What links the notorious war criminal Henry Kissinger, the right-wing anti-semite Michal Kaminski and Lord Michael Ashcroft, a billionaire who made his fortune by hijacking the Belizean economy? No, this isn’t the plot of some tawdry action thriller. Neither is it the opening salvo of a convoluted conspiracy theory.
Occam’s principle that “entities must not be multiplied without necessity” suggests the existence of a simple answer. So what is it? What links these three egregious personalities and a teeming cesspool of others? Why, David Cameron’s “cuddly” Conservative Party.
Cameron would have us believe that he represents a departure from previous styles of Conservatism. As against a detached and politically exhausted Labour leadership, Cameron is “in touch” with voters and full of new ideas. To convince us of the total conversion, he’s adopted public relations methods honed by Tony Blair and his clique. Just as Blair seemed to glide effortlessly into Downing Street, Cameron is attempting his own swan-like journey.
But whereas Blair represented a real break with business-as-usual within Labour, a break cemented by a class-war against labour movement influence and democratic functioning in the party, Cameron’s glide is powered by the same old conservative forces. The evidence ranges from a clutch of relatively banal anecdotes to relationships and connections exposing the possible shape of a Tory-governed Britain.
Item: The Kissinger connection. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in a political leader lending his ear or seeking advice from the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Although his tenure as the world’s “chief diplomat” ended more than thirty years ago, Presidents and Prime Ministers still seek his advice on foreign relations and policy.
A little more unusual, perhaps, is his apparent role in recommending potential Tory candidates for the House of Commons. The former Daily Mail editor, Susan Douglas, seems to have benefited from Kissinger’s intervention in her efforts to become an MP. Not a ground-shaking revelation in itself but it does suggest a closer-than-usual relationship between a man responsible for a campaign of butchery and suppression across several continents and the leader of the Tories.
Item: The European hard-right. The Tory party is the fighting machine par excellence of the British ruling class. As such it has a responsibility to reflect and enact the intentions and impulses, self-consistent or not, of the bigots, little-Englanders and xenophobes who back it.
Outside of purely economic considerations this is nowhere clearer than in the Tories’ attitude to Europe. Whilst capitalists and their political representatives in France and Germany, for instance, champion closer economic and social coordination between the states of Europe — an expansion of markets, securing the hegemony of French and German capital in former Stalinist and near-European states and the connected enablement of a larger “sphere of influence” — such moves seem anathema to British capitalists.
The myth of Britain as a “sovereign” economy with independent links across the Atlantic and beyond is sustenance enough. But this is not just a question of pure economics: it demonstrates the tip-to-toe backwardness, inside and out of the capitalists’ own frame of reference, of the British ruling class.
A look at who the Tories have aligned themselves with inside the European Parliament after their departure from the mainstream conservative grouping reveals a great deal.
A more despicable rag-bag collection of racists, religious bigots and rightwing political extremists can only be found on the fascist margins of Europe. The Polish anti-Semite Kaminski is just the tip of the ice-berg. Kaminski, formerly an explicitly fascist politician, is now attempting to present a “reformed” face to the world. But these efforts have not dulled his extreme nationalistic inclinations.
Kaminski’s role in preventing the recognition and commemoration of the massacre of 400 Jews in Jedwabne in 1941 points to his real political base-line. There are many other similarly disturbing examples from Cameron’s friends in Europe. But what does this tell us of the shape of future Tory policy?
On Europe, we can be sure that they’ll continue to reflect the leanings of the masters of British capital and exploit nationalist sentiment whenever possible. It’s unlikely, however, that Europe will play a major role in the election campaign as it did so disastrously for William Hague and other Tory leaders in the past.
More generally, their relationships in Europe strike an ominous tone for domestic issues. The dominant, anti-European forces within the Conservative Party sit comfortably with right-wing extremists because they share much more than hostility to greater integration. It will be no surprise if Cameron attempts to roll back some of the advances — however small they’ve been — in women’s and gay rights and make attacks elsewhere. Cameron has already promised (albeit unconvincingly) to cut immigration by 75% if he comes to power. We can expect more of the same.
Lord Michael Ashcroft
Item: Lord Michael Ashcroft. Ashcroft and his financial dealings have inspired a collective noun for Tory front-benchers: “an evasion of Ashcroft lackeys”. The particular issue of whether Ashcroft pays full tax on his one billion pound fortune, money he uses to bank-roll the Tories in marginal seats, has become first-rate sport in the mainstream media. There’s much more to be said about Ashcroft than his tax status.
First, how did the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party become the 37th richest person in the UK? Honest toil? Hard graft? Not unless he managed to transform the social relations of capital!
Ashcroft has used his considerable wealth to prevent investigations, most notably by the Times newspaper, into his financial dealings. The exact details are unknown. What we do know is that from the early 80s he transferred his operations to the newly independent Belize and steadily took control of the entire financial industry. According to Dean Barrow, the Belizean premier, “Ashcroft is an extremely powerful man. His net worth may well be equal to Belize’s entire GDP. He is nobody to cross”. Ashcroft is a man worth a good deal more than many nation states and maintains similar political connections.
Ashcroft’s political dealings are not limited to Britain. In Belize he funded the “People’s United Party” to the tune of $1 million. Another $1 million went to Australia’s Liberal Party in 2004. In August 2008, Ashcroft paid a visit to New Zealand to lend his support to the National Party. He’s a man with fingers in a good-many political pies.
So what does Ashcroft want with the Tory party and why do they allow such a man — someone who could seriously jeopardise their political standing — to accrue so much control and create so much tension? Again, the simplest answer most certainly suffices: Ashcroft is a rich and powerful man who wishes to become richer and more powerful. He’s the Tories’ sort of a guy! In relative terms, Ashcroft’s method of making money has been successful. If it works in Belize, why not in Britain? The Tory party needs money, someone who thinks like them offers to give them it.
Marx wrote of capital as born “dripping with filth and blood from every pore”. With the benefit of more than a century of hindsight, we can see that it’s re-born — again and again — in much the same way. Whoever wins the election, Tory or Labour, the government’s first post-election task will be to enable the shift in capitalism required to adapt to new, “post-crisis” conditions. The dimensions and immediate consequences of this shift will differ depending on who occupies the seats of power. The Tories have already shown themselves to be on the relative right of New Labour on this question. They would have let more banks and businesses go to the wall and ensured an even greater assault on the working class.
In such a circumstance — with a plethora of greatly de-valued financial institutions and industries — what type of person prospers? Persons of the Ashcroft variety who purchased his first company, and the livelihoods of one thousand workers, for the princely sum of £1.
So what considerations will determine how the Tories would manage the economy? Jobs and stability? Certainly not. The interests of people like Lord Michael Ashcroft, Tory Deputy Chairman? Certainly.
This picture of David Cameron’s Conservative Party and “Cameronism” is only partial. What about the structure and tensions within the Tory party nationally? What factions and groups exist within the Parliamentary party and what do they want?
These considerations, the subject of an article in the next Solidarity, are vital in understanding not only what a Tory government will look like but also to what extent the palpable fragmentation of right wing opinion — to the benefit of forces like UKIP and the British National Party — is having an effect.