Serious Fraud Office – serious law-breakers!

Today’s News Line editorial:

The needs of profit making are a higher morality than bourgeois law
THE High Court yesterday ruled that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully by dropping a corruption inquiry into a £43bn Saudi arms deal.

Since the Office had been directed by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in this matter, the implication of the judgement is that the Prime Minister and the Attorney General both broke the law and should pay the price for doing so.

Goldsmith and Blair both maintained that the continuation of the inquiry into allegations that BAE Systems paid hundreds of millions of pounds in bribes to members of the Saudi Royal family to secure a major military contract, would have caused ‘serious damage’ to UK-Saudi relations and, in turn, threatened national security, and thousands of British jobs.

It is alleged that the Saudi monarchy threatened the British government with the cancellation of the contract should the inquiry go ahead, and that they might look the other way if they came across an Al-Qaeda plot to attack British interests.

Yesterday, the Judiciary allowed the challenge made by Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) with Lord Justice Moses, saying that the director of the SFO had failed to assure them that everything had been done to meet the rule of law and that ‘No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice.’

He added: ‘It is the failure of government and the defendant to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court.’

For its part, the Serious Fraud Office said it had no further comment, but was ‘carefully’ considering the implications of the judgement.

Enthusiasts of the bourgeois law will now be expecting the Serious Fraud Office to reopen the inquiry, while it passes a file to the Metropolitan Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the issue and see whether the Crown should take action against Blair and Goldsmith.

Indeed there is a case for alleging that the very religious Blair and his supporter Goldsmith are repeat offenders, since both were involved in the declaration of an illegal war against Iraq, after Goldsmith finally gave the legal advice that an aggressive war on Iraq was legal, despite the fact that it was not supported by the United Nations.

However it will not be very long before we obtain more proof that, as the cases of the war on Iraq and the dropping of the serious fraud inquiry into the BAE deal prove , the needs of the bourgeoisie to make super profits, and allegedly to give bribes to be able to do so, make for a higher and more vital form of bourgeois morality than the strictures of bourgeois law.

There is not the slightest chance of the Serious Fraud Office reopening the inquiry into the alleged bribes given to the Saudi Royal Family.

Neither is there the slightest chance of Blair and Goldsmith being arraigned as repeat offenders as far as the bourgeois law on fraud and war are concerned.

The more likely alternative is that the House of Commons will pass legislation that will retrospectively clear those that are being accused of law breaking.

As far as the bourgeoisie is concerned – while bourgeois law can hold sway as a source of debate, and as some sort of surface decoration for profit hungry capitalism – without bribery and corruption of all kinds, world trade and the bourgeois order would grind to a halt.

The battle cry will go up to the learned judges, ‘Get Real,’ while the more religious participants in the drama will go to their parish priests for confession and then absolution, before carrying on with the work in hand.

Capitalism is a very dirty business, and it will take more than a few judgements to clear the muck out of its Augean stables. In fact, this task requires a socialist revolution.

Miliblair’s defence of Empire and its alien laws

David Milibland… What would your father think if he could see you now?

The erstwhile Harry Potter lookalike has been inviting journalists for a chat about his big speech, a defence of the use of pre-emptive armed force, which he delivered last night.

Now I found particularly interesting his comments in The Guardian:

“After the end of the cold war it was tempting to believe in the ‘end of history’ – the inevitable process of liberal democracy and capitalist economics. Now with the economic success of China, we can no longer take the forward march of democracy for granted.”

In the second sentence he doesn’t include the forward march of capitalist economics. Now, China is now a capitalist power – but the fear for British and American elites is that China’s position as an alternative trader (for African nations, etc) will mean that not only will profits be denied, but alternative models of development may become easier for poor countries to pursue.

As the Stop The War Coalition have said, it’s a shame that the forward march of hundreds of thousands of people five years ago were not heeded by Miliband and company…

The purpose of Milibliar’s speech was to rebrand the invasion and occupation of countries by the US – with Britain tagging along – as being morally justified because it’s about “spreading democracy”.

The US oil companies getting access to Iraqi oil-fields was just a coincidence, then? And anyway, wasn’t the argument for invading Iraq based on the threat of WMDs?

Hmm. If he’s for democracy, perhaps Miliblair would like to spread a little here at home, and persuade Brown to let us have a vote on the EU consti-treaty? Or hold the promised general election?

On a similar theme (you’ll understand if you read it), Chris Bambery comments in this week’s Socialist Worker on the racist backlash that accompanied the Archbishop’s speech:

Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a lecture last week on the Islamic tradition of sharia law and its relationship to the law in Britain.

His comments were unremarkable as these things go – but they triggered a week long racist backlash in the press.

The Sun’s readers are now being asked to “Bash the Bishop” – though the paper’s current campaign would perhaps be better titled “Bash the Muslims”.

For what began as an attack on the archbishop of Canterbury has shifted rapidly – and with grim inevitability – into a yet another assault on Britain’s two million Muslims.

Former home secretary David Blunkett joined the fray on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He laid into “well-meaning liberals” who “believe that we have to accommodate something which is external to our country”.

The logic of Blunkett’s position is chilling. If Islam is an “external” religion then Britain’s Muslims – who are overwhelmingly from ethnic minority backgrounds – do not properly belong in Britain.

This is only a breath away from the old racist slogan of the 1970s, “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”.

Kelvin McKenzie, the Sun’s former editor, appeared on a Sunday morning BBC show denouncing Islam as a “medieval” religion and slating its mistreatment of women – this from a man who introduced topless darts to our television screens.

The subtext to much of this argument is that Christianity is more “enlightened” than Islam.

Except that while the Catholic church was burning people at the stake for the outrageous suggestion that the earth might rotate round the sun, Islamic Europe in Spain and Sicily helped establish science and medicine.

Another common argument from the bigots was the fate that would allegedly befall the archbishop if he were to preach in Saudi Arabia. This ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the US and Britain.

Our leaders defend its royal rulers to the hilt, lavishing arms on them and greasing their palms with dollars and sterling to secure contracts.

Tony Blair went so far as to describe Saudi Arabia as “a friend of the civilised world” and justified its ban on trade unions and use of judicial torture as “their culture, their way of life”.

The media hysteria was quick to branch out from sharia into a wider attack on anything deemed “Islamic”.

Last weekend the Independent on Sunday ran a front page headline claiming there were 17,000 “honour” crimes against women in Britain each year. The picture was of a Muslim woman in a veil, just in case anybody missed the point.

The sources for this tale were some highly dubious extrapolated statistics provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers – an institution hardly famed for its unflinching support for women’s rights.

The Independent’s story focused solely on Muslim cases of domestic violence. Nowhere did it mention that two women are killed each week in Britain by a current or former partner – and the vast majority of these are non-Muslims.

Judicial

Then came the Sunday Times headline, “Minister warns of ‘inbred’ Muslims”. This followed Phil Woolas, the environment minister, claiming that arranged marriages between first cousins in the Pakistani population were responsible for creating “genetic problems”.

This whole furore is not about theology or the judicial system. First and foremost, it’s about racism. The powers that be have proclaimed Islam to be an “inferior” religion and civilisation. And the constant tirade of Islamophobia they unleash translates into everyday bigotry and daily attacks on Muslims.

Behind this outpouring of hate is the “war on terror” led by the US and Britain. And some of the Muslim-bashing commentators are at least explicit about this link.

Matthew d’Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph writes, “We are at war with fundamentalist Islam… British troops are risking their lives against Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq and Afghanistan… Could [Williams] have chosen a worse geopolitical context in which to call for the official incorporation of sharia rules into the law of the land?”

Ever since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were first posed as a “clash of civilisation”, as a decades long crusade of Western “democracy” against Muslim “totalitarianism”, Islamophobia has slowly dripped into the body politic of the US, Britain and other countries.

Here in Britain this means longer detention without charge or access to a lawyer, the bugging of defendants, increased stop and search under terror laws and constant demands on the Muslim population to prove their loyalty to a state that treats them like dirt.

We see constant US and British wars and occupations, unflinching support for oppressive regimes such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, the demonisation of Islam paraded endlessly through our media. All this is guaranteed to breed simmering anger across the globe.

The alternative is to demonstrate that Muslims and non-Muslims stand together in rejecting this “war on terror”, the assault on our civil liberties and the Islamphobic slanders.

The anti-war demonstrations on 15 March should be a showcase for our response to George Bush, Gordon Brown and their ideological crusaders.

Also in the SWP’s paper this week, here’s Richard Seymour (of Lenin’s Tomb) on the alien laws of our ruling class:

The newspapers are terrified. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has raised the suggestion that some forms of sharia law be introduced as a means of “constructive accommodation” with British Muslims.

The Sun raised the prospect of “medieval punishments” being inflicted on Britons, and complained that Williams was “giving heart to Muslim terrorists plotting our destruction”.

The Telegraph explained to its readers that sharia is associated with “amputation of limbs, death by stoning or lashes” for such crimes as theft. Perhaps the Telegraph is concerned about its former proprietor, the convicted fraudster Lord Conrad Black. On their account, if he had been tried under sharia law he wouldn’t have a limb left on his body.

However, even liberal opinion is expressing concern, arguing that Muslim women will experience reduced freedom if religious courts are allowed to adjudicate in matters of family life.

There is a further implication that what is proposed is somehow “alien”. This is “a Christian country with Christian laws”, according to the national director of the right wing pressure group Christian Voice. And Gordon Brown has conceded to this nationalist sentiment, arguing that “British law should be based on British values”.

The scare stories have little to do with what is actually proposed. The archbishop called for allowances to be made for the practice of sharia law within the confines of English law, on a limited basis and with the mutual consent of everyone affected.

He argued, quite correctly, that there is a diversity of interpretation among Muslim jurists about what sharia entails, and endorsed the liberal variants. He pointed out that Britain already has separate arrangements for other religious communities. Orthodox Jews are entitled to work out some of their arrangements in a rabbinical court. Muslims can already choose to have disputes settled privately under sharia law. And there are already sharia-compliant products and services operating in Britain, for instance in banking.

So the hysteria is not really about anything Rowan Williams actually said. It is an expression of the Islamophobia that has been cultivated in the West as an obnoxious cultural counterpart to the “war on terror”.

Meanwhile, the tabloids are several centuries behind on this scoop – Britain already has a system of alien laws. It is maintained in large part by right wing bigots in outlandish medieval costumes, such as the “law lords” or the “privy council”.

Drawn from a ruling class with an alien culture – and values that most of us don’t share – our overseers in wigs and cloaks have always been rather fond of telling us how to live.

They tell us who we can have sex with, and have even been given to legislating on what kind of sex we can have; under what conditions we may be married and to whom, and when we may divorce; what we can protest about, when and for how long; when we can strike, and for what we may strike; what we can consume, and where we can consume it.

Whether outlawing homosexuality, restricting abortion, or regulating the ingestion of recreational substances, these laws have never had anything to do with the values of ordinary people.

For example, at the moment, the state is considering restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion. This campaign is being driven by right wing anti-abortionists such as Ann Widdecombe MP.

The fact that state control of the female body has resulted in the deaths of women in backstreet abortions doesn’t stop these people calling themselves “pro-life” – but they represent a minority of the British people, and certainly a minority of women.

As usual, the trouble with the archbishop of Canterbury is not that he “went too far”, but that he didn’t go far enough. He rightly challenges the state’s monopoly on public identity, but does so primarily in order to carve out a larger space for religious power.

One of Rowan Williams’s political interventions in 2007 was to co-author a letter to the prime minister asking that Catholic adoption agencies be exempted from regulation that would compel them to consider gay people as adoptees. To put it another way – he asked the state to guarantee the Catholic church’s right to operate homophobic policies.

In the case of sharia law, on one level Williams isn’t asking the state to withdraw, but to get more involved in the regulation of religious and personal life. He suggests that certain forms of Islam are more acceptable than others – and that those variants ought to be encouraged and recognised by the state.

It is quite right that Muslims should have the same rights that any other religious group has – but the best way to ensure that is for the state to keep out of our moral lives. And a good first move in that direction would be to divest the Church of England of its peculiar privileges and authority.

The home secretary’s obstruction of justice over corruption inquiry

[Friday]

Someone’s obstrucing a criminal investigation.

Who could it be?

Well, it’s definitely not that new (ish) Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who is in charge of this sort of thing. We can rule her out, can’t we?

Oh, no. Actually, it is her.

British ministers are refusing to cooperate with the US criminal investigation into allegations of corruption against BAE, Britain’s biggest arms company, the Guardian can disclose.
More than two months after an official request for mutual legal assistance (MLA) was received from Washington, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, has not yet allowed it to be acted upon. The US investigators believe the British are being obstructive.

But legal sources said yesterday that the inquiry team had not been deterred by the UK government’s hostile attitude. Some have already begun taking statements from key British witnesses.

How awkward. And King Abdullah’s visiting next month…

The formal request for assistance came from the US department of justice earlier in the summer, but Ms Smith has refused to pass it on to the Serious Fraud Office for processing in the normal way.

This is unusual behaviour towards a major ally, with whom legal cooperation is normally automatic. Last night, the Home Office said its failure to pass on the request was “not unprecedented”, but could not give any example of similar behaviour.

It’s not often that the British government refuses to co-operate with the US authorities. In fact, I think this is a first.

I wonder if the UK government will similarly refuse to co-operate with the US government in the coming war with Iran?

The SFO possesses important files on BAE gained from its own major inquiry into £1bn of payments to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia and other Swiss bank accounts linked to the Saudi royal family. But SFO investigators are not allowed to speak to US authorities until Home Office officials forward the paperwork.

The agency was forced to halt a criminal investigation earlier this year by the then prime minister Tony Blair, who said it threatened the national interest and was upsetting the Saudi regime.

National interest had to be the excuse, not “British jobs” (which we know the government doesn’t care about). Supposedly the Saudis would allow terror attacks to take place in the UK or against British forces in the Middle East…

Last week, Saudi Arabia signed a fresh arms deal with Gordon Brown’s administration worth up to £20bn for BAE’s Typhoon aircraft.

The Saudis had been threatening to withdraw from the contract.

The real motive for obstructing justice?

The government wants to secure BAE’s profits; it is the servant of big business. That’s why New Labour has kept secret the details of Thatcher’s al-Yamamah deal and is rather coy about when and where the latest deal took place. As for British jobs, a majority of the work will take place in Saudi Arabia. State monopoly capitalism, y’all.

Not all of BAE’s shareholders are happy at what’s going on, mind:

A fresh front against BAE was opened yesterday, when shareholders in the US launched a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the company’s directors accusing them of corruption. A spokesman for BAE, which is 50% owned by US shareholders and holds lucrative contracts with the Pentagon, said: “The company intends to vigorously defend any such proceedings.”

Prince Bandar, who is also named as a defendant, has not denied receiving cash and a free gift of an aeroplane, but he says it was for legitimate purposes.

Other defendants named in the US suit include former Conservative defence secretary Michael Portillo, who was given a post on BAE’s board after helping negotiate an arms deal with Qatar; Sir Nigel Rudd, who recently joined BAE’s board as a non-executive director; and Sir Dick Evans, the original architect of the £43bn al-Yamamah arms deal at the centre of the allegations.

The Washington claim has been made in the name of a small pension fund, the City of Harper Woods employees’ retirement system, which only holds the equivalent of 14,000 BAE shares, less than 1% of the company’s stock. But it is intended that other US shareholders will join in.

The suit claims that BAE’s directors have wrecked the company’s reputation and exposed it to heavy fines and penalties, by conniving at “improper and/or illegal bribes, kickbacks and other payments”, while claiming all the while in public that BAE was a “highly ethical, law-abiding corporation”.

Greenspan spills the beans on Iraq and the UK economy

[Monday]

I know Alan Greenspan has a book out, but telling the truth like this is indecent:

the former head of the US Federal Reserve, says oil was the primary motive for the Iraq war.

Mr Greenspan, one of America’s most respected elder statesmen, said it was politically inconvenient to acknowledge the fact.

No shit. This result of that political inconvenience was hardly splashed across the front pages of all of the newspapers last week:

The British polling agency ORB reported Thursday that the death toll in Iraq since the 2003 US invasion has passed the one million mark.

According to ORB, US-occupied Iraq, with an estimated 1.2 million violent deaths, has “a murder rate that now exceeds the Rwanda genocide from 1994 (800,000 murdered),” with another one million wounded and millions more driven from their homes into internal or external exile.

But wait, there’s more from Greenspan:

The 81-year-old economist, an adviser to Gordon Brown, insists that the recent increases in house prices – particularly those in London and the South East – are unsustainable.

“There are going to be some difficulties,” he has said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. “Can [the boom] last? No.

“You’re already beginning to see the mortgage rates are moving, a lot of the two-year fixes are beginning to unwind, and the teaser rates are going,” he adds, referring to mortgages where rates jump after an introductory period.

He says that banks are already being forced to write off billions of pounds of debt.

“It’s going to turn, it’s got to turn,” he warns.

Mr Greenspan also believes that Britain is more vulnerable to the effects of the credit crunch than the US.

“Britain is more exposed than we are – in the sense that you have a good deal more adjustable-rate mortgages,” he says, referring to the standard variable rate loans that many households have chosen over fixed-rate deals.

More exposed?

Apparently so:

As Charles Dumas of Lombard Street Research put it: “Britain is threatened by its position as globalisation’s epicentre. Any seize-up of global financial markets affects London and the British economy more than any other. Lower real incomes combined with tight monetary conditions, and the overhang of a very high exchange rate, could hammer growth during 2008.”

And as for that run on Northern Rock

Chancellor Darling had told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that the money of Northern Rock depositors was safe.

‘If people want to get their money out of Northern Rock bank, they can do it. The money is there and it is backed by the Bank of England so they can get it,’ he said.

Savers took him at his word and got their money out of the bank while it was still there.

Chancellor Darling and Prime Minister Gordon Brown met US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson yesterday afternoon to discuss Paulson’s concerns that a de-industrialised Britain, whose City of London has an inflated economic importance, was far more vulnerable to the threat of financial collapse than was even the United States.

The meeting came after a grim warning given to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-Federal Reserve Bank chairman, Greenspan.

He warned that inflation would double in Britain in the coming years and that the Bank of England was heading for a double digit interest rate as in Black Wednesday 1992.

This was when hundreds of thousands of homeowners were savaged in the aftermath of a massive run on sterling that forced it out of the EU Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Greenspan’s remarks were on the eve of today’s decision by the US Federal Reserve bank Chairman Bernanke, whether to cut its interest rate as is being demanded and risk a run on the dollar, or keep it as it is and see further mortgage bank collapses.

The two British banks who were interested in acquiring the beleaguered Northern Rock bank have meanwhile got cold feet after they were overcome by their fears about doing such a dodgy deal amid such chaos in the money markets.

They also found that raising money from other banks and financial institutions proved to be impossible.

Meanwhile, the London stock market was 106 points down at 1 pm yesterday, with share prices falling by £25 billion.

Banking shares have fallen across Europe, but none as bad as Northern Rock, which is sure to slide again tomorrow, despite the government guaranteeing all savings (alas, this has no legal substance).

Bad news for the six thousand employees of Northern Rock whose jobs may sink with the bank. Staff are facing added pressure as a result of frustrated customers.

And what of the (mainstream) politics of this crisis?

Conservative leader David Cameron has said the government has mishandled the crisis, arguing that the chancellor’s appeal for banks to lend responsibly had come too late.

“The government has presided over a huge expansion of public and private debt without showing awareness of the risks involved,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Vincent Cable, speaking at the party’s conference in Brighton, said: “The British economy may have been reasonably successful but it is also highly fallible.

“The house that Gordon Built may not be built on sand but it has certainly been built on a floodplain.

“The water is now pouring through the defences after the near collapse of Northern Rock; a product of greed and reckless gambling by overpaid executives; lax, indulgent bank regulation; and a complacent government. I warned Gordon Brown of a looming debt crisis four years ago.”

First of all, New Labour has been doing what the Tories started, in terms of financialisation and de-industrialisation, and the Liberals have colluded with Labour for years…

Good news for BAE, however:

Saudi Arabia is to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets BAE Systems, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.

The deal is worth about £4.4bn but contracts for maintainance and training are expected to take the bill to £20bn.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) dropped a probe last year into a sale of jets to the Saudis in the 1980s.

The UK government said this was on national security grounds, but reports said the Saudis had threatened to pull out if the probe went ahead.

And as if to prove that it’s all about profits, the jets will apparently be built for the most part in Saudi Arabia… so much for the claims about “British jobs”.

Credit crunching and war profiteering

So, the markets have had the jitters again, what with the credit crunch fears – or mortgage concerns, as it is polite to call them – and the European Central Bank has intervened in the banking sector:

The latest trigger for the slump was an announcement by French bank BNP Paribas that it was suspending three investment funds worth 2bn euros (£1.35bn) because of problems with the US sub-prime mortgage sector.

Sub-prime lenders offer loans to consumers with a poor credit history.

In recent months, the number of loan defaults has increased because of higher interest rates, raising concerns that the wobble in the housing market will affect other parts of the economy and then start hurting other nations.

The worry is that should banks make losses then it would hurt their earnings and their profitability making them less willing to fund the takeovers and buyouts that have underpinned much of the stock markets’ recent gains.

[…]

At the same time, banks have suddenly started charging significantly more for the money they lend to each other, signalling that they are looking to limit their risks, analysts said.

In response, the European Central Bank (ECB) said on Thursday that it had pumped 95bn euros into the eurozone banking market to allay fears about a credit crunch and lack of liquidity.

The move represented the ECB’s single largest intervention in the banking sector since the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001.

Calling it a “fine-tuning operation”, the ECB made the money in the form of loans, an offer taken up by 49 banks and other financial institutions.

In the US, the Federal Reserve, also was reported to have taken similar action, pumping about $24bn (£12bn) into the US banking system.

Analysts said that a credit crunch – when it becomes harder for banks, companies and consumers to get access to loans and cash to run their operations – was a serious occurrence that could lead to a recession.

[…]

Speaking after a meeting with his top economic advisers, President Bush acknowledged there had been “disquiet” on Wall Street over the housing slump.

Good news for the war profiteers, though:

Work to re-equip UK and US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has helped profits to soar at defence group BAE Systems.

The UK’s largest defence firm, BAE made a pre-tax profit of £657m ($1.4bn), compared with £378m a year earlier.

BAE said the “high tempo” of UK and US military operations was increasing demand for land systems to support armed forces overseas.

BAE, which is facing an anti-corruption probe by US authorities, saw its half-year revenues rise by 10%.

The firm said its sales had benefited from its US operations, which achieved organic sales growth of 12% during the period.

Overall sales at BAE’s Land & Armaments business, which includes everything from tanks to munitions, rose 43%.

Corruption scandal

BAE is facing accusations of illegal payments to secure military orders from Saudi Arabia, although the company denies any wrongdoing.

While an investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office was halted in March after the government said it would harm national security, the US Department of Justice is moving ahead with its own inquiry.

Last month, BAE greatly expanded its US operations through the £2.2bn takeover of US military manufacturer Armor Holdings.

Armor is a leading manufacturer of mine-resistant armoured vehicles – thousands more of which are due to be bought by the Pentagon for use in Iraq.

Thatcher & sons

[Thursday]

Last night I watched the documentary Tracking Down Maggie by the inimitable Nick Broomfield. The film, made in 1994, concerns the attempt by Broomfield to secure an interview with Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, as she tours the world promoting a book about her time in power.

Alongside this chase by Broomfield is an exposition of the early years of Thatcher, her relationship with her two children, and most importantly, her connections with the arms industry. Not just her connection, her son Mark was (and is?) heavily involved also – and this is years before he got entangled in attempted coup d’etat – and was perhaps involved in the sale of arms to Iraq.

The film has a rather slow pace – indeed, there was a premature voice-over by the announcer, informing the audience of the programme to follow – but I don’t think it has dated too much, despite the absence of Mark Thatcher’s latter troubles with the law in South Africa. Broomfield cannot be blamed for not including future events, but if ever he has the time to update the film, I hope he is able to include footage of Carol Thatcher eating the genitalia of a kangaroo. The cheap shot would be that clip of her pissing in the jungle, but I don’t dislike the woman, and neither does Broomfield, so I hope he lets it slide.

For a bit of background, Broomfield interviews Christopher Hitchens (ahem) who seems to be completely sober, before he opens his mouth, and Francis Wheen (ahem again) who cannot sing to save his soul, may God bless it, though he can tinkle the ivories well enough. The Hitch delivers an anecdote about Thatcher’s sexiness – early evidence of his alcohol problems – and Wheen sings the song of his old school, which he attended with Mark Thatcher.

The appearance of these two ex-leftists amused me. They were leftists at the time, I suppose, though it is such a slow transition that it is hard to demarcate accurately. The Hitch went on to become a fan (and drinking buddy?) of George W. Bush and a keen supporter of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Wheen has been a little more cautious in this respect – by which, I don’t think he’s actually given the numbskull a pep-talk. Wheen lost my favour (not that he’d be all that bothered) when he came out in support for the “humanitarian intervention” in the former Yugoslavia; nowadays he flirts with the cruise missile left, which is grouped around the Euston Manifesto.

I am not aware if Wheen is still an adherent of Karl Marx, and to be honest, I do not care to find out. He wrote a book on Das Kapital not so long ago, which leads me to suspect he has some remaining interest in Marxist economic theory, but if I recall correctly he loathes Lenin, and so does not care much for imperialism in theory, though he does like the praxis.

Hitchens is now to the right of his brother Peter, who is a Christian traditionalist, and an opponent of the wars in the Middle East. It was the older brother who led young Peter into the Socialist Workers Party, and probably marched him out again. The experience has made no positive impact – Peter is a Tory and Christopher is a wino. Let it be said that I have great respect for Peter these days; he seems a lot saner compared to his elder brother, opposing as he does the wars, the police state measures, and the creation of a centralised European state.

In the documentary, Broomfield highlights the pride which Thatcher has in her spearheading of the Falklands’ War, and fits it into the narrative of the increased productivity and profitability in the arms industry. He fails to contrast this huge growth with the rest of the manufacturing industry, which has been in managed decline for the last three decades. As John Pilger stressed in his documentary on the arms industry, the Tories oversaw the militarisation of the British economy in the eighties.

This trend continues: Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, announced the purchase of two new aircraft carriers yesterday; costing £3.8bn, the construction of the vessels will secure and create a total of ten thousand jobs. These are the figures alleged by New Labour, of course, and thus should be taken with a handful of salt. Another tough and populist announcement was Gordon Brown’s the creation of a border police force – this was debunked immediately, as there was no announcement of additional officers to make up this new force.

The linkage of “defence” and employment does not wash, though. For example, witness the unanimity of opinion against the renewal of Trident in Scotland, despite its supposed employment opportunities. Just as there is no appetite for the revival of military conquest by Britain – to the contrary, support is growing for the disbandment of the British state – few but the defence contractors are keen on a helping of aircraft carriers, no matter how large.

Most people consider that it is far better to concentrate on reviving the productive economy rather than boosting the destructive economy, which is already obscenely bloated.

Brown proves that he is but a physical change from Blair, for the same policies remain in place on a whole host of issues; there was never any chance that Brown would “lurch to the left”, or even meander away from the right by accident. Okay, the super-casinos are out and Brown’s seeking fifty-six rather than ninety days detention – but is that a real change?

Groups and individuals call vainly for a new approach. Yesterday the Federation of Small Businesses called upon the government to intervene in the postal strike, alerting the world of the knock on effects of disrupted services as private sector mail companies are not interested in SMEs. I would support action by the government, on the side of the postal workers, naturally – but this is as likely to happen as Blair being carried through blissful crowds in the West Bank and Gaza.

The government sees the dispute with Royal Mail as key to ensuring that wage demands are kept lower than inflation – as Brown says, “pay settlements must tackle inflation” – and that the Post Office is privatised. Meanwhile, Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton has been secretly planning to buy BHS, the department store of which he is also chairman; still, Leighton must be hard pressed by inflation, if he has to do more than one job…

Brown doesn’t care about the forty thousand postal workers who will be sacked under the suicidal business plan of the Royal Mail mismanagement; he only mentioned the number of jobs created by the purchase of new arms carriers because they have no other practical use for working people. The strength of support for a public postal service can be gauged by the Department of Work and Pensions, which dumped Royal Mail in favour of UK Mail earlier this year.

British arms in Saudi hands

[Tuesday]

Ah, corruption. The BBC has aired some of the British government’s dirty laundry. Sensing the weakness of the New Labour administration, journalists within the Beeb have revisited the dodgy dealings of BAE, the British state, and Saudi Arabia. Profiteering, bribery, and weapons of mass destruction… Here’s a story that exemplifies “British values”.

Broadcasting British Corruption
Last night, an edition of long-running current affairs series Panorama aired on BBC One. Nothing unusual there, you might suppose: it happens every week on Monday at 8:30pm, while the series is on. But this edition actually dealt with current affairs – namely, the Al-Yamamah arms deal signed in 1985. Yes, no one lost their temper with Scientologists this week. And the topic is embarrassing for the government.

The documentary revealed that the British Ministry of Defence was directly involved in paying bribes to foreign officials on behalf of a defence firm. Jane Corbin’s report was much anticipated: details of the scandal have appeared in the Guardian and the BBC’s Nick Robinson asked Prime Minister Blair about the matter at the G8 summit in Germany. Though protagonists have all protested their innocence, it’s not over yet.

Kickback and relax
The British arms manufacturer BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace, is accused of paying bribes totalling £1 billion to Prince Bandar in return for assistance in securing a £43 billion deal with Saudi Arabia. Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the United States and during his tenure he acquired the nickname Bandar Bush because of his closeness to the American political dynasty.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith is accused of covering up BAE’s corruption and helping to put an end to the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation in to the arms giant’s dealings in Saudi Arabia. Goldsmith called a halt to the probe in December 2006, when it appeared that the Swiss were about to disclose the banking records of Saudi royals.

Prior to this, the Attorney General had backed the inquiry, and the SFO is still investigating deals BAE made with Chile, the Czech Republic, Romania, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Call off the search
The official reason giving for putting an end to the SFO inquiry into BAE’s dealings with Saudi Arabia was that it was “not in the national interest”.

The implication was that were the SFO to dig up dirt on the Saudi royal family’s involvement in corruption, they would end their co-operation in counter-terrorism and would not purchase BAE’s new Eurofighter – costing jobs, and possibly even lives. Key to this would be Prince Bandar, who is now in charge of Saudi national security…

The OECD criticised the move, citing its Anti-Bribery Convention, to which the UK is a signatory, which states that diplomatic and economic interests are to be disregarded when investigating alleged corruption. The British government has long lectured poor countries on the need for a strong anti-corruption stance – in future, they will have the BAE case thrown back in their faces.

Ethics? Isn’t that a county in England?
BAE has laid off hundreds of its agents, many of whom are armed forces or work in the security industry. It was reported that the arms company had set up an independent ethics committee led by Lord Woolf, the former Chief Justice of England and Wales, to investigate the conduct of the company.

If true, this is a face-saving measure – and it is better for BAE that it investigates itself than going through the courts, after all. Supposedly, more famous worthies from the legal establishment will join Woolf.

It will be interesting to hear what an ethics committee of an arms company will say: the ethic central to capitalism is maximise profits. They could have asked Lord Woolf to chair a legality committee…

Signature tune
The British government signed the Al-Yamamah arms deal in 1985, and the “commissions” paid to Prince Bandar (and other members of his family) appear to have been written into the contract. The Saudis pay more than the weaponry is worth and skimming is built into the transaction. It’s nothing strange; in any other circumstance it would be called profit.

There’s more dirt to be dug up here: the son of Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister when the deal was signed, has long been linked to alleged corruption. Say no more. Mark Thatcher has been involved in shady business in the past, including a coup plot against an oil-rich African state.

The current British Prime Minister is rumoured to be about to fly to Saudi Arabia to sign a new arms deal; the revelations in Jane Corbin’s Panorama report mean that any visit would be awkward for Tony Blair and his successor. But then, Blair has a lot of dirty work to do for his on-off enemy and co-creator of New Labour, Gordon Brown – an unpopular EU treaty, for one. Blair will be putting his name to many things that Brown supports, but cannot be seen supporting.

“The dove of peace”
The justification for selling armaments to Saudi Arabia, a country with a pitiful human rights record and an absolute monarchy, is that if UK companies don’t, others will. Prince Bandar flew to France for talks with President Chirac: if not Britain, France. It is competition, either we profit or they profit; take your pick, they say.

This ignores the fact that the government has made bribing foreign officials a criminal offence. It is amusing to see Blair justify the MoD breaking laws that he introduced only five years ago; what was thought to have been criminalised continues unabated. It’s the same old story: if it benefits the rich to break the law, the law will not be enforced.

The government will stick to the anti-terror line: if we upset the Saudis they will cease co-operation in countering Islamic extremism and there might be another terrorist attack in the UK.

The rationale is: if you can’t convince the public, scare them. Unbelievably, Al-Yamamah means “the dove of peace”…

A word from our sponsor
I agree with the sentiment that if someone’s said it better before, you shouldn’t bother trying to emulate: you should just quote them.

So here’s Karl Marx, from Das Kapital:

“With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent will produce eagerness; 50 per cent positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave trade have amply proved all that is stated.”

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