When Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke recently about his government’s devotion to the United States, “founded on the values we share”, he was echoing his Foreign Office minister Kim Howells, who was preparing to welcome the Saudi dictator to Britain with effusions of “shared values”. The meaning was the same in both cases. The values shared are those of rapacious power and wealth, with democracy and human rights irrelevant, as the bloodbath in Iraq and the suffering of the Palestinians attest, to name only two examples.
The “values we share” are celebrated by a shadowy organisation that has just held its annual conference. This is the British-American Project for the Successor Generation (BAP), set up in 1985 with money from a Philadelphia trust with a long history of supporting right-wing causes. Although the BAP does not publicly acknowledge this origin, the source of its inspiration was a call by President Reagan in 1983 for “successor generations” on both sides of the Atlantic to “work together in the future on defence and security matters”. He made numerous references to “shared values”. Attending this ceremony in the White House Situation Room were the ideologues Rupert Murdoch and the late James Goldsmith.
As Reagan made clear, the need for the BAP arose from Washington’s anxiety about the growing opposition in Britain to nuclear weapons, especially the stationing of cruise missiles in Europe. “A special concern,” he said, “will be the successor generations, as these younger people are the ones who will have to work together in the future on defence and security issues.” A new, preferably young elite – journalists, academics, economists, “civil society” and liberal community leaders of one sort or another – would offset the growing “anti-Americanism”.
The aims of this latter-day network, according to David Willetts, the former director of studies at Britain’s right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, now a member of the Tory shadow cabinet, are simply to “help reinforce Anglo-American links, especially if some members already do or will occupy positions of influence”. A former British ambassador to Washington, Sir John Kerr, was more direct. In a speech to BAP members, he said the organisation’s “powerful combination of eminent Fellows and close Atlantic links threatened to put the embassy out of a job”. An American BAP organiser describes the BAP network as committed to “grooming leaders” while promoting “the leading global role that [the US and Britain] continue to play”.
The BAP’s British “alumni” are drawn largely from new Labour and its court. No fewer than four BAP “fellows” and one advisory board member became ministers in the first Blair government. The new Labour names include Peter Mandelson, George Robertson, Baroness Symons, Jonathan Powell (Blair’s chief of staff), Baroness Scotland, Douglas Alexander, Geoff Mulgan, Matthew Taylor and David Miliband. Some are Fabian Society members and describe themselves as being “on the left”. Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is another member. They object to whispers of “a conspiracy”. The mutuality of class or aspiration is merely assured, unspoken, and the warm embrace of power flattering and often productive.
BAP conferences are held alternately in the US and Britain. This year’s was in Newcastle, with the theme “Faith and Justice”. On the US board is Diana Negroponte, the wife of John Negroponte, Bush’s former national security chief notorious for his associations with death-squad politics in central America. He follows another leading neocon, Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the invasion of Iraq and discredited head of the World Bank. Since 1985, BAP “alumni” and “fellows” have been brought together courtesy of Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Saatchi & Saatchi, Philip Morris and British Airways, among other multinationals. Nick Butler, formerly a top dog at BP, has been a leading light.
For many, the conferences have the revivalist pleasures honed by American PR techniques, with management games, personal presentations, and a closing jolly revue to lighten the serious business. The 2002 conference report noted: “Many BAP alumni are directly involved with US and UK military and defence establishments.”
The BAP rarely gets publicity, which may have something to do with the high proportion of journalists who are alumni. Prominent BAP journalists are David Lipsey, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and assorted Murdochites. The BBC is well represented. On the popular Today programme, James Naughtie, whose broadcasting has long reflected his own transatlantic interests, has been an alumnus since 1989. Today’s newest voice, Evan Davis, formerly the BBC’s zealous economics editor, is a member. And at the top of the BAP website home page is a photograph of the famous BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman and his endorsement. “A marvellous way of meeting a varied cross-section of transatlantic friends,” says he.