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Do Not Mourn the White Saviours of DfID

I never write to shock. But I do relish making people think, and consider arguments out of the comfort zone of a set of group shared opinions. I am very aware that many people find this intensely annoying.

A good example is that I believe that Russian actions in Syria have been legal, and helpful in preventing a still more massive conflagration in the Middle East. But I believe that the Russian occupations of Crimea and a section of Georgia are illegal, acts of military aggression. The accepted political view in mainstream western politics at the moment is that Russia is always wrong and the West is always right. Those who dissent form a smaller group, but find strength in the line that Russia is always right and the West is always wrong. Both opinions are nonsensical.

I expect that the vast majority of people who support my website identify as left wing and take the position that the Tory decision to abolish the Department for International Development and move it inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a bad thing. I do not however think the massive praise for DFID now being deployed in the media stands up to close inspection. DFID is in fact a toxic institution that dispenses astonishing sums of money, in a way that provides greater practical benefit to the wealthy members of the Aid Industry in the UK than it does to those it is supposed to help lift out of poverty abroad.

It does not have to be like that. I entirely support the giving of 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income to international development. But at the moment it is being sluiced away. The greatest concentration of economic benefit from British aid lies in the leafier parts of North London (and not, incidentally, in East Kilbride. It is not DFID staff who are milking the system).

It is a very good discipline to ask yourself how much cash those employees of charities campaigning to keep DFID make personally from DFID. It is an interesting paradox that if they appear not to be employed by DFID, they are almost certainly lining their own pockets with a very great deal more DFID cash than actual DFID employees.

When I travel around the rural areas of both Ghana and Nigeria, I frequently pass over rivers and streams on iron and concrete bridges built by DFID’s predecessor the Overseas Development Administration (ODA). Often the road itself was first built by ODA. I am sure academic papers have been written, but I cannot sufficiently convey to you the massive positive impact such infrastructure has had over decades on rural communities, transforming access to markets for agricultural and cottage industry products and helping social mobility.

You realise the importance of a bridge in rural Africa when you see the devastating social consequences when one disappears. This is an extract from my memoir The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. I had not recalled before looking for this passage on the bridge, what an extended discussion on DFID ensues. It was written ten years ago and describes the situation still further back in 2001, but the key points remain true and I will explain what has changed.

Travelling North West from the city of Sunyani, I visited the town of Tainano. (Footnote in book: I think it was Tainano but my notes are not quite clear which of a number of towns I visited that day it was. I intend to explore this region again…) This had been a renowned market gardening centre, but had gone into a dreadful economic decline some ten years earlier following the collapse of its bridge in a storm. I arrived at the fallen bridge, a simple concrete structure spilling down into a river, a major tributary of the Black Volta, some 40 metres across, its brown surge flowing fast enough for there to be little eddies flecked with flashes of white. We were only an hour’s drive from Sunyani, but I was told that the drive to the next bridge was some four hours on a very rough road. The alternative was to cross by canoe.

I walked down to where a jumble of four or five canoes was pulled onto the steeply sloping bank. The rare sight of a white man wanting to cross caused huge amusement and there followed some excited competition as to which canoe I should take. I eyed them dubiously – they were all of local dugout construction, hewed from a single trunk with rough pieces of wood nailed across as seats. Each already contained a fair amount of water slopping about in the bottom. I chose the largest looking one and we set off. One paddler in front and one at back. They were incredibly muscled; their torsos would have been the delight and envy of any Californian gym, and they were soon sheathed in gold as the sun reflected off a mixture of sweat and river water. I was continually wiping my glasses clear.

We set off more or less straight upstream, the men paddling like crazy with huge muscular strokes but still making very little headway, the force of their efforts rocking the canoe from side to side so that water poured in and I had to lift my feet clear of the floor while gripping the slimy canoe sides to try and retain my balance. That didn’t feel safe, so I reluctantly planted my feet again, the water in the well of the canoe now over my ankles. We had started straight upstream in order to come back to a point opposite our starting one in a graceful arc. As we were broadside to the current in the middle of this manoeuvre, the water flowed over the side and along my seat, thoroughly wetting my arse.

I was in danger of wetting myself anyway. I have a terrible and irrational fear of drowning – I can bath but get scared in a shower for example, and even get scared in very heavy rainfall. Unsurprisingly, I have never learnt to swim. There was one other passenger, an old lady who had hoisted up her brightly flowered dress and knotted it beneath her loins, while balancing an improbably large cloth bundle of goods on her knees. I told myself that if she could do it, I should not be pathetic, but she didn’t improve my mood by screwing up her eyes and yelling out “Lord have mercy” throughout the entire passage. This rather cancelled out my efforts to tell myself that the boatman must make this crossing scores of times a day and it must have been completely routine for the local villagers.

After turning at the top of the arc, we were racing down with the current on the other side of the stream at a quite alarming rate. As we sped past the road, the rear boatman threw a rope to someone on the bank who whipped it round a tree trunk, pulling the canoe up with a jolt that nearly pitched me into the water. I disembarked on shaky legs, deeply conscious of my wet trousers.

I had been vaguely aware of flashes of fluorescent orange in a large tree that was growing to the right of the collapsed bridge on the bank on which we had now arrived. After wiping my glasses again I could now see about a dozen life jackets, hung high in the tree. The effect was rather macabre.

I turned to the boatman and asked why they didn’t use the life-jackets.
He flashed me a wide grin.
“Oh,” he said, “We don’t use them since people drown in them.”

The poverty and squalor of the town were as bad as I had seen in Ghana. Unlike most rural towns, which smell earthy but clean, this one had a palpable smell of sewage and the buildings were visibly decaying; the orange blooms of rust on the corrugated tin roofs were spreading, and in places the ensuing holes had gone rampant, reducing the covering to a fragile latticework of fern-like iron oxide tendrils.

As usual, I chatted with the local schoolmaster, and he firmly alleged that the government’s failure to replace the bridge was because it was an opposition town which the government was happy to see dwindle. In his school I was impressed to find the electoral commission personnel with their cameras set up, quietly and methodically issuing photo ID cards to a queue of several hundred people. They had lost some film stock on the crossing but still had plenty.

I took a trip around the surrounding countryside in an old plum and orange coloured taxi, which had lost a door and whose bodywork was battered beyond recognition, but had a Peugeot badge on the steering wheel. The chrome front bumper was rather bafflingly tied across the roof, secured to the window struts either side with ties made from strips of old fertiliser sacks. The driver, Aaron, was a bright man who was going to vote NDC on the grounds that Rawlings’ willingness to hold a free election meant that he deserved support.

But my trip showed the surrounding farmers to be as impoverished by the loss of the bridge as the town, and I determined on return to try to persuade DFID to rebuild the bridge. It seemed to me that the resulting benefit to an area which had been effectively cut off from economic interaction with the rest of the country, would justify the expenditure.

In fact I was to get nowhere with this. DFID were in the throes of changing from project work to a doctrine which is now the basis of their philosophy, that of budget support. The idea is that no longer will the UK do something for the aid recipient, like building a bridge, a hospital or some schools, or providing inputs and training to farmers. Instead we help the government, together with its civil society, to plan its budget and its programmes to maximise poverty alleviation. We then pump money into its budget to help it to achieve these agreed aims.

This has several advantages. It is more democratic, with the African country pursuing its own objectives. The consultation structures included boost the role of civil society. It also builds up the capacity of the African administration and African professionals to deliver goods to the people.

Unfortunately, these happy ideas are hopelessly unrealistic. With the greatest will in the world, the capacity of African ministries to deliver anything to the people is in practice highly constrained – even in Ghana, which probably has the best civil service in Africa.

There are numerous factors behind this. There is a lack of middle management capability, and a lack of incentive for ordinary civil servants to deliver. African bureaucracies almost entirely lack any link between performance in the job and reward or discipline, with family and tribal linkages almost always being much more crucial to your career than ability or performance.

There is also the sadly unavoidable fact that African governments are corrupt – all of them, to a greater or lesser degree. Now that is not to say that Western governments are not corrupt – of course they are, all of them, to a greater or lesser degree. But African governments are more corrupt. Why they are more corrupt, and whose fault that is, opens up another range of very interesting questions touched on from time to time in this book. But the sad truth is that African governments are rather intensely corrupt, and so simply to hand them over in effect large wodges – amounting to billions of pounds – of the British public’s cash as “Budget support” is not a policy that is going to strike the man in the street as glaringly sensible.

DFID would argue, with some justice, that they then carefully monitor the spending of the African government and the achievement of the objectives of the programmes, to make sure the money is being well used.

There are two problems with this. The first is a wonderful DFID word, fungibility. It means the ability to switch around funds and I think the meaning is clear if you think of it as fudge-ability. Put simply, it means that you put the £100 million DFID gave you for education, into education. Meanwhile you put the £40 million of your own taxpayers’ money, that you had for education, into your own pocket. Nobody will notice amid the flood of resources coming from donors.

Fungibility – where would the Swiss banks and London property market be without it?

The second problem is that in its decade of re-orienting to budget support, DFID has vastly reduced the percentage of funds it devotes to monitoring and evaluation – so it doesn’t really know how much fungible leakage is occurring.

Anyway, Ian Stuart, the head of DFID’s Ghanaian operations, advised me that there was no way DFID would do something as old-fashioned as building a bridge, and though I continued to try for another year, he was right.

Despite what I have written, there is a role for budget support in aid policy – an element of it is essential to have a real effect on primary education, for example. And other approaches can also be fraught. In 1999 the British Council organised for DFID the delivery of basic textbooks to every single primary school in Ghana – a programme of which I was proud. Again I made a point of journeying to the most remote locations to make sure they had got through, and in almost every case they had.

But in a significant number of cases they were not being put to use. One headmaster proudly showed me that the books were “safe” in a locked steel container in a locked cupboard in his locked office. The packets had not been opened. Another teacher told me they read to the children from the books but did not let them see them as “They would get them dirty.”

But in deep rural districts the biggest problem in education I had found was teacher absenteeism. Talking to those teachers present, to local priests and others, I reckoned teacher absenteeism in rural areas ran at over 60%. Often schools would have no teacher present at all, or a single teacher holding the fort for all the others – I suspect they took turns. The simple truth was that educated teachers were not prepared to live in villages with no running water, little electricity and none of the delights of urban society.

I found DFID remarkably ignorant of the true state of affairs. The problem was that neither permanent nor visiting DFID staff nor consultants would dream of calling in to a village school ten hours drive from Accra, certainly not without first giving warning and almost certainly arranging the visit through, and being accompanied by, officials from the local regional office. That would give plenty of time for absent teachers to get there and everything to be in order. Whereas I would be driving through the bush and simply see a school and call in. DFID also credited official figures which, while acknowledging the problem, hid its true extent.

That describes the situation under New Labour, when unrealistic ideology dominated DFID’s approach. David Cameron then came in to power and made this situation still worse, by effectively applying Tory privatisation doctrine to aid. Cameron speeded up a process which was already under way, of spending the aid budget through what he called the “Third Sector” and you and I call charities. This was a part of his “Big Society” initiative.

The worst effect of this was to turn previously worthy charities into corporations devoted to making cash for the elite who run them. Rather than conduits for public philanthropy, major charities became primarily an arm of private sector provision for government, as motivated by altrusim as SERCO or G4 are. Those that were most favoured by DFID started to show the most alarming effects on their corporate ethos.

It would be an interesting study to discover at precisely what point it became generally accepted that the executive staff of charities had to be paid according to the market for executives of rapacious capitalist corporations, and that it was ludicrous to even consider that those who devote their lives to working for charities might do so in part for reasons of altruism that did not require them to become incredibly rich personally. Little old ladies who slave away as volunteers in charity shops or rattling tins at events might be expected to do it for little or nothing for charity, but executive staff – heaven forfend!

I think one of the most morally disgusting statements I have read in my life can be found today on the website of the Save the Children Fund, stating that it is for the good of the poorest children of the planet, racked by poverty and disease and dying in their hundreds of thousands, that the executives of the Save the Children fund need to be paid at levels that enable them to lead lifestyles of the fabulously wealthy. If this monstrously hypocritical sentence does not make you want to vomit, you are not a good person.

We are serious about being the best we can be for the world’s children. That means we place a premium on attracting the best people to work for us and to lead our organisation.

The best people to help starving and sick children are, by this definition, those who want to be paid the most money to do it. There is a more rational argument that those who want to be paid the most money are the worst people to help the world’s children.

So this is what Save the Children ladle out to their UK executives. REMEMBER, MUCH OF THEIR INCOME IS DFID MONEY.

That is whithout even considering the salary of the “Global Head” of such charities. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, wife of Stephen Kinnock, skimmed £284,000 a year plus expenses as global head of Save the Children. Her successor, Inge Asher, somehow scrapes by on £188,900 a year. The utterly shameless David Miliband, Chief Executive of the International Rescue Committee, gets an eye watering US $911,000 a year for his work for a “charity” that gets £100 million a year from DFID.

Compare Save the Children UK and Islamic Relief UK. Islamic Relief is the slightly larger charity by turnover, despite being unusual in UK development agencies in getting a scarcely significant part of its income from DFID. Islamic Relief’s Chief Executive gets a salary approximately 60% of that of his Save the Children UK counterpart, and would not be in the top 20 highest paid employees at Save the Children UK. This precisely because the Islamic Relief trustees feel that working for the charity should in itself contain an element of sadaqah, or charitable giving. Here the Muslim community has maintained a much greater sense of morality than the DFID bloated rest of the British development “charitable” sector. The UK large scale “charitable” sector is a scam on an epic scale. DFID is responsible for much of that development.

So when you hear the UK aid sector screaming at the threat to DFID, do not be shocked. Thousands of luxurious lifestyles across London are potentially at threat.

It astonishes me that there is complete denial about the link between the deliberate entrenchment of corporate macho management structures, with their vastly inflated financial reward systems, into the charity sector from the 1990s onwards, and the ensuing rash of incidents of appalling sexual abuse by charity executives and staff, of which the behaviour of Save the Children senior executives Justin Forsyth and Brendan Cox were among the worse. If you base your recruitment policy on the reward structures of large capitalist enterprises, you will get nasty people. Overpaid, over-entitled and arrogant jumped up arses are going to behave like overpaid, over-entitled and arrogant jumped up arses.

When Save the Children produced their report on why its senior male executives felt entitled to physically molest any female employee who crossed their path, understandably the current overpaid crew avoided blaming either over-payment or over-entitlement. But the truth of the matter is that the entire ethos of the charity sector has been ruined by the massive pump through of DFID cash. I genuinely can’t begin to understand the mindset of people who believe they should personally take these mind-boggling sums from a supposed charity to help the poorest. DFID have created the situation whereby the sector is full of highly paid individuals, in it for the money, who would rather sexually exploit the poor than help them.

This overpayment and excess of self-regard feeds directly into what is generally recognised in international development as “White Saviour Syndrome

When you have reached the stage where there needs to be a parliamentary report on “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector”, you know that things have gone very wrong indeed. The fault lies at base with DFID and their massive hosepipe of high pressure money. Charities have been allowed to argue that they need reward criteria the same as would be employed by the Wolf of Wall Street, because the money motive is what brings good staff. You cannot therefore be surprised they started to behave socially like the Wolf of Wall Street.

DFID’s own direct staff costs are comparatively modest, at around £212 million in 2018/9 including pension and other costs, which is a commendable 1.4% of its total budget. Its very top salaries are broadly the same as the very top salaries at Save the Children, although the DFID executives are managing a budget 50 times greater.

The salary of the four highest paid executives at DFID represents 0.03% of DFID’s turnover. The salary of the four highest paid executives at Save the Children UK represents 0.15% of Save the Children UK’s income.

This is even more acute in the field. When I worked alongside the Overseas Development Agency in the British High Commission in Nigeria, a portfolio of projects totalling hundreds of millions of pounds were managed by two ODA officers, of whom the most junior, who did most of the project management, would earn the equivalent in today’s salaries of about £25,000 a year. He would pay tax on that, pay for his own private vehicle, live in a small flat and have access to the High Commission Land Rover Defender pool when on official duty.

Today, the management of that portfolio of projects would no longer be undertaken directly by DFID. It would be split between a dozen different charities. Each would employ a minimum of one expat on a minimum of £50,000 a year tax free, plus their plush detached house, return holiday tickets and full time use of a $100,000 Toyota Land Cruiser. Sometimes the take home pay of an ultimately DFID funded charity aid worker in Africa, managing a single project, is higher than that of the tax paying British ambassador who is in charge of all UK interests in that country.

I want you to understand I am not pontificating from an armchair. I am speaking from four decades of direct involvement and experience in African development of this transformation, which I have witnessed up close and in detail.

You will scour in vain the 196 page DFID Annual Report and Accounts for a breakdown of what percentage of DFID aid is paid to UK charities. The accounts are scrupulous in detailing DFID’s direct salary and administrative costs for its aid, but then take all the money paid out to charities as effective aid to the intended final purpose and destination, without any accounting for the administrative costs of the charity.

The £50,000 salary, the Land Cruiser and the luxury house of the charity worker helping administer a DFID project in Malawi will count as aid to Malawi, even though Malawi gets no benefit. So will the fat fee, air fares and expenses of the British consultant who will fly out from time to time to evaluate the project. The White Saviour syndrome reaches its apogee in projects which consist entirely of sending out British experts for “advocacy”. There are entire tranches of “aid to Africa” which consist entirely of paying members of the UK Aid Industry large sums of money to go out and patronise Africans on the subject of human rights and women’s rights. I have witnessed this in Ghana where society is perfectly capable of tackling these subjects and the general position on both sets of rights is no worse than in the UK.

The DFID annual report is equally silent on what percentage of aid is provided as direct budget support. It details what sectors and geographical locations allegedly benefit, but has very little to say on the medium of provision.

There are entire DFID programmes that consist of nothing but paying particularly wealthy British people to go out and talk down to Africans. As though African countries do not contain extremely educated people concerned with gender and other rights. It is the modern, politically correct version of the Victorian Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. It reflects the attitude of “Over the seas there are little brown children”, who we need to enlighten. Plan UK are one of many British charities who are main DFID conduits for this type of well paid activity. The DFID money given to the bank accounts of the wealthy British people who undertake this work all counts as “Aid to Africa”.

Ghana gave us Kofi Annan; sent us Afua Hirsch; it has a real human rights lawyer – and friend of mine – as its President. It does not need lectures on rights as “aid”. But it gets them.

Many people whose world view I broadly share will be horrified by my criticism of DFID. One of those is Owen Barder, whose work I generally admire and not only because his late father Brian was something of an intellectual mentor to me (and my boss in Nigeria). There is a fascinating discussion between Owen and Ian Birrell on the effectiveness of aid, centred on a report of the DFID £11 million backed Millennium Villages Project in Northern Ghana, which essentially said it was a waste of money. This evaluation report is truly unusual because normally the consultants evaluating projects are also employed managing other projects. It is all a part of the Aid Industry and they do not normally produce reports that rock the mutual gravy train. I am not sure that ITAD will get much more DFID work after this honesty.

Both Owen and Ian are genuinely knowledgeable, and they have entirely different conclusions on DFID and aid, as brought out in these twitter threads of Ian here and Owen here – each thread having lots of bifuractions and interjections that lead into interesting areas.

But still more enlightening is the perspective of President Nana Akuffo Addo:

Personally, I support the idea of 0.7% of Gross Domestic Income being given by the UK and other wealthy states in aid to developing countries. This is both morally correct and an exercise of enlightened self-interest. I believe that this aid should overwhelmingly be given in the form of delivered turnkey projects. That could take the form of building and furnishing complete factories to provide the processing and added value to African commodity exports which Nana Akuffo Addo outlines in the above speech. Building and handing over cocoa processing plants and gold refineries would be a good start.

I understand why project aid was discredited by disastrous dam projects in the 1980’s. But the provision now of solar energy power stations and the infrastructure to integrate them with the local grid, or indeed of rural roads and bridges, remains for me the most effective way to provide aid. It should be delivered turnkey. You identify what factory or infrastructure is needed and you build it and hand it over. Of course this should take account of long term project sustainability and include the ancillary materials, connections, training and technology transfer required. But at the end of the day, you will have given something concrete to the people of the country. This is certainly how I wish to see Scottish aid develop post Independence.

I am well aware that the current danger from the Tory move to disestablish DFID is that aid funds will be diverted to the military, security services, armaments industry and to boost the profits of Tory donor companies. My expectations of anything getting better in any sector under the current rulers of the last days of the United Kingdom are close to zero. But contriving a worse system for managing aid than DFID is going to be quite hard to achieve. There are excellent left wing arguments against DFID as it has developed institutionally under the ideologically driven right wing governments that dominate the UK.

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My Day With Prince Philip

Below is the story of my day touring Tema with Prince Philip, in this chapter from my book “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”. You may be surprised to read that I rather liked him.

The African Queen

One morning I was sitting in the lounge at Devonshire House, with its fitted wool carpets and chintz sofas. I was drinking the tea that our steward, Nasser, had brought me. I heard movement in a corner of the room, and thought it must be Nasser cleaning there. But looking round, I saw nobody. Puzzled, I got up and walked towards that corner. Rounding a settee, I nearly stood upon a thin, green snake. About four feet long and just the thickness of your thumb, it was a bright, almost lime green colour. There was not much wedge shape to its head, which rather tapered from its neck. Its tongue was flickering toward me, perhaps a foot away, its head raised only slightly off the floor. I took a step backwards. In response it too retreated, at surprising speed, and zipped up the inside of the curtains.

I stood stock still and yelled “Nasser! Nasser!”
This brought Nasser hurrying into the living room with Gloria, the cook.
“Nasser, there’s a snake in the curtains!”
Nasser and Gloria screamed, threw their arms in the air, and ran together into the kitchen and out the back door of the house. This was not altogether helpful.

I remained where I was to keep an eye on the snake, not wanting it to be lurking inside the house unseen. After a while the front door opened and somebody, presumably Nasser, threw in Nasser’s scruffy little dog. The dog was normally banned from the house, and celebrated this unexpected turn of events by immediately urinating against the hall table. Then the dog too ran into the kitchen and out of the back door.

Abandoning my watch, I went out and recruited the reluctant gardeners and gate guards. They armed themselves with long sticks and came in and beat the curtains until the snake fell onto the floor. As it sped for cover under a sofa, Samuel the youngest gardener got in a solid blow, and soon everyone was joining in, raining down blows on the twitching snake. They carried its disjointed body out on the end of a stick, and burnt it on a bonfire.

Everyone identified it as a green mamba. I was sceptical. Green mambas are among the world’s deadliest snakes, and I imagined them to look beefy like cobras, not whip thin and small headed like this. But a search on the agonisingly slow internet showed that indeed it did look very like a green mamba.

The important question arose of how it had entered the house. With air conditioning, the doors and windows were usually shut. Nasser seemed to have solved the mystery when he remarked that a dead one had been found last year inside an air conditioner. The unit had stopped working, and when they came to fix it they found a snake jammed in the mechanism. That seemed the answer; it had appeared just under a conditioner, and it seemed likely the slim snake had entered via the vent pipe, avoiding the fan as it crawled through the unit.

This was very worrying. If anti-venom was available (and we held a variety in the High Commission) an adult would probably survive a green mamba bite. But it would almost certainly be fatal to Emily, and possibly to Jamie.

A week or so later, I was constructing Emily’s climbing frame, which had arrived from the UK. A rambling contraption of rungs, slides, platforms and trampolines, it required the bolting together of scores of chrome tubes. I was making good progress on it and, as I lifted one walkway side into position above my head, a mamba slid out of the end of the tube, down my arm, round my belly and down my leg. It did this in no great hurry; it probably took four seconds, but felt like four minutes.

There was one terrible moment when it tried an exploratory nuzzle of its head into the waistband of my trousers, but luckily it decided to proceed down the outside to the ground. It then zig zagged across the lawn to nestle in the exposed tops of the roots of a great avocado tree. Again the mob arrived and beat it to death with sticks. I persuaded them to keep the body this time, and decided that definite action was needed.

I called in a pest control expert. I was advised to try the “Snake Doctor”. I was a bit sceptical, equating “Snake Doctor” with “Witch Doctor”, but when he arrived I discovered that this charming chubby Ghanaian really did have a PhD in Pest Control from the University of Reading. As Fiona had an MSc in Crop Protection from the same Department, they got on like a house on fire and it was difficult to get them away from cups of tea to the business in hand.

He confirmed that the dead snake really was a green mamba. We obviously had a colony. They lived in trees, and he advised us to clear an area of wasteland beyond the boundaries of our house, and build a high boundary wall of rough brick at the back, rather than the existing iron palings. He also suggested we cut down an avenue of some 16 huge mature trees along the drive. I was very sad, but followed this sensible advice. That removed the mamba problem from Devonshire House. But I continued to attract mambas on my travels around Ghana.

The second half of that first year in Ghana was to be almost entirely taken up with preparations for the State Visit of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in November 1999. A huge amount of work goes into organising such a visit; every move is staged and choreographed, designed for media effect. You need to know in advance just where everybody is going to be, who will move where when, and what they will say. You need to place and organise the media to best advantage. You need to stick within very strict rules as to what the Queen will or will not do. Most difficult of all, you have to agree all this with the host government.

I had been through it all quite recently, having paid a major part in the organisation of the State Visit to Poland in 1996. That had gone very well. The Poles regarded it as an important symbol that communism had been definitively finished. It was visually stunning, and at a time when the Royal Family was dogged with hostile media coverage, it had been their first unmixed positive coverage in the UK for ages. I had handled the media angles, and my stock stood very high in the Palace.

I am a republican personally; I was just doing my job. The Palace staff knew I was a republican, not least because I had turned down the offer of being made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) after the Warsaw visit. I had earlier turned down the offer to be an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) after the first Gulf war.

Rawlings was delighted that the Queen was coming. He craved respectability and acceptance in the international community, which had been hard to come by after his violent beginnings. But he had turned his Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) into a political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and had fought elections in 1992 and 1996 against the opposition New Patriotic Party, which had an unbroken tradition running back to Nkrumah’s opponent J B Danquah and his colleague Kofi Busia. There were widespread allegations of vote-rigging, violence and intimidation, and certainly in 1992 the nation was still too cowed to engage in much open debate.

Even by 1999, social life was still inhibited by the fact that nobody except those close to the Rawlings would do anything that might be construed as an ostentatious display of life, while Rawlings had sustained and inflated the personality cult of Nkrumah still further (he is known as Osagyefo, “the conqueror”.) Open discussion of the disasters Nkrumah brought upon Ghana was almost impossible. It is still difficult for many Ghanaians today, after decades of brainwashing. As Rawlings had gradually liberalised society, the increasing freedom of the media, particularly the FM radio station, was giving a great boost to democracy. But there was still much prudent self-censorship. The media was particularly reticent about investigating governmental corruption.

The NDC government was massively corrupt. There was one gratuitous example which especially annoyed me. A company called International Generics, registered in Southampton, had got loans totalling over £30 million from the Royal Bank of Scotland to construct two hotels, La Palm and Coco Palm. One was on the beach next to the Labadi Beach Hotel, the other on Fourth Circular Road in Cantonments, on the site of the former Star Hotel. The loan repayments were guaranteed by the Export Credit Guarantee Department, at the time a British government agency designed to insure UK exporters against loss. In effect the British taxpayer was underwriting the export, and if the loan defaulted the British taxpayer would pay.

In fact, this is what happened, and the file crossed my desk because the British people were now paying out on defaulted payments to the Royal Bank of Scotland. So I went to look at the two hotels. I found La Palm Hotel was some cleared land, some concrete foundations, and one eight room chalet without a roof. Coco Palm hotel didn’t exist at all. In a corner of the plot, four houses had been built by International Generics. As the housing market in Accra was very strong, these had been pre-sold, so none of the loan had gone into them.

I was astonished. The papers clearly showed that all £31.5 million had been fully disbursed by the Royal Bank of Scotland, against progress and completion certificates on the construction. But in truth there was virtually no construction. How could this have happened?

The Chief Executive of International Generics was an Israeli named Leon Tamman. He was a close friend to, and a front for, Mrs Rawlings. Tamman also had an architect’s firm, which had been signing off completion certificates for the non-existent work on the hotel. Almost all of the £30 million was simply stolen by Tamman and Mrs Rawlings.

The Royal Bank of Scotland had plainly failed in due diligence, having paid out on completion of two buildings, one not started and one only just started. But the Royal Bank of Scotland really couldn’t give a toss, because the repayments and interest were guaranteed by the British taxpayer. Indeed I seemed to be the only one who did care.

The Rawlings had put some of their share of this looted money towards payments on their beautiful home in Dublin. I wrote reports on all this back to London, and specifically urged the Serious Fraud Office to prosecute Tamman and Mrs Rawlings. I received the reply that there was no “appetite” in London for this.

Eventually La Palm did get built, but with over $60 million of new money taken this time from SSNIT, the Ghanaian taxpayers social security and pension fund. Coco Palm never did get built, but Tamman continued to develop it as a housing estate, using another company vehicle. Tamman has since died. The loans were definitively written off by the British government as part of Gordon Brown’s HIPC debt relief initiative.

That is but one example of a single scam, but it gives an insight into the way the country was looted. The unusual feature on this one was that the clever Mr Tamman found a way to cheat the British taxpayer, via Ghana. I still find it galling that the Royal Bank of Scotland also still got their profit, again from the British taxpayer.

So while the State Visit was intended as a reward to Jerry Rawlings for his conversion to democracy and capitalism, I had no illusions about Rawlings’ Ghana. I was determined that we should use the Queen’s visit to help ensure that Rawlings did indeed leave power in January 2001. According to the constitution, his second and final four year term as elected President expired then (if you politely ignored his previous decade as a military dictator). We should get the Queen to point him towards the exit.

Buckingham palace sent a team on an initial reconnaissance visit. It was led by an old friend of mine, Tim Hitchens, Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen, who had joined the FCO when I did. We identified the key features of the programme, which should centre around an address to Parliament. A walkabout might be difficult; Clinton had been almost crushed in Accra by an over-friendly crowd in a situation which got out of control. A school visit to highlight DFID’s work would provide the “meet the people” photo op, otherwise a drive past for the larger crowds. Key questions were identified as whether the Queen should visit Kumasi to meet Ghana’s most important traditional ruler, the Asantehene, and how she should meet the leader of the opposition, John Kufuor. Rawlings was likely to be opposed to both.

The recce visit went very well, and I held a reception for the team before they flew back to London. Several Ghanaian ministers came, and it ended in a very relaxed evening. Tim Hitchens commented that it was the first time he had ever heard Queen and Supertramp at an official function before. It turned out that we had very similar musical tastes.

Planning then took place at quite high intensity for several months. There were regular meetings with the Ghanaian government team tasked to organise the visit, headed by head of their diplomatic service Anand Cato, now Ghanaian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. We then had to visit together all the proposed venues, and walk through the proposed routes, order of events, seating plans etc.

From the very first meeting between the two sides, held in a committee room at the International Conference Centre, it soon became obvious that we had a real problem with Ian Mackley. The High Commissioner had been very high-handed and abrupt with the visiting team from Buckingham Palace, so much so that Tim Hitchens had asked me what was wrong. I said it was just his manner. But there was more to it than that.

In the planning meetings, the set-up did not help the atmosphere. There were two lines of desks, facing each other. The British sat on one side and the Ghanaians on the other, facing each other across a wide divide. The whole dynamic was one of confrontation.

I have sat through some toe-curling meetings before, but that first joint State visit planning meeting in Accra was the worst. It started in friendly enough fashion, with greetings on each side. Then Anand Cato suggested we start with a quick run-through of the programme, from start to finish.
“OK, now will the Queen be arriving by British Airways or by private jet?” asked Anand.
“She will be on one of the VC10s of the Royal Flight” said Ian.
“Right, that’s better. The plane can pull up to the stand closest to the VIP lounge. We will have the convoy of vehicles ready on the tarmac. The stairs will be put to the door, and then the chief of protocol will go up the stairs to escort the Queen and her party down the stairs, where there will be a small reception party…”
“No, hang on there” interjected Ian Mackley, “I will go up the stairs before the chief of protocol.”
“Well, it is customary for the Ambassador or High Commissioner to be in the receiving line at the bottom of the aircraft steps.”
“Well, I can tell you for sure that the first person the Queen will want to see when she arrives in the country will be her High Commissioner.”
“Well, I suppose you can accompany the chief up the steps if you wish…”
“And my wife.”
“Pardon?”
“My wife Sarah. She must accompany me up the steps to meet the Queen.”
“Look, it really isn’t practical to have that many people going on to an already crowded plane where people are preparing to get off…”
“I am sorry, but I must insist that Sarah accompanies me up the stairs and on to the plane.”
“But couldn’t she wait at the bottom of the steps?”
“Absolutely not. How could she stand there without me?”
“OK, well can we then mark down the question of greeting on the plane as an unresolved issue for the next meeting?”
“Alright, but our side insists that my wife…”
“Yes, quite. Now at the bottom of the steps Her Majesty will be greeted by the delegated minister, and presented with flowers by children.”
“Please make sure we are consulted on the choice of children.”
“If you wish. There will be national anthems, but I suggest no formal inspection of the Guard of Honour? Then traditional priests will briefly make ritual oblations, pouring spirits on the ground. The Queen will briefly enter the VIP lounge to take a drink.”
“That’s a waste of time. Let’s get them straight into the convoy and off.”
“But High Commissioner, we have to welcome a visitor with a drink. It is an essential part of our tradition. It will only be very brief.”
“You can do what you like, but she’s not entering the VIP lounge. Waste of time.”
“Let’s mark that down as another issue to be resolved. Now then, first journey…”

The meeting went on for hours and hours, becoming increasingly ill tempered. When we eventually got to the plans for the State Banquet, it all went spectacularly pear-shaped as it had been threatening to do.
“Now we propose a top table of eight. There will be the President and Mrs Rawlings, Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh, The Vice President and Mrs Mills, and Mr and Mrs Robin Cook.”
Ian positively went purple. You could see a vein throbbing at the top left of his forehead. He spoke as though short of breath.
“That is not acceptable. Sarah and I must be at the top table”.
“With respect High Commissioner, there are a great many Ghanaians who will feel they should be at the top table. As we are in Ghana, we feel we are being hospitable in offering equal numbers of British and Ghanaians at the top table. But we also think the best plan is to keep the top table small and exclusive.”
“By all means keep it small,” said Ian, “but as High Commissioner I must be on it.”
“So what do you suggest?” asked Anand.
“Robin Cook” said Ian “He doesn’t need to be on the top table.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Neither could Anand.
“I don’t think you are being serious, High Commissioner” he said.
“I am entirely serious” said Ian. “I outrank Robin Cook. I am the personal representative of a Head of State. Robin Cook only represents the government.”

I decided the man had taken leave of his senses. I wondered at what stage can you declare your commanding officer mad and take over, like on The Cain Mutiny? Anand was obviously thinking much the same.
“Perhaps I might suggest you seek instruction from headquarters on that one?” he asked. “Anyway, can we note that down as another outstanding item, and move on to…”
I don’t know whether Ian secretly realised he had overstepped the mark, but he didn’t come to another planning meeting after that, leaving them to me and the very competent Second Secretary Mike Nithavrianakis.

The most difficult question of all was that of meeting the opposition. Eventually we got the agreement of Buckingham Palace and the FCO to say that, if the Queen were prevented from meeting the opposition, she wouldn’t come. But still the most we could get from Rawlings was that the leader of the opposition could be included in a reception for several hundred people at the International Conference Centre.

I had by now made good personal friends with several Ghanaian politicians. Among those who I could have a social drink with any time were, on the government side John Mahama, Minister of Information and Moses Asaga, Deputy Finance Minister, and on the opposition side John Kufuor, leader of the opposition, his colleagues Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, Shadow Foreign Minister, and Nana Akuffo-Addo, Shadow Attorney General.

In the International Conference Centre the precise route the Queen would take around the crowd was very carefully planned, so I was able to brief John Kufuor exactly where to stand to meet her, and brief the Queen to be sure to stop and chat with him. As he was the tallest man in the crowd, this was all not too difficult.

Once the Queen arrived and the visit started, everything happened in a three day blur of intense activity. Vast crowds turned out, and the Palace staff soon calmed down as they realised that the Queen could expect an uncomplicated and old fashioned reverence from the teeming crowds who were turning out to see “Our Mama”.

The durbar of chiefs in front of Parliament House was a riot of colour and noise. One by one the great chiefs came past, carried on their palanquins, preceded by their entourage, drummers banging away ferociously and the chiefs, laden down with gold necklaces and bangles, struggled to perform their energetic seated dances. Many of the hefty dancing women wore the cloth that had been created for the occasion, with a picture of the Queen jiggling about on one large breast in partnership with Jerry Rawlings jiving on the other, the same pairing being also displayed on the buttocks.

After the last of the chiefs went through, the tens of thousands of spectators started to mill everywhere and we had to race for the Royal convoy to get out through the crowds. Robin Cook had stopped to give an ad hoc interview to an extremely pretty South African television reporter. Mike Nithavrianakis tried to hurry him along but got a fierce glare for his pains. Eventually everyone was in their cars but Cook; the Ghanaian outriders were itching to start as the crowds ahead and around got ever denser.

But where was Cook? We delayed, with the Queen sitting in her car for two or three minutes, but still there was no sign of the Secretary of State or his staff getting into their vehicle. Eventually the outriders swept off; the crowds closed in behind and we had abandoned our dilettante Foreign Secretary. Having lost the protection of the convoy and being caught up in the crowds and traffic, it took him an hour to catch up.

Cook was an enigma. I had already experienced his famous lack of both punctuality and consideration when kept waiting to see him over the Sandline Affair. His behaviour now seemed to combine an attractive contempt for protocol with a goat-like tendency – would he have fallen behind to give a very bland interview to a male South African reporter? He was also breaking the tradition that the Foreign Secretary does not make media comments when accompanying the Queen.

When we returned to the Labadi Beach Hotel, there was to be further evidence of Cook’s view that the World revolved around him. He was interviewing FCO staff for the position of his new Private Secretary. Astonishingly, he had decided that it would best suit his itinerary to hold these interviews in Accra rather than London. One candidate, Ros Marsden, had an extremely busy job as Head of United Nations Department. Yet she had to give up three days work to fly to be interviewed in Accra, when her office was just round the corner from his in London. Other candidates from posts around the World had difficult journeys to complete to get to Accra at all. I thought this rather outrageous of Cook, and was surprised nobody else seemed much concerned.

The port town of Tema, linked to Accra by fifteen miles of motorway and fast becoming part of a single extensive metropolis, sits firmly on the Greenwich Meridian. As far as land goes, Tema is the centre of the Earth, being the closest dry spot to the junction of the Equator and the Greenwich Meridian. You can travel South from Tema over 6,000 miles across sea until you hit the Antarctic.

There was in 1999 a particular vogue for linking the Greenwich Meridian with the Millennium. This was because of the role of the meridian in determining not just longitude but time. Of course, the two are inextricably linked with time initially used to calculate longitude. That is why Greenwich hosted both the Naval Academy and the Royal Observatory.

The fascination with all this had several manifestations. There was a BBC documentary travelogue down the Greenwich meridian. There was a best-selling book about the invention of naval chronometers, Longitude by Dava Sobel, which I read and was as interesting as a book about making clocks can be. There were a number of aid projects down the meridian, including by War Child and Comic Relief. Tema and Greenwich became twin towns. And there was the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Tema.

I think this was the idea of my very good friend John Carmichael, who was involved in charity work on several of the meridian projects. It was thought particularly appropriate as one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s titles is Earl of Greenwich – though the man has so many titles you could come up with some connection to pretty well anywhere. We could make it a new game, like six degrees of separation. Connect your home town to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Anyway, Tim Hitchens had warned me that the Duke was very much averse to just looking at things without any useful purpose. As we stood looking at the strip of brass laid in a churchyard which marks the line of the meridian, he turned to me and said:
“A line in the ground, eh? Very nice.”

But we moved on to see a computer centre that had been set up by a charity to give local people experience of IT and the internet (providing both electricity and phone lines were working, which thank goodness they were today) and the Duke visibly cheered up. He was much happier talking to the instructors and students, and then when we went on to a primary school that had received books from DFID he was positively beaming. The genuinely warm reception everywhere, with happy gaggles of people of all ages cheerfully waving their little plastic union jacks, would have charmed anybody.

We returned to Accra via the coast road and I was able to point out the work of the Ghanaian coffin makers, with coffins shaped and painted as tractors, beer bottles, guitars, desks, cars and even a packet of condoms. The Prince laughed heartily, and we arrived at the Parliament building in high good spirits.
There he was first shown to a committee room where he was introduced to senior MPs of all parties.
“How many Members of Parliament do you have?” he asked.
“Two hundred” came the answer.
“That’s about the right number,” opined the Prince, “We have six hundred and fifty MPs, and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time.”

The irony was that there was no British journalist present to hear this, as they had all thought a meeting between Prince Philip and Ghanaian parliamentarians would be too boring. There were Ghanaian reporters present, but the exchange didn’t particularly interest them. So a front page tabloid remark, with which the accompanying photo could have made a paparazzi a lot of money, went completely unreported.

On a State Visit, the media cannot each be at every occasion, as security controls mean they have to be pre-positioned rather than milling about while the event goes ahead. So by agreement, those reporters and photographers accredited to the visit share or pool their photos and copy. At each event there is a stand, or pool. Some events may have more than one pool to give different angles. Each journalist can probably make five or six pools in the course of the visit, leapfrogging ahead of the royal progress. But everyone gets access to material from all the pools. The FCO lays on the transport to keep things under control. Organising the pool positions ahead of the event with the host country, and then herding and policing the often pushy media in them, is a major organisational task. Mike Nithavrianakis had carried it off with style and only the occasional failure of humour. But he had found no takers for Prince Philip in parliament, which proved to be fortunate for us.

I should say that I found Prince Philip entirely pleasant while spending most of this day with him. I am against the monarchy, but it was not created by the Queen or Prince Philip. Just as Colonel Isaac of the RUF was a victim of the circumstances into which he was born, so are they. Had I been born into a life of great privilege, I would probably have turned out a much more horrible person than they are.

Prince Philip then joined the Queen in the parliamentary chamber. Her address to parliament was to be the focal point of the visit. I had contributed to the drafting of her speech, and put a lot of work into it. The speech was only six minutes long (she never speaks longer than that, except at the State Opening of Parliament. Her staff made plain that six minutes was an absolute maximum.) It contained much of the usual guff about the history of our nations and the importance of a new future based upon partnership. But then she addressed Rawlings directly, praising his achievements in bringing Ghana on to the path of democracy and economic stability. The government benches in parliament provided an undercurrent of parliamentary “hear hears”.

But there was to be a sting in the tale:
“Next, year, Mr President,” the Queen intoned, “You will step down after two terms in office in accordance with your constitution.”
The opposition benches went wild. The Queen went on to wish for peaceful elections and further progress, but it was drowned out by the cries of “hear hear” and swishing of order papers from the benches, and loud cheers from the public gallery. There were mooted cries of “No” from the government side of the chamber.

I had drafted that phrase, and it had a much greater effect than I possibly hoped for, although I did mean it to drive home the message exactly as it was taken.

For a moment the Queen stopped. She looked in bewilderment and concern at the hullabaloo all around her. The Queen has no experience of speaking to anything other than a hushed, respectful silence. But, apart from some grim faces on the government benches, it was a joyful hullabaloo and she ploughed on the short distance to the end of her speech.

Once we got back to the Labadi Beach Hotel, Robin Cook was completely furious. He stormed into the makeshift Private Office, set up in two hotel rooms.
“It’s a disaster. Who the Hell drafted that?”
“Err, I did, Secretary of State” I said.
“Is that you, Mr Murray! I might have guessed! Who the Hell approved it.”
“You did.”
“I most certainly did not!”
“Yes you did, Secretary of State. You agreed the final draft last night.”

His Private Secretary had to dig out the copy of the draft he had signed off. He calmed down a little, and was placated further when the Queen’s robust press secretary, Geoff Crawford, said that he took the view that it was a good thing for the Queen to be seen to be standing up for democracy. It could only look good in the UK press. He proved to be right.

The State Banquet was a rather dull affair. Ian Mackley’s great battle to be on the top table proved rather nugatory as, in very Ghanaian fashion, nobody stayed in their seat very long and people were wandering all over the shop. There were a large number of empty seats as, faced with an invitation to dinner at 7.30pm, many Ghanaians followed their customary practice and wandered along an hour or so late, only to find they would not be admitted. This caused a huge amount of angst and aggravation, from which those of us inside were fortunately sheltered.

Mrs Rawlings had chosen a well known Accra nightclub owner named Chester to be the compère for the occasion. His bar is a relaxed spot in a small courtyard that features good jazz and highlife music, and prostitutes dressed as Tina Turner. It was a second home for the officers of the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT).

Chester himself was friendly and amusing, but amusing in a Julian Clary meets Kenneth Williams meets Liberace sort of way. Chester says he is not gay, (regrettably homosexuality is illegal in Ghana) but his presentation is undeniably ultra camp. It is hard to think of a weirder choice to chair a state banquet, but Chester was a particular pet of Mrs Rawlings.

Chester was stood on the platform next to the Queen, gushing about how honoured he was. His speech was actually very witty, but the delivery was – well, Chester. I turned to Prince Philip and remarked:
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two Queens together before.”
To give credit to Chester, I gather he has been telling the story ever since.

High camp was to be a theme of that evening.

Fiona and I accompanied the Royal party back to the Labadi Beach Hotel to say goodnight, after which Fiona returned home to Devonshire House while I remained for a debriefing on the day and review of the plans for tomorrow. By the time we had finished all that it was still only 11pm and I retired to the bar of the Labadi Beach with the Royal Household. The senior staff – Tim and Geoff – withdrew as is the custom, to allow the butlers, footmen, hairdressers and others to let off steam.

The party appeared, to a man, to be gay. Not just gay but outrageously camp. The Labadi Beach, with its fans whirring under polished dark wood ceilings, its panelled bar, displays of orchids, attentive uniformed staff and glossy grand piano – has the aura of a bygone colonial age, like something from Kenya’s Happy Valley in the 1930s. You expect to see Noel Coward emerge in his smoking jacket and sit down at the piano, smoking through a mother of pearl cigarette holder. It is exactly the right setting for a gay romp, and that is exactly what developed after a few of the Labadi Beach’s wonderful tropical cocktails.

We had taken the entire hotel for the Royal party, except that we had allowed the British Airways crew to stay there as always. Now three of their cabin stewards, with two Royal footmen and the Queen’s hairdresser, were grouped around the grand singing Cabaret with even more gusto than Liza. Other staff were smooching at the bar. All this had developed within half an hour in a really magical and celebratory atmosphere that seemed to spring from nothing. I was seated on a comfortable sofa, and across from me in an armchair was the one member of the Household who seemed out of place. The Duke of Edinburgh’s valet looked to be in his sixties, a grizzled old NCO with tufts of hair either side of a bald pate, a boxer’s nose and tattoos on his arms. He was smoking roll-ups.

He was a nice old boy and we had been struggling to hold a conversation about Ghana over the din, when two blokes chasing each other ran up to the settee on which I was sitting. One, pretending to be caught, draped himself over the end and said: “You’ve caught me, you beast!”
I turned back to the old warrior and asked:
“Don’t you find all this a bit strange sometimes?”
He lent forward and put his hand on my bare knee below my kilt:
“Listen, ducks. I was in the Navy for thirty years.”

So I made my excuses and left, as the News of the World journalists used to put it. I think he was probably joking, but there are some things that are too weird even for me, and the lower reaches of the Royal household are one of them. I have heard it suggested that such posts have been filled by gays for centuries, just as harems were staffed by eunuchs, to avoid the danger of a Queen being impregnated. Recently I have been most amused by news items regarding the death of the Queen Mother’s long-standing footman, who the newsreaders have been informing us was fondly known as “Backstairs Billy”. They manage to say this without giving the slightest hint that they know it is a double entendre.

The incident in parliament had made the Rawlings government even more annoyed about the proposed handshake in the International Conference Centre reception between the Queen and John Kufuor. My own relationship with Ian Mackley had also deteriorated still further as a result of the Royal Visit. I had the advantage that I already knew from previous jobs the palace officials and Robin Cook’s officials, and of course Robin Cook himself, not to mention the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. All in all, I suspect that Ian felt that I was getting well above myself.

As the party formed up to walk around the reception in the International Conference Centre, Ian came up to me and grabbed my arm rather fiercely.
“You, just stay with the Queen’s bodyguards” he said.
I did not mind at all, and attached myself to another Ian, the head of the Queen’s close protection team. I already knew Ian also. Ian set off towards the hall and started ensuring a path was clear for the Queen, I alongside him as ordered. Suddenly I heard Sarah Mackley positively squeal from somewhere behind me:
“My God, he’s ahead of the Queen! Now Craig’s ahead of the Queen.”
If I could hear it, at least forty other people could. I managed to make myself as invisible as possible, and still to accomplish the introduction to John Kufuor. The government newspaper the Daily Graphic was to claim indignantly that I had introduced John Kufuor as “The next President of Ghana.” Had I done so, I would have been in the event correct in my prediction, but in fact I introduced him as “The opposition Presidential candidate”.

As always, the Queen’s last engagement on the State Visit was to say farewell to all the staff who had helped. She gives out gifts, and confers membership of the Royal Victorian Order on those deemed to merit it. Only once in the Queen’s long reign had she ever been on a state visit and not created our Ambassador or High Commissioner a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order – that is to say, knighted him. Ian and Sarah were to become Sir Ian and Lady Sarah. This seemed to me to mean the world to them.

The day before, Tim Hitchens had turned to me as we were travelling in the car:
“Craig, I take it your views on honours have not changed.”
“No, Tim, I still don’t want any.”
“Good, you see that makes it a bit easier, actually. You see, the thing is, we’re trying to cut down a bit on giving out routine honours. The government wants a more meritocratic honours system. We need to start somewhere. So, in short, Ian Mackley is not going to get his K.”
I was stunned.
Tim continued: “And as well, you see, it hasn’t exactly escaped our attention that he has … issues with the Ghanaians, and some of his attitudes didn’t exactly help the visit. Anyway, if you were to want your CVO, then that would be more difficult. Ian Mackley is going to have one of those. So that will be alright.”

No, it won’t be alright, I thought. You’ll kill the poor old bastard. For God’s sake, everyone will know.

I wondered when the decision had been taken. The kneeling stool and the ceremonial sword had definitely been unloaded from the plane and taken to the hotel: that was one of the things I had checked off. When had that decision been reached?

We were lined up in reverse order of seniority to go in and see the Queen and Prince Philip. I queued behind the Defence Attaché, with Ian and Sarah just behind me. She was entering as well – nobody else’s wife was – because she was expecting to become Lady Mackley. Tim was going to tell them quickly after I had entered, while they would be alone still waiting to go in.

You may not believe me, but I felt completely gutted for them. It was the very fact they were so status obsessed that made it so cruel. I was thinking about what Tim was saying to them and how they would react. It seemed terribly cruel that they had not been warned until the very moment before they were due to meet the Queen. I was so worried for them that I really had less than half my mind on exchanging pleasantries with the Queen, who was very pleasant, as always.

If you refused honours, as I always did, you got compensated by getting a slightly better present. In Warsaw I was given a silver Armada dish, which is useful for keeping your Armada in. In Accra I was given a small piece of furniture made with exquisite craftsmanship by Viscount Linley. Shelving my doubts about the patronage aspect of that (should the Queen be purchasing with public money official gifts made by her cousin?) I staggered out holding rather a large red box, leaving through the opposite side of the room to that I had entered. Outside the door I joined the happy throng of people clutching their presents and minor
medals. Mike Nithavrianakis and Brian Cope were Ian Mackley’s friends, and they were waiting eagerly for him.
“Here’s Craig” said Mike, “Now it’s only Sir Ian and Lady Sarah!”
“No, it’s not, Mike”, I said, “He’s not getting a K”
“What! You’re kidding!”
It had suddenly fallen very silent.
“Ian’s not getting a K, he’s only getting a CVO.”
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
We waited now in silence. Very quickly the door opened again, and the Mackleys came out, Ian with a frozen grin, Sarah a hysterical one beneath the white large-brimmed hat that suddenly looked so ridiculous. There was a smattering of applause, and Sarah fell to hugging everyone, even me. We all congratulated Ian on his CVO, and nobody ever mentioned that there had been any possibility of a knighthood, then or ever.

Personally I don’t understand why anyone accepts honours when there is so much more cachet in refusing them.

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Sugar

It is being reported that enthusiastic Tory Party donors Tate and Lyle stand to be the sole beneficiary of the abolition of EU tariffs and quotas on raw cane sugar imports, to the tune of over £70 million a year. This is a good anti-Tory and anti-Brexit story, but deeper thought raises some extremely interesting ethical issues around agriculture, trade, the developing world and environmentalism. Let me just unpack a little of it for you to see and start thinking about. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do have some interesting questions. I want you to indulge me if I start by going back over thirty years to recount an experience of my own.

I was in charge of agriculture and water in the British High Commission in Lagos back in 1986, and in that capacity paid several visits to the state owned Nigerian Sugar plantation and factory at Bacita, Kwara State.

I loved Bacita. Nigeria in the 1980’s was a disheartening place. A ridiculously over-valued Naira allowed the elites who could access the official exchange rate to live lives of sumptuous luxury and buy up top end properties all over London (the nobs’ estate agent, Knight Frank and Rutley, opened a Lagos office staffed by British expats to sell Holland Park mansions and Dockland penthouses). The overvaluation destroyed Nigerian agriculture, as imported food became cheaper than local. In a decade, Nigeria went from being the world’s largest exporter of palm oil to the world’s largest importer of palm oil, and hundreds of thousands of acres of palm oil, coconut, cocoa, pineapple, lime and other plantations withered away and closed down.

To import, you needed an import license and these were a principal source of corruption in probably the most corrupt country in the world. The most valuable of all were the sugar and rice import licenses, controlling the import of a daily staple to a country then of 200 million people. The duopoly right to import sugar to the whole of Nigeria was given to just two Northern families, Dangote and Dantata, well connected to the military regimes. They became billionaires several times over. I was most amused in 2014 to see Aliko Dangote being fawned over at Davos as an example of a great African entrepreneur.

The Dantatas and Dangotes had unlimited access to Nigeria’s oil dollars at the official exchange rate – which was an amazing three to four times more favourable than the real or black market rate. So not only did they have the duopoly on a diet staple, but the system worked like this. For the sake of example let’s say sugar was a dollar a kilo. They could exchange a naira for a dollar at the official one to one exchange rate and buy the kilo of sugar. They could then, given their duopoly position, sell that kilo of sugar to the public for eight nairas, worth two dollars in the real world. They could then exchange that eight nairas at the official rate for eight dollars. Making a 800% markup if you start from the first dollar, or a 3,200% markup if you start with the real value of the first Naira they bought that first dollar with.

I am not trying to recreate the actual sugar price or exchange rates in 1986. I am using notional values to show how the system worked and how the Dangote family originally became, as loudly proclaimed at Davos, the richest in Africa.

So in 1980’s Nigeria, it may appear that the situation for their domestic sugar industry could not have been worse. But it could, and it was the European Union that made it much, much worse. Dantata and Dangote were able to buy beet sugar from the European Union typically at around 70% of the cost of its production. The EU was dumping massive volumes of export subsidised sugar on to Africa as part of the Common Agricultural Policy, destroying much of African sugar production in the process.

One of the abhorrent things about today’s politics is that Brexit has made any sensible discussion of the EU impossible. It ought to be perfectly possible to discuss things the EU has historically done wrong without being labeled a Trump-loving Farage supporter, but that is not how public discourse is going. The EU’s record on effectively dumping did improve substantially with successive reforms to the CAP.

The general problem has not gone away, however. In 2000 I recall the USA dumped vast amounts of subsidised chicken on Ghana while I was working there, putting numerous good quality Ghanaian producers out of business. Africa remains subject to the whims of western politicians seeking to subsidise their farmers either for reasons of food security, or because the Idaho soya bean farmer suddenly became a key voting demographic.

The Common Agricultural Policy was designed to encourage food security and reduce price volatility in Europe. In original concept that functioned through large scale over-production of staples, taxpayer subsidised, and food stability in the rest of the world was not part of the remit.

Despite all of the odds, the Nigerian Sugar Company in Bacita kept going through the 1980’s, employing tens of thousands of people a year and producing some 20 to 30,000 tonnes of refined sugar (out of a nominal capacity of 60,000 tonnes). I loved spending time there. I admired the tenacity of the workforce who struggled every day to maintain both field production and factory with almost no available cash. I marveled at the ancient, massively wrought, crushing, boiling and refining equipment all manufactured in Glasgow or Motherwell, and chatted with the blacksmiths who hammered replacement parts using old matchets as raw material. I would sit with the cane cutters enjoying a drink of fresh cane juice, as the burning prior to cutting drew black feathers across the vivid red of the setting sun. I loved the fact that the entire plant and town were powered by using cane waste as fuel.

You have to understand that Nigeria in the 1980’s had massive societal problems, and honest endeavour and agro-industry were not exactly its hallmarks. Bacita was my haven. I should point out that Bacita had never employed either slave or imported labour, lest you feel my nostalgia for a sugar plantation was misplaced.

I tried very hard to persuade both DFID and the Commonwealth Development Corporation to help update the plant, but both said that the EU dumping policy made Nigerian sugar unsustainable. Bacita somehow limped on another two decades until it closed in 2006. It closed because the international donor community insisted it was privatised.

Once put into the hands of a wealthy owner, international aid was finally forthcoming and the African Development Bank put an amazing 60 million dollars into expanding field production. This was entirely wasted as the new owner decided it was most cost effective to take advantage of tariff advantages of raw versus processed sugar. They simply shut down the field operation, making 10,000 people redundant, and ran the processing plant on imported raw sugar. That lasted a couple of years and then they lost interest and the whole thing went bust. The joys of privatisation.

Sugar is fascinating, because temperate beet sugar is the original and most striking example of industrial selective breeding of a crop deliberately to provide import substitution in temperate countries of a tropical food. Modern sugar beet typically contains 15 to 20% sugar. At the end of the 18th century, when serious breeding started, it was around 8 to 12%, similar to sweet potato today. Industrial scale production of sugar from sugar beet started around 1820.

Contrary to popular belief, sugar beet in a temperate climate can in fact yield more sugar per hectare than sugar cane in the tropics, because of its shorter growth season. Nitrogen fertiliser inputs for the two are comparable. Cane sugar production costs are substantially cheaper than beet sugar, but higher yield in the field is not the reason. Nor is cheaper labour as large a factor as you might think, given the mechanisation of the beet industry.

The reasons cane sugar is cheaper are more complex – for example, sugar beet factories in the UK typically run 100 days a year, whereas a sugar cane factory factory is almost a year round operation, thus giving a better return on the capital employed. The UNFAO argues that in a liberalised market some beet production would be competitive, particularly major scale producers in France and Germany. I am dubious; the general rule that without protection cane sugar is more financially viable, by a wide margin, is not in doubt.

As the UK leaves the EU, the EU quotas and tariff barriers that kept out cane sugar are vanishing and Tate & Lyle are now free to import raw cane sugar for processing. This is where that £71 million tariff reduction comes in. This could theoretically be an advantage of Brexit – sugar ought to get cheaper. But actually, it won’t. You see, Tate & Lyle are the only refiner of raw cane sugar in the UK. They have a monopoly, and the capital costs are a significant bar to market entry. So what will happen is that Tate & Lyle profits will go up, very substantially.

The British sugar market is dominated by British Sugar, who produce beet sugar, and Tate & Lyle, who finish in the UK imported “raw” cane sugar. In theory, Tate & Lyle should now be in a position to put British Sugar out of business and end UK beet production. That will not happen. What will happen is the duopoly will continue to fix the price, with Tate & Lyle simply making mega profits.

As you will have realised, this is all predicated on the fact that the UK intends to maintain high tariffs on the import of fully processed sugar from abroad, to maintain the protection of the processing operations of both British Sugar and Tate & Lyle. The only reason it makes any sense for Tate & Lyle to import raw sugar from Brazil or Pakistan and process it here, is that fully processed sugar from Brazil or Pakistan is subject to a deliberately prohibitive tariff.

This means that extra bulk is being transported across the sea for no good reason. It also keeps the most profitable part of the entire value adding process in the developed world and not in the developing world. I visited a sugar factory in Pakistan last year, where it is a massive industry, and access for their refined sugar to the UK market could be a major economic boost.

It is of course not just sugar; this system of protection aimed at keeping developing countries as raw material exporters and keeping the high value processes in the developed world applies to many commodities. If we take the case of cocoa, my friend President Nana Akuffo Addo of Ghana states that Ghana loses over half of the value of its cocoa by exporting beans rather than processed cake and butter, or still better chocolate.

President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, says Ghana no longer wants to be dependent on the production and export of raw materials, including cocoa beans.

According to President Akufo-Addo, Ghana intends to process more and more of its cocoa, with the aim of producing more chocolate, “because we believe there can be no future prosperity for the Ghanaian people, in the short, medium or long term, if we continue to maintain economic structures that are dependent on the production and export of raw materials.”

He, thus, reiterated the commitment of his Government “to add value to our raw materials, industrialise and enhance agricultural productivity. This is the best way we can put Ghana at the high end of the value chain in the global market place, and create jobs for the teeming masses of Ghanaians”.

That the UK in leaving the EU is lifting the barriers to raw sugar import but not to processed sugar import, is indeed a sign that the Tory government is favoring the interests of its donor Tate & Lyle above the interests of the developing world (who still cannot send us more valuable processed sugar), the interests of the consumer (who will not get cheaper sugar from the tariff reduction) and the interests of beet farmers (who will have competition from cheaper imported raw sugar). It really is a spectacularly bad policy decision designed solely to benefit Tate & Lyle, and nobody else.

Now this is where I do not know the answers.

A couple of years ago I would have written with arrogant certitude that the correct policy would be to lift all tariffs on import of fully processed sugar, thus greatly benefiting the consumer while opening opportunities for value added in the developing world. But how do the food miles involved factor into climate change? On top of which, has the effect of covid-19 given a warning that the EU’s original ideas of food security and local production had more value than we had lately thought?

Now those are some really meaty questions. There is no reason my views are any more valuable than yours, and indeed, I do not know the answers.

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Kim Darroch – the Simple Explanation

The media is full of over-complicated theories as to who might have leaked Kim Darroch’s diplomatic telegrams giving his candid view on the Trump administration. I should start by explaining the FCO telegram system. The communications are nowadays effectively encrypted emails, though still known as “telegrams”: to the Americans “cables”. They are widely distributed. These Darroch telegrams would be addressed formally to the Foreign Secretary but have hundreds of other recipients, in the FCO, No.10, Cabinet Office, MOD, DFID, other government departments, MI6, GCHQ, and in scores of other British Embassies abroad. The field of suspects is therefore immense.

It is very important to note that this is an old fashioned kind of leak which was given to the mainstream media without the documents being published online. It is therefore pretty useless in terms of public information. We haven’t seen the documents, we only know as much as Isabel Oakeshott and the Daily Mail chose to tell us. It is not possible to envision any more untrustworthy or agenda driven filter than that. We can therefore be certain this was not a wikileaks style disclosure in the interests of freedom of information about public servants and their doings, but the agenda was much more specific.

Darroch’s scathing assessment of Trump is no way out of line with the mainstream media narrative and it is interesting – but exactly what I would expect of him – that Darroch shares the neo-con assumption that Trump’s failure to start a war with Iran over the drone take-down was a weird aberration. The leaks neither tell us anything startling nor obviously benefit any political faction in the UK. So what was the motive?

I believe the most probable answer is much simpler than anything you will find in the vast amount of media guff printed on the subject these last two days by people with no knowledge.

Kim Darroch is a rude and aggressive person, who is not pleasant at all to his subordinates. He rose to prominence within the FCO under New Labour at a time when right wing, pro-Israel foreign policy views and support for the Iraq War were important assets to career progress, as was the adoption of a strange “laddish” culture led from No. 10 by Alastair Campbell, involving swearing, football shirts and pretending to be working class (Darroch was privately educated). Macho management was suddenly the thing.

At a time when news management was the be all and end all for the Blair administration, Darroch was in charge of the FCO’s Media Department. I remember being astonished when, down the telephone, he called me “fucking stupid” for disagreeing with him on some minor policy matter. I had simply never come across that kind of aggression in the FCO before. People who worked directly for him had to put up with this kind of thing all the time.

Most senior ambassadors used to have interests like Chinese literature and Shostakovitch. Darroch’s are squash and sailing. He is a bull of a man. In my view, the most likely source of the leaks is a former subordinate taking revenge for years of bullying, or a present one trying to get rid of an unpleasant boss.

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Has the Elite’s Slavish pro-Israel Agenda Finally Gone Too Far?

Hezbollah’s defeat of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the July war of 2006 was heroic and an essential redress to the Middle East power balance. I supported Hezbollah’s entirely defensive action then and I continue to applaud it now. That, beyond any shadow of a doubt, makes me guilty ofn the criminal offence of “glorifying terrorism”, now that Sajid Javid has proscribed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. I am unrepentant and look forward to the prosecution.

A large majority of the public, and certainly almost everyone who remembers that 2006 invasion, would revolt from my being prosecuted on those grounds. The very absurdity of it is a sure measure that Sajid Javid has simply gone too far in naming Hezbollah – the legitimate political party representing in parliament the majority rural population in Southern Lebanon – as a terrorist organisation.

Together with the largely manufactured “Corbyn anti-semitism” row, Javid’s move is aimed at achieving in the UK the delegitimisation of political opposition to Israeli aggression and absorption of the occupied territories and the Golan Heights, in the way that has been achieved in the USA. However, there is a much better educated population in the UK and a great deal of popular awareness of decades of Israeli crimes. In fact, the continuing resilience of the Labour vote shows that at least over a third of the British population does not buy the “anti-semitism” tag applied to all those concerned at the continued plight of the Palestinians.

Hezbollah has never been implicated in any terrorist attack on the UK. Its military posture in Southern Lebanon vis a vis Israel is entirely defensive; it evolved as a military force in reaction to wave after wave of Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in which the Israeli “Defence” Force casually decimated Shia communities en route to attacking Palestinian refugee camps. Hezbollah has never invaded Israel. Hezbollas played an effective and laudable role in assisting the defeat of Isis and their Jihadist allies in Syria.

Oh look, I just “glorified terrorism” again.

Javid’s move is primarily aimed at pleasing Israel and looking to score political points over Jeremy Corbyn, whose past contacts with Hezbollah can now be deemed terrorist. But it is also a move to please the UK elite’s other paymaster, Mohammed Bin Salman, by further forwarding his attempt to delegitimise and to subjugate Arab Shia communities. Coupled with the irony of announcing DFID support of £200 million for Yemeni victims of our very own bombs and “military support”, this is a shameful week for British foreign policy.

I first became devoted to the Palestinian cause as a first year student at Dundee University, when I watched a film about Israeli destruction of Palestinian olive trees in the occupied territories, to devastate their economic base and force families to leave. That film made me cry.

It is a matter of despair that, 42 years later, this practice continues, and indeed has been ongoing for that entire time. I find this almost as heinous as the continuing killing and imprisonment of Palestinian children. I find it a useful exercise every morning to ask yourself this question:

How many children has the Israeli “Defence” Force killed since the MSM last reported one?

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Gdansk

Writing about your personal demons for the public is seldom a good idea, and it is a particularly bad idea when you are starting at 3.40am as they are haunting you. We are spending Hogmanay in the beautiful city of Gdansk. It is my first time here for over twenty years, but the city has remarkable memories for me.

In November 1994 I was newly arrived as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw when a fatal fire occurred at the famous shipyard, in a hall being used for a rock concert tied in to a MTV transmission. The fire doors were all padlocked shut, and the heat had reached such intensity that a flash fire had occurred right across the hall. Miraculously only five people had died immediately, but hundreds had been horrifically burnt or suffered fume inhalation and the hospitals were completely overwhelmed.

Within hours of the fire I was dispatched to Gdansk by our dynamic Ambassador and found myself on a train heading North with only a Motorola mobile phone the size of a large brick (1994) and a phone number for DFID, in those days a part of the FCO and known as ODA. I roused from his London bed the official in charge of emergency assistance, Mukesh Kapila, and he instructed me to get a list from the medical authorities of all the supplies required. He explained that major burns required large volumes of consumables by way of ointments and special gauzes and bandages.

Arriving in Gdansk I very soon discovered that the victims were dispersed round several hospitals and there was no central authority able to produce a list of requirements. Poland was still in the early stages of a shock transition from communism and elements of administration were shaky at the best of times, let alone in a large scale emergency. The only way to make any progress was for me physically to go to every hospital and every concerned ward, buttonhole the doctors there and ask them what they needed.

To say they were swamped would be ridiculous understatement. Victims were everywhere, very many critical, and in some places bleary-eyed doctors literally had nothing – creams, bandages, painkillers, saline drips all exhausted. Meeting many doctors, when I told them I could get anything sent out instantly, the reaction ranged from angrily incredulous to massive bear hugs.

It was of course difficult. In 1994 Polish medical practice differed quite sharply from British. There were language barriers; my as yet basic Polish lacked medical vocabulary. And I had to keep interrupting incredibly busy people. But after the first couple of hospitals I was able to extrapolate and phone through to Mukesh the most obviously urgent items, and by the end of the day I was clutching 16 handwritten lists and could sit down to consolidate them.

But I have not described to you what it was like to go round those wards. I really cannot – it was indescribable. Horribly disfigured people screaming and writhing in pain, begging and pleading for any relief, even asking to die. And the worst thing is, they were all teenagers – the average age seemed about 16. One image I shall never forget was of a girl sitting bolt upright in bed, looking calm, and I recall thinking that at least this one is OK. But I had seen her right profile and as I passed her, the left side of her face was literally skeletal, with a yellow blob for an eye, no skin and just the odd sinew attached to the bone. Her calm was catatonic.

But in a way still worse were two girls who looked perfectly healthy, lying on top of their beds apparently in an untroubled sleep. The doctor told me that they were already brain dead, having inhaled cyanide gas from the combustion of plastic seating. The mother of one of them was there and she pleaded with me to tell the doctor not to turn off the ventilator; the poor woman was crazed with grief and pulling at her hair, which was dyed red. I can still recall every detail of the faces of both mother and her still daughter.

I called in every day for a week or so and sat with the mother a few minutes, in silence. Then one day they were gone; the doctors had switched off the ventilator.

Andrze Kanthak, our Honorary Consul, was a fantastic support and worked extremely hard throughout this period – but as we walked together into the first ward, Andrze simply fainted straight out at the sight of it all. That evening we had hardly finished consolidating my 16 lists and sending them off to Mukesh when news arrived that the first shipment of most urgent supplies was arriving at Gdansk airport, and we dashed off there with a lorry from the City Council.

It was a bitter disappointment. Customs refused to release the medicines until duty had been paid and, still worse, everything would need to be checked and certified by the food and drug administration, which could take weeks. All my fury at the self-satisfied officials was of no avail, and we returned temporarily baffled.

A phone call now came that DFID had chartered a flight to arrive the next day with 20 tons of medical supplies, so the situation was now critical. Walesa was now President and I suggested we contact his office, but Andrze advised we should rather recruit Father Jankowski.

Jankowski was the parish priest in Gdansk who had been integral to the Solidarnosc movement, and at that time he wielded enormous political influence. His home was extraordinary for a parish priest – literally palatial – and when I met him there the next day he readily agreed to help. He came to the airport with us as the chartered cargo flight arrived, and supervised the loading into the council lorries which I dispatched to the various hospitals. A tall imposing figure in a flowing black cassock, the customs officials who had blocked us obeyed him without question.

Things calmed down over the next few days, Mukesh Kapila himself came out, and the hospitals once supplied performed brilliantly. Astonishingly, from hundreds of cases of severe and extensive burns, with scores in intensive care, we lost nobody except the two girls who were already brain dead, bringing the final death toll to seven. The incredible survival rate was viewed as a miracle, and perhaps it was, but it was a miracle assisted by some fantastic doctors, by Mukesh Kapila and his staff, by Father Jankowski, by Andrze Kanthak and by the Secretary of Gdansk Council whose name (Janowski?) has slipped my mind, embarrassingly as the experience made us firm friends for a long while.

But I am afraid to say the personal impact on me was quite severe. It is no secret that I struggle against bipolar disorder, and the sheer horror of those days in the wards undoubtedly triggered me for quite a while. I also suffered recurrent nightmares for more than a decade, about the horrific burns but also about the brain dead child and the mother tearing her hair. Worse than the nightmares were the waking flashbacks, not so much visual as emotional, experiencing the feeling of it happening again.

When I got back to the Embassy nobody was very interested in what I had been doing. I was ticked off for returning a day late and also for not obtaining much media publicity for the UK’s role. I have written before that one of my frequent duties in Poland was to conduct high profile visitors around the concentration camps, a visit all British politicians wish to make. Those places filled me with horror, which resonated on the same emotional frequency as the Gdansk trauma. Those frequent visits made my time in Poland difficult to me, which is a shame as it is a delightful country and people.

Back here now as a tourist, with my family and at a festive time, no troubling memories are assailing me. I find I can now be proud of what we did, rather than ashamed at my emotional reaction afterwards. And I can’t quite tell you why, but I felt it should be recorded.

Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.

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Nicola and Independence

I have been gently chided for not giving my reactions to the SNP conference, which I attended as a delegate.

Nicola’s major speech was very good. The media universally attempted to characterise it as kicking a new Independence referendum into the long grass. I did not hear it that way at all. I think they are clutching at the straw of her single mention of patience and perseverance, against the fact she used the word “Independent” or “Independence” an extraordinary 31 times in her speech. Of course she wishes to retain flexibility and an element of surprise, but as someone who has studied the matter extremely closely and who distrusts the highly paid SNP professional “elite” on this issue, I was reassured as to Nicola’s intentions.

The members are in extremely good heart and very confident. I was personally much touched by the many scores of individuals who bothered to come up to me and say they followed the blog. The conference agenda was somewhat bland, though fizzing with righteous anger at the effects of austerity on the vulnerable. My major criticism would be that far too high a percentage of total speaking time on the conference floor is given to MP’s, MSP’s and MEP’s. Constituency proposed motions, for example, were too often used as a showcase for the MP/MSP rather than introduced by an ordinary party member.

I dislike the political class now attached to the SNP in just the same way that I distrust the professional political class in every political party. The horrible Alex Bell should be a serious warning of the kind of false hypocrites that a salary will attract “to the cause”. Seeing MPs I knew as just punters campaigning in 2014, now walking proudly before power dressed entourages of paid staff, was a strangely unpleasant experience.

My major concern is that the SNP’s foreign policy and defence teams at Westminster appear to have been entirely captured by the UK establishment and indeed the security services. They have been willing and instant amplifiers of the Tories’ Russophobia.

It appears to me truly remarkable that I was not allowed to hire a room for a fringe meeting on Independence campaigning, but that the “Westminster Foundation for Democracy” – which is an FCO front and 90% FCO and DFID funded – was allowed a room on the fringe to hold this anti-Russian propaganda fest with a Ukrainian MP imported by the FCO.

Furthermore the meeting was co-hosted by the SNP and “Westminster Foundation for Democracy” and featured two SNP MPs.

I took issue with two other senior SNP figures last month over the party’s slavish devotion to what the UK intelligence services tell them.

The problem here is of course that the SNP is accepting a UK-centric vision of the world. This is a fundamental error, a category mistake. Because Russia is in an antagonistic relationship with the UK does not mean Russia should or will have an antagonistic relationship to an Independent Scotland.

Whatever happened in Salisbury, the root cause was spy games between Russia and the UK. Precisely the kind of spy games an independent Scotland must have no part of.

MI6 recruited Sergei Skripal as a traitor to Russia, who for money revealed secrets of his nation to MI6, including identities of agents. That is the root of the Salisbury events, and it is not the sort of thing an Independent Scotland will be doing. If an Independent Scotland is just going to behave like the UK in foreign affairs, carrying on neo-con foreign policy by illegitimate methods, I see no point in Scotland being independent. The Skripal affair, whatever really happened, is part of an entire system which most people in the Yes movement wish to get out of. We do not see the UK’s enemies as our enemies.

But the UK security services are our enemies. Scottish nationalism is defined in security service tasking as a threat to the UK and we are targets of the UK security services. The British government is not going to agree to another Independence referendum and we are going to have to win Independence, like the Catalans, in the teeth of every dirty abuse of British state power.

I would feel very much better if the SNP leaders, like Chris Law and John Nicholson both of whom I count as friends, would sometimes draw a deep breath, forget what they imbibed as Westminster MPs, and remember which side they are on.

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Housing Regulation

There are two separate but linked questions arising from the terrible disaster at Ladbroke Grove. One is the efficacy of national building regulations on fire and safety. It is plainly true that, if Grenfell Tower met them, they are inadequate. The second is how Kensington and Chelsea Council in particular manage their housing.

To look at the second question, I do agree with David Lammy that there is potential criminal culpability here, but I am not quite sure that he is right to describe it as “corporate manslaughter”. It seems to me that responsibility rests more with government than with corporations (though I accept that the former is a tool of the latter).

One of the most retrograde developments of my lifetime has been the wholescale “outsourcing” of delivery of public services away from direct government provision. So rather than by council employees, your bins are probably emptied and your streets swept by a private company paid to do it. Just as your utilities are supplied, your trains run, civil servants get their stationery ordered, increasingly medical services are provided, international aid projects are administered, and literally thousands of other examples.

This development was driven by the ideological belief, often fanatically held, that people employed by government are less efficient than those employed by the private sector. That ideology also depended on a rejection of the very notion of altruism; which rejection of altruism was at the heart of Thatcherism. The idea that people are only motivated by personal gain is of course quite untrue. Firefighters, who are still employed by the public, have proved that just now, beyond anything I can say, by going well beyond their contractual duty to try to help. But even accepting for one moment, for the sake of argument, the doctrine that people are only motivated by money; it plainly does not follow that public services would be more efficiently delivered by the private sector. What does follow is that public services will suffer from profiteering if run by the private sector.

But this disastrous contracting out is not always to private for profit companies. It is sometimes to what Tories call the “third sector”, meaning charities and not for profit companies. Much of the aid budget is now spent this way. Not at all coincidental, the pumping of large amounts of public money into this sector has coincided with a quite incredible rise in the salaries and emoluments of senior charities staff.

We have ended up in the situation where executive staff of charities are on over £200,000 a year, where the chief executive of Save the Children gets twice the salary of the Head of DFID, and where people who occupy what were once public sector jobs in rail, water or housing can earn ten times what their public sector predecessors were getting. At the same time wages, employment protection, conditions and unionisation for the actual workers have all been cut.

This is important because the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation Ltd is a not for profit company. No shareholders get any profits from it, and it does not remunerate its directors. This is the body which manages Grenfell Towers and did the refurbishment. Some of the (rightly critical) comment has assumed that KCTMO Ltd is a profiteering private company and this is why it has skimped on possible safety features like sprinkler systems. But it is more complicated than that.

The majority of KCTMO directors, including the chairman, are themselves tenants of the council’s housing. Three more are council appointed. The philosophy behind KCTMO Ltd is on the face of it benign – the tenants are managing their own properties. Which leads to the question of why relationships had broken down so badly between KCTMO and those apparently speaking for the residents of Grenfell Tower, particularly over fire safety issues.

Some of the answer to that may relate to social hierarchy among different types of council tenant. I do not know if anyone on the KCTMO board lived in Grenfell Tower, but imagine we would have been told that if so.

My experience of other organisations would lead me to suspect that in practice KCTMO Ltd did not operate in the way that it does on paper, and that the Chief Executive and other officers had a disproportionate influence. I have seen enough decisions in enough public bodies with a supposedly democratic structure – including universities and councils – to know that the elected representatives often find it very difficult to challenge the “expertise” of the executive officers. This is particularly likely to be true in an area like housing, where there are architectural, construction and legal issues. You quickly end up in a situation where the elected representatives are not really making decisions but only rubber=stamping the decisions of the officers. I saw various tenants who had been involved in the complaints to KTCMO interviewed yesterday, and they all referenced the Chief Executive, Robert Black, and not the tenant representative Chairman.

KCTMO’s staff costs are just over £10 million per year. I can find nothing on wage structure and what the executive officers are paid. I hope that information will become available.

But I can see no reason to believe that Mr Black or anybody else could make any personal gain from not installing a sprinkler system, for example. It appears responsibility for providing funds for this kind of capital expenditure lies with Kensington and Chelsea Council and not with KCTMO. It happens I lived for three years in Shepherds Bush and know this area very well. Ladbroke Grove is 15 minutes walk from some of the most expensive houses in the world. The idea that people in social housing were not high on the priorities of the council rings to me entirely true. In fact there is plenty of evidence that councillors are in cahoots with developers looking to demolish the social housing and build yet more massive luxury developments primarily for sale to the global “elite” of the extremely wealthy.

So much for the local picture. Nationally, it appears beyond argument that the government has failed again and again to update regulations following similar fires both in the UK and elsewhere. Yet again this is ideologically driven. Deregulation is a key principle of neo-liberalism. The government has an intrinsic belief that anything that adds costs or restriction to corporate profit should be resisted, and the idea of adding new regulation is simply anathema to them. That background cannot be ignored. The more you dig into this terrible tragedy, the more lurid a light is thrown on Neo-Liberal Britain.

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Give Generously and Give Freedom Wings

I urge anybody with the remotest interest in fairness and justice to donate to the Wings Over Scotland fundraising appeal. Against the biased BBC and a 97.5% rabid unionist media, against DFID money fed in through Acanchi and the entirely fake No Borders campaign, against Saudi money fed in through the Ulster bigots of the DUP, Wings Over Scotland really is the most effective, wide reaching and important media of communication available to the Scottish Independence movement. Anybody who can afford something, and agrees that in a democracy both sides of a ballot ought to be heard, should donate. The second Independence referendum is indeed coming.

To be plain I have no connection at all to Wings Over Scotland and do not stand to receive anything from this appeal. I am donating myself.

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A Tale of Two Airports

The folly involved in the United Kingdom continuing to cling on to tiny relics of Empire is underlined by considering two airports. Firstly we have St Helena, where DFID have famously wasted £250 million of taxpayers’ money on an airport which cannot be used because of wind shear.

st-helena-airport

Private Eye is having some fun at DFID’s expense, on the back of Tory MP Stephen Phillips pointing out that Darwin had described the wind shear well over a century ago. Here is the full passage from Darwin:

“The only inconvenience I suffered during my walks was from the impetuous winds. One day I noticed a curious circumstance; standing on the edge of a plain, terminated by a great cliff of about a thousand feet in depth, I saw at the distance of a few yards right to windward, some tern, struggling against a very strong breeze, whilst, where I stood, the air was quite calm. Approaching close to the brink, where the current seemed to be deflected upwards from the face of the cliff, I stretched out my arm, and immediately felt the full force of the wind: an invisible barrier, two yards in width, separated perfectly calm air from a strong blast.” (from Chapter 21 of The Voyage of the Beagle)

My general criticism of DFID is that they should be doing more infrastructure projects, rather than handing over cash to highly corrupt governments as “budget support”, or channelling funds through the big charities which spend them on massive executive salaries, consultancy fees and housing, air conditioning and Toyota Land Cruisers for their expatriate staff. But now it seems DFID can no longer deliver a large project half sensibly either.

It really is a tragedy for Saint Helena, where the economic prospects could be transformed by an air link to the rest of the world. The island is now far more isolated than it was in the nineteenth century, when it was a vital provisioning stop for vessels. I note in passing that Napoleon’s hat was taken from St Helena by Lord Panmure and now rather incongruously rests in a cabinet in Montrose Museum.

British attitudes to St Helena were for generations of malign neglect, and the recent laudable attempt to improve things has been destroyed by gross incompetence – for which nobody has resigned or been sacked.

By comparison, the equally isolated Chagos Islands have an excellent airport, owned by the British Government, on Diego Garcia. The problem here of course is that the British government brutally uprooted and deported the entire local population, and leased the base to the United States, keeping the previous inhabitants away by force.

diego-garcia

In its regal majesty, the British government has condescended to consider a proposal whereby a tiny fraction of the deported population will be allowed to return to certain outlying islands. The bad faith of the entire approach was underlined by the British declaration of the entire 200 mile exclusive economic zone around the islands as “the world’s first marine protected area” where all fishing is banned. That Britain nowhere else shows an interest in extreme marine conservation, except around a military base from which it has ethnically cleansed the population, we are supposed to believe is a coincidence. To underline the cynicism and deliberate immorality of the move, I need only say it was the work of David Miliband. The International Court of Arbitration at the Hague declared Miliband’s action in support of ethnic cleansing illegal last year, which of course has not affected his £400,000 a year job in “charity” work.

If the mighty British sovereign graciously permits a few of these islanders – who were her subjects before she deported them – to return to their own land, the British government does however have a trick up its sleeve to make sure to prevent a viable economy from being established. The government proposals for “limited return” are specific that regular flights will not be allowed to use the airport.

Personally, I should like to see the US air force removed and the islands demilitarised. But even without that, dual military and civilian use of runways exists in a great many locations all round the world and there is no reason whatsoever why civilian flights could not land. Indeed, passing billionaires are permitted to land their Lear jets already to refuel. But of course, making the islands viable for tourism and a population is not the goal here. The goal is to make them unviable.

So there we have it, a tale of two airports on extremely remote islands. One built at vast expense which cannot be used, and one perfectly viable which the government will not permit to be used. It is a story which sums up the shame, immorality and international criminality of the UK’s continuing Imperial pretensions.

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The New McCarthyism – The “Anti-Semitism” Hysteria Gripping the UK

Tony Greenstein has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged anti-Semitism. Tony is 100% Jewish from an Orthodox family. But he is also one of the founders of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and in the current hysterical witch-hunt, being pro-Palestinian rights is sufficient indication of anti-Semitism. Just as making herbal medicine used to make you a witch.

The catalyst for the campaign is that one of the clearest dividing lines between Blairites and Corbyn supporters is Israel. Blairites are unanimously, unequivocally pro-Israel and prepared to defend even the most blatantly disproportionate Israeli attacks on Gaza, land grabs or checkpoint shootings as self-defence. Corbyn supporters unanimously have more sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and are critical of what they view (and I agree) as the apartheid state Israel has developed.

Because of the dreadful persecution of the Jews in the 20th century, anti-Semitism is the most emotionally charged of all political accusations. As it should be. Anti-Semitism is an appalling racism, and while all racism is evil, recent history makes anti-Semitism especially charged.

The background is that the Blairites are in utter political disarray. They and the rest of the Right are struggling against popular revulsion at the massive wealth inequalities fostered by their extreme neo-liberal policies these past four decades. There are very few things they can say which gain any popular traction. So they reach for the dread accusation of anti-Semitism.

The other meme of the right which gains popular support is the massive exaggeration of the threat of “Islamist” terrorism, again fuelled by natural popular revulsion at events like Paris and Brussels. Government programmes like Prevent are designed to further inculcate Islamophobia. All these issues can then be merged as a symplistic lie that Muslims hate Jews, therefore those defending Muslims from Islamophobia are also anti-Semitic. The witch-hunt spreads further.

This is the background to David Cameron’s extraordinary parliamentary attack on Sadiq Khan. Less attention has been paid to an even more appalling parliamentary exchange yesterday as allegations of anti-semitism were thrown around with gay abandon:

– Matthew Offord: Just weeks after the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour club stepped down, saying that a large proportion of both the OULC and the student left in Oxford “have some kind of problem with Jews”, I am sure my right hon. Friend will be incredulous to hear that students who attended the National Union of Students conference in Brighton yesterday debated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and then went on to elect as its president someone who described the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost” in British higher education. May we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to set out measures that the Government will take to counter the rise in anti-Semitism that is being fomented on university campuses?
– Chris Grayling: That is simply unacceptable in our society. The views expressed yesterday are not acceptable. The shadow Leader of the House was absolutely right when he talked about anti-Semitism in his own party. All of us from all political parties should work to stamp it out across our society, as it is simply unacceptable.
– Bob Blackman: Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), it is ironic that the Holocaust Educational Trust was holding a reception and information session in this place at the same time as the National Union of Students was debating a motion to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day, and that speakers in favour of that were applauded for saying that Holocaust Memorial Day was not inclusive enough. Clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done on education to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism, so may we have a debate in Government time on what action we are going to take to root that out once and for all among all political parties and among all sections of society?
– Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right. We are seeing that happen time and again—statements about the Jewish population in this country, statements about Israel, that are unacceptable in a democratic society. Of course, there are legitimate debates to be had about the future of Israel and Palestine and the peace process, but some of the anti-Semitic views that are appearing in our society are simply unacceptable. [Interruption.] Labour Members mention Islamophobia. I have stood at the Dispatch Box time and again and condemned Islamophobia in this country, but that is not a reason for not paying attention to the issue of anti-Semitism, which is becoming more and more of a problem and must be addressed head-on now by all those in public life, including the Labour party.
– Barry Sheerman: [excerpt] After the unfortunate remarks by the Leader of the House about the Labour party being riddled with anti-Semitism, may I ask, as someone who has fought anti-Semitism in the Labour party and in this country all his life, whether we can have an early debate about that issue? That is so important on a day when the people who want to take us out of Europe have invited Marine Le Pen to come here and speak.
– Chris Grayling: On the issue of anti-Semitism and the Labour party, I would encourage Labour Members to have a debate. The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right to have written the article he did, saying that anti-Semitism is not acceptable, but, of course, his words have to be turned into action by the Labour party.

I frankly find it very difficult to believe that anti-Semitism is rife in Oxford University, and find the prominence given to the unsubstantiated claims of one single extreme pro-Israel activist rather extraordinary. The attack on new NUS President Malia Bouattia is a truly horrible piece of witch-hunting. But it is useful in one thing; it makes the witch-hunt’s primary method, the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, absolutely explicit.

Daniel Clemens, the president of Birmingham J-Soc, said her response was “completely unsatisfactory”. “There is quite a bit of uproar among the wider campus and student community,” Clemens said. “I think that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two and the same thing. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland to live in without threat of annihilation or war. This stems from a Jewish belief. So when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand.”

The idea that the religious belief of entitlement to the land of the Palestinians, is such that it is racist to deny the land to those who hold that belief, is frankly crazy. But that is the entire intellectual basis of the current witch-hunt, which operates solely on conflating the anti-Zionism of Tony Greenstein with anti-Semitism. It is a constant theme in the media, led of course by the Blairite cheerleaders at the Guardian. I called out Nick Cohen on his hate speech a few weeks ago.

Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph even completely fabricated a story that DFID had withdrawn funding for the charity War on Want because it organised “anti-Semitic” conferences. I personally contacted the DFID spokesman, who said that no funding had been withdrawn at all. But more disturbing is that, again, Gilligan seeks to portray simple anti-Zionist statements as anti-Semitic. He objects to:

“At another rally – sponsored by War on Want – a speaker said that British government policy was created by “Zionist and neo-con lobbies”.”

That is a statement which I – and millions of others – would heartily endorse. But we are not anti-Semites. Unsurprisingly, Gilligan calls in precisely the same Oxford University student to back up his wild accusations.

Anti-Semitism does exist. In a membership as large as that of the Labour Party, there are bound to be a handful around, and if they can be identified they should indeed be expelled. I have seen a couple of examples quoted – people who talk of “big noses” and “jewish bankers”. Certainly such people must be shunned. In my lifetime’s experience, anti-Semitism is more prevalent on the right than the left, but fortunately does not infect a significant proportion of the population in the UK. I have yet to encounter any in Scotland.

But to conflate anti-Semitism with opposition to the apartheid state of Israel is to demean the very meaning of anti-Semitism. If they really had respect for its victims, they would not seek to do that.

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The Old Etonian Sir Mark Lyall Grant

Sir Mark Lyall Grant was born with so many silver spoons in his mouth it is a miracle he didn’t choke. The National Security Adviser is, surprise surprise, an Old Etonian. He is also one of the nastiest people I have ever met.

In 1999 within the FCO he tried to remove me from my position as Deputy High Commissioner in Accra because, in a speech at an anti-corruption conference, I had stated that British firms too were sometimes involved in corruption. My speech had in fact been cleared in advance by DFID, and I survived. But Lyall Grant was dismissive of my argument that it was intellectually bankrupt to attend anti-corruption conferences and pretend corruption was just something foreigners did. In a very frosty interview, he told me my job was to promote British interests, not promote the truth.

I survived Lyall Grant’s attack only by appealing to the Head of the Diplomatic Service, John (now Lord) Kerr, in a minute in which I complained directly of Grant’s unpleasantly aristocratic attitude towards me, and used Hazlitt’s words about Byron applied to Lyall Grant “This spoil’d child of fortune…”. The entire episode was published in detail in my memoir “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo.”

Lyall Grant is now National Security Adviser and made responsible by Cameron for persuading Labour MPs to bomb Syria. A disagreement has arisen tonight over whether he admitted or not that a great many of the “70,000” are “extreme Islamists”.

But one thing that should be very well understood, is that I can personally testify that Mark Lyall Grant has no respect for or attachment to the truth. He directly told me that furthering the British interest is more important than truth. In that case, he was taking the interest of corrupt British companies – especially BAE – as being identical with the national interest.

In the current case, I have no doubt he will be conflating the interest of his fellow old Etonians in government and again of the arms industry with the national interest. I can guarantee nothing will pass his lips undistorted to suit that agenda.

That a truly obnoxious man like Mark Lyall Grant is such a senior official is the most complete proof you could have of the rottenness of the United Kingdom.

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Labour Arch Hypocrites Over Lansley

Andrew Lansley could be an improvement on Baroness Amos as UN humanitarian chief. That is not saying much. For Labour to complain about “cronyism” is breathtaking hypocrisy as Amos is the ultimate Blair crony. She rose to the top of UK politics – a full Cabinet minister – despite the fact that not one citizen has had the chance to vote for or against her, ever. At least Lansley had the guts to face the electorate. My two campaigns to stand as an Independent for parliament were failures, but the 3,000 votes I received were 3,000 more than Amos has ever got. Amos is the very symbol of the corruption of the UK political system. She is Red Tory through and through, so it is unsurprising that when Cameron became PM with her nomination process still in train, he was quite happy for it to continue to go through.

At the UN, Amos’ attention to humanitarian disaster differed according to where they stood on the neo-con agenda. When the BBC was in the midst of their campaign to promote war against Assad on behalf of the jihadists, she was continually all over the BBC saying something needed urgently to be done. When the Israelis were slaughtering innocents in Gaza, she was notably less prominent.

Her unelected career has been very lucrative. She has a web of company interests which have been significantly furthered by the positions she has held. And while at the UN, she has claimed exemption from declaring her business interests on the House of Lords register.

The following extract from my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo may open some eyes about the way the senior levels of the Labour Party operate:

The concierge opened the door and the Nigerian detached himself from the rich leather upholstery of the sleek, silver, range-topping Mercedes. He stalked into the lounge of the Sheraton, as glossy as the sheen on his Italian silk suit and as smooth as the mirrored lenses of his designer spectacles. My heart sank as he headed towards our little group. I had taken on the chairmanship of a Ghanaian energy company to help out some Ghanaian friends. Our little venture had prospered and we were looking to expand across West Africa. In doing so I was determined to steer well clear of capital tainted with corruption or drugs. My surest guide to doing that was to avoid people who looked and dressed like this man whom my colleagues had arranged to talk with us.

West Africa is now the third largest centre in the World for money laundering and narcotics capital formation. But in terms of the percentage of total capital formation which drugs money forms, it is far ahead. Money laundering is the raison d’etre of many West African financial institutions. In Accra in March 2008 a World Bank sponsored conference held in Accra on money laundering heard an estimate that over 60% of the capital of the mushrooming private banking sector in Nigeria could be drugs money. Recently Nigerian banks have started taking out huge poster adverts all over the UK’s major airports. That is drugs money.

One consequence of this is that I have found it too easy to attract the wrong kind of capital to a legitimate business proposal in West Africa. These investors from West African banks and private equity firms are not even expecting the kind of high returns that a high risk market normally demands. With anti money-laundering regulations now so tight in the US and EU, their investors are looking to launder the money in the region before sending it to Europe. The proceeds of a legitimate energy company are accountable and clean; so we attract those wishing to put dirty money in to get clean money out. The actual bank executives and fund managers are of course not themselves necessarily involved in narcotics; they just fail to query adequately the source of their investor’s cash.

So when the new arrival introduced himself as a manager of a Nigerian private equity firm, I mentally switched off. I giggled inwardly as he named his company as “Travant”, because I thought he said “Trabant”, which given the car out of which he had just stepped, would have been wildly inappropriate. But I came to with a start when he said that his Nigerian private equity firm had access to DFID funds because Baroness Amos was a Director. To be clear, I asked whether Travant was an NGO or a governmental investment agency. He replied that it was not; it was a private, for-profit fund management company.

Baroness Amos was of course the Secretary of State for DFID until 2003 and until 2007 was Leader of the House of Lords. I though that it was impossible that DFID money would be given to a company of which she was Director. On the face of it, nobody could look further removed from the development aid ethos than the man in the designer suit. I went back to writing him off, deciding he was simply making it up about Baroness Amos and his access to DFID money. In West Africa among people who wear silk suits and are driven in Mercedes, the standards of truthfulness sadly leave in general a great deal to be desired.

I would have forgotten the incident, but in December 2008 I found myself sitting next to Baroness Amos on an airport bus heading for the plane to Accra. Once on board she moved to Business class while due to overbooking I was downgraded to Economy Plus. Baroness Amos was going out to Accra to head the Commonwealth monitoring team for the first round of the 2008 Ghanaian elections, as John Kufuor retired. Sending Baroness Amos to monitor an election seemed to me another tremendous example of British arrogance. Valerie Amos is the very antithesis of a democratic politician. One of the Blair inner circle, she rose to Cabinet rank despite never having faced the electorate. Never, ever, at any level of politics. Her entire career was based upon New Labour internal patronage after making a very good living out of complaining about discrimination against minorities in the UK. She opened up a substantial income gap between herself and those on whose behalf she was claiming to work, from a very early stage, and that gap has widened ever since.

All this came back to me as I looked at Baroness Amos quaffing champagne on that plane. So I did a bit of digging. Valerie Amos is indeed listed on their website as a non-executive director of Travant Private Equity, one of only five directors. There is nothing about developmental goals, ethics, or the environment on the website. There is a lot about real estate opportunities in West Africa (by which they do not mean housing for the urban poor), and a boast that they have “the largest fundraising from domestic investors in sub-Saharan Africa”. Remember what I said about the sources of local capital formation? Now Travant may have the most rigorous procedures for scrutinising the origin of the domestic money deposited with them. But if they do, they do not mention it on their website. Rather they emphasise that “we are deeply immersed in the business communities in which we invest”. Mmmm.

But have Travant received DFID money? On the face of it, Travant shouldn’t even want public money ? They are aggressive proponents of the capitalist ethos: “We believe that the private sector, with appropriate oversight and governance, is the best shepherd of Africa’s resources. We seek to empower entrepreneurs to pursue opportunities that they have identified, creating returns for investors, jobs and economic growth.” Yet in 2007 the British Government financed Travant with £15 million of funds, provided through CDC, the investment arm of DFID. CDC is owned 100% by DFID. At launch over one third of Travant’s first equity fund came from DFID. A few months afterwards Baroness Amos, ex minister in charge of DFID, joined the board of this profit-making firm.

It says everything about New Labour that CDC, which as the Commonwealth Development Corporation used to run agricultural projects to benefit the rural poor, was rebranded as CDC with a new remit to provide most of its funds to the financial services industry. It says even more about New Labour’s lack of the understanding of fundamental personal ethics, of their embrace of greed, that they see no reason why one of their former senior ministers should not move to benefit personally from the DFID money – even if through a 100% owned satellite – thus invested.

To turn this story full circle, let us turn back to Sierra Leone. 65% of the measured exports of this country come from its rutile mines. These were under guard by Sandline at the start of this memoir. Following the British invasion of Sierra Leone, it returned to its normal state of extreme corruption. Life is hard for most of its inhabitants, and UN donated food and pharmaceuticals, clearly marked “not for sale”, are only available to the local population for cash they do not have, as the result of collusion between corrupt UN officials, government officials, and mostly Lebanese traders. But the rutile mines are working full out, and extremely profitable, with armed white men again in charge of security. A major rutile miner, Titanium Resources Group of Sierra Leone says in its 2008 interim report: “the long term future of our markets is sound and the quality and scale of our mineral reserves underline our future prospects.” The Chairman of Titanium Resources Group is Walter Kansteiner III, George Bush’s former Assistant Secretary of Sate for Africa and a founding partner of the Scowcroft Group, led by Brent Scowcroft, George Bush’s National Security Adviser and architect of the CIA’s re-introduction of torture. The Scowcroft Group advisory consultancy did huge harm in Africa in the 1990s with their advocacy of privatisation and deregulation, particularly in the forestry sector, and with some influence advocated policies worldwide which contributed to the credit bubble and collapse of recent years.

But none of that prevented Kansteiner and Scowcroft from making money out of it, and Blair’s invasion secured Sierra Leone’s mineral resources to the neo-cons. Not everyone benefits. Titanium Resources’ Interim Report 2008 mentions the disruption in production as a result of the collapse of a dredger, without feeling the need even to mention the two Sierra Leoneans who died in the incident.

But New Labour believes in profit, especially for themselves, so it was no surprise to me when Titanium Resources announced in March 2008 the appointment of Baroness Amos as a non-executive director. For me that appointment [though she later resigned] sums up the cosiness of the alliance between Bush, Blair and their acolytes. It was an alliance based on the acquisition of mineral resources by any means possible. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most infamous example. I saw it close up operating by war in Sierra Leone, and by the diplomacy of repression in Uzbekistan.

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BBC Propaganda Hits New All-Time Low

Every half hour BBC News is running a three minute puff piece which is even more sinister for what it hides than for what it says – and By God! That is sinister enough.

“Now the BBC has learned about an alternative No campaign which calls itself No Borders a group determined to rouse the emotions many feel about being Scottish but also British.  Gavin Essler has this exclusive report:”

GAVIN ESLER: “A recording studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh.  A group of musicians putting the finishing touches to a song which they hope could save the United Kingdom”

(Pretty girls caterwauling unpleasantly). The song is part of a new campaign called No Borders.  Their website goes live today on the anniversary of the Union”

(Long speech by Malcolm Offord of No Borders – not a single question asked).

GAVIN ESLER (orgasmic voice): “Here in the very heart of Glasgow in fact almost anywhere you go anywhere in Scotland you’re never far away from our three hundred years of shared British history…. Putting the passion into the campaign to save the United Kingdom is exactly what No Borders say they are about.”

(Another statement from Malcolm Offord.  Still not asked any questions).

GAVIN ESLER ‘The idea is a grassroots campaign to rival that of the pro-independence campaign, based on those who wish to remain in the UK.  A retired care nurse from Glasgow Elizabeth Bashir is one of those who has given her testimonial.

(Pro-union view from sweet old lady.)

(14 seconds to spokesman for Yes campaign – presumably this is BBC “balance”.)

(Pretty Girls Caterwauling Again).

GAVIN ESLER “In the music industry they say you should never rewrite a hit, and No Borders say the Union has been a great hit worldwide for three hundred years.  But others say it might be time to sing a new song.”

Now this long propaganda piece for the No campaign is disgusting in itself for its internal bias, and for the fact that the very much larger grassroots movement the Radical Independence Campaign has never been given any publicity by the BBC (and the failure to reference the longstanding anarchist No Borders movement).  It is not even news – it is two days since “Vote No Borders” was given an even longer bout of free publicity on Newsnight Scotland.

But what makes this propaganda utterly unforgiveable is that Vote No Borders is not a grassroots campaign at all but a government organized campaign which has mysteriously acquired start-up cash of 400,000 pounds with no declared origin.

The registered office of Vote No Borders, a private limited company, is at 24 Chiswell Street, London, EC2Y 4YX . Which is perhaps surprising for a “Scottish grassroots campaign”.  The directors are Malcolm Offord and Fiona Gilmore.

Now pay close attention: Fiona Gilmore is chief executive of Acanchi a PR Consultany which specializes in “Country Branding”.  Its clients include Israel, Dubai, Bahrain and “England”.  Yes, it actually specifies “England” on the company website.  Acanchi also works for DFID – in short, it gets UK taxpayers’ money, plus Israeli and Gulf Arab money.  Are you familiar with the word fungibility?

Malcolm Offord, it turns out, has donated over 120,000 pounds to the Conservative Party plus made personal donations to Michael Gove.  He is the author of the report “Bankrupt Britain” on the Conservative Home website.  In his paper Offord suggests that further cuts in UK public spending should continue to be made  even after the present debt crisis has been passed and urges government to:

“Reform the bloated benefits system of this country to reduce the burden on the state and, just as importantly, boost the growth rate of the country”

And the wee retired care home nurse Elizabeth Bashir?  Well, she’s not quite as “grassroots” as shown by the BBC either.

10177282_482029501898967_6480832416822401103_n

 

That picture is definitely the “grassroot” Elizabeth Bashir interviewed by the BBC.  There is also an Elizabeth Bashir from Glasgow on Facebook who “likes” Vote No Borders [reference here deleted as it has been pointed out, I think fairly, it was to something probably meant as a joke]. This lady has expensive tastes for a grassroot, her other “likes” are Svarovski Crystal, the swanky Aura club in Mayfair and Faz Collection clothes.  Strangely although she calls herself Elizabeth Bashir, Glasgow and supports Vote no Borders, everything she “likes” which has a geographical location is in London.  It is conceivably a different Elizabeth Bashir from Glasgow, perhaps a daughter, but the coincidence of the Vote No Borders like is very strong.

It took me an hour with google to find all this.  That the BBC continues to propagandise this fake “grassroots campaign” without revealing Offord’s Tory Party credentials, his belief in never-ending cuts in public spending and welfare benefits, and Acanchi being a consultant paid by government to boost the UK image is completely beyond anything that can remotely be described as legitimate.

It is the most abhorrent example of a fake story, entirely contrived state propaganda, being put out by a state broadcaster.

UPDATE

From commenters below: The “Vote No Borders” website domain was registered by Gary Waple, who works in the Prudential Regulatory Authority of the Bank of England!!!! Before that he worked at the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates – that British government and Gulf money connection pops up again.

ANOTHER UPDATE

The Guardian also is pushing it.  Amazing how neither the BBC nor the Guardian noticed who Mr Offord was, or who his fellow director is, or asked where the money came from.  We have a huge responsibility in social media to combat the ultra-powerful combination of the entire mainstream media with the British state, the City of London and their overseas neo-con allies.

I ask every single person who reads this to do what they can do to get this news out – it may open eyes about the BBC, media in general and the hidden hands behind the No campaign.  Feel free to copy and paste anywhere you want.  But please everybody either blog or tweet about it, put it on your facebook page, email people about it or if you can’t do any of those, just tell three people.  The only way we can beat the massed forces of the state and the ultra-rich is by a deliberate and purposeful exercise of people power.  That will never happen unless everybody tries. Do something.  Now. It does not matter where you are in the world.  Knowledge is universal – that is the root of every power the people can hope to have.

FURTHER UPDATE

Brilliant! This post is currently being read by more than one person every two seconds. I hope it’s being read some other places by now too.  Don’t stop, we need much more than that to equal the numbers who will view the execrable mainstream propaganda.

 

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Time to Abolish the BBC

It must be a fundamental human right not to have to pay James Purnell. The obnoxious Blair clone is on £420,000 a year at the BBC. I found this article absolutely horrifying; the BBC has appointed as director of news and current affairs James Harding, a man who wrote a defence of the 2008/9 massacre of 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, which used illegal and horrifying white phosphorous bombs as well as depleted uranium, and killed hundreds of small children. That attack was so shocking it reintroduced a significant proportion of the British student population to the idea of radical politics.

That the BBC should appoint the openly politically partisan to top positions – and that they should be openly neo-con – is not shocking because we have come to accept the depredations of the political class as normal.

The purpose of the BBC ended when Grag Dyke and Andrew Gilligan were forced out and the BBC issued a formal apology – in effect to Tony Blair – an apology for telling the truth about Iraqi WMD and the “dodgy dossier” which Blair, Campbell and Scarlett conducted. The BBC has seldom made the mistake of telling the truth since.

I increasingly find myself advocating political opinions I would have found anathema five years ago. I am forced to the opinion that now it is time to abolish the licence fee and end all public funding to the BBC. We should not be blinded by nostalgia; the BBC has no claim to impartiality or “public service ethic.” Nor, for the most part, to quality. Talent shows, reality TV and endless cooking and property auction programmes are not something everybody should be obliged to pay for, on penalty of not owning a television.

Doubtless bits of the BBC would survive in the private sector. World Service broadcasting might be taken over by DFID – another “fake independent agency” can be interposed if desired. But even if some good were lost, the overall harm done by this inflated structure and its all-pervading propaganda is such that it would be worth the sacrifice.

The Leveson Inquiry was a brilliant sleight of hand which managed to get liberals arguing for more government control of the media, while the real problem – the need for a radical breaking up of media ownership – was ignored. If we fracture the Murdoch empire and break up the BBC, with radically tough regulations restricting the percentage of the market any owner can have, we have a real chance to have a diverse media and broader political debate.

All institutions tend to corruption the longer they have existed. Over time those who control the structures of power develop ways to make sure large institutions are twisted to their personal interests. There is not much the rest of us can in truth do about it, except to give the kaleidoscope a good hard shake every now and then.

It is time to shake the kaleidoscope and abolish the BBC.

UPDATE

Just received from BBC Press Office:

Hi Craig

We wanted to draw your attention to our release from 14 Feb this year:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/tony-hall-senior-team.html

James Purnell’s salary as Director, Strategy and Digital, will be a total of £295,000 not £420,000.

Best wishes
BBC Press Office

So that’s OK then.

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Prevent: A Totally Illiberal Strategy

I have now ploughed through all 120 pages odd of the Government’s new Prevent Strategy, which manages to be even more illiberal and more turgid than the original. It claims that the last Prevent Strategy was misguided – but for all the wrong reasons. Rather amusingly, it starts with a message of endorsement from Lord Carlile – who also endorsed the last strategy which it criticises so strongly. The truth is, Carlile will endorse anything for any government which gives him status – he loves status – “It has my considered and strong support” he concludes his endorsement – you have to imagine saying it with marbles in your mouth and a degree of insufferable pomposity – “It has my considered and strong support”- wanker.

The report has many errors. but its fundamental flaw is iits explicit assumption that terrorism is actuated by a hatred of democracy.

” There is evidence to indicate that support for terrorism is associated with rejection of a cohesive, integrated, multi-faith society and of parliamentary democracy. Work to deal with radicalisation will depend on developing a sense of belonging to this country and support for our core values. “

That may in part be true; but with stunning intellectual dishonesty the government refuses to tackle in the report the fact that terrorism in the UK has been driven by disgust at British foreign policy, and especially the invasion of Iraq, and the continuing occupation and civilian deaths in Afghanistan. This is not speculation on my part; the 7/7 bombers not only referred to this specifically in suicide videos, they also indeed cited extraordinary renidition and torture as motives of their actions.

The Prevent Strategy ignores this and instead chooses to adopt the stupidly simple mantra of George W Bush to explain terrorism; “They hate our freedoms”. This is precisely the sole cause of terrorism which the Prevent Strategy defines as the problem. When the problem is defined fundamentally wrongly, you can hardly expect the solutions to be correct.

And those conclusions are stunningly illiberal – much more so than the mainstream media has picked up This is a direct quote. I am not making it up:

But preventing terrorism will mean challenging extremist (and non-violent) ideas that are also part of a terrorist ideology.

The (and non-violent) is there in the original. Really.

So peaceful support for a united Ireland should not be allowed, because it is “also part of a terrorist ideology”? That is absolutely the implication of the report. But it is plain it only applies to Muslim groups, on the grounds that they “pose the greatest threat” to the public,

So what it means is that believing that the UK should be governed by Sharia law, even if you hold that belief totally lawfully and without violence, and wish to campaign for it through democratic means, should not be allowed.

But it goes further than that. Universites, healthcare providers, NGOs and faith groups are to be vigilant in searching for those who hold such beliefs, and reporting them to the police. We have already seen where this leads. At Nottingham University two students were thrown out for researching information on Al Qaida on the State Department website, and then a lecturer was sacked for defending them.

Pages 15 to 19 cover support for terrorism and the drivers for it. There is one single phrase in five pages that acknowledges western foreign policy as a motivator for terrorism, but this is then ignored, while all the other factors are treated at great length. The opinion polls cited on pages 16 to 17 on Muslim attitudes to terrorism refrained from asking any question about western foreign policy or giving any chance for respondents to refer to it.

There is an accidentally hilarious part of the report where it denies that Prevent is used for spying on Muslim communities. That, they say, falls under a related programme called Pursue, and should not be confused with Prevent! But twenty odd pages after their lengthy passage claiming Prevent has been unfairly accused of spying, which is the task of Pursue, we find:

“Taking action against propagandists and radicalisers requires careful coordination between work in the Pursue and Prevent areas” p. 52

Which is something of a giveaway.

There is also yet another example of the Tories fulfilling their pledge to reach the target of 0.7% of GDP spent on development aid, by classifying war and “security” expenditure as development aid.

The Department for International Development (DfID) also has a role to play. Although its main purpose is to reduce poverty, overseas development work in some areas can help to build resilience to terrorism through programmes that strengthen governance and security,

With my interest in the university sector, it is some of the stuff on universities I find most chilling. It is full of reasonable sounding propositions that reveal the feeble grasp of a limited intellect:

Universities and colleges have an important role to play in Prevent, particularly in ensuring balanced debate as well as freedom of speech.

There is no obligation on universities to provide “balanced debate”. Do they have to have a creationist speaker at every lecture on evolution? There is still less of an obligation on them to ensure balanced debate in the extra-curricular activities of their students. Does there have to be a Tory speaker at every meeting against the cuts? And remember, that the Prevent Strategy makes plain that the “extremist speakers” they wish to guard against specifically include speakers with a non-violent ideology.

But the great news is, that restrictions on what you are allowed to think at university are all for your own good:

to ensure that all institutions where there is risk of radicalisation recognise their duty of care to students to protect them from the consequences of their becoming involved in terrorism, and take reasonable steps to minimise this risk;

This incredible piece of Orwellian justification for the end of academic freedom is breathtaking in its audacity. The practical consequences could easily be transposed into a manual of the Third Reich, of Stalin’s Russia or Pinochet’s Chile. Again I am not making this stuff up, this is what the report says about universities:

work with the police and other partners to ensure that student societies and university and college staff have the right information and guidance to enable them to make decisions about external speakers.

support local police forces in working with those institutions assessed to be at the greatest risk;

Under New Labour I had the peculiar experience of finding myself banned from entering a Cambridge University building, and therefore delivering a speech to a large crowd of students who gathered in the foyer to hear me as I shouted through the open doorway. I honestly did believe that the Lib Dems and even the Conservatives would be better. I was very, very wrong.

This new Prevent Strategy is a document which sadly proves that the staff of MI5 and the Home Office are, on average, not very bright, and will always favour their own power over liberty. Media reports have focused on the decision to withdarw government funding from those organisations viewed as “extremist”, because that is what the government press release said, and no mainstream journalist will ever actually read the report.

In fact I favour withdrawing that funding. Personally I don’t think the government should fund any faith group or institution.

One organisation which will still receive plenty of government funding under the Prevent programme is the Quilliam Foundation,. This taxpayer funded body attempted by subterfuge to gain personal financial details from me. That says all you need to know about Prevent, which is a secret service led programme.

In fact, if the government got much smaller, and stopped funding attacks on foreign countries, we would all be vastly safer, which would be a real “Prevent Strategy”.

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The Stew of Corruption

British democracy has lost its meaning. The political and economic system has come to serve the interests of a tiny elite, vastly wealthier than the run of the population, operating through corporate control. The state itself exists to serve the interests of these corporations, guided by a political class largely devoid of ideological belief and preoccupied with building their own careers and securing their own finances.

A bloated state sector is abused and mikled by a new class of massively overpaid public secotr managers in every area of public provision – university, school and hospital administration, all executive branches of local government, housing associations and other arms length bodies. All provide high six figure salaries to those at the top of a bloated bureaucratic establishment. The “left”, insofar as it exists, represents only these state sector vested interests.

These people decide where the cuts fall, and they will not fall where they should – on them. They will fall largely on the services ordinary people need.

Meanwhile we are not all in this together. The Vodafone saga only lifts the lid for the merest peek at the way the corporate sector avoids paying its share, hiding behind Luxembourg or Cayman tax loopholes and conflicts between international jurisdictions – with which our well provided politicians are very happy. The often excellent Sunny Hundal provides a calm analysis of the Vodafone case here:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/11/01/why-are-there-protests-against-vodafone-a-simple-guide/#more-18963

Let me tell you something else about Vodafone. Vodafone took over Ghana Telecom three years ago. They paid an astonishingly low price for it – 1.2 billion dollars, which is less than the value of just the real estate GT owned. The value of the business was much higher than that, and there was a substantively higher opening bid from France Telecom.

The extraordinary thing was the enormous pressure which the British government put on Ghana to sell this valuable asset to Vodafone so cheaply. High Commissioner Nick Westcott and Deputy High Commissioner Menna Rawlings were both actively involved, with FCO minister Lord Malloch Brown pressurising President Kuffour directly, with all the weight of DFID’s substantial annual subvention to Ghana behind him.

What is the point of DFID giving taxpayer money to Ghana if we are costing the country money through participating in the commercial rape of its national assets?

And why exactly was it a major British interest that Vodafone – whose Board meets in Germany and which pays its meagre taxes in Luxembourg – should get Ghana Telecom, as opposed to France Telecom or another company? Was privatisation at this time the best thing for Ghana at all?

This Vodafone episode offers another little glimpse into the way that corporations like Vodafone twist politicians like Mark Malloch Brown around their little fingers. It mioght be interesting to look at his consultancies and commercial interests now he is out of office.

BAE is of course the example of this par excellence. Massive corruption and paying of bribes in Saudi Arabia, Tanzania end elsewhere, but prosecution was halted by Tony Blair “In the National Interest”. BAE of course was funnelling money straight into New Labour bagmen’s pockets, as well as offering positions to senior civil servants through the revolving door. Doubtless they are now doing the same for the Tories – perhaps even some Lib Dems.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2009/01/jack_straws_cor.html

It is therefore unsurprising the BAE were able to write themselves contracts for aircraft carriers which were impossible to cancel and that their New Labour acolytes were prepared to sign such contracts. It is, nonetheless, disgusting. Just as it is disgusting that there is no attempt whatever by the coaliton to query or remedy the situation. There is no contract in the UK which cannot be cancelled by primary legislation.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23894666-bae-letter-was-gun-to-head-of-ministers-over-aircraft-carriers-deal.do

Meanwhile, bankers’ bonus season is upon us again and these facilitators of trade and manufacture are again set to award themselves tens of billions of pounds to swell the already huge bank accounts of a select few, whose lifestyle and continued employment is being subsidised by every single person in the UK with 8% of their income. This was because the system which rewards those bankers so vastly is fundamentally unsound and largely unnecessary. Money unlinked to trade or manufacture cannot create infinite value; that should have been known since the South Sea Bubble.

Yet even this most extreme example of government being used to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else, has not been enough to stir any substantial response from a stupoured, x-factored population, dreaming only of easy routes to personal riches, which they have a chance in a million of achieving.

Conventional politics appears to have become irretrievably part pf the malaise rather than offering any hope for a cure. But political activity outwith the mainstream is stifled by a bought media.

I see no hope.

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Please Write To Your MP About Maksim Popov

maksim.jpg

This is Maksim Popov, an Uzbek psychologist sentenced to seven years in Karimov’s notorious jails for running an AIDS charity which distributed needles, condoms and UN supplied literature.

There is an excellent article about Maksim in Guardian CIF. As usual with web articles on Uzbekistan, many of the comments are from Karimov trolls.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/12/uzbekistan-aids-shame-maxim-popov

The swift spread of AIDS in Uzbekistan is fuelled by the flood of heroin from the Dostum held areas of Afghanistan, in the trafficking of which Dostum and Karimov are personally involved. This is what UK citizen Richard Conroy of the UN was investigating when he was killed in a plane crash.

The Uzbek government bans programmes of free needles and also of free condoms – yet at the same time it seeks to reduce population through a forced sterilisation programme.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7107200.ece

Even though Maksim Popov received some DFID and USAID funding for his work, neither the US nor the UK has made any protest to Uzbekistan about Popov’s jailing. The last UK government put their military alliance with Uzbekistan over Afghanistan as first and last in their relationship with Karimov, and increasingly refused to act over, or even to acknowledge, the dire state of human rights in the country.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/04/britain_boosts.html

I urge you strongly to write to your MP and urge the British government to protest formally to Uzbekistan over the jailing of Maksim Popov. International pressure can have an effect – it secured the release of Umida Akhmedova, whose sentence for publishing photographs that “damaged the image of Uzbekistan” has been suspended.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/02/umida_akhmedova.html

But it is also very important that you write now. I know from experience that the civil service will be gleaning from Ministers in the new government their first “Lines to Take”, to give policy direction on various questions. I am quite sure that Maksim will not mind if, in trying to help him, we also bring to the front of Minsters’ minds the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. (If you write to your MP, they should forward it to the Foreign Office and it will get a ministerial reply).

In opposition William Hague had raised the question of torture in Uzbekistan and our complicity in it.

http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2009/08/Hague_demands_Brown_takes_action_over_torture_allegations.aspx

Whether or not he is prepared to take action over Maksim Popov’s dreadful imprisonment will be an early indication as to whether foreign policy may improve.

You can get details of your MP here:

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/

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New Labour Steal From the Starving Millions

With thanks to Old Holborn via Subrosa Blonde.

In the past, my anger with DFID has been focused main;y on its channeling through CDC of funds to private companies benefiting senior New Labour hacks. But this news makes me even more angry.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6982999.ece

Returning to CDC, I would like to think that the Tories will sort it out. My expectation, however, is that the companies it subsidises have already started recruiting senior Tories as directors.

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Fantasy Joinery

I should like to think that John Major’s attack is a sympton of the establishment washing its hands of Tony Blair, as the US extablishment once backed away from Joe McCarthy after worshipping him.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/02/john-major-dismisses-blair-iraq

I hold the deeply unfashionable view that John Major was the best Prime Minister in my lifetime, out of a deeply depressing bunch. I was born in 1958.

Assuming you might find that thought surprising, I might surprise you further by my solution in a little fantasy game – compiling the best possible Cabinet from current parliamentarians.

Prime Minister Malcolm Rifkind

Deputy Prime Minister Andrew Mackinlay

Chancellor Kenneth Clarke

Foreign Secretary Charles Kennedy

Home Secretary Simon Hughes

Defence Secretary Jeremy Corbyn

Education Sarah Teather

Health Hilary Benn

DFID Baroness Chalker

Trade and Industry David Davis

Environment and Rural Affairs Alistair Carmichael

Lord Chancellor Lord Phillips of Sudbury

Transport and Communications Dai Davies

Chief Secretary John Redwood

Work and Pensions Vince Cable

Energy and Climate Change Alan Whitehead

That’s enough of a Cabinet to be going on with, and organised differently to the current and shadow ones. No, I’m not joking. Dai Davies’ key task would be to renationalise the mail and railways. You can guess my reasoning on the others, if you can stop spluttering.

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