SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 153 - November 2011

The dubious Mr Fox

WITH BREATHTAKING speed, Britain’s defence secretary, Liam Fox, crashed out of office. As details of his dodgy connections stacked up, it became increasingly clear that his position was untenable. A can of rotten worms had been opened with news of Fox’s relationship with Adam Werritty, his unofficial adviser/lobbyist with extraordinary access to ministerial staff and the centres of power. Fox jumped before he was pushed.

No one is surprised at the news of MPs behaving badly or on the make. What the Fox case has done, however, is expose the tangled interconnections between lobbyists, politicians and military chiefs, and the links between the ultra-free-market wing of the right-wing Tories and US Tea Partiers.

The so-called ‘inquiry’ by Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, has rapped Fox over the knuckles while saying that there is no evidence that he profited financially from his actions. We shall see if that sticks as there is much more to be revealed. This was an in-house investigation, passed from Ursula Brennan, top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence – where Fox was minister, of course – to O’Donnell, a blatant attempt to brush it all under the carpet.

What is obvious is that the paper thin facade of parliamentary democracy is fully exploited by unaccountable big business and its political links. The capitalist system is based on the drive for profit. Capitalist politicians defend that system and feel they have every right to profit from it themselves. Whatever Fox may say, the businessmen, lobbyists and politicians he dealt with saw Werritty as their ‘go-to guy’ if they wanted access to the defence ministry. The clear impression Fox gave was that he was more than happy with that – until he got caught.

At the centre of the allegations was the charity, Atlantic Bridge, set up in 2003 with the patronage of Margaret Thatcher. While they were still in opposition, Fox was joined on its advisory council by William Hague (now foreign secretary), George Osborne (chancellor), Chris Grayling (employment minister) and Michael Gove (education minister) – millionaires’ row. They all stood down shortly before the charity was wound up in September 2010.

Cara Usher-Smith, a director at Iain Duncan Smith’s think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice, was formerly a director of Atlantic Bridge. Prime minister, David Cameron’s press secretary, Gabby Bertin, was handed £25,000 by US drug company Pfizer when she was the ‘sole employee’ of the charity – at the time when Fox was shadow health minister. Werritty actually shifted from being a health industry ‘consultant’ to a security ‘adviser’ as Fox moved from shadow health minister to shadow defence. Other senior Tories, including Michael Ancram and Michael Howard, attended Atlantic Bridge receptions. A previous Tory prime minister, John Major, gave a keynote speech at one of its US fundraisers.

Michael Hintze, an Australian billionaire hedge fund manager, has donated more than £1 million to the Tories, and £104,000 to Atlantic Bridge. His hedge fund, CQS, backs companies with defence ministry contracts. CQS provided Werritty with free office space. Hintze has hosted the new defence secretary Philip Hammond at a number of fundraising dinners – no change there, then.

Werritty had at least 40 meetings with Fox since the general election in May last year, 18 of them overseas. Several companies were set up to pay for Werritty’s trips abroad. The first, Security Futures, was set up in November 2006. Its company secretary was Tory MP, Iain Aitken Stewart, a close friend of Fox and Werritty. In 2008-09, it donated £15,000 to Atlantic Bridge. Tamares Real Estate, a Liechtenstein-registered investment group owned by Poju Zabludowicz, was a continuation of Security Futures. Zabludowicz is the billionaire chairman of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom), a pro-Israeli state lobby group (14 October).

Pargav Ltd and Atlantic Bridge gave their registered addresses as the offices of accountants Kingston Smith. Also registered at that address was Security Futures. Pargav Ltd was set up on 25 June last year – eight days before the Charity Commission demanded that Atlantic Bridge’s activities "must cease immediately" as they did not fit the remit for a charity.

Pargav picked up the tab for Werritty’s first-class travel and five-star hotel stays. It also received £147,000 from Tory party supporters. Jon Moulton, a private equity tycoon who has donated £400,000 to the Tories, gave £35,000 to Pargav. Michael Lewis, a former vice-chairman of Bicom, donated £13,832 to Atlantic Bridge, and gave to Fox’s Tory leadership campaign in 2005.

Ironically, it was Bicom’s former communications director, Lee Petar, who put Werritty in touch with the businessman, Harvey Boulter. It was Boulter’s meeting with Fox at a five-star hotel in Dubai which triggered the series of events that brought him down.

The last reported donor is G3 Good Governance Group, a private security company set up by Andries Pienaar, a South African businessman. Pienaar played an important role in establishing the Sri Lanka Development Trust – listed at G3’s address – the shadowy organisation which Fox claimed was for aid work. It certainly aided Fox by paying thousands of pounds to finance his trips to Sri Lanka (before he was a minister).

Fox pursued his own foreign policy, the clearest expression being his dealings with the Sri Lankan regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Notoriously, Fox and Werritty met Rajapaksa at the Dorchester hotel, London, at the end of 2010. This was when there were mounting calls for war crimes investigations into the genocidal war against the Tamils. Fox consistently gave legitimacy on the international stage to the Rajapaksa regime’s brutal policies, not only against Tamils but also in trampling the rights of the working-class and oppressed people in Sri Lanka.

In 2007, Atlantic Bridge linked up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec). Its motto is ‘limited government, free markets, federalism’. This powerful neocon lobbying organisation, a natural ally of the ultra-free-market Fox, is funded by the likes of Exxon Mobil, Philip Morris and the National Rifle Association. It boasts: "Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on Alec model legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20% become law". (Observer, 16 October)

Alec is backed by the Koch Foundation of oil barons Charles and David Koch. According to Greenpeace, they have channelled about $55 million to climate-sceptic groups, and give generously to the Tea Party movement. Republican senators, Jon Kyl (Arizona) and Jim DeMint (South Carolina), a leading light in the Tea Party, were on Atlantic Bridge’s advisory council.

In 2009, Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, joined Atlantic Bridge’s executive council. John Falk, a US lobbyist with links to the Kestral Group, one of Pakistan’s largest arms companies, and Michael Fullerton, a former US department of homeland security adviser now with Kestral, joined its board of directors.

Fox and Werritty attended a $500-a-head dinner at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Washington, in September 2010, which was attended by leading US military figures, including General James Mattis of Central Command. This was not declared by the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, Werritty, who held no official position whatsoever, participated at high-level meetings between Fox and leading government, military and business representatives worldwide.

These revelations – just the tip of the iceberg – brought Fox down, for now at least. In stark outline, they confirm the cynical, self-serving nature of establishment politicians and the political system they are part of. The Fox case can be added to a long list: lies to justify war in Iraq, cash-for-honours, MPs’ expenses, big-business consultations to line their own pockets.

Establishment politicians, above all in countries such as the US and Britain, peddle the myth that they are defenders of ‘democracy’. In reality, they relentlessly pursue their own class and personal interests. Top of the stinking pile sits Tony Blair, a multimillionaire on the back of the connections he made as prime minister – and since, as US-sponsored Middle East ‘peace envoy’.

They are all at it. Blair’s New Labour flung open the doors to lobbyists like never before. Cameron followed him into the clammy embrace of media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch. Osborne was nearly sunk after partying on a Russian oligarch’s yacht.

The Guardian (17 October) showed that Con-Dem ministers met corporate representatives 1,537 times in the first ten months of the coalition. This excludes several hundred meetings where numerous companies were present. Trade bodies, think-tanks and other interest groups had 1,409 meetings. Trade union representatives were met 130 times.

Meanwhile, in a sinister Orwellian twist, Tamasin Cave, of Spinwatch, which campaigns for lobbying transparency, said that Mark Harper, the cabinet minister supposedly overseeing plans to introduce a lobbying register, is resisting a freedom of information request. The request is for details of Harper’s meetings with lobbyists to discuss lobbying transparency.

Manny Thain

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