Socialist Alternative

Super-rich, big business and arms dealers flock to back Starmer’s Labour

Labour’s capitalist donors are beginning to return to the party again, according to the Guardian.

In a sign of Keir Starmer’s ongoing successes in purging the party of socialists and socialist ideas, one significant former Labour donor was reported as saying: “I would not give Labour money under Corbyn, but I would now be happy to give money to Labour. Previous donors need to meet Keir and Angela and learn to trust them, because the history over the last four years has been horrific.”

Juliet Rosenfeld, whose late multi-millionaire husband Andrew donated considerable sums of money to Ed Miliband’s leadership, said she had re-joined the party to vote in the leadership contest. “I voted for Keir and am delighted he has won… He is someone ‘without a side’. I trust him completely on the issues that matter, and I will, and have, encouraged others to come back to Labour.”

Andrew Rosenfield made an estimated £100 million fortune in the London property market before quitting the UK – just before the real estate crash – to live in Switzerland for five years as a tax exile. He was a vocal supporter of David Cameron in 2010.

But Rosenfield is really just the tip of the iceberg. To understand the significance of this development – of a so-called Labour Party dependent on capitalist donors – we only need to look at the history of New Labour donors.

New Labour: Sleaze and the arms industry

Anyone old enough to remember when Tony Blair was prime minister will remember the seemingly endless sleaze scandals, with government ministers, including the Blair himself, accused of providing favours for cash. This included peerages for multimillion-pound contributors to Labour, but also actual laws being written to favour individual interests.

The most high-profile of these was the government’s decision to exempt Formula 1 Grand Prix events from the tobacco advertising ban after Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 boss, made a £1 million donation to the party.

The Labour Party at this time not only abandoned any commitment to socialism (symbolised by the removal of the old Clause IV in 1995 which constitutionally committed Labour to the “common ownership of the means of production”), but also to honesty and human decency as they bowed down before their capitalist financiers.

Between 1997 and 2002, Labour accepted more than £12 million from arms and defence companies. This is in spite of the fact that, at the time, Labour Party rules stipulated that the party “will not accept donations from companies the activities of which are inconsistent with the principles of the Labour Party”, nor would it accept foreign-sourced donations.

In 1997, the Labour Party received significant donations from US-based Raytheon Systems Ltd. Raytheon Systems Ltd is one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers which makes a variety of high-tech weapons, including Tomahawk, Patriot, Sidewinder and Stinger missiles, which it then supplies to countries with a wide spectrum of attitudes toward human rights. Raytheon Ltd was awarded an £800 million contract by the Ministry of Defence in 1999.

Another major donor to the Labour Party in this period was British Aerospace – one of the Raytheon’s biggest competitors. British Aerospace began to take an interest in the Labour Party after Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, announced in June 1997 that British foreign policy would be conducted with an “ethical dimension” and that human rights “would be at the heart” of this project.

For British Aerospace, this was not welcome news. At the time, the arms corporation had an outstanding contract with the Indonesian government to supply sixteen Hawk fighters at a cost of £350 million. Given the Indonesian’s government’s ongoing murderous occupation of East Timor, it seemed unlikely that this contract would be seen as “ethical”. But then, in 1999, British Aerospace donated to the Labour Party and, as if by magic, their contract was renewed.

Later that year, the world looked on in horror as over 20% of the population of East Timor were slaughtered because they dared to vote for independence. Of course, the British government could not be seen to have a stake in genocide so in September 1999, amidst massive public anger, Blair halted the supply of arms to Indonesia. Unfortunately, by this point the damage had already been done; the British Government quietly resumed selling arms to Indonesia just four months later.

The Observer newspaper further exposed the sinister relationship between New Labour and British Aerospace, now BAe, when it quoted an “industry insider” as saying that Dick Evans, the then chairman of British Aerospace, had unrivalled access to the British Prime Minister:

“Dick is entirely ruthless. He is a hard man and gets his own way. But he has also been the most successful in shifting the political ground and courting New Labour. He’s one of the few businessmen who can see [Tony] Blair on request.”

The former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook documented the disturbing relationship between British Aerospace and New Labour in his book The Point of Departure:

“In my time I came to learn that the Chairman of British Aerospace appeared to have the key to the garden door to Number 10. Certainly I never once knew Number 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to British Aerospace.”

New Labour, it seems, could not appoint enough warmongers to governmental posts in this period. Richard Evans, the chairman of British Aerospace (BA), was, in 2002, sitting on the Government’s Competitiveness Council. BA’s chief operating officer Peter Gershon is paid £180,000 a year as the head of the Office of Government Commerce, which was set up in 2000. The former vice-chairman of BA, Richard Lapthorne, was appointed by the Government in April 2000 to set up its Working Age Agency and Lord Hollick, a Labour peer and party donor, was a director of BA from 1992-1997.

Today, Lord Hollick continues to work in an advisory capacity for British Aerospace and is a board member for the arms manufacturer Honeywell International. He was also one of Liz Kendall’s main financial backers in the 2015 leadership election and he donated £50,000 to Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign.

The door works the other way around as well. Michael Portillo, who served as Defence Secretary from 1995 to 1997, joined BAE Systems in September 2002 as a Non-Executive Director. George Robertson, Defence Secretary from 1997 to 1999, became a Non-Executive Director at military aerospace firm Smiths and a Non-Executive Director of the Weir Group, the Glasgow based engineering firm who are a major supplier of weapons systems for all Royal Navy submarines.

Today, right-wing Labour politicians are more cautious about where they get their money because there is now more transparency in the ways that money is donated. Previously, big donations were only listed if they were over £5,000 – making it impossible to tell whether someone had donated £5,001, £50,000, or £1,000,000… although quid pro quo arrangements still abound. But alarm bells should be ringing when board members at leading arms industries are pouring money into the opposition’s leadership campaign.

But the return of big money, under any guise, is a sign of a serious rot setting in within the Labour leadership. Working class people need independent political representation and they will not get it in a party bankrolled by the capitalists.

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