Posts Tagged ‘Dixons’

Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ Documentary from 2009: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby – Part One

March 11, 2018

Presented by the Conservative journo Peter Oborne, this is a very hard-hitting and extensive investigation into the malign influence and tactics of the Israel lobby. It covers not just the soft corruption of political lobbying – the various donations in money and paid trips to Israel given to Tory and Labour politicos, but also the co-ordinated smear campaign against anyone who dares to speak out in favour of the Israeli state’s victims. It’s a smear campaign that has seen very respected members of the Jewish community, including senior rabbis, and BBC journos like the late Orla Guerin, Jeremy Bowen and even Jonathan Dimbleby accused of anti-Semitism. The result has been that the Beeb was pressured not to put out an appeal for the victims of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, and there was complaints about its coverage of those murdered by Israel’s allies in the Christian Fascists of the Lebanese Phalange in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. And there has been constant pressure by these same bullying thugs on the Groaniad under its former editor, Alan Rusbridger. Who really does look like Harry Potter. Much of this pressure and screaming abuse seems to have come from America. The organisations are carefully structured, so that they keep the total number of donations secret, and their donors hide behind anonymity. When investigated they repeat the same, smooth words about just trying to keep the argument open by presenting Israel’s case, or mutter platitudes about supporting a two-state solution. All the while doing their level best to make sure that their voice is the only the British public hear, and rabidly pursuing business deals on stolen Palestinian land.

I’m afraid I may have misheard some of the names in the programme, and so misspelled them, but they should be roughly accurate.

The documentary begins with the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the Conservative Friends of Israel. Despite the horrendous carnage and destruction wrought, David Cameron in a speech made no mention of this, but instead praised the Israelis and his pledged his lasting support to them if he became Prime Minister. It was this that prompted Oborne to launch his own investigation into the Israel lobby. He makes the point that they have influence on both sides of Parliament, as shown by an exchange between a Conservative MP, who was a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, who asked a question about Israel’s continuing safety. This was answered by a Labour MP, who was a member of the Labour Friends of Israel. Oborne then interviews Michael Ancram, former Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary from 2003-5, about the Israel Lobby’s influence. as well as Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Iran from 2003-6. Dalton states clearly that the Israel Lobby does exist, and is important in defining the debate about Israel and the Palestinians. The Conservative Friends of Israel is highly influential, and boasts that it includes 80 per cent of all Tory MPs. Its chair, Richard Huntingdon, received £20,000 last year (2008) in donations, and gave £34,000 to the Conservatives. And the director of the No. 10 club, that exclusive Tory fundraising outfit in which, for a mere £50,000, you can meet David Cameron or have lunch with William Hague, is also included. The Tory Friends of Israel also arrange paid trips to Israel for MPs. So far there have been more of these than equivalent trips to America and Europe combined. Oborne states that in fairness, he has to say that he went on one of these, and there was no pressure to report favourably about Israel. But two MPs, who went on one of these trips, then received afterwards £25,000 in donations. This prompts Oborne to ask Ancram if this explains the soft line taken by the Tories about Israeli influence, and why the Tories don’t like to talk about it.

The documentary then moves on to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during which 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed, and $3.6 billion’s worth of damage inflicted. Michael Howard gave William Hague £25,000 in donations. Hague then made the mistake of making a speech criticising the Israeli response to Lebanese attacks as disproportionate. As a result, Lord Kalms, a CFI donor and head of the Dixons electronics chain, was outraged, and threatened to withhold further funding. Which he did, and Hague never received a penny more. The Israel lobby attacks even the mildest criticism of Israel. The director of the CFI, Stuart Pollak, had a meeting with David Cameron after the speech. Then, at his lunch with the CFI, Cameron didn’t mention the Lebanese invasion at all.

The programme then moves on to the organisation’s income, as revealed by the Parliamentary Accounts Register. For comparison, the pro-Arab lobby revealed that they had been given £43,000 in donations. How many had the CFI been given? No-one knows. They didn’t register any. They’re structured as a group of individuals, and are not incorporated, so they don’t have declare any under the rules. In 2008 the CFI gave the Tories £2 million, but this is not the whole story. One Tory MP said that after a chance meeting with Stuart Pollak, he received two donations from businessmen he had never met, and who did not live in his constituency. The CFI gave £30,000 to Cameron’s team. And in 2005 Cameron met Plocha Zabludowicz, who gave the future Tory PM £15,000 and a further £35,000 to Tory Central Office. The total figure for the donations given by the CFI is £10 million, more than the other lobbies.

Then there’s the incident of the UN vote over a motion censuring both Hamas and Israel for the carnage in Gaza. The CFI rang Hague up to condemn the resolution and demand that he criticise it. Which he duly did.

But the Israel Lobby only became really powerful in Britain under Maggie’s favourite Labour pet, Tony Blair. Jon Mandelsohn, a prominent pro-Israel lobbyist, stated that ‘Zionism is pervasive in New Labour’ and ‘It is axiomatic that Blair will come to Labour Friends of Israel meetings’. There are more Labour MPs in Labour Friends of Israel than their opponents across the benches in the Tory Friends of Israel. The documentary describes how Blair met the rock entrepreneur, Lord Levy, at the Israeli embassy, who then raised £15 million for the Labour party before the row over ‘cash for questions’. When Blair became PM in 1997, he gave Levy a life peerage. Levy, however, was unpaid and never a formal servant of the British state, so that the deals he made as Blair’s special envoy to the Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations could be kept secret. The programme interviews Prof. Avi Shlaim of Oxford University’s Middle East department, who states that he considers Levy has damaged Britain’s reputation in the Middle East.

The documentary then moves back to CFI lobbyists at the Tory party conference. Their purpose there is to make sure Cameron’s policies are in line with Israel’s This means that Michael Kaminski, the Polish leader, who heads a small, far right nationalist party, is lionised by the Tories, despite his record of making anti-Semitic remarks and his refusal to apologise for the suffering of Jewish Poles during the Second World War. Stuart Pollak was most keen not to have Cameron’s speech to the CFI at the Tory conference covered. He is shown waving the camera crew away. The CFI totally support Kaminski. They also plead that they’re totally transparent through the distinction between their donations as a group, and those of individual businesspeople.

Continued in Part Two.

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Privatised Railways and the Failure of Popular Capitalism

March 23, 2015

One of the Ed Miliband’s election promises has been to renationalise parts of the rail network. As recent polls found, most of the population of this country would like to see the utilities returned to public ownership, including the railways. They’ve been marred with poor service and overcharging since they were first privatised by John Major back in the early 1990s. To make matters worse, the railways are receiving far more in government subsidies than they were when they were nationalised. The British public are paying through the nose for a worse service.

Anthony Sampson discusses the massive failure of the privatised railways in his book, Who Runs This Place: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century. The book examines and describes how Britain has become less democratic, with politicians, government officials and industrialists more remote and unaccountable. He devotes nearly two pages to the privatisation of the railways, pp. 289-90, in which he states

The most disastrous of the privatisations was the last, British Rail, which was also the most visible to the public. Margaret Thatcher had shrewdly resisted selling it off, but John Major weakly gave in to pressure from bankers, and went ahead in 1996. The selling off of the vast railway network was devised by the Treasury to maximise the short-term gains, and was masterminded by Sir Steven Robson. The stations and the 23,000 miles of track would be run by a national company, Railtrack, while separate operating companies would buy and run the trains in different regions. The old railway managers were soon demoted: the chairman of Railtrack was Sir Robert Horton, who had just ben fired as chief executive of the oil company BP; and he chose as chief executive a finance director, Gerald Corbett, who had risen through Dixons shops, Redland cement, and Grand Metropolitan drinks. the track maintenance was delegated to private contractors.

By 2001 the whole railway system was in serious danger. Corbett was out of his field and Horton was in ill-health; he was succeeded by Sir Philip Beck, chairman (like his father) of the Mowlem construction company, whose experience came from the controversial Docklands Light Railway. The lack of effective accountability became tragically clear after a succession of train crashes, which revealed scandalous lack of supervision. The crash at Potters Bar was blamed on careless maintenance by the subcontractors Jarvis, whose chief operating officer blamed sabotage, of which no evidence emerged; he was then promoted to chief executive. The trail of accountability ended up in the sidings of a secretive private company.

The government at last intervened, withdrew support from Railtrack, thereby bankrupting it, and created a new non-profit company, Network Rail, chaired by Ian McAllister, the former chairman of Ford in Britain, with an engineer John Armitt as chief executive. The environment secretary Stephen Byers, who had responsibility for transport, resigned, and was succeeded by the Scot Alistair Darling, and Darling extended the government’s role in July 2004 when he abolished the independent Strategic Rail Authority – which had been created only four years earlier – and took over most of its functions.

The operating companies, which had been only granted short franchises, were more interested in quick profits than long-term planning, and most boards had little experience of railways. South West Trains was acquired by the bus company Stagecoach, built up by the combative Scots entrepreneur Brian Souter and his sister Ann Gloag, which the Monopolies Commission had earlier accused of behaviour that was ‘predatory, deplorable and against the public interest’. They made a new fortune by selling rolling-stock, and bought the magnificent Beaufort Castle in Scotland; but they soon made rash investments in America which brought down their shares and limited their investment in British trains. West Coast Trains was bought by Virgin, run by Sir Richard Branson whose background was in airlines and pop music. South Eastern and South Central trains were run by Vivendi, the French conglomerate which soon hopelessly overextended its empire, from water to Hollywood. The Great North-Eastern (GNER) was owned by the Bermuda-based company Sea Containers, controlled by its American founder-president Jim Sherwood.

The privatising of the network had undermined much of the traditional British pride in railways. The separate regional traditions and hierarchies of engine-drivers, signalmen and stationmasters were swept aside by the cuts and constraints imposed by accountants and financial directors at headquarters. Many of the cutbacks were necessary if the companies were to be made viable; but the upheavals in the operating companies and the collapse of Railtrack had left few people who understood how railways really worked.

The privatisation of the railways failed because the franchises were short-term, and the firms that bought them thus only interested in making a quick buck. They had no knowledge or experience of running railways, and refused to accept responsibility for the disasters and horrendous crashes that occurred. Margaret Thatcher herself recognised that privatising them would be a bad idea, but it clearly wasn’t bad enough to dissuade Britain’s bankers.

As a result, Blair’s government had to extend government power over the privatised railways, even though New Labour was enthusiastically pro-privatisation. Ed Miliband’s planned re-nationalisation of parts of the rail network will thus undoubtedly be an improvement.