Losing his seat in Parliament left Ed Balls with more time on his hands than he is accustomed to. Not that the ex-MP is letting the grass grow under his feet. He’s off to become a Master of the Universe.
The former shadow Chancellor is among a select list of invitees to this year’s controversial Bilderberg Group conference.
The invitation-only gathering, closed to the public and press, has long been the subject of a range of conspiracy theories about global control – its critics claim it is a secretive grouping of power-hungry elite intent on running the world.
Its detractors’ suspicions are fuelled by the fact there are no minutes taken, no reports made, votes taken or policies pronounced.
But that is all conspiratorial claptrap, say the guests and those involved in organising the event, who insist it is simply a private meeting involving informal discussions about major issues that confront the world and no more.
Innocent talking shop or not, Labour’s big beast has been invited to this conclave of the great and the powerful along with his erstwhile despatch box foe Chancellor George Osborne – a Bilderberg regular.
Keeping the two politicians company will be BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead, according to a guest list revealed yesterday.
Last night a BBC Trust spokeswoman said: “Rona Fairhead is attending in a personal capacity and no expense is being borne by the BBC.”
Mr Balls will be hoping for better luck than last year, when he was caught on camera looking flustered while being refused entry by security guards, despite protesting with his passport. He did later successfully make it into last year’s venue, the five-star Marriott Hotel in Copenhagen, but only after being forced to try another entrance.
Michael O’Leary, the blunt-speaking boss of Ryanair, is another high-profile attendee this year.
The conference is this year being held amid tight security at the opulent five-star Interalpen Hotel in the Austrian Alps, not far where the current G7 conference is being held in neighbouring Bavaria.
The website for this isolated, Eagle’s Nest-style venue says it has a 400-capacity conference centre with “a magnificent Alpine backdrop” and state-of-the-art conference facilities.
According to the conference agenda, those invited will hear discussions on artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, chemical weapons threats, current economic issues, European strategy, globalisation, Greece, Iran, the Middle East, Nato, Russia, terrorism, Britain and the US elections.
The Bilderberg was founded in 1954 in a bid to bring the leaders of Western Europe and the United States closer as the Soviet Union cemented its control of the Eastern bloc. They met first at the Bilderberg Hotel, near Arnhem, at the instigation of Joseph Retinger, a Polish polio victim who had fought the Nazis during the war.
In the first meeting, the participants – including bankers, economists, and the future Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell – debated the Communist threat and the prospect of European integration.
Other Britons on the invite list include John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of the Bloomberg financial news agency, the Economist editor Zanny Minton Beddoes, historian Niall Ferguson and Professor Dame Ann Dowling of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
They will join others including the prime ministers of Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands, together with the President of Austria, and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands – the solitary Royal, whose father founded the group.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will be rubbing shoulders with John Allen, the US special envoy for the coalition against Isis, as well as the former CIA director David Petraeus and chief of the Danish intelligence service, Thomas Ahrenkiel.
A surprise absence is the IMF chief Christine Lagarde. But business leaders in attendance will include Google chief Eric Schmidt, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, HSBC bank chief Douglas Flint, and Peter Sutherland, chairman of investment bank Goldman Sachs International.
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