Book Review: ‘The New Poverty’

The New Poverty

Reviewed by Callum Alexander Scott for Peace News, December 2017 – January 2018 | Issue 2612 – 2613

Stephen Armstrong shows how consecutive governments have abandoned Britain’s most vulnerable citizens and overseen the gradual dismantling of a welfare state that once protected them. Importantly, Armstrong also tells the stories of those most affected.

Beginning with the 1942 Beveridge Report – the founding document of Britain’s welfare state – Armstrong outlines how, by adopting its recommendations, postwar governments were largely successful in eradicating what the report called the five ‘giants’ blocking the road of reconstruction: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Today, 75 years on, these five evils have returned and, as Armstrong argues, many of those postwar achievements are now in ‘grave danger of being entirely undone’.

The statistics are shocking. In the UK, the world’s fifth-largest economy, there are now over 13 million people living in poverty, with an estimated one in five children living below the poverty line. Worse still, two-thirds of children in poverty live in a household where someone works. Work, Armstrong writes, is no longer a guaranteed path out of poverty.

The reasons? Armstrong points to decades of deregulation in the name of a ‘flexible labour market’, along with shady employment practices and adjustments to the benefit systems, which have left millions in low-paid, precarious employment. These folks drift in and out of the official definition of poverty each year – they are the ‘new poor’.

Blending statistical data and analysis with some truly horrific personal stories, Armstrong explains with great clarity how these new poor have the odds increasingly stacked against them, from the premiums they pay on energy bills and food shopping to the culture of debt engulfing them as a result of the financialisation of our economy.

Armstrong shows how the poorest are increasingly forced to rent homes in substandard and hazardous conditions. On health, he shows how unaffordable treatment has led to the gruesome rise of DIY dentistry and a ‘black health economy’. People in the poorest neighbourhoods now not only suffer longer GP waiting hours and generally poorer health, but they die, on average, seven years earlier than those living in affluent areas.

You cannot turn the pages of this book without feeling a visceral sense of outrage. With chapters on digital deprivation (the poorest 20 percent of the population lack access to the internet, depriving them of work opportunities and democratic participation), the socio-economic divisions across Britain underscored by Brexit, and the failure of our media to adequately report what’s going on, this is a timely book that deserves a wide readership. Highly recommended for all concerned citizens.

 

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Book Review: ‘Covering Conflict: The Making and Unmaking of New Militarism’

Covering Conflict: The Making and Unmaking of New Militarism

Reviewed by Callum Alexander Scott for Peace News, October – November 2017 | Issue 2610 – 2611

The scope of Covering Conflict cannot be overstated. Drawing from a dizzying array of sources throughout – interviews with journalists, theoretical approaches, autobiographies, biographies, histories, academic journals, newspapers, magazines and mainstream and alternative websites – it is well-written, well-argued and meticulously referenced. For PN readers it is an extremely valuable resource, and should be a compulsory read for all journalists.

In this book, Richard Keeble draws on over 25 years of research to meticulously analyse the media’s role in a succession of conflicts since the Second World War. The result is a blistering critique of British (and US) journalism’s servility to power.

As Keeble outlines, traditional mass-participatory militarism changed after 1945 to the deployment of relatively small, elite forces in secrecy. From the early 1980s, strategy shifted further into a ‘New Militarism’, characterised by short, manufactured, ‘spectacular’ wars, fought against relatively puny opposition, that could be rapidly declared as ‘victories’.

Keeble argues that the press, closely allied to the state in an ever-growing ‘media-military-industrial-complex’, mobilised public support for war through heavily-censored and stage-managed reporting. From the fetishisation of our weaponry and propagation of the myth of our superior ‘precision’ attacks, to the perpetual vilification of the enemy and the portrayal of us as the ‘vulnerable’ states acting only in ‘defence’ against them (the aggressors).

Keeble coins the term ‘massacrespeak’ to describe how the press silence the reporting of what are in essence US-led massacres of vastly inferior opponents. The First Gulf War (1990-91) is analysed as a textbook example. During the first two weeks of the conflict, the US-led alliance dropped more bombs on Iraq and Kuwait than were dropped in the whole of the Second World War. It is estimated that over 250,000 Iraqi soldiers perished in the conflict, yet the British and American press ‘represented the conflict as largely bloodless: a triumph of clean, precise, surgical weaponry’.

Also explored, in a fascinating chapter, are the shockingly close ties that have historically existed between the intelligence services and Fleet Street. It is said that at any given time at least one British intelligence agent is working in every Fleet Street office.

In his concluding chapter Keeble remarks on the massive failures of Western military interventions since 2003: the huge casualties, the financial cost (over £50 billion of taxpayers’ money spent on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars alone), and the unprecedented refugee crises now sweeping the Middle East as a result. New militarism, Keeble concludes, has become disaster militarism.

Democracy, Hypocrisy and the Liberal-Leninist Aristocracy

Most liberal elites love to present themselves as passionate advocates of democracy, but in truth, many harbour a distrust of the masses and a desire to concentrate serious decision-making power in the hands of a few. Reactions to Corbyn, Brexit and Trump have highlighted this.

Generally, across civilisations there exists a divide between those who have faith in the ability of ordinary folk to participate in the management of societal affairs and those who think societal affairs should be managed by an elite few. The point was summarised by Thomas Jefferson in 1824 when he observed that ‘men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties’: ‘democrats’ and ‘aristocrats’. Democrats, he said, ‘identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests’. Aristocrats, on the other hand, ‘fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes’.

While most contemporary elites – that is, broadly speaking, professionals across government, business, cultural management and the more articulate sectors in general – like to present themselves as democrats, the truth is that many are, in thought and practice, aristocrats. Take a politician like Theresa May, for example, who while espousing her belief in ‘putting power in the hands of the people’ earlier this year, was simultaneously trying to exclude from Brexit policy-making the very body through which the people are represented – Parliament. Or take Donald Trump, who while claiming at his inauguration to be giving power ‘back to […] the people’ was simultaneously filling his Cabinet with bankers and Wall Street tycoons. But such aristocratic behaviour is not merely confined to conservative elites like May and Trump. As the unique political events of recent times have highlighted, Jefferson’s aristocrats are pervasive among liberals, too.

In the UK last year, many were revealed among so-called ‘liberal metropolitan elites’ whose attitudes towards Brexit voters betrayed a sharp distrust of the masses. They protested that ‘ignoramuses’ and ‘know-nothing voters’ (as the supposedly liberal Professor Richard Dawkins referred to them) should not be entrusted with such important decisions. Brexit voters, as the Guardian and New Statesman journalist Laurie Penny wrote, were just ‘frightened, parochial lizard-brain’ people. A similar attitude was betrayed by liberal elites in the US, whose patronisation and mocking of Trump supporters in the build-up to the election likely disaffected more undecided voters than it did galvanise them (as was the case with the Remain campaign’s ‘patronising’ videos for the EU Referendum). A more direct form of aristocracy, however, came from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), who were exposed for conspiring with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team – in an utterly anti-democratic move – to rig her nomination and disadvantage Bernie Sanders’. Moreover, Clinton’s own anti-democratic tendencies were exposed when audio was released of her commenting on a 2006 Palestinian election that didn’t go her way: ‘We should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win’, she said.

Back in the UK, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party revealed an abundance of aristocrats amongst the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). They, together with most of the political and media establishment, worked tirelessly to undermine and block his democratic election as leader simply because they thought they knew better than the majority of the membership who voted for him. As the Cambridge-educated former Labour MP Tristam Hunt said to students at his old university following Corbyn’s election: the party is ‘in the shit’ and it’s the responsibility of the ‘top 1% [to] take leadership going forward’. Ex-Blair advisor John McTernan asserted that if Corbyn wins he should be removed ‘swiftly and quickly’. When asked about the potential reaction of the grassroots voters to such an anti-democratic move, he retorted: ‘yeah but who cares about the grassroots? […] it doesn’t really matter what the grassroots say’. Then there was the deputy leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson who condemned the 2014 decision of Ed Miliband to push through the ‘one member, one vote’ system that enabled Corbyn’s election. The decision gave Labour members the full democratic power to elect their leaders, a decision Watson called a ‘terrible error of judgment’. Ironically, if the same system ruled the US elections, Clinton would now be president because she, like Corbyn, overwhelmingly won the popular vote. But unlike Watson, the PLP and most of the UK liberal media who scorned the popular voting system when it failed to produce the Labour leader they wanted, US liberals after Trump’s election were itching to adopt it. Of course, direct democracy is only favourable when the result swings your way.

The Liberal Leninist Elite

But there’s another irony to the aristocracy of certain members of the PLP, and it’s to do with how they alleged last year that some of Corbyn’s supporters were ‘Trotskyites’, ‘entryists’ and ‘Bolsheviks’ attempting to infiltrate their party. The fact is that the centrist, Blairite faction of the PLP who’ve been attempting to subvert the democratic election of Corbyn, are themselves closer to the Bolshevik-Leninist position than they know. Indeed, the Bolshevik-Leninist ideology holds, quite simply, that a revolutionary ‘vanguard party’ of intellectuals – the clever and more capable people – ought to lead the masses to their utopian future because the masses are too ignorant and incapable of doing it for themselves. This is quite clearly an aristocratic and elitist doctrine opposed to democratic participation and self-determination, exemplified by Lenin’s dissolving of the factory committees and elimination of workers’ control following the Bolshevik revolution – an ‘unquestioning subordination to […] the single will of the leaders of labour’ is necessary to achieve the aims of the revolution, Lenin argued. Such ideology is far from liberal or left; it is in many respects ultra-right. Mainstream left thinkers of the day like Anton Pannekoek, Karl Korsh and Paul Mattick recognised this about the Bolsheviks. Bertrand Russell and Rosa Luxemburg both expressed worry about the Leninists centralising power, as did Trotsky before he joined them. Yet it’s an ideology incredibly similar to the kind held by the centrist, Blairite wing of the PLP and many liberal elites throughout the West. In fact, just as the Bolshevik-Leninists had consolidated power in the Soviet Union, prominent American intellectuals across the Atlantic were espousing very similar views about the role of the masses in society.

The Intelligent Minority

Take the acclaimed liberal intellectual Walter Lippmann who, in his influential works Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925), wrote that ‘the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class’. ‘Executive action is not for the public’, he said; they should remain just ‘interested spectators of action’ who are called upon occasionally to align themselves with ‘someone in a position to act executively’ – the ‘responsible men’.

Then there was Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud who is known widely as the Father of Public Relations due to his pioneering work in the field of thought-manipulation and mass-persuasion. In his influential book Propaganda (1928), he argued that because the ‘average intelligence’ of the public is so poor, it is imperative that they be ‘managed by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide’ them.

Or take Professor Harold Lasswell, the highly influential political scientist and leading scholar in the field of communications and propaganda. He wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (1930-35) that we ‘must put aside democratic dogmatism about men being the best judges of their own interest since men are often very poor judges of their own interest’.

In the same decade, Reinhold Neibhur, leading American theologian, professor and public intellectual who was highly influential among Roosevelt-Kennedy liberals (he also happens to be Barack Obama’s ‘favourite philosopher’), wrote in his seminal work Moral Man and Immoral Society: Study in Ethics and Politics (1932) that ‘Rationality belongs to the cool observer, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith, and the naive faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplificaions which are provided by the myth-maker [Lippmann’s ‘responsible men’] to keep [the] ordinary person on course’.

Certainly, it’s not hard to see the ideological thread running through these views, the Bolshevik-Leninists’ and many of today’s liberal elite. In essence, they all manifest a distrust of the masses and a desire to keep them from participating in serious decision-making – they are all aristocratic in the Jeffersonian sense. Of course, a crucial difference between the Bolshevik-Leninists and Western liberals is that while the former sought authoritarian repression (later morphing into Stalinism) to manage and keep the ignorant masses at bay, the latter sought to control them through techniques of manipulation and mass-persuasion – techniques now practiced and extended across PR, marketing, advertising, mass media and the entertainment industries more generally.

It’s no coincidence that today’s political elite, both liberal and conservative, harbour immensely close ties with and rely heavily on experts across these industries to manage and bolster their ‘brand-image’, to control and distribute information and to generally mould public opinion in their favour. Lippmann called this the ‘manufacture of consent’, while Bernays similarly called it the ‘engineering of consent’ – ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society’, he wrote (if this sounds Gramscian, it’s because it is!).

Liberal Hypocrites 

What is perhaps most contemptible about all of this, however, is the deceitfulness with which many apparent ‘liberals’ operate; presenting themselves in public as passionate advocates of democracy, while in private seeking to concentrate power and manipulate popular opinion in their favour. ‘I agree the will of the people should prevail’, declared Tony Blair in response to Brexit, while simultaneously forming a cross-party coalition of elites (including Nick Clegg, Richard Branson, Bob Geldof, Lord Alan Milburn, Chuka Umunna) aimed at influencing the will of the people and reversing Brexit (incidentally, the agency managing the PR strategy and marketing for the project is Freud Communications, headed by PR mogul Matthew Freud – great-grandson of Sigmund and relative of Edward Bernays).

Similarly in the US, Hillary Clinton declared that Donald Trump was ‘threatening our democracy’, yet only a few months prior she herself had undermined the democratic nomination of Sanders, despite virtually every poll indicating that he had a better chance of beating Trump than she did.

And as the influential Labour Lord and ex-Blair cabinet minister Peter Mandelson admitted earlier this year, he was working ‘every single day […] to bring forward the end of [Corbyn’s] tenure in office’. In other words, he was working every single day to overturn the democratic decision of the majority of the Labour membership.

Conclusion

What is so evident in all of this is that, despite how they present themselves in public, many liberal elites are just as aristocratic as their conservative counterparts. They too harbour a distrust of the masses and a desire to concentrate serious decision-making power in the hands of a few. While this could remain relatively concealed during a period of political consensus, the collapse of that consensus, which Corbyn, Brexit and Trump represent, has revealed it with striking clarity. It would seem that, faced with their faltering ability to dominate the political sphere, many liberal elites have sought desperately and unflatteringly over the past two years to undermine and block the democratic participation of the masses who no longer want – nor have faith in – their leadership capabilities.

Indeed, if there is anything we can take from the political events of recent times, it’s that if liberal elites wish to play any serious role in the politics of tomorrow, then they really ought to start listening and reacting to the masses. In other words, they really ought to start becoming democrats.

Bring on the new radical form of participatory democracy!

C

The Corbyn Paradox: Why So Many Agree With Him But Won’t Vote For Him

This article was published in the Morning Star on 25th May 2017. See here.

The frequent delegitimisation of Jeremy Corbyn by both conservative and liberal elites who stand opposed to his radically democratic politics has left many voters believing that he is bad news, despite agreeing with many of his views.

They feared this would happen – that is, elites across government, the media, the judiciary, the civil service, the nobility and most importantly the financial and corporate sectors. They feared that a radically democratic Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn would form a manifesto that one) the public would overwhelmingly support, and two) would run counter to many of their own interests.

Thus is the history of the left; the policies appeal to the masses, but rarely to elites whose interests are comfortably served under the status quo. That is why from the very moment Corbyn and his politics gathered popular attention, the state-corporate nexus, dominated by many of those comfortable elites, instinctively set about ridiculing and delegitimising him to the point whereby that irrational and paradoxical cognitive phenomenon occurs in which voters declare: ‘I agree with him, but I can’t vote for him’. What a curious contradiction this is. How might we comprehend it?

Well, it’s a simple truth of political debate that if you can’t beat your opponent on policy, then you avoid discussing it and focus your attention on one) assassinating their character; two) promoting empty but powerful slogans that appeal to basic instinct and emotion rather than rationale and intellect; and three) anything else that will distract from policy. It’s an infantile approach that insults public intelligence, but it dominates modern political culture.

The incessant distortions, misrepresentations and oversimplifications of Corbyn’s views; the copious declarations of him being ‘unelectable’ and lacking credibility; the emphatic focus on his personality, his mannerisms and clothing; and the constant claims that he lacks good leadership qualities are all part of this approach and why many people now say they won’t vote for him.

This is not to say that there’s been some grand conspiracy or collaboration among elites to delegitimise Corbyn (although many powerful interests, particularly from within his own party and across the Murdoch and liberal media, have certainly tried with calculation to undermine his public image), rather, it is to say that when elites and opinion leaders of all stripes continuously proclaim that they think Corbyn is shit, then people will unsurprisingly start to think that Corbyn is shit.

It’s not rocket science, although there is a science that helps explain it; namely, the science of advertising and marketing. Take for example the term ‘effective frequency’, which is used in advertising to refer to the amount of times a consumer should be exposed to a message before it has the desired effect. Huge efforts are made by advertisers to manipulate the frequency of consumer’s exposure to messages, images and tag lines. If you’re familiar with the phrases ‘Just Do It’, ‘Breakfast of Champions’ or ‘Got Milk?’ then you are a prime example of the effectiveness of such efforts.

Indeed, repetition is an incredibly powerful tool, something that savvy political interests are very aware of. It’s the reason for political campaign slogans like ‘Labour Isn’t Working’, ‘One Nation’, ‘the Big Society’ and ‘Yes We Can’. It’s also the reason why salesman Donald Trump (who’s no stranger to the power of advertising) tediously repeated the phrase ‘Make America Great Again’, and it’s the reason Theresa May repeatedly says she can offer us a ‘Strong and Stable’ leadership.

The logic behind it is simple: the more a message is repeated, the more it will be believed. This might sound absurd, but there’s much research demonstrating that it’s true. The reason, so it is believed, is that frequency builds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust. It’s why companies pay advertisers, marketers and PR firms dizzying amounts of money each year to formulate campaigns that promote their messages and products. ‘Trend-setters’, ‘thought leaders’, ‘role models’, celebrities and all types of influential people are employed to front such campaigns to enhance their credibility. The fact that companies persist with such campaigns – and continue to pay vast sums for them – is evidence enough that their efforts pay off.

So when elite politicians, media personnel and thought leaders (especially those regarded by the public as ‘experienced’, ‘experts’ or ‘educated’) continuously repeat something to us, it has a very good chance of being believed, regardless of the actual truth. This goes a long way to explaining why Trump was able to win an election with the vocabulary of a child, why Brexit campaigners were so successful with slogans like ‘Take Back Control’, and why so many voters now simultaneously support the Labour Party’s manifesto but refuse to vote for Corbyn.

The repetitious persecution and negativity afforded him by elites who oppose the kind of radical democratic politics he stands for has left swathes of the population thinking exactly what they want them to think: that he’s ‘unelectable’, he lacks credibility and leadership qualities. Of course, none of this is true; these are false constructs that serve only the interests of his opponents who have their own self-serving ideas about what a candidate for prime minister should look, act, sound and think like.

The obvious reality is that if all those elites who oppose what Corbyn stands for (particularly those from within his own party and the liberal media) had afforded him a little more reverence and positivity from the outset, then current public attitudes towards him would be quite different, and the prospected outcome of this election quite the opposite.

C

Why Theresa May Won’t Face Corbyn in a Televised Debate

Televised debates are conventionally an opportunity for personality to shine over policy and for those involved to assassinate the character of their opponents in front of millions (à la Trump/Clinton). There are two problems here for May: one) she lacks personality (she’s clunky and often quite awkward), and two) assassinating Corbyn’s character simply won’t stick with a British audience – they’ll see through it. In addition, she has an appalling record of dodging questions and responding with empty, prearranged statements that end with petty quips about Corbyn’s personality or the divisions within his party. She can get away with this during PMQs because only about 350,000 viewers tune in to watch it each week (although shared clips on social media have, to some extent, helped expose this).

So the simple reason why May won’t – or at least thus far has refused to – partake in a televised debate with Corbyn is precisely because she fears that she’ll lose. Corbyn isn’t like conventional politicians. He doesn’t engage in character insults, he sticks to policy and actually has quite an appealing personality – he carries an air of sincerity that most mainstream politicians lack. These qualities are exactly why he thrashed his opponents in the debates for the Labour leadership contests. Moreover, as poll after poll shows, large majorities of the population actually align with his policies, which is obviously petrifying for his opponents, who simply want to distract from them at every turn.

So yes, it makes perfect sense that Theresa May wouldn’t want to subject herself to the potential loss she’d undergo from a televised debate with Corbyn. Her PR team will most certainly be doing everything they can to keep public pressure off of her. They will also have been doing everything they can over the past 24 hours to play down the scandalous and cowardly refusal. And if you want the subtlest but not insignificant example of media double standards, then just imagine what the scale of the reaction to Corbyn refusing a debate with May would have been. Needless to say, it would be a national scandal, splashed across every front page, with panel discussions galore on all major news programmes.

C

Book Review: ‘The BBC: The Myth of a Public Service’

The BBC: Myth of a Public Service by Tom Mills

Reviewed by Callum Alexander Scott for Peace News, April – May 2017 | Issue 2604 – 2605

Historically there has been a general consensus across British politics and among British political commentators that the BBC is, by and large, an independent, left-leaning institution that serves the public interest. But, as readers of PN will know, especially when it comes to issues of war and peace, this is a myth.

Since its inception, the BBC has overwhelmingly served the interests of the government and elite sectors in society, a fact backed up by virtually every significant scholarly study on the matter.

In this incisive new book, Tom Mills has compiled extensive historical data (from archival research, interviews, autobiographies and secondary sources) to reinforce this analysis.

Mills starts with the 1926 General Strike, when the BBC infamously sided with the government against workers. Thereafter, he explains, the BBC was indeed ‘afforded a large degree of operational autonomy, remaining formally independent’. However, this was only ‘on the tacit understanding that it would broadly serve the political purposes of the government’. As the founding director-general Lord Reith put it, the government ‘know that they can trust us not to be really impartial’.

Into the 1930s and the Second World War, Mills shows how the BBC willingly subordinated itself as an instrument of government propaganda, banning not just fascists and communists from its broadcasts, but also conscientious objectors. During this period the BBC became a ‘fully effective instrument of war’, as Reith’s successor Frederick Ogilvie stated. It was also during this period that senior BBC staff allowed MI5 to politically vet its employees (a practice that astonishingly continued until 1985). In the post-war years, Mills shows how the BBC not only distributed Cold War propaganda in ‘close cooperation’ with the government, but domestically it served to marginalise peace movements and critics of war, cancelling programmes due to government pressure and generally promoting a line favourable to established interests. The Suez Crisis, Falklands War and Gulf Wars are all explored as examples. On issues of economics, the BBC’s neoliberal shift during the 1980s is particularly interesting. Mills outlines how, following the arrival of deputy director-general John Birt in 1987, a ‘small coterie’ of radical Thatcherite reformers helped restructure the organisation, leading to a ‘remarkable growth in business and economics journalism’ and a decline in the representation of workers and their interests.

This ‘neoliberal, pro-business, right-wing’ turn, as Mills describes it, was accelerated into the 1990s and 2000s, and was plain to see in the aftermath of the 2007-08 financial crisis when elite, pro-business sources dominated reporting. Indeed, the historical record explored by Mills leads him to conclude that the BBC is ‘no more free from the powerful interests which now dominate British society than it was in the 1930s, the last time Britain was as unequal as it is today’. It’s a conclusion hard to disagree with after reading this book, especially given the way the BBC has reported on the anti-war, left-wing socialist who is currently leader of the opposition. The contemporary relevance of this book cannot be overstated. A must-read for anyone interested in British politics.

Verso, 2016; 272pp; £16.99

‘Opposites Attract’: Britain and the Bad Guys

This article was published in the Morning Star on 8th April 2017. See here.

With Theresa May away pandering to Middle Eastern dictators this week, it’s worth recalling that the British Establishment has always courted deplorable people – from Fascists in the 1930s to Trump in 2017. As long as they serve the commercial interests of British business then they have a place at the table.

Like all Prime Ministers, May presents herself in public as a person of integrity and principle – she claims to uphold ‘British values‘, to be a feminist, a champion of working people and equal opportunity, a proponent of freedom and democracy, she’s apparently against unnecessary wars, repression, torture and injustice (unless it’s for ‘defence’ purposes, of course).

Donald Trump, however, seems a world away – he is a public showman, a billionaire, an obvious misogynist who’s bragged about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’, he has repressive, warmongering and authoritarian tendencies, and he has shamelessly harnessed racism, xenophobia and division to win the presidency of the United States, among other reprehensible things.

So when asked about how she’ll manage the differences between herself and Trump, what might we expect May to say? ‘He’s a despicable man’, ‘I intend to avoid him at all costs’, ‘Britain will refuse to do business with him because we are a nation of principle’? No, of course not. When asked this very question in January 2017 she responded: ‘Haven’t you ever noticed, sometimes opposites attract?’

Opposites most certainly do attract, especially when it’s in the commercial interests of Britain for them to do so. In fact, Britain’s commercial interests have always trumped its principles. This is why May and her predecessors have supported the royal family of Saudi Arabia, a repressive, authoritarian, human rights abusing regime of billionaires who permit the beheading of criminals, the stoning of women and the funding of Islamic terrorism around the globe.

They’re also engaged in a campaign of terror in Yemen right now that’s killed over 10,000 civilians, a campaign that May’s government supports and has continued to provide weapons for. How are ‘British values’ being upheld here? Or how are they being upheld when May visits Turkey and brokers a £100m arms deal with its authoritarianhuman rights abusing, free speech supressingmisogynistic, ISIS sympathising president Erdoğan? And then there’s British support for Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt under Sisi (and previously Mubarak) – all are repressive, authoritarian human rights abusers who the British government happily trades with (particular commodities include oil and weapons).

Or lest we forget Britain’s collusion with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi under Tony Blair, which helped broker a £550m deal for Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell to explore for gas in Libya. Or Britain’s support for Saddam Hussein under Margaret Thatcher, who continued selling him arms despite knowing he’d used chemical weapons against Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war between 1980-88 and had committed genocide against the Kurds in 1988.

Or Thatcher’s faithful support for the brutal and murderous Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who she affectionately described as Britain’s ‘true friend’.

Then there was her support for General Suharto of Indonesia, whose dictatorship has been described as ‘one of the most brutal and corrupt of the 20th century’. After coming to power in a military coup in 1965 his regime tortured and killed around 500,000 people and in his subsequent invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975 he killed around 250,000 more. Thatcher described him as ‘One of our very best and most valuable friends‘, while Elizabeth Windsor received him on a State Visit in 1979.

Or further still, how about Thatcher’s problematic stance on apartheid South Africa, in which she opposed sanctions and condemned Mandela’s African National Congress as a ‘typical terrorist organisation’?

Oh, and then there was Britain’s support for the Shah of Iran from 1953 to 1979. The Shah, another brutal dictator, came to power after the British, under Winston Churchill, helped the US overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh because he wanted to nationalise its oil industry. Where were the so-called ‘British values’ of freedom, justice and democracy then?

Indeed, it’s important to understand, in the light of May’s kowtowing to Trump and the Queen inviting him on a State Visit, that the British Establishment has always pandered to, and supported, the most despicable people when it has suited the interests of British business.

A most outrageous example of this, which has been tactfully erased from most British history books, came in the 1930s when a large portion of the British Establishment, by way of finance, weapons and diplomacy, supported fascism at home and in Germany and Italy. From the Royal Family to Churchill, fascism was of little concern until it directly threatened British interests. As the renowned British historian AJP Taylor wrote:

‘Every politician extolled the virtues of democracy, especially at the expense of Soviet Russia. Despite this rhetoric […] Ramsay MacDonald wrote friendly personal letters to the Fascist dictator Mussolini; Austen Chamberlain exchanged photographs with him and joined him in family holidays; Churchill sang his praises in newspaper articles’.

Or take Lord Reith, the founding director-general of the BBC. He openly admired both Hitler and Mussolini. As early as 1933 he declared that ‘I am certain that the Nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again […] They are being ruthless and most determined’. Dare we even remind ourselves of the following footage of a seven-year-old Elizabeth Windsor giving a nazi salute with her mother, sister and uncle in 1933. It’s certainly a powerful, if controversial, illustration of just how normalised and accepted fascism was among the British establishment during that period – that is, before it threatened our own national interests.

Political Subversion: Business as Usual

So this week Al Jazeera’s investigative unit revealed, in an extraordinary exposé, how the Israel lobby have been actively trying to influence British politics. In the first episode of a four-part documentary (watch here) it’s revealed how Israel have been ‘influencing student, activist and parliamentary groups in the UK [and] offering financial and strategic assistance in order to gather support among young organisers and shape British politics’ in favour of Israeli interests. As footage from the same investigation revealed earlier this week, the Israeli diplomat Shai Masot (who oddly wasn’t even on the Foreign Office’s Diplomat List) hoped to ‘take down’ the British Deputy Foreign Minister, Sir Alan Duncan, and suggested that ‘a little scandal’ might be the way to do it.

This is, of course, ‘an outrageous interference in British politics’, as the Conservative journalist Peter Oborne said. Yet who in the British Government cares about this? Certainly not the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, who, after refusing to open an investigation into it, declared he didn’t think it would be ‘helpful to discuss [the matter] further’. And certainly not the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (who Masot called an ‘idiot’); his Foreign Office said the ‘matter is closed’. Quite remarkable.

Of course, if it were Russia, not Israel, undertaking such interference in British politics then you can bet your bottom pound the reaction would have been huge. Indeed, when the US Government and intelligence agencies recently claimed (and continue to claim), without presenting ANY verifiable evidence, that Russia influenced the US election, the reaction from Obama was sanctions, diplomatic expulsions, and a threat of covert retaliation. There was also a media campaign of ‘fake and deceitful news’ to vilify Putin and all things Russian. Anti-Russian sentiment is now rife among the US and British political and media establishments, and the unwarranted fear-mongering – which will serve only to stir up jingoism and xenophobia towards Russians – looks set to continue. Israel, however, receive no such treatment.

But then even if Russia did play a part in influencing the US election, and even if Israel continue to try and influence British politics (as they will), any outrage from Britain and the US is hypocritical in the face of one fact: the US and Britain have been subverting and overthrowing democracies for decades. Consider the Iranian coup of 1953, undertaken by the US and Britain, and the overthrow of the elected government of British Guiana in the same year, undertaken by Britain alone. Oh, and then there is THIS LIST, compiled by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, of 45 countries whose democracies the US has interfered with since WWII.

C