Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: This unhealthy strain of left-wing McCarthyism

We argued about Israel, US arrogance, royalty and republicanism

Share
Related Topics

Reading about the forthcoming book by Tony Blair's Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, gives me an excuse to write on something that has been bugging me. The venerable John Pilger wrote just before Christmas on the British American Project (BAP), an Anglo-American network set up by the Right in the US in 1983. Alumni include the arch strategist, Mr Powell, several New Labour ministers, Tory top boys, business leaders and powerful media people – Paxman and Naughtie among them. Many US Masters ( and Mistresses) of the universe are also members.

BAP is a modern-day freemasonry but without the silly rituals, dark secrets, and deep misogyny. I am in that magic circle, or was, and was therefore damned by Pilger in one of his fearful pulpit denunciations. BAP, he said, seeks to preserve the rapacious power and wealth of the Anglo-American alliance. It draws in future power merchants and trailblazers, and gets them to commit to nuclear weaponry and world domination. Journalist members keep guard and stop the public from finding out about the suspect club. He names me and Lord Lipsey as the most effective bouncers.

The attack hurt because I deeply respect Pilger and his brand of valiant, subjective reporting. He and Phillip Knightley inspired me to join a profession that is still a force for immense good in the world. I went to his house, to meet his then partner, also a journalist, when I needed advice on freelance writing. I was so in awe of him, I could barely converse in his mighty presence. Unfairly derided by the establishment, Pilger has stood steady and that too is no mean feat. But here he was writing something he had not checked with me. Careless at best, iniquitous at worst and quite unwarranted. Soon sleepless bloggers were circulating Pilger's column, prompting countless emails to me from confused and upset readers.

So here's the story of how I got involved with BAP, what it was then, what is has since become, its influence, good and bad, and why I no longer attend the annual junkets. It was 1988 and I worked for the brilliant New Society magazine, my first proper media job, scary and exhilarating. I had come to journalism late. An invitation arrived from Chatham House to a posh lunch, to possibly get to go to the US with other young Turks of this land. I must have eaten well enough with the baffling cutlery for I was among the chosen. A nobody like me, I thought, to join the somebodies. I was flattered.

It was off to St Louis, and oh my world, how posh was theirs! How we were dined and wined and how terribly hard it all was, and what a good thing I had gained entry, to go and put up a fight against the fat complacency of Reaganites and Thatcherites. The neocons were then at the toddler stage, noisy but not yet fully formed. The British side was dominated by white men while the US ensured gender and race balance. The debates were hard and mostly won by the Right from both sides. We argued about US arrogance, Israel, royalty and republicanism. There are some uplifting memories. An American delegate who looked like William Hurt was delightfully attentive and I brushed off a lecherous Thatcherite minister who invited me to be his mistress in exchange for the use of his Knightsbridge flat.

I attended six gatherings (I think) and was glad to, mainly because it gave me insights into the workings of power. Jonathan Powell, the silent operator, who stood and watched and said nothing unless it was privately to this general or that senator. Vanessa Gilmore, a dynamic US judge from Texas, networked and intervened so efficiently it dwarfed us all. Police chiefs hobnobbing. And so on. Pilger is absolutely right about the original aims of BAP, the obnoxious greed and devious ambitions of the pioneers. He is, however, completely wrong to conclude that all members buy into that agenda. Many are subversives who bring trouble to the table. You get NGO upstarts, headteachers, extraordinary leaders from the Charitable sector. Shami Chakrabarti is an alumna, so too Rushanara Ali, selected Labour candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow. To Pilger, all alumni are plotting bastards and apologists. Many of us are neither.

So why did I stop going? Because I am increasingly queasy about this special relationship, because of Iraq, because New Labour has, without public consultation, made the UK into a client state. I still see my favourite fellows and am very close to some US delegates. One just sent me an Obama T-shirt. My BAP friends seek to make a different, better world, just as Pilger does. He ignores that, going in instead for a McCarthyism of the left which, as it blazes self-righteously, leaves second-degree burns.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick