Labour’s Portland Moment

Tories and rightwing Blairites are united in their desire to manipulate and mould public opinion in the interests of corporate elites. This is evidenced by the longstanding revolving doorway  between establishment parliamentarians and the board rooms of big corporations – all of whom are united in prioritising profit before human need.

Owen Smith, who is the current Blairite-frontman of the ongoing and failing bid to depose Jeremy Corbyn, thus provides a perfect illustration why Corbyn continues to receive overwhelming support from the grassroots of the Labour Party.

I say this because Smith, before being elected as a Labour MP in 2010, had spent two years as the head of UK corporate affairs for the US biotech corporation, Amgen, following on from a lucrative stint as a corporate lobbyist for the controversial pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (between 2005 and 2008).

owen pic

In 2006 Smith stood, and failed, as Labour’s parliamentary candidate in the Blaenau Gwent by-election, and during this campaign he gave an informative interview to the Daily Telegraph. In this interview Smith initially distanced himself from Tony Blair by saying that he personally would have opposed the war on Iraq, but then, when asked if he had “Any other areas of difference with Mr Blair?” Smith curtly replied: “No, I don’t think so.” (“No welcome in these valleys for Labour,” Daily Telegraph, June 23, 2006).

None of this is entirely unexpected, as corporate-minded politicians have long dominated Parliament, which largely explains the immense popularity of Corbyn, and the concomitant hate-filled bile spewing forth from scores of Labour parliamentarians who oppose him. As Hannah Sell puts it:

“For decades working class people have had no representation in the palace of Westminster, all of the politicians, almost without exception, have stood in the interests of the 1% and the super-rich. Jeremy Corbyn’s election, almost a year ago now, changed that, and from the start it has been clear that the 1% will not accept it, that they are determined to get rid of him as soon as the opportunity arises.”

In response to ongoing attempts to depose Corbyn, the general secretary of the Unite union recently suggested that the Blairite corporate public relations company, Portland Communications, should be the focus of an investigation into their role in this internal coup. Indeed it does seem quite likely that the corporate PR companies like Portland, who employ Tories and Blairites alike, are involved in the virulent campaign being waged against Corbyn and his hundreds of thousands of supporters.

In 2012, The Guardian’s current Corbyn-hater in residence, Nick Cohen, attended a “dinner for journalists and politicians” that was organised by Portland Communications at which the PR company was aiming to “seduce” these willing members of the establishment “on behalf of one of its many other clients.” Cohen observed how “Blairites headed the guest list”; explaining how Portland had no concerns about acting as the propaganda arm for foreign dictatorships, so long as the price was right. Surely then, it isn’t too much to ask for the BBC to investigate Portland’s potentially nefarious involvement in British politics?

As it turns out, Tony Blair is not employed by Portland Communications, but both he and Portland are proud of the uncritical and well-remunerated aid they have provided to Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime. As Cohen wrote:

“As one astonished and disgusted former supporter put it: ‘If you want to know what price a great man [Tony Blair] will sell his legacy for, it’s $13m.’ According to the Financial Times, that is the sum that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has paid for Blair’s services. His old gang is along for the ride and eager to see what an oil-rich dictatorship, which shoots strikers, burns the offices of opposition parties and kills their leaders, can offer.

“As well as the enigmatic [Alastair] Campbell circling the carousels at Astana airports, a spokesman for Portland told me that it was ‘reforming Kazakhstan’s communications’. Sir Richard Evans, formerly of BAE Systems, who was once described as “one of the few businessmen who can see Blair on request”, now chairs the £50bn Kazakh state enterprise Samruk and it in turn hires Peter Mandelson to deliver speeches.”

What is abundantly clear is that Corbyn and his political allies represent an entirely different form of politics than that represented by the Blairites and the other willing servants of the 1% who currently dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Despite the colossal scale of the media offensive that has been waged against Corbyn in the media, public support for this principled socialist continues to grow by the day, with increasing layers of formally disenfranchised people into the labour movement once again.

What is clear, is that corporate lobbyists like Owen Smith and his ilk must be democratically removed from the positions of influence with the Labour Party as a matter of urgency. This is because the undemocratic, zombiesque-Blairite threat to Corbyn’s leadership is still very real.

As an immediate step forward, trade unions should call a conference of the workers’ movement and left to come together. The future of socialism is not the preserve of Labour members alone, and we must urgently discuss how the Labour movement can best support the anti-austerity struggle that has been initiated by Corbyn’s revitalising leadership.

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