Thursday, August 21, 2014

Luke the Lobbyist Takes A Fall

Could it have been the Curse of Veolia?


ELECTION results came out today for the Labour Party's National Executive Committee. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has topped the poll for constituency representatives, with 39,548 votes, and my left-wing Labour friends seem pleased with the other names that are joining him.

I was pleased to note that one of the unsuccessful candidates, with only 21,115 votes, was former Hackney councillor Luke Akehurst..

  I first came across his name a couple of years ago, when the campaign was on to persuade local authorities not to award contracts to the French-owned company Veolia, because of its involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. A local woman campaigner in Hackney wanted to address the council to explain the issues,  but the Tories consulted a group called Lawyers for Israel, and the Veolia campaigner was not allowed to speak. It was reported that Luke Akehurst, himself a professional Israel lobbyist, made sure the refusal had Labour support.    

Luke Akehurst resigned as a councillor in May this year. There was talk of his moving from Hackney but not out of politics.  In his statement setting out his bid for election to Labour's NEC, the lobbyist and ex-councillor had nothing to say about his views on the Middle East, or indeed on local government, or experience of cuts in what is already the poorest borough in London and said to be one of the most deprived areas in Britain.

He did talk about his experience as a "grass roots campaigner" and knowing what kind of policies could win elections.
It does not seem to have worked for him this time.

Maybe he has been struck by the Curse of Veolia,  just as befell Barnet Tory Brian Coleman, no longer a Greater London Assembly member nor even a Barnet councillor?  Admittedly Coleman had far more exposure in this and other blogs. Time to bring on the next act.

"Grass roots campaigner" is a bit of a modest self-description.

A  site which follows such matters tells us "Luke Akehurst is Director of We Believe in Israel,  a project of the pro Israel campaign group BICOM. Akehurst has been a Labour Party activist since 1988, and a staunch Blairite." 

BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, is the central and highly professional lobbying outfit for Israel, founded and largely funded by Chaim 'Poju' Zabludowicz, the heir to an Israeli arms fortune, who also financed David Cameron's campaign to become leader of the Tory party. .

According to former British diplomat Craig Murray , "It was BICOM mouthpiece Denis MacShane who attacked Paul Flynn as “antisemitic” for querying the purpose of the long series of meetings between Matthew Gould, Adam Werritty and Liam Fox, some of which included Mossad. In doing so, MacShane did not mention his own role in setting up the first of those meetings, on 8 September 2009, and that he had been present at the start of that meeting. The FCO tried to hide that fact by deleting the entire diary entry for the meeting – but that very act prompted an old colleague to tell me.

Denis' Little Difficulties. And Being Economical with the Werrity

Denis McShane is the former Labour MP for Rotherham who has had to step out of public affairs for a while due to some difficulties over his parliamentary expenses.

Liam Fox is still Tory MP for North Dorset, though he had to stand down as Secretary of Defence in October 2011, over the trips and meetings accompanied by lobbyist Adam Werrity. He was at the founding conference of We Believe In Israel, though he has also taken lobbying for the Bahrain government.

Like former BICOM chief executive Lorna Fitsimmons, who had been NUS president and went on to be Labour MP for Rochdale, Akehurst took his first steps into politics as a student, working for the NUS in Bristol and becoming national secretary of the Labour students.

Employed for five months as a Press Officer in the London Borough of Lewisham (June 2000 – October 2000) he moved on to global lobbying firm Weber Shandwick Public Affairs, best-known for representing big companies in the weapons and aerospace industries. He became a director of Weber Shndwick in 2007. He has continued to serve firms like Balfour Beatty, Finmeccanica and GKN plc and acquired new clients like SERCO. "Luke is often found offering counsel and tactical and strategic insight at the heart of some of the key issues in Whitehall and Westminster. "

"When he was both a lobbyist for the arms industry and a London Councillor Akehurst still found time to write to the press about Israel, complaining to the New Statesman in July 2006 that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign 'shows an outline map of "Palestine" that includes the entire territory of Israel. One wonders what the PSC wants to happen to the 5.5 million Jews in Israel under this "one-state solution".' Akehurst did not reveal either affiliation in his letter signing it only 'Luke Akehurst London N16'

Of course if  Luke Akehurst had bothered to ask anyone from PSC, instead of merely "wondering" to himself what might happen to the Jews in Israel, they could have explained to him that the PLO had developed the formula of a "secular democratic state for Muslims, Christians and Jews", before deciding to accept a state alongside the state of Israel. (which need not rule out any future federation between two states, accepted by two peoples sharing the land as equals). 

I could have suggested to him that the outline map of historic Palestine was no different to the one I remember on Jewish National Fund collecting tins, and no more ominous than the Israeli Ministry of Tourism maps which show an Israel unrestricted by any borders.  I could also point out that it is Israeli politicians, including government ministers, who both insist on inequality and exclusivity for their own state and do everything to obstruct the building of  s state for the Palestinians.

But when lobbyists ask rhetorical questions they are not interested in answers, any more than in allowing opposing campaigners five minutes to explain their case to a local council.

Luke Akehurst even attacked the dear old co-op for taking the enrirely reasonable and moderate step of attempting to ban products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This was the policy adopted by Israeli peace campaigners, both to make the point of a distinction and avoid being accomplices in conquest, yet according to Akehurst it is a piece of antisemitism, evoking the Nazi Holocaust.

It is worth reading what another Labour Party member, Jon Lansman, has to say about this:

We might also remember how often we have heard the charge that such comparisons trivialise Jewish suffering and the Nazi genocide.

But Akeman's readiness to attack an important section of the Labour movement in this way goes with his willingness to denounce Labour MPs like Michael Meacher as "hard left", and his accusation that Tony Benn only damaged Labour's chances. He claims that Blairism offers Labour's only hope of winning elections.  Evidently oblivious to what happened to it last time, he now has time to reflect on what it did for his own electoral prospects. Maybe he will go away and think. Labour should tell him to go away, full stop.

  • Chaim "Poju" Zabludowicz (born 6 April 1953), owner of the Lichtenstein-registered Tamares Group, is a Finnish-British business magnate, art collector and philanthropist based in London, England.[1][2][3] The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 of the wealthiest people in the United Kingdom ranked him 57th with a personal net worth of £1,500 million.[4] Zabludowicz is the founder and former Chairman of BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, an organization founded in 2001 which lobbies the UK government on behalf of Israel. He is reported to have given the pressure group more than £2 million in three years.[20][21] He is also a Member of the Advisory Boards of CST (Community Security Trust) and UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), and is a Trustee of Jewish Leadership Council.[5] He has given donations to David Cameron's leadership campaign in 2005 and to the Conservative Party in 2010,[22] and to Alexander Stubb's election campaign in 2014.[23]

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