Category Archives: Labour Party Conference 2012

Dirty Tricks, Corruption and Burglaries: What Really Happened at Ed Miliband’s Office?

Last March, the news media carried a story about a burglary at  Ed Miliband’s office. When I heard about this, my immediate thought was “is this a possible British Watergate“? But entertaining such thoughts and then expressing them leaves one open to the charge that one is a conspiracy theorist. But such questions refuse to go away so easily.

Here’s what The Guardian said at the time.

Scotland Yard received reports shortly before 7pm on Friday of a forced entry to the premises in the Norman Shaw buildings, which were the force’s own headquarters until 1967.

It is understood that a member of Miliband’s staff found that a door had been forced but it is unclear whether anything was missing from the room.

A Labour spokesman said: “There is an ongoing police investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment.”

And it adds:

News reports speculated the burglary may have been the work of pranksters or political opponents.

The Sun tried to make cheap political capital out of the break-in by telling its readers:

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband’s Westminster office has been burgled — but there were no policies there to pinch.

The really odd thing about this burglary story is how quickly it went cold. No one appears to have been arrested and curiously, none of the papers tell us if anything was stolen from Miliband’s office.

Since Ramsay MacDonald’s  first Labour government in 1924, the party has been the focus of a right-wing dirty tricks campaign beginning with the notorious Zinoviev Letter. The really low point came when the Conservative Dr Julian Lewis posed as moderate Labour party member in the Reg Prentice deselection case of 1976 in an effort to undermine the party and steer it in a rightwards direction.

This speech by Alun Gwynne Jones (Lord Chalfont) in 1975 to the House of Lords is rather interesting because it foregrounds the later right-wing attacks on the Labour Party of which Jones was purportedly a member. Here’s an extract:

Mr. Bert Ramelson, who is the national industrial organiser for the Communist Party, said last year: The Communist Party can float an idea early in the year and it can become official Labour Party policy by the autumn. … We have more influence now on the Labour movement than at any time in the life of our Party.

Mr. Idris Cox, another leading member of the Communist Party, has said: Notably more Communists are being elected to key positions in the trade unions. Through the unions they can influence Labour Party Conference decisions.

Interestingly, Jones wrote an article titled The Strategic Defence Initiative for the Conservative Monday Club, which appeared in the 1985 Tory Conference edition of Right Ahead. 1985 was the year the miners strike ended and the Battle of the Beanfield took place. It was also the same year that Neil Kinnock delivered that speech.

You can read an interesting article on Pink Industry about Jones/Chalfont here.

Jones/Chalfont was later appointed  Chairman of the Radio Authority by the Major government.

These kinds of incidents prompt the inevitable question: do we really live in a democracy? How is it that one political party can undermine another through a campaign of dirty tricks and outright subversion? We expect this sort of thing to happen under authoritarian regimes but in Britain?

I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about the Watergate scandal a few months ago, when a journalist (not sure of the name) claimed that a Watergate “couldn’t happen here”. When asked why, he pointed to the architecture of state secrecy and hinted at the role of the security services in preserving the status quo. Even the Leveson Inquiry has been subjected to attacks from the right-wing press, who have so much to lose. In effect, Britain doesn’t have a free press and its political system is fatally corrupted.

As for the burglary at Miliband’s office and given the role of the secret state in party politics, I doubt we will ever know what really happened.

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Some thoughts about Falkirk

The Labour Party has enjoyed a lead over the Conservatives since the coalition was formed over three years ago. Recently, Labour extended its lead over the Tories by more than 10%. This must have alarmed those at Tory high command, because such a consistent lead in the polls contradicts their deeply held and delusional belief that they’re doing the ‘right thing’ for the country. The Tories so desperately want to win the 2015 election and will do anything to get themselves re-elected. This includes using dirty tricks. Indeed when it comes to dirty tricks, the Tories have plenty of previous.

Last year, Lynton Crosby was hired as the Conservative election campaign ‘consultant’ after winning the London mayoral election for Bozza. The contest was marked by a massive smear campaign against Ken Livingstone. This is Crosby’s modus operandi: use dirty tricks to scupper your opponent’s chances of winning fairly.

Yet, Crosby hasn’t always been successful. The 2005 general election was a disaster for him and led to defeat for Michael Howard, whose semi-racist “are you thinking what we’re thinking” slogan failed to deliver the goods. Howard was kicked upstairs, replaced by a younger and equally incompetent leader in the form of David Cameron.

When I first heard that the Unite union had allegedly been involved in ballot-rigging, I thought “this has Crosby’s fingerprints all over it”. This was confirmed when Dan ‘Hatchet-job’ Hodges was invited to various television studios to offer his apparently ‘expert’ view. Hodges, as many of us know, pens blogs for the Daily Telegraph where he is described as “The Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest”.

Here’s Hodges with Crosby at Bozza’s victory celebrations last year.

Hodges and Crosby1

On Wednesday, Hodges wrote in his blog:

There is fierce anger among Labour officials at the arrogant – and cack-handed – way Unite have been conducting themselves. “What did they think they were doing?” asked one. “They weren’t even trying to be subtle. They were openly bragging abut what they were up to.” Another points out that in a constituency like Falkirk, many of the trade union activists Unite were trying to hoover up were in fact nationalists. “Unite were basically letting the SNP fix a Labour Party selection,” he said.

Did you see what he did there? He’s insinuating that the SNP, through Unite, has taken over the local branch of the Labour Party. Those are Crosby’s words.

In this blog he manages to tie this story to Ken Livingstone, one of the Right’s favourite hate-figures:

This is Ed Miiband’s Yellow Trouser moment. Just as the government was trying to get agreement on the Leveson report, David Cameron sent Oliver Letwin – resplendent in canary yellow cords – to the Labour’s leaders office to try and negotiate at deal. The fact he was going cap in hand to the leader of the opposition communicated the extent to which No 10 had lost control of the situation. It also demonstrated they have no idea of how power relationships in politics work.

Ed Miliband’s late-night phone call to Ken Livingstone is similarly revealing. It shows how vulnerable he feels politically, not just about this issue but his position in the party generally. And it again shows – as I wrote this morning – that Miliband has a gaping hole in his political management. If you’re running a serious political operation you don’t get the leader scrabbling around firefighting stories like a junior press officer

Now, I’m not a fan of Miliband or the Labour Party but there’s something about Hodge’s blog that looks suspiciously like a dirty tricks campaign that’s been initiated from deep within Crosby’s foetid brain. This final paragraph says it all:

Forget the ins and outs of who did what in Falkirk. This issue is indeed about who runs the Labour party. And Ed Miliband needs to show it isn’t Ken Livingstone.

The Tories have always complained about Labour’s relationship with the trade unions, whining that the party is ‘in hock’ to them. Unlike the shadowy networks and pressure group that support the Conservative Party, unions are made up of ordinary workers. This is a point that’s lost on the Tories and their friends in the press. The Labour Party was founded by the trade union movement. The Tories represent the interests of big business and the landed classes, which are unaccountable and unelected. By contrast, unions are democratically elected and accountable.

The Tories are past masters of dirty tricks. Their close relationship to the security services was brought into sharp relief with the production of the infamous forgery that was the Zinoviev Letter, which contributed to the fall of the first Labour government in 1924.

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest British political scandals of this century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published today.

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook.

It points the finger at Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and at Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will never be known, Ms Bennett said yesterday. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

My bold. This behaviour was repeated in the 1970s when groups like the National Association for Freedom (later renamed The Freedom Association) were launched with the intention of destroying organized labour under the rubric of ‘freedom’. This was vividly demonstrated in the year-long Grunwick dispute of 1977 – 78 when John Gouriet, one of NAFF’s founders, used volunteers to break the strike. The police also stood by and watched as strike leader, Jayaben Desai’s foot was run over by one of Grunwick’s managers. He was not prosecuted. NAFF or TFA has a very close relationship with the security services.

In 1995, the satirical and investigative magazine Scallywag was driven out of business by the Major government when it alleged that the Tories were involved in a dirty tricks campaign against Labour that was orchestrated by the Conservative Research Department, headed by Dr. Julian Lewis. Oddly, Scallywag wasn’t sued for libel. Instead, its distributor and anyone who handled the magazine was prosecuted. Lewis had previously stood as a moderate Labour candidate (sic) with funding from NAFF during the Reg Prentice deselection case in 1976. Prentice later joined the Tories and was made a life peer. If this wasn’t a perversion of the democratic process then I don’t know what is.  I can’t think of many countries in which one political party actively works to undermine the internal workings of its opposite number. There’s the Watergate scandal in the United States, of course and the various banana republics that are propped up with money from the US and UK. Yet, if this is supposed to be a democracy, I find it difficult to fathom how Lewis, NAFF and the Tories  could have avoided prosecution without support from the state’s more shadowy elements.

So you think you live in a democracy? Think again.

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One Nation Ed, the darling of the right-wing press

It was all “One Nation” this and “One Nation” that. That was all there was to Miliband’s keynote speech. His vision, such as it was, was more astigmatic than 20-20. One thing though, it looks like he’s taken performance lessons quite possibly from Edouard Izzard, who was present to smile and applaud. Kinnock was there and although I didn’t see Blair, he was there in spirit. Socialism? You’re not going to get that here. But did you expect it, dear readers? The absence of any mention of socialism certainly pleased the right (along with our new masters, the markets). The speech, rather predictably, attracted the qualified plaudits of the Right-wing press and this cannot be a good thing.

Political Scrapbook has more.

The Torygraph’s Janet Daley told us that Miliband “Repudiated class war”, but it still isn’t enough for her,

All told, I would give Ed a score of  six out of ten for content, and eight out of ten for delivery. The speech was about ten or fifteen minutes too long but it was better in its substance  – and more attractive in its delivery –  than the one given by his Shadow Chancellor yesterday. And I suppose that’s what counts.

Yeah, that delivery, it looked for all the world like he was enjoying the jokes. I mean, this is showbiz. Right? But “class war”? Did he “repudiate” it as she says? Well, not really and that’s because he never mentioned it.  Daley is correct about one thing: there was no real substance and this is something that we have come to expect from the modern party conference with it’s fancy lighting, glitzy graphics and razzmatazz. Where have you been, Janet?

But if the speech gets warm support from such journalistic luminaries, then here’s a tip Mr Ed: if the right-wing press loves your speech, you’re appealing to the wrong voters but I don’t need to tell you that, you probably know that already and if you do know it, then why do you do it? It’s those floating voters, see? They’re the ones who take their political cue from the Tory press.

But it’s his co-option of the Disrealian phrase “One Nation” that interests The Cat.  This is revealing, because by appropriating the Tory left’s (for it is they who love it so) touchstone phrase, it shows us today’s Labour Party for what it is: a former party of labour that is more interested in performing handstands and cartwheels to please the Tory media. Though, in all fairness, this nonsense goes back to Kinnock. Tellingly enough,  Tim Montgomerie said,

[…] I was most reminded of early Tony Blair rather than early Cameron. Blair was at his best when he raided deep into Conservative territory. By repeatedly deploying the timeless Tory ideal of “one nation” that was what today’s Labour leader was also trying to do. Stood on a stage that was deliberately bathed in blue, Miliband mounted a strong defence of the union with Scotland and paid big tributes to the armed forces.

Ah yes, Blair, who has become filthy rich upon leaving office.  He’s been hanging around Mr Ed since he came back to the UK in July and announced that he wanted a role in British politics. Blair is now one of Mr Ed’s advisors. We are also reminded of Nu Labour’s watered-down Tory policies. Is this Mr Ed’s Nu big idea? To steal the Tory Party’s clothes? To camp his, er, tanks out on their lawn?

The Cat can see the fingerprints of Fabianism on this speech too. The Fabians are a timid woolly bunch. In fact, Fabianism is probably better described as Webbism, after the Fabian Society’s husband and wife core. These hapless folk suffer from an affliction known as reformism. This affliction causes its members to swing about like weathervanes and mutter vague bollocks about distribution and other stuff. They talk about the evils of rail privatization but are too spineless to find a way to address the problem (re-nationalization). Instead, they would much rather patch up, what is in effect, a dying man and send him back out to fight… well, harass, actually, because Fabians don’t engage in head-on battles. That stuff sounds too much like revolution for their sensitive ears. But if you want real change, then you have to be prepared to think like a revolutionary. Thatcher described her policies as revolutionary, why should Labour be so shy of thinking like revolutionaries? Well, that’s down to Fabianism and later, its ugly bastard child, Blairism.  These tendencies currently dominate the leadership’s thinking. You’ll notice I said “leadership”. I don’t think everyone in the Labour party shares the leadership’s views. There are some decent people (Luke Akehurst isn’t one of them) but while the party is in the grip of weak-willed nobodies and narcissists, then all that we are likely to get from the Parliamentary Labour Party is the thin gruel of watered-down Tory policies.

Oh and did I mention Distributism? We’ll save that for another time.

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October 2, 2012 · 9:05 pm