Britain being left with a government being formed by a hard left rabble of parties.”
Ironically, Birley’s recommendations for UKIP supporters to vote tactically for the Tories were vehemently opposed by Nigel Farage, the very leader of the party he had funded.
But the idea of a Tory-UKIP strategic voting bloc had also been endorsed just days before Birley’s announcement by the Bow Group, the oldest conservative think-tank in Britain.
Chaired by Ben Harris-Quinney, who has worked on foreign policy issues for the Conservative Party in the UK and EU parliaments, the Bow Group includes on its board of patrons several senior Tory figures, such as Lord Norman Lamont, Lord Michael Heseltine, Lord Michael Howard, and Lord Earl Howe — who as of 2010 was appointed by David Cameron as Department of Health minister.
MI5 and The Bow Group
The Bow Group’s Conservative Party patrons had all served in senior Cabinet positions, under either Margaret Thatcher or John Major. All four of them made a point of publicly distancing themselves from their chairman’s exhortations to vote UKIP, which were published by The Telegraph.
But also on the board of patrons is renowned philosopher, Prof. Roger Scruton, who has been connected to dubious anti-left intelligence information operations. Unlike his colleagues in the Tory party, Scruton was silent throughout this affair.
In the 1980s, Scruton was a member of the neoconservative Hillgate Group, a network of British academics who coordinated various policy publications to influence government. Their focus was hyping up the threat of Marxist, leftwing or “radical” infiltration of British universities and schools. Scruton admitted to historian David Callaghan, however, that the Group’s policy reports were “quietly encouraged by 10 Downing Street to concoct an outside pressure group to influence policy.”
Scruton’s Hillgate Group was run by Baroness Caroline Cox, another senior Conservative Party figure with a history of political agitation on behalf of British intelligence. In 1977, Cox was part of a study group behind a report on how leftwing “radical minorities” were subverting “capitalist, free market civilisation.” The report was published by the Institute for the Study of Conflict (ISC), a “think tank” created jointly by the British and American intelligence services, specifically the CIA, an MI5-MI6 linked intelligence unit in the Cabinet Office, and the Foreign Office.
The Bow Group’s role in promoting the Tory-UKIP voting strategy was therefore not a curious aberration. Rather, it reflected a strategy being explored by senior elements in the Tory establishment and its elite support-base in the corporate oligarchy.
Scruton’s role in the Bow Group further raises questions about the role of Downing Street and Britain’s intelligence services in the use of UKIP to ramp up pro-Tory votes.
Roger Scruton could not be reached for comment.
MI5 and UKIP
Unbeknown to many, UKIP too had early roots in Britain’s intelligence services.
In 2001, former Conservative Party chairman Norman Tebbit called for an independent inquiry into revelations that UKIP had been infiltrated by MI5. In a televised interview on BBC News, Tebbit said:
“A chap came to me and said UKIP had been infiltrated by the British intelligence services and then he gave me two names of people and from various ways I came to the conclusion that I was absolutely and completely certain that these people — although they had left the service and the Foreign Office some years earlier — in fact had been intelligence agents.”
As Tebbit explained in a Spectator article that even Douglas Murray recently endorsed, he “half-heartedly” made his “own inquiries” after a source inside UKIP raised the concerns with him, “and unexpectedly struck gold… I am perfectly sure that the individuals had been active agents, although both would claim to have retired some years ago.”
Tebbit had not suggested that UKIP’s leadership was aware of the intelligence operation. At the time, Nigel Farage admitted that he could not discount Tebbit’s allegations.
It eventually turned out that the two people identified by Tebbit — Heather Conyngham and Christopher Skeate — had indeed been former MI6 officers, who had worked together at one time in Latin America. They were also both senior figures in the now defunct Referendum Party, Skeate as a candidate in 1997.
Robin Birley, the major Tory-UKIP donor who had urged a Tory-UKIP mutual tactical voting strategy, was at that time operations director of the Referendum Party, a Eurosceptic party similar to UKIP. Both Conyngham and Skeate had transferred their allegiance to UKIP after the death of Referendum Party founder, Sir James Goldsmith (Birley’s stepfather).
Birley and his Referendum Party also had a wider relationship to Latin America, specifically Chile. In 1998, Birley had recruited Referendum’s communications director, Patrick Robertson, to work with his campaign group, ‘Chilean Supporters Abroad,’ in support of notorious dictator Chilean General Pinochet, who had been supported by Margaret Thatcher herself.
The late Pinochet had been installed in a brutal military coup in 1973, which had been planned and backed by the CIA and MI6 since the democratic elections that brought leftwing nationalist President Salvador Allende to power in 1970. Birley’s ‘Chilean Supporters Abroad’ published a pro-Pinochet pamphlet that promulgated a range of MI6 and CIA disinformation about Allende.
Senior Tory pro-Pinochet apologists Norman Lamont and Michael Howard are today senior patrons of the Bow Group.
It later transpired that Tebbit’s original informant was then UKIP press officer Chris Jones, who months earlier had written a formal letter to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Tribunal about his “allegation, based on detailed circumstantional [sic] evidence gathered over 5 months that UKIP has been penetrated and is largely controlled by British Intelligence agents.”
The letter requested that the Tribunal:
“… call upon files on UKIP: myself: Dr R AE North: G Franklyn-Ryan: Nigel Farage MEP: Heather Coyningham a former FCO official; Christopher Skeate also FCO: Tony Stone: Mark Daniel (alias): Janet Girsman and G Lance Watkins.”
The curious overlap of MI5-MI6 officers with the Referendum, UKIP and Tory parties, and the movement of donors between all three parties, raises questions about the manipulation of the popular vote by a nexus of powerful British interests encompassing a network of corporate elites and Whitehall officials
MI5 and SNP
The Tory-UKIP nexus is not the only instance offering disturbing evidence of the interference of British intelligence in our national elections.
Last month, The Telegraph — which had also promoted the Tory-UKIP strategy put out by the Bow Group and Robin Birley — published an ‘exclusive’ about a leaked FCO memo, which purportedly recorded Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon telling the French Ambassador she would prefer a Tory government.
But as former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan and longtime Foreign Office (FCO) official, Craig Murray, remarked about the alleged memo, “both sides of the alleged conversation categorically deny it was said. Nicola Sturgeon denies she said it and the French Embassy deny she said it.”
Supposedly, the confidential contents of Sturgeon’s meeting with the French Ambassador had been passed to the Foreign Office and transcribed by a Whitehall official as a matter of FCO protocol.
“The extraordinary thing is, this is just a lie,” said Murray.
“As someone who worked in the FCO for over twenty years and was an Ambassador myself, I can assure you there is absolutely no protocol requirement on the French Ambassador to give the FCO the content of the meetings she, her Consul-General or anybody else from the French Embassy held in Edinburgh. That claim is absolute nonsense.”
Even more bizarrely, it turned out that the Foreign Office itself denied being the source of the alleged ‘leaked memo.’
Drawing on the example of the MI6-forged Zinoviev letter ‘leaked’ to the Daily Mail in 1924, which triggered the fall of the Labour government, Murray concluded: “The fake FCO memo has MI5 written all over it. This is the worst example of British security services influencing an election campaign since the Zinoviev letter.”
“I have been warning the SNP that we are going to be the target of active subversion by the UK and US security services. We are seen as a danger to the British state and thus a legitimate target,” the former Ambassador added.
“That the attempt to destabilise Nicola Sturgeon originates with the UK government and the Telegraph should give everyone pause. It is very obviously a security service effort. How otherwise is an account which the French Embassy says is completely false, contained in an official memo to be leaked? This episode raises very serious questions. But they are not questions about Nicola Sturgeon. They are questions about the subversion of democracy by the security services, and the willing complicity of the corporate media.”
There is thus alarming evidence that not just Big Money, but Big Brother, made a concerted effort to disrupt the SNP and co-opt UKIP, as a mechanism to sideline what Birnley characterised as a “hard left rabble of parties,” cementing a Tory parliamentary majority.
The next five years promises more of what we have already seen over the last five years: austerity, corporate empowerment, privatisation of public services widening inequality, continued obfuscation on climate change, subservience to Big Oil and nuclear lobbies, and a return of the snoopers’ charter — previously blocked by the Lib Dems — that would enshrine excessively intrusive surveillance powers into law.
So we should make no mistake. This is not a victory for British democracy. It is a victory for Britain’s increasingly draconian corporate-security complex.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.
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