Power of ten: How neocons and the fake-left took over British establishment
We had a mixed economy, in which majority interests were put first, a sensible foreign policy - we pursued detente with the Soviet Union - and didn't seek to go around the world trying to stir up conflicts. The only foreign “wars” we got involved with in those days were the so-called “Cod Wars” with Iceland.
Today, it's a very different story. Our political parties have converged around what author Tariq Ali has labelled “the extreme center.” The range of views which can be freely expressed in Britain without adverse personal consequences ensuing is narrowing by the day.
Genuinely left-wing writers, who were regulars on television and in newspapers in the 70s, are now dissidents and subject to constant attack by obnoxious gatekeepers.
“In politics as in journalism and the arts, it seems that dissent once tolerated in the 'mainstream' has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground”, says John Pilger.
Genuinely conservative writers - who reject endless war and crony capitalism - have also been marginalized. Instead we’ve got a political commentariat dominated by a smug, mutually-adoring clique of neocons and fake-leftists, all espousing the same Pentagon-friendly, crony capitalism-friendly views, and supporting the same “humanitarian” military “interventions.” We saw this new establishment orthodoxy in the way the “Iraq has WMDs which threaten the world” propaganda was peddled in the lead up to the illegal 2003 invasion, and we see it today in the promotion of a non-existence “threat” from Russia and the relentless demonization of Vladimir Putin. In 1975 we had a state that didn’t go to war, but which generously funded public libraries, today, in the words of Andrew Murray of the Stop the War coalition, we have a state that is big enough for a war, but too small to keep public libraries open.
Anyone who dares step out of line and who challenges the “extreme center” faces attack from the cozy elite club that rules Britain today. The pressures on free-thinking journalists and politicians to conform to this new neocon/fake left “consensus” are enormous: a pernicious new McCarthyism worse than anything which took place in Britain in the old “Cold War” is at large. Tweet or say the wrong thing - and you’ll have the Extreme Center’s Thought Police on to you within minutes. And this harassment is carried out by people who claim to be “democrats” and who say they are opposed to “censorship” and totalitarianism.
How did we get here? How was our country taken over by these people whose extremist pro-war views most certainly do not reflect the views of the majority of the British public?
Well, here are 10 important events (in chronological order) in the takeover of Britain by the neocons and their faux-left allies. As you’ll see, it was in the 1980s that much of the damage was done.
1. March 16, 1976: Harold Wilson announces his resignation as Prime Minister and Labour Party leader.
Wilson’s resignation was a disaster for the left in Britain and for British democracy. He was an adroit political operator, (he won four general elections out of five) and had he stayed as Prime Minister and Labour leader he would probably have defeated Margaret Thatcher (see point 2) in the next general election. As it was, Wilson’s successor, James Callaghan, made some key mistakes that led to a long period of Conservative hegemony and the demise of the old British left.
2. May 4, 1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister, following the Conservatives’ win in the general election.
This marked the end of the genuinely progressive post-war consensus and a move to a new kind of politics - one in which elite interests came first. As I argued here, although Mrs Thatcher left power in 1990, her influence lives on; we are all still living in Thatcher’s Britain. Revealingly, Thatcher herself said that New Labour was her greatest achievement. She destroyed socialism, but she also destroyed genuine conservatism too.
3. February 12, 1981: The Times, the leading British establishment newspaper, is bought by hard-right media baron Rupert Murdoch.
Britain‘s newspaper of record, which dated back to 1785, followed a moderate right-of-center political line, but under Murdoch’s ownership, it morphed into a rabid neocon propaganda organ, playing a key role in disseminating the war party’s propaganda, as I highlighted here.
In recent years, the paper has been beyond parody in its relentless pushing of the neocon/fake left agenda, beating the drums of war for western military “intervention” against Iraq, Libya and Syria. It was revealed in 2012 that Rupert Murdoch did meet with Margaret Thatcher a few weeks before the Cabinet committee discussed the mogul’s bid for the Times and Sunday Times. “This direct personal lobbying was critical, as the government had the power to block his acquisition by referring the bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission… the government's subsequent refusal to do so paved the way for the creation of what is easily the largest newspaper group in Britain,” Alan Travis wrote in the Guardian.
4. March 26, 1981: the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Today few people remember the so-called “Gang of Four” - a quartet of right-wing Labour politicians who broke away from the Labour Party in 1981 to form their own party. But the damage they did to the anti-Thatcher cause in Britain was enormous. The SDP crowd helped ensure re-election for Thatcher in 1983. Yes, they “broke the mold” of British politics, but not in a good way as they helped destroy the cause - social democracy - that they claimed to support.
5. March 3, 1985: the defeat of the miners’ strike.
Whatever one’s personal view of Arthur Scargill, the National Union of Mineworkers leader, the defeat of the miners - after a strike lasting one year - undoubtedly had devastating consequences, not just for the miners themselves but for British politics in general. It represented a victory of the forces of finance capital over organized labor and meant that the neo-liberal restructuring of the British economy, which had begun in 1979, could proceed at an even faster rate (see event 6). If the miners had won their battle the Iraq war, the privatization of the railways and “New Labour” would probably have never happened. Far from being a victory for “democracy” the defeat of the miners helped make Britain a less democratic country.
6. 1986: Richard Ingrams stepping down as editor of leading satirical magazine Private Eye.
Peter Cook, the comedian who owned Private Eye, was a true rebel. He once received a telephone call inviting him to a dinner party where Prince Andrew, the son of the Queen, and his bride-to-be Sarah Ferguson would be attending. “Oh, hang on, I’ll just check my diary,” he replied. “On dear, I find I’m watching television that night.” Ingrams was of a similar ilk - a self-described “conservative Christian anarchist” who really didn’t give a damn. But since 1986, under the editorship of Ian Hislop, the leading satirical magazine has become increasingly pro-Establishment; its targets are in general people who the new “Extreme Center” establishment doesn’t like much either, like George Galloway. It’s the pro-war ”left” and their neocon allies who satirists should be attacking - not their opponents, but in Britain today satirists defend the status quo.
7. October 26, 1986. ‘Big Bang’- the Thatcher government’s deregulation of financial markets.
The removal of sensible controls on the City of London ushered in the era of turbo-globalization and meant political power transferred from the ballot box to the new financial elites. Its effects on our democracy have been disastrous. A recent survey showed that almost half of the funds of the Conservative Party come from hedge funds. Before Thatcher’s reforms, Britain was a democracy; after the “Big Bang” it became a bankocracy.
8. January 28, 1987: The removal of Alisdair Milne as Director-General of the BBC.
Seumas Milne, Alisdair’s son, has written about this in depth here. The BBC had to start toeing the line of the “new” establishment in its political programs - and for future BBC executives, Milne’s removal was a warning from the government about lines which should not be crossed. A few months before Milne was pushed out, a former Times Newspapers managing director, Marmaduke Hussey, was appointed as Chairman of the BBC. On the night of Milne’s axing, media journalist Maggie Brown attended a function attended by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“I asked her what she thought of Milne's departure. She looked triumphant, flushed. ‘Talk to the chairman of the BBC,’ she said with a happy smile.”
9. July 21, 1994. Tony Blair’s election as Labour Party leader and the birth of “New Labour.”
Blair made the Labour Party acceptable to the new establishment - he got rid of Clause IV, - the party’s commitment to nationalization, in 1995 - and was rewarded with support from the Murdoch media empire. He led Britain into a series of “military interventions,” all cheered on by neocon/faux-left commentators who by now had become entrenched in the British media. Meanwhile, he ensured that there would be no return to the genuinely progressive post-war economic settlement which had served the interests of the majority of people so well. The railways remained privatized and received more taxpayers subsidies than in the days of British Rail, and PFI (Private Finance Initiative) expanded. The crony capitalists and endless war brigade were delighted that Britain’s Labour Party had been captured.
10. December 18, 2007: The election of Nick Clegg, of the Orange Book faction, as Liberal Democrat leader.
The Liberal Democrats fought the 2005 election on positions to the left of New Labour: they supported re-nationalization of the railways and opposed the Iraq war and still clung to a form of social democracy which Labour, under Blair, had deserted. But in 2007, this party was captured too by the “Extreme Center” with the election of banker’s son and enthusiastic neoliberal Nick Clegg as leader. In office, the Orange Book Lib Dems have carried on with the policies of war and privatization, policies which they were criticizing only a few years earlier. New Labour destroyed Iraq, the Lib Dems have helped destroy Libya and Syria.
What a difference they made! But the neocons and faux-left establishment knew Clegg’s party wouldn’t make a difference, so they were happy for them to come to power.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.