Recently I found myself reading about “Project Falcon” on page fifteen of one of our national newspapers. Project Falcon was put together in 2013 to promote British interests. I am guessing that few people in Britain have heard of it.
These days when I hear about “British interests” I ask myself ‘whose interests are we talking about?’ Is it the financial sector, property owners, arms dealers, members of the government protecting their own personal, short term and long term interests, or do the rest of us get a look in? The ‘trickle-down’ theory says “don’t worry about all that, we are all in it together, all for one and one for all, kching kching, we all benefit!”
One thing I know for sure is that all interests do not necessarily coincide. I think it is quite possible for big arms deals to put national security at risk, for example, and for property dealers to make money without any benefit for the homeless.
So what is ‘Project Falcon’ and did the people vote for it? It is a secret deal overseen by the Tory Treasury minister Lord Deighton and Tony Blair (ex Prime Minister, Middle East Peace Envoy and, simultaneously, advocate for the United Arab Emirates). Since the deal is secret I guess it is hard to know much about it. It seems the leak came when a top university questioned a £60 million philanthropic donation.
So why were the meetings not made public after ‘freedom of information’ requests were made? Oh, that was due to an ‘administrative error’. The meetings were unrecorded, minutes were not taken. Really? An administrative error? You cannot be serious!
Furthermore journalists were told that the government did not want to ‘prejudice commercial interests’ or ‘damage international relations’. The UAE, you see, was demanding certain foreign policy positions be adopted by our government in exchange for its ‘philanthropic donations’.
Anything else the government deems we don’t need to know about? Well there is a small matter concerning the transfer of public land to an ‘offshore vehicle’ owned by the brother of the crown prince. Meanwhile UCL raised concerns about allegations that UAE security forces arbitrarily detained and tortured dissidents. Perhaps our opinion is that we should not meddle in the internal affairs of other countries , but then should they be meddling in ours? We do well to remember that the philanthropic gesture towards our learning institutions came with foreign policy strings attached.
Is this what the public voted for in the last general election? Why don’t we know about these things that go on in government? Could the answer have something to do with the link between the government and the media? News Corp is a media conglomerate that owns The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Wall Street Journal, among many other publications. The powerful influence of News Corp on what and how information is disseminated to the general public is beyond dispute.
The close links between the media and our parliamentary system have become more and more formalised in recent decades, helping to cement the elections of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, and Cameron. Increasingly aware of his strategic opportunities, Murdoch, head of News Corp, has switched allegiance between the Conservative and New-Labour to further his own objectives.
Until the News of the World was forced to close it was a flagship publication of News Corp. After resigning from the newspaper during the phone hacking scandal its chief editor, Andy Coulson, was appointed Director of Communications for the Conservative party. Coulson was later jailed, but not before he had performed the invaluable role of being Cameron’s right-hand media man for four years. Coulson served less than five months of his eighteen month prison sentence.
Conflict of interest is often discussed in relation to government policy. Often the conflict is implicit and any immediate benefit, financial or otherwise, may not be at all obvious. Where there is mutual opportunity for gain through collusive behaviour there is reason for the public to be concerned.
It is always much better to work through the democratic process than outside it, but for democracy to succeed there must be open and honest debate and, where necessary, an opportunity for dissent. It seems clear to me that without an independent press there can be no freedom of information, no scrutiny of government activity and no real democracy. If the democratic system fails to offer the electorate a real choice then we must expect more frequent strikes and growing civil unrest. This is nothing to cheer because the pain of it will be long and hard. In the ensuing disruption unattractive extremes will emerge. The least well off may well suffer the most from extra-parliamentary protests.
I am grateful to The Guardian Newspaper and to Randeep Ramesh for reporting on the Falcon Project,10th November 2015. Perhaps the political process in Britain is not yet broken, but we must guard it and protect it or it will continue to slip away little by little, without our even noticing what has happened to something we ought to hold very dear to our hearts.