David Cameron had at his fingertips an architecture of highly skilled and experienced advisors and professionals from the civil service, foreign office, political campaigners and economic specialists all the way through to the formidable structure of Britain’s security and surveillance agencies. Their advice for years had unanimously been to steer away from the question of Europe. After all, the same question had played a large part in the downfall of both Thatcher and Major. And yet, Britain now stands on the precipice of becoming a ‘client state’ of a foreign super-power. The Trojan horse is Brexit.
The warnings are coming thick and fast.
From politics.home to Reuters – from the Financial Times to the Daily Mail – Britain, is rapidly heading towards becoming a dependent, inferior serf to a global super-power.
Martin Kettle over The Guardian says that “a stake has been driven through the heart of the UK’s postwar self-image” and that Britain is now to become a “vassal of the US.”
Ian Dunt over at politics.co.uk points out that Britain – is a country that has been in a subservient position (to the USA) since the end of the war and who we are now to be utterly controlled by. It is a grim foreshadowing of what will come if Brexit succeeds.”
But who exactly is Britain about to be controlled by? It’s surely too simplistic to blame Trump or some shadowy actors embedded in Washington or the Kremlin using the cover of a few think tanks to overturn a democracy like Britain. It all sounds so much like a conspiracy theory.
Although in ‘Brexit – A Corporate Coup D’Etat‘, I made the case that lobbyists, think tanks and front charities had, in part, been the vehicles of change, this was also too simplistic. And so it was when I wrote about how the government gagged business leaders from speaking out against Brexit, why government ignored all the Brexit impact reports and how the language of Brexit was used to such great effect in a huge propaganda campaign. It wasn’t enough to unearth why it was that the EU was seen as the enemy of the free market and how Brexit was engineered. Everything in that book has not just found to be true – but as one politician put it to me – this is a playbook on how to change a nation. But still, more is emerging.
Thomas Piketty’s seminal book ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ stated that “no government programme could be sustained without an apparatus of justification.” This architecture, as Picketty asserts, is that without the think tanks, corporate lobbyists, disinformation and propaganda, false expert reports and spin doctors – change programmes (such as Brexit) would be politically unattainable.
Three years have now passed us by. Report after report has since emerged of exactly those things I wrote about. The scale of the crime scene that is Brexit has only got larger. And yet, the Electoral Commission has decided that once a political action group or party has been prosecuted once it won’t follow up on other allegations even though later ones that emerge are far more serious. The police investigations, including that of the National Crime Agency, have gone quiet.
Even Arron Banks, the man at the centre of the so-called Brexit Syndicate, who is himself at the very heart of the same NCA investigation has enough confidence that not much will come of it and is now suing the lead journalist Carole Cadwalladre at the Observer/Guardian for exposing his influence using millions in alleged dodgy money.
Some journalists have dug deep and unearthed a story that anyone concerned with democracy, the rule of law and justice should find really quite unsettling.
It wasn’t just the Guardian/Observer. openDemocracy put a team on it and have been following the money, the same over at DeSmog, Unearthed and Corporate Europe Observatory, along with specialist researchers at various other organisations focused on democracy and electoral fraud.
What is emerging is a much fuller picture as the pieces of the puzzle materialise.
openDemorcay started their investigative work when they noticed irregularities in the financing of the Leave campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Since then, the picture is of a powerful, well-funded global alliance of ultra-conservatives and far-right political actors, many of whom unite around an economically libertarian but socially conservative worldview. Their strategy begins by influencing elections, courts, education, and healthcare systems, as well as policymakers and public opinion, and ends by taking power. It is here that the focus of attention should be placed.
“Their strategy begins by influencing elections, courts, education, and healthcare systems, as well as policymakers and public opinion, and ends by taking power”
This political vision is explicit about seeking to shift power away from women and LGBTQI people. It aims to promote the “life” of the unborn (while disregarding the risks of unsafe abortions and pregnancies to women’s lives); the “family,” by which it means a return to traditional gender roles. They seek to put women back in the home, seen as their “natural” place; and the “freedom” of markets and religious institutions, specifically Christian ones, above all other claims of rights or liberties.
This triad of “life, family, and freedom” was enshrined in the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto written nearly a decade ago by American activists of the religious right. Signatories including Orthodox, Evangelical, and Catholic leaders pledged to act in unison and determined that “no power on Earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.”
In one of its first paragraphs, you get a sense of who these people are.
“In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible. And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.‘
And yet, these same people and the organisations supporting them are attacking years of progressive achievement including the very same people they claim to represent.
All of this sounds too far-fetched to be believed, especially in modern liberal Britain. But reports and articles keep being published, each one ever more alarming. There is a co-ordinated multi-faceted approach to gaining the power they want and they have been remarkably successful.
In an openDemocracy report, the focus is on just one part of the explanation for this success. It became clearer when they started tracking the international financial flows linked to many of America’s most powerful Christian conservative groups. Several of the American activists who signed the Manhattan Declaration have since made numerous trips across the Atlantic, along with a great deal of cash to support their efforts.
They found that America’s Christian right spent at least $50 million of “dark money” to fund campaigns and advocacy in Europe. By the measures of US political financing, this may not seem like a vast sum, but by European standards it’s formidable. The total spend on the 2014 European elections, for example, by all of Ireland’s political parties combined was just $3 million. In Britain, the total EU referendum spend was capped at £7 million.
At TruePublica, we have written many reports and articles about how these large sums of money are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Opaque think tanks and front charities – not required by law to publish funding sources – many with close contacts with the current American administration have also been exposed. Many of them are also funded by transnational corporations who do not want to be identified – such as the fossil fuel industry and especially the ubiquitous search engine and social media giants.
The Independent wrote a report about how American religious conservatives are fuelling Europe’s far-right surge, shifting power away from individuals who have universal rights and onto powerful institutions like churches, patriarchal family structures, the police and ‘strong leaders’.
Corporate Europe Observatory – a research group that investigates corporate lobbying have found their way into the same cul-de-sac.
“Collectively, these parties don’t believe in genuine vibrant democracies, despite their rhetoric about ‘people power’. Rather, they present a future vision based on (ultra)nationalism; even if many of them have been through recent re-branding exercises to try to tone down their more unsavoury and extreme racist elements and broaden their appeal.”
And the money is paying off. Radical right parties are successfully exploiting public anxiety over migration, national identity and the failures of the establishment. After decades on the fringes, they’re forming governments, by themselves or in coalition.
Just a few years ago, this was unthinkable – but pollsters are now predicting the far-right could redraw the political map of Europe. The extent to which European groups rely on each other is noticeable – and often on American, as well as Russian, assistance to help their cause, which has an overtly conservative religious worldview.
Another openDemocracy investigation last month revealed how a right-wing Madrid-based campaign group, backed by both American and Russian ultraconservatives, has been acting as a ‘Super-PAC’ across the continent, working to drive European voters to the far right.
The Huffington Post published – “A Guide To The Far-Right Power Players Tearing Europe Apart” – which gives an extensive breakdown of how these ‘strong leaders’ have quickly come to power and who is funding them.
The Irish Examiner recently wrote about American dark money interfering in its domestic affairs –
“Many associate the murky world of ‘dark money’ with the US political system, but its influence has reached far closer to home, including Ireland’s anti-abortion movement.”
Then there was the news that a radical right-wing group known as Turning Point – advocating climate science denial, free markets and limited government – with numerous right-wing and religious links to Donald Trump had arrived in Britain. Turning Point USA claims to have a presence on more than 1,300 college campuses and high schools, engaging in “over 500,000 face-to-face conversations with college students each semester.” The scandal-hit group has been plagued by incidents of racism and allegations of illegal campaign spending since its launch, with its “professor watchlist” accused of stymying academic freedom. Turning Point is now in the UK – where last March they started making appearances in London, Nottingham and Brighton, where the Sussex University Conservative Society hosted an event.
The very worst of American styled politics has also recently arrived onto Britain’ shores with the opening in London of what is termed ‘opposition research’ – also known as a political attack dog operation. The UK Policy Group bring the dark arts of Washington’s back-room politics using Silicon Valley with a very right-wing agenda. They are closely linked to America Rising – a political funding group. Its biggest donor is a hedge-fund billionaire and ‘vulture capitalist’ called Paul Singer. Singer is actively pointing his business at picking up post-Brexit bargains.
UK Policy Group’s all-male leadership team isn’t from the commercial world though but appears instead to be drawn almost exclusively from the Conservative Party. Its website is a simple Home Page that brags of -“combining decades of experience at the highest levels of British and American politics, we equip clients with a range of specialist tools to help them set the agenda” and “shape public narratives.”
In Britain and America much is made by the government of Russian interference in their democracies but the authorities never actually say quite who they are – when the facts are indeed known. And if anyone should know it would be the extensive reach that the surveillance agencies have – they are, after all, internationally recognised as the most intrusive spying architecture in the West. All of the reports by openDemocracy, Huff Post and the Irish Examiner (and others) cite evidence of interference, not by the Kremlin itself but by Russian orthodox and ultra-conservatives.
Russia is itself sliding towards ultra-conservatism. Political and social life is now dominated by them and the religious right, which was firmly shoved into the background twenty years ago with the final collapse of the Soviet Union. Examples of their power can be seen publicly at contemporary art exhibitions and concerts by “blasphemous” Western rock bands that are regularly disrupted by defenders of Russia’s “traditional values,” while an alliance of pro-Kremlin politicians and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church is cracking down on “harmful” civil liberties such as abortion rights.
Jane Meyers book – Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – demonstrates how Donald Trump’s victory, despite much discussion to the contrary, was a huge victory for the billionaires who have been pouring money into the American political system. The book exposes an elite cadre of plutocrats—headed by right-wing families and individuals such as the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys – all who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. Mayer traces a trail of billions of dollars spent by the network, revealing a staggering conglomeration of think tanks, academic institutions, religious and media groups, courthouses, and government allies that have fallen under their sphere of influence.
The same has happened behind the scenes in Britain, that saw these same plutocrats fund similar organisations to change the liberal centre-ground of Britain and firmly direct their strategies at political and societal division. Brexit was their goal. And yet, those that are steering Britain with carefully concealed agendas today are now doing so with arrogant impunity, such is their confidence. Once caught – nothing more than a few meaningless fines and the odd wrap on knuckles is the penalty. It’s as if the institutions that are supposed to uphold democracy and the rule of law have been thrown in a dungeon and shackled.
The success of the Brexit project is no better demonstrated by the fact that the political middle ground on Brexit has now completely collapsed, according to a new POLITICO-Hanbury poll published a few days ago. If ever a divide and rule playbook was fully engaged and operating it is with the news that UK voters have now vacated the Brexit middle ground in favour of the extreme positions of either revoking Article 50 or pursuing a no-deal Brexit. Either way, it will prove to be an unmitigated disaster for the wider society. And guess who will be there to save us from ourselves?
In the meantime, a distasteful byproduct of all the reactionary language espoused by activists and politicians over the last few years has given rise to the far-right in Britain who are becoming so violent the security services will now be issuing public threat warnings for the first time. And yet, not much is ever said of the American funding fuelling their extremism.
The excellent team over at DeSmog UK have repeatedly published research that shows a network of radical Conservatives funding lobbyists, politicians and campaign groups who are pushing the UK towards a hard-Brexit, with the aim of axing environmental protection in the name of free-market ideology.
Corporate Europe Observatory has published numerous reports of how the power of corporations is now overwhelming democracy, justice and the rule of law.
Likewise, Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace has reported on the same but also how the global tech transnationals are in on the deregulation act. They even fund organisations like fact-checkers to enable the dumbing-down of their true objectives. The influence they have had on electoral and democratic outcomes through search engine results and billions of social media posts has been truly seismic. And yet, they also continue with a remarkable level of immunity – as if vaccinated from democratic laws. Even big fines metered out often equate to just a day or two of profits.
The biggest search engine in the world – with incredible power over entire populations have been caught funding far-right shadowy groups – like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who are accused of having a stranglehold on the political system in America with huge sums of ‘dark money’ funding from unknown sources. In turn, these American organisations, with connections to the Whitehouse have focused their massive firepower at ensuring Brexit Britain becomes a reality. Just this one ‘institution’ has over 400 corporate and political funding connections.
As Carole cadwalladr (who broke the Cambridge Analytica story) of the Observer sums up in a piece for the New York Review: –
“Yet the skulduggery, mayhem, and amateur dramatics of the Brexit negotiations have become perfect cover for something far more chilling. From the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster to the studios of the BBC, Britain’s establishment has buried its head in the sand while democracy and the rule of law have been subverted. The government is colluding with an (American) omniscient surveillance superpower and however bleak and dark and troubled America seems right now, it’s not as bleak and dark and troubled as Britain.”
And Britain is all you need to look at for that radical subversion. If in 2016, MP’s had stood in public before the referendum and said that within three years there will have been three Prime Ministers, that there would be a parliamentary battle to stop the PM shutting down the legislature in order to force through an inevitable currency crash, followed by predicted job losses, and a pre-warned deep recession – you would have thought them completely mad. Right at this moment – the scale of the impending political and economic crisis cannot be underestimated. And as if confirmation were needed, circling vulture funds are picking off easy prey amid the economic destabilisation and crooked hedge funds continue to profit from their murky trades that helped Brexit happen.
As Jonathan Lis, Deputy Director of the think tank British Influence quite rightly puts it:
“What was billed as a way for people to take back control of democracy has become a systematic attack on every institution which underpins it.”
These organisations attacking civil society institutions are known to cosy up to the rich and powerful at home and abroad, for funding and political patronage. Whether it is UKIP’s cohort of backers pumping tens of $£millions of dark money into think tanks with special access to elected politicians at the heart of government, or illegally funding massive social media campaigns – the scale of the attack against democracy is unprecedented. The same is happening in Europe with money streaming into the sudden rise of the far-right in the guise, for instance, of Germany’s AfD. The Dutch PVV’s acceptance of funding from a millionaire-backed US “hate group”; the Front National’s nine million euro loan from Russia; or Austria’s FPÖ, now nicknamed the “Party of the rich”; or ANO, created by a Czech billionaire. All these parties get significant support from many rich and powerful interests.
And they all have an interest in the fifth-largest economy in the world. Trump was their first big scalp. Brexit as an ideology is their second, especially now they have installed their local compliant right-wing poster boy in Boris Johnson at the helm of No10. His cabinet is unashamedly the most right-wing in Britain’s modern history. A quick look at some of the most powerful people now walking the corridors of power are now pro-death penalty, anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ – the links with American far-right ultra-conservatives is now in plain sight. Boris Johnson himself is advised by Steve Bannon.
The global alliance taking over Britain is a band of disciples. They are rich, powerful, right-wing and made up of individuals, global transnational corporations and religious bigots. On their side, they have the social media and search engine giants. Their connections are a spider’s web that centres around the battle-hardened organisational skillsets of the American ultra-conservatives, and American corporations.
Their aim is to dismantle the civil rights and civil liberties protections that have been fought over for the last 100 years. Collectively, they all despise media freedom and the true principles of properly functioning capitalism and of democracy.
For them, intolerance and division is the most preferable state of a nation. It is preferable for them not to have a government with adequate checks and balances inherent in a robust democracy. Contrary to what they say, they are intolerant of free markets and want everything rigged in their favour. And the methodology of their approach to power is backroom deals, underhand strategies and illegal tactics and it tells you all you need to know about the future in their control.
That is why we have witnessed the biggest attack upon the very system and institutions that defend us all from rampant extraction capitalism and exploitation. Together, they want to be rid of workers rights, employee safeguards, pension commitments and consumer rights. They want to be rid of liberal society with all of its diversity and tolerance. And this is much to be feared.
In Britain, Brexit – the Trojan Horse of their values will come with the signing of the UK/US trade deal. A propaganda campaign will sell it to the public as the trade deal Britain cannot afford to lose. Any failure will be blamed at the feet of EU or those Remainers branded as disloyal to the nation-state. Once signed, they will start the real work of asset stripping Britain, tearing apart a way of life and reimaging the country in their distorted worldview.
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Graham Vanbergen is the editor of TruePublica, columnist at The European Financial Review and author of Brexit – A Corporate Coup D’Etat.