I once worked with a journalist who had been a PR flak for Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator. He eventually went crazy and burned down his own house. I don’t know if the two were connected. Amin could be ruthless, and ingenious in the ways he thought up to murder you, but my colleague found him good-humoured enough. He was not, of course, as bad as his neighbour, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who kept the body parts of his enemies in the freezer and fed them to people he wanted to impress. The Roman emperor Caligula didn’t have the benefit of refrigeration technology, but you didn’t want to cross him either.
Saddam Hussein seems to have been amusing company, when he wasn’t watching home-movies of his political opponents being hanged, or having their daughters gang-raped by squaddies. His many supporters loved him and were outraged when US missiles began raining down on those tasteful palaces. The murderous, lower-middle-class Ceausescus of Romania had dinner with the Queen of England; Bashar al-Assad of Syria seems cheery enough when not flaying students alive on meathooks, or launching chemical weapons into the suburbs; while Unity Mitford thought Adolf Hitler charming and gay company, a man of fastidious habits, and continued to stand up for him even after it was noticed that he had systematically eradicated six million Jews. The death last year of Steve Jobs, who twice built Apple up to be one of the biggest corporations on the planet, resulted in few people saying unreservedly what a nice guy he was, but they respected him, absolutely.
People have a habit of wanting to believe the best of other people. We yearn for ‘strong leadership’, and disparage wishy-washy institutions, with their 25-page claim forms, their obsession with race and gender issues, their expense account lifestyle and their attempts to prosecute you because you put a fish-paste jar out with your garbage. We somehow imagine that a ‘strong leader’ would allow us to park on that double-yellow line and turn a blind eye to our claiming unemployment benefit while running a small plumbing enterprise and not, as would happen in real life, have us sent to a correction camp in Wales.
The exclusive Bilderberg Group is not exactly a secret society, more of a rich-man’s debating club. We know it’s there, we know who the members are, mostly; we’re given carefully controlled news access to the front of house whenever they meet to confer amicably in agreeably expensive locations; but behind the scenes I’m sure the breakout rooms are swept daily for bugs. It’s considered an honour to be invited to join, which is why so many dimwitted ex-Prime Ministers climb aboard when they are no longer important at home. The other members are, of course, successful businessmen, billionaires directing global corporations. It’s a chance to get together and discuss the issues of the day, like who should run Europe and how to achieve regime change in Washington. So what do they believe in?
One thing that unites them is the knotty problem of tax. Mention the word in a Bilderberg meeting and, I suspect, it would be rather like shouting ‘Fuck the Queen!’ at a Buckingham Palace garden party. Men in sunglasses would suddenly materialise beside you.
There is, of course, no direct link to the Bilderberg Group and other, similar forums for ‘key business leaders’ to nobble leading international politicians over employment rights and communications licensing, but large sums of money are being channeled from somewhere through private foundations and charities to enable high-level lobbyists such as Dr Liam Fox, the former UK Defence Minister, and his strange friend Mr Werritty, a character surely out of Dickens, to promote ‘Anglo-American Friendship’ or somesuch high-minded nonsense. What it really means is to promote profitable chaos and the disintegration of the European project, which, being largely about ‘tax’, and employment rights, is anathema to every right-thinking business leader. It is surely no coincidence that the name Murdoch is frequently on the Bilderberg guest list, while the Murdoch-owned News International’s extensive media interests continue to churn out anti-Europe propaganda, as they have done for years.
That nice Mr Hitler’s Information minister, Josef Goebbels, is credited with the pronouncement that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. Operating on this principle, the Murdochs pere et fils have surely done their bit to help bring the European project to the brink of disintegration. Particularly in Britain, a country more used to barracking from the sidelines than acting responsibly and with dignity in Europe (until we’re forced to take military action to sort things out). Individual territories are inclined to be more lenient on the matter of corporation tax, and getting out of Europe is the one thing that will allow the City of London to really let rip, before they get taken over by Frankfurt.
Right now, the spectre of heavier regulation coming in on the back of all the banker-bashing, and the public humiliation of the overmighty News Corp are surely concerning the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, and his transatlantic partners. “We can’t allow that sort of thing!” will be in their eyes, if not on their lips. A public attack on Europe, mention of an ‘in-out’ referendum (as if we hadn’t already had one) and Andy Murray scraping through to the Wimbledon semis in Jubilee year are surely all that is needed to set Britain up for another soggy summer, and a preparation for all those Olympian disappointments to follow. It will get our beleaguered coalition partners through to the recess and the blessed relief of a corporate box at some rain-soaked, top-hat event. We are lucky indeed not to be ruled by a mad dictator, but power is power and it’s hard to let go of the notion that ‘someone has to be in control’, when the truth is that we are all just muddling-through and glad of the occasional windfall. Politicians are no different from the rest.