Pirates, spies and cultural advisers
THE pirate on the left, who seems about to be hit by a big red arrow, was really there on business - but whose?
photo from Hands off Iraqi Oil website:
AS thousands head for Heathrow to protest airport expansion today, it seems such a pity that London's new mayor Boris Johnson won't be there to lead them. The marchers will leave Hatton Cross and head for Sipson, the village due to be erased from the map under plans for a third runway. Only last month Boris, as well as his predecessor Ken Livingstone, was down there telling people he opposed the plans, and he promised to lead today's protest.
But that was before he was elected, and since then he has consulted his diary, and found he would not be able to make it. Well, I know what it's like having so many commitments. As far as we know, the Tory mayor is still against expansion, of Heathrow, not civil aviation.( He thinks London should have a new airport out to the east).
That's more than can be said of one of his more interesting appointments, a lady called Munira Mirza. I read in one of London's freebie papers that though recruited from a right-wing "think tank" called Policy Exchange, Ms.Mirza disagrees with her new boss on some things - his ban on booze on the buses and tube, and his opposition to Heathrow expansion. Though describing her as a "Muslim", the paper did not seem surprised about the first disagreement. Having learned a bit more about the woman's political pedigree, I'm not surprised about either. But more on Munira Mirza later.
Some funny characters have been mobilised in support of expansion, in one case by posing as an opponent of it. Back in July last year a young man calling himself Ken Tobias and sporting a red Palestinian keffiyeh began turning up at meetings of Plane Stupid, the airport protest group. He seemed very keen, always turning up early, and proposing the most ambitious protest actions, but some people wondered about his smart-casual designer clothes and the way news of their plans seemed to reach the media so soon, as well as airport security. They tried feeding him some false information, and that too reached the authorities and the papers.
Maybe 'Ken' wasn't just keen, but sporting, because in December he also turned up in Hands Off Iraqi Oil!, the campaigning umbrella uniting War on Want, oil industry monitors, supporters of the Iraqi oil workers' union and Iraq Occupation Focus. He even swapped his keffyeh for a pirates' bandanna to join the "Corporate Pirates" colourful protests outside predator companies and privatisers. But activists who felt suspicious were intrigued to find his e-mail address contained the name "Menelaus" - the name of the Spartan king whose soldiers concealed themselves in a wooden horse to invade Troy.
Meanwhile, activists at Plane Stupid had done a little digging. They found nobody called Ken Tobias was on the electoral register at the London address he had given, and the rugby club he said he had played for had never heard of him. He could not produce a passport in this name. But meanwhile someone shown his photograph recognised him as a former Oxford student called Tobias Kendall, and a corporate networking site was discovered where he claimed to be an analyst at C2i International, a corporate "risk management" company, working in "security and investigations".
British Airports Authority denied hiring his services, though acknowledging that C2i had offered itself. The Iraqi oil involvement raises the question of just who else might be in the market for a spy doing such work. One of the companies against whom Hands Off Iraqi Oil1 protested is Shell. Private Eye no 1210 (may 16-29) has noted that back in the 1990s a supposed left-wing documentary maker called Manfred Schlickenrieder who was interested in information about campaigners against Shell oil operations in Nigeria turned out to be working for Hakluyt, an intelligence company set up by former MI6 officers.
Could Hakluyt have hired C2i and Toby Kendall as sub-contractors?, the Eye speculates. And would British Airways(BA) have been interested? The airline will not comment on security matters. But the Eye points out that BA's head of legal affairs, Robert Welsh is on the Hakluyt board, while former BA boss Sir Rod Eddington and former director Lord Renwick are on Hakluyt's international advisory board.
Now back to Munira Mirza, whom mayor Boris Johnson has appointed as cultural adviser. We don't know about her qualifications, but in line with current trends among the Daily Mail reading section of the chattering classes she is inclined to find the blame for some of Britain's minority problems in so-called multiculuralism. Writing in the Guardian 'Comment is Free' blog she says “Multicultural policies, have encouraged ethnic-minority groups to believe they are in need of special recognition ... ", and we all know where that leads, don't we, children?
What I find interesting is that besides writing papers for Policy Exchange, Munira Mirza has been associated with Spiked, an online project launched as a successor to Living Marxism magazine, or LM as it became known in its later years. Before going down in a libel action brought by news reporters whom it had accused of faking coverage of Balkan war atrocities, this was the glossy journal produced by the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP), led by Hungarian-born academic Frank Furedi. Long suspect on the Left as a result of its stunts aimed against left-wing councils, and its call for a ballot during the miners' strike, the RCP evolved sharply to the Right, dismissing workers' struggles (it said the Liverpool dockers were "dinosaurs") and courting the educated and ambitious middle-class young with a lets-be-trendy libertarianism that made the Federation of Conservative Students look, well, conservative.
Furedi himself had written under his academic hat criticising the "safety culture", and complaining that trade unions were devoting too much attention to their members' safety at work. I could not help reflecting that, in a bourgeois democracy at least, the casualty rate among university professors was nothing like that in the building trade.
After disbanding the RCP and its assorted front organisations, Furedi's freedom fighters found their way quickly into well-paid media jobs and various "think tanks" that mushroomed, and soon in the name of "science" and a supposedly healthy and progressive capitalism it was challenging the environmentalists and anti-GM folk, in a way that the corporate interests themselves could not have done. Seeing their handiwork in a Channel Four documentary, George Monbiot did a good job of exposing them.
Some liberals had fallen for LM's sob story about its freedom during the ITN libel case, some left-wingers complained that Monbiot was being "McCarthyite" by exposing these fake Marxists, but in reality we should have been thanking him for helping us rid ourselves of such counterfeits. In any case with former LM editor Mick Hume at the Times, and Furedi himself writing for the Centre for Policy Studies founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Baroness Thatcher, you could hardly say the ex-chums network were being witch-hunted or even marginalised.
My own favourite was Joan Hoey, aka Joan Philips, who as secretary of the RCP-front Campaign Against Militarism had attacked what she called "laptop bombardiers", and ridiculed reports of Serb nationalist atrocities and the mass graves at Srebrenica. Reincarnated as a staffer for the Economist Intelligence Unit, she also found a place among some real brigadiers as a fellow of the Strategic Studies Centre at Lancaster University (since redeployed to Henley on Thames).
Recalling how RCP members supported discredited Tory Neil Hamilton, I'm not surprised that someone on Spiked wrote enthusing about voting for Boris Johnson, and not entirely surprised that he appears to have repaid the favour by finding an £80,000 a year advisory position for one of them. Her reputed views on booze on the tube and Heathrow are consistent with LM tradition on liberties and the unstoppable advance of capitalism. And if Boris is looking to supplement the limited intellect of Dame Shirley Porter-type Tories with the smart new Spiked model, the way Livingstone brought in the "Socialist Action" freemasonry, there may be more of her ilk on the way to City Hall. We shall see.