Nothing like a dame
David Cameron’s appointment of Zac Goldsmith and Bob Gelof to assist the Tories’ new thinking on the environment and international development attracted acres of press coverage. But rather less press interest – and Tory spin – was lavished on one of Cameron’s other appointments. Early in the new year, he announced that Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, political director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and governor of the BBC, is to head a Conservative policy group on national and international security.
The Tories may well avoid attracting too much attention to Neville-Jones’ appointment. In the mid-1990s, she served as Britain’s representative on the six-nation Contact group, charged with bringing an end to Yugoslavia’s vicious civil war. By 1995, as one of the civil service’s most senior women, Neville-Jones was the UK’s top representative at the Dayton negotiations which brought an end to the conflict. At Dayton, the Guardian’s Francis Wheen claimed in 1998: ‘She argued energetically and successfully for an end to sanctions against Serbia’.
Just months later, Neville-Jones quit the diplomatic service for a job with NatWest markets. The bank had also recently recruited Douglas Hurd, the former foreign secretary and a proponent of Britain’s appeasement of Serb aggression in the early 1990s, as its deputy chairman. According to Wheen: ‘What no one at Dayton knew, but Hurd has since confirmed, is that at the same time she was “in touch with NatWest Markets” about the possibility of a job in the private sector.’
Reunited again, Hurd and Neville-Jones headed for Belgrade and breakfast with President Slobodan Milosevic. There, they sealed a deal for NatWest to handle the part-privatisation of Serbian telecommunications. The agreement netted the bank a fee of around £13m. Hurd and Neville-Jones also negotiated for NatWest to manage Serbia’s national debt.
Although there is no suggestion that either Neville-Jones or Hurd profited improperly from either deal, the privatisation presented Milosevic with a £625m windfall a year before Serbia began a vicious assault on Kosovan Albanians, and at a time when he was being forced to face down huge protests in Belgrade. The Guardian reports that the Italian embassy in Belgrade – the privatisation involved both Greek and Italian investors – warned at the time that the deal would give Milosevic a ‘salvage anchor’.
Bob Geldof and the Tories may well prove rather odd bedfellows. Neville-Jones, by contrast, should feel very much at home.
Leave it to the veterans
Why is it that with David Cameron nothing is quite as it seems? While he publicly professes to eschew ‘Punch and Judy politics’ and derides Westminster’s ‘partisan games’, it appears that the Tories are planning to out-source their dirty work. According to reports in The Times and the Financial Times, the party has dispatched Tim Montgomerie, an aide to previous leaders and editor of the conservativehome.com website, to America to pick up tips from the Republicans’ successful 2004 campaign. So what’s impressed Montgomerie most? ‘One of the best lessons … is that the best stuff was done by proxy, not by the central party machine,’ he told The Times. ‘The mainstream media would not go against [Democrat presidential candidate John] Kerry. In some ways the Swift Boat Veterans did the dirty work for the Republican party.’
Let’s refresh our memories. The Swift Boat Veterans, you’ll recall, spent much of the campaign smearing Kerry’s outstanding Vietnam war record. They were roundly criticised for their distortions, moreover, by those who had served with the senator, many of whom spent election year stumping for him. And why couldn’t the Republicans have done their own dirty work? Nothing at all to do with the fact that the party’s own presidential candidate gallantly avoided going to Vietnam by serving in the Texas National Guard, thus, no doubt, defending his home state from the mortal threat posed by the states of New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Stayer Spellar spats with splitters
January’s meeting of the Labour History Group allowed a younger generation to catch a taste of some of the bitterness of the party’s early-1980s past, when it hosted a debate between David Owen, Polly Toynbee and George Robertson. While Owen and Toynbee left Labour to found the SDP, Robertson, a leading member of the moderate Manifesto Group, stayed to fight the hard left’s takeover and pave the way for 1997. At the heart of the discussion, both between the panellists and in contributions from the floor, was whether the SDP had speeded or hindered the growth of New Labour: Owen and Toynbee suggested the former, Robertson the latter. The fiercest denunciation of the SDP ‘splitters’ came from former minister John Spellar. He and Lord Owen did find one point of agreement, however: neither had a good word to say about the Liberal Democrats.
Briefing against Blair
‘How is it,’ asks NEC member and Labour Left Briefing columnist Christine Shawcroft, ‘that the Liberals managed to knife their leader after only a few days of innunendo about his like for a drink, whilst we dither for years on end while our party’s electoral support melts away like snow in April?’ I wonder. Could it be anything to do with the fact that Tony Blair has led Labour to an historic three landslide election victories? Or that January’s Populus poll shows a mere 13 per cent of Labour voters wanting him to step down now? Or maybe it’s the fact that, unlike the Liberal Democrats and, apparently, the senior constituency representative on the NEC, some of us subscribe to the funny notion that members, rather than Westminster cabals, should pick the party’s leader.
Sorry I spoke
Another little vignette from the curious alliance between far left and religious fundamentalism that is George Galloway’s Respect party. Tribune reports on the travails of Adam Yosef, a leading member of Respect. Yosef, the community and inter-faith liaison officer for Birmingham Stop the War coalition, was press officer for Salma Yaqoob, vice chair of Respect and the party’s parliamentary candidate in Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath last year.
A freelance journalist, Yosef writes a regular column for the Asian entertainment weekly, Desi Xpress. In January, he offered his thoughts on human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Yosef was not best pleased by criticisms made by Tatchell of Galloway, Yaqoob and Dr Mohammed Naseem, the chairman of Birmingham Mosque Trust and Khalid Mahmood’s Respect opponent in Birmingham Perry Barr last May. Accusing Tatchell of being a ‘hate-filled bigot’, Yosef said he needed ‘a good slap in the face’ and ‘likes getting beaten up’. It’s time, he suggested, for Tatchell and ‘his queer campaign army’ to ‘pack their bent bags and head back to Australia … where hate and racism seem to be back in style.’ Tribune quotes both Desi Xpress and Yosef apologising for any offence caused, with Respect refusing to comment.
That’s not quite the end of the story, though. Tribune, it appears, was unaware of Yosef’s December offering on the new civil partnerships, which included the lines: ‘Hmmm … gay weddings … Gay people and commitment? I don’t think so … They’ll be shagging the neighbours before they even cut the cake. Bad idea I’m afraid. Great way of avoiding tax, though.’ Yosef and Desi Xpress have subsequently apologised for this column as well. Hmmm indeed. To write one bigoted column may be regarded as a misfortune; to write two looks like carelessness.
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