9 March 2006
The story below (L’affaire Berlusconi) was originally sent only to subscribers of the InI Newsletter (see what you’re missing by not subscribing!) but as the media and the government have done such a good job of burying the offending filth that is the Labour government and its corrupt members, I thought I should make it more generally available as well as expanding on it somewhat.
If there has been one single ‘achievement’ of postwar politics in the UK (and more generally in the so-called Western democracies), it has been the destruction of political participation by what used to be called the masses. So for example, the Labour Party has shed perhaps a quarter of a million members since coming to power in 1997.
More generally, we can say that the failure of socialism to attract widespread support has played a significant role in this process, resulting in a cynical fatalism about the ruling political class regardless of its alleged affiliations (ie Labour, Tory).
Yet, the jubilation that accompanied the Labour victory of 1997 pointed to an electorate heartily pissed off with almost 20 years of Tory rule and one that truly believed that a Labour government would bring about real change for the better.
Yet, any analysis of postwar politics in the UK reveals a ‘Labour’ Party firmly wedded to capitalism, albeit with an allegedly ‘human face’. Largely, the Labour Party carried through programmes and policies that a Tory government (until 1979) was unable to, largely because of an organized working class and in spite of a complicit Labour Party.
Exploiting its ‘labour’ credentials, successive Labour governments opened the door to increasingly more right-wing Tory governments. Democracy has been reduced to nothing more than revolving door elections; Labour, Tory, Labour, Tory … ad infinitum … until the Tory Party became surplus to requirement with the Liberal Democrats as an ineffectual ‘safety valve’.
And indeed, this was and is, the crowning ‘success’ of the Blair government. It has pulled off one of the most successful con jobs in the history of politics. In effect, it has run a ‘dual track’ programme by publicly presenting itself as a progressive and ‘modernising’ government, whilst enacting the most reactionary and regressive programmes in its history. It has been able to do this because it has enlisted an entire army of propagandists and ‘wordsmiths’ who have been able to disguise a reactionary and regressive programme and present it to the public as progressive.
Look for example, at what Blair has done to the National Health Service. He has succeeded in privatizing entire segments through the back door, something even Thatcher could not achieve (all she could do was starve it of funding). Yet by dint of effective propaganda, the Labour government has made privatization look like modernization! Nothing is what it seems. Explanations become exercises in circumlocution and confusion. Nobody, reading Labour ‘policy’ on health or education for example, are able to make the slightest sense of their real meaning. Real objectives are buried under layers of jargon and generalities, the real objective only revealed by effects, that is, after a supine parliament has rubber stamped the laws by which time it’s too late.
And by effectively exploiting a moribund Tory Party as the party of a rich and privileged Old Establishment (which undoubtedly it is), it has managed to hide the reality that New Labour is the party of corrupt international corporations and its sleazy ‘nouveau riche’ hangers-on; the ‘New Establishment’.
L’affaire Berlusconi epitomizes this new political class of international capital, one composed of the managerial servants of big business; lawyers, investment bankers, media mavens, and the managers of pharmaceuticals, energy and weapons corporartions. These are, in every sense of the word, the New Imperialists.
But none of it would have been possible without disconnecting the political process which makes democracy work even within the constraints and limitations of capitalism, a process that required firstly, consolidating political power to a tiny handful of rulers, Blair’s Cabinet and its army of ‘advisors’ and secondly, encouraging citizens to concern themselves only with spending and enjoying the ‘good life’ even if it means running up a trillion pounds of credit debts. In fact, all the better as it enslaves the people with invisible chains that bind them tightly to the status quo.
Meanwhile, a duplicitous and cynical political class ably assisted by a clique of media professionals who are in every sense intrinsic to the maintenance of the system, has been able to mask the reality of what has been done to the democratic process.
Instead, we have been presented with a set of phony ‘issues’ all of which are the result of a system that has disempowered entire sections of society and especially young people, the old, the sick, the poor and the under-educated.
Blair’s government, by aligning itself with the lowest common denominator represented by a venal media in the shape of newspapers like the Sun and its owner, Rupert Murdoch (and typified by the likes of Berlusconi), has effectively exploited the frustrated, the alienated and their fears and insecurities.
It is no accident that the corporations closest to Blair’s government are the giant media corporations such as Murdoch’s News Corp and the big energy companies, Shell/BP.
This is what made the L’affaire Berlusconi so dangerous as it had the potential to expose the dirty underbelly of New Labour and its incestuous relationship to gangsters like Berlusconi and sleazoids like Tessa Jowell and her husband David Mills.
For those of you who don’t live here and who are not au fait with the latest scandal to wash like a tide of sewage over the political class of this benighted nation, I’ll try to sum it up as succinctly as possible.
Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary is married to David Mills, a sleazy lawyer who allegedly took a £344,000 bribe from Berlusconi (a former client/associate), the PM of Italy in exchange for testimony that would help exonerate Berlusconi from corruption charges he is facing.
So first the bribe, sorry, the ‘gift’, went through around half a dozen different bank accounts/companies scattered around the planet before ending up in the UK. But how to get it into the grasping hands of Jowell’s husband? They (or, according to Mills, just him) decide to take a second mortgage out on their north London house for £400,000, pocket the cash and use the bribe, sorry, ‘gift’, money to pay off the loan.
Brilliant except the Italian lawyers are not only investigating Berlusconi but also Jowell’s sleazy lawyer-husband and they leak a bunch of incriminating documents to the press about Mills’ activities including a written admission by Mills’ that he had lied like crazy to try and get Berlusconi off the hook.
Mills calls the 344,000 big ones a “gift” and says that he only described it as a bribe in order to “get tax advice” from his accountants. Believe that and you’ll also believe the following ‘explanation’ of the original letter he wrote as sounding:
“completely ridiculous”, adding: “It’s excruciating – you couldn’t make it up.”
The problem is, he did. Prosecutors in Milan allege the payment was to ensure Mr Mills kept quiet during two Berlusconi corruption trials.
In part, the original letter to his accountants said:
“I kept in close touch with the B[erlusconi] people… they also knew quite how much the way in which I had been able to give my evidence (I told no lies, but I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly) had kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew.” ‘Jowell’s husband in gift row,’ February 19, 2006. observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,,1713145,00.html?gusrc=rss
(As a ‘media’ aside, the BBC claims to have published the full text of this letter, but this and other sections are missing from the BBC story. Go figure. See ‘Full text: David Mills’ letter’, 27 February, 2006. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4757248.stm and compare to the Guardian story above)
When the story broke, Jowell’s problem was that she had show that she had no involvement with her hubby’s dirty dealings as the house is in both their names. Questions of conflict of interest arose.
She maintains that she signed documents on the mortgage but apparently without asking her old man where the £344,000 came from. One has to imagine them sitting around and her old man slips her a bunch of documents and casually asks her to put her John Hancock on them, ‘Sure, she says, no problem, where do I sign?’. No questions asked. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘ships passing in the night’. Under government rules, ministers should declare any “gifts” made to their spouses, to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.
It emerged that Mr Mills regularly took it upon himself to inform the permanent secretary at the DCMS of changes in his business positions, including his range of up to 60 directorships.
He did not, however, think it necessary to inform civil servants of the mortgage he took out jointly with his wife that was then swiftly paid back by cash from an offshore trust.
The couple took out five separate mortgages on their home in what looks like a device to raise cash quickly to capitalise on investment opportunities. politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,,1720470,00.html
Last week, in an effort to clear Jowell’s name, she was ‘investigated’ (I use the word extremely loosely) by the Cabinet secretary who then handed over his ‘investigation’ to Blair, who cleared her of any wrong-doing. Talk about the fox guarding the hen-house!
The Ministerial Code, for what it’s worth, says in part:
“Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the Code and for justifying their actions and conduct in Parliament. The Code is not a rulebook and nor is it the role of the Secretary to the Cabinet or other officials to enforce it or to investigate Ministers although they may provide Ministers with private advice on matters which it covers”.
The so-called code is a complete farce. The Cabinet secretary had around 24 hours to ‘investigate’ l’affaire Berlusconi. Imagine trying to track the movements of money through a slew of front companies, that experienced forensic accountants would be hard-pressed to follow and then to link it to Jowells’ knowledge or lack thereof, of where the money came from and whether she knew about it.
But not surprisingly, the dirt would not wash off Jowell, so this weekend, Jowell and her hubby decided to ‘part ways’ and he buggered off to parts unknown.
And again, not surprisingly, Mills says that “he is disgusted by claims the marriage split is a sham,” telling the Times that “The idea that people could decide on a separation for contrived reasons – it’s just not how human beings behave.” Oh really?
Various and sundry Labour government hacks have jumped to her defence including the awful Margaret Beckett who said that Jowell should “tough it out” as she is facing a “witch-hunt”. Strong words indeed.
Perhaps worse still are the actions of the Home Office who were approached by the Italian prosecutors about getting Mills extradited to Italy to face tax fraud and money-laundering charges. Instead, they passed all the information on to the Italian Embassy in London! On the face of it, it looks like the Home Office are complicit in an attempt to derail the investigation. Remember that Blair and Berlusconi are real buddies.
The Home Office said:
“In late 2004 the Serious Fraud Office received a request from the Milan prosecutor for legal advice about the circumstances in which David Mills could be extradited under UK law, based upon possible charges against him. The request was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service who took legal advice which was passed by the Home Office to the Italian embassy in May 2005 since extradition requests are normally handled on diplomatic channels.”
The Home office, when asked about why it been passed on to the Italian Embassy in London said that if prosecutors could request extradition it would lead to:
“circumstances no one would tolerate,” No 10 said. – ‘Jowell inquiry will not extend to Home Office’ politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,,1720742,00.html?gusrc=rss
You bet! Understandably, the Italian prosecutors were pretty pissed off with what they saw as Home Office interference in their attempts to extradite Mills. They allege that Home Office officials had “spread reserved information among a large number of people” and thus compromised their investigation, an allegation that the Home Office of course denies.
L’affaire Berlusconi is just the latest in a long list of sleazy goings-on that reveals a cynical ruling class that long ago abandoned any pretence at representing the citizens and a labour government that is in bed with big capital in a big way. Cosy relationships such as the one Blair has with Berlusconi, darling of the Italian neo-fascists, typify a government that knows that by and large the British electorate have turned off mainstream politics almost entirely, judging that no matter what their views are (unless they coincide with Blair’s neo-liberal position), they’ll be completely ignored.
Rest assured, that what we have learned over the past two weeks is only the tip of the iceberg but don’t hold your breath for the MSM to dig too deeply into the cesspit that is the Labour government.