Last week, Britain's defence secretary resigned following the revelation that he was using a friend with close links to right-wing lobbyists as an unofficial foreign envoy. While the government attempts to bury the story, Opposition leader Ed Miliband has a duty to pursue the truth.
"I have some advice for him: if he is going to jump on a bandwagon, make sure it is still moving." That was David Cameron's response to Ed Milliband's questions about the Adam Werritty Affair last week. As far as the Prime Minister was concerned, the story was done and dusted with the resignation of Liam Fox and the publication of a report based on "a full and proper inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary".
There are two aspects to this revealing exchange. The first is that it shows Cameron is indeed an "heir to Blair". The Labour leader, assisted by Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, professionalised the response of power to wrong-doing. What matters is not right or wrong and dealing with it, but whether a story "has legs". Then what matters is to ensure that the story has its legs cut off and the key to achieving this is to persuade the media, often by bullying, that it has become "yesterday's news" and they are behind the times (a prospect that terrifies the press pack). In this way the episode is buried, even if it is buried alive. To achieve this, a quick inquiry may be needed to give the appearance of a due process followed by the standard 'custard pie' barrage against any protests from the opposition, that they were just as bad if not worse.
This familiar scenario was repeated in the Fox-Werrity affair without a beat being missed. Yet Sir Gus O'Donnell's report is a remarkably thin document considering that it came from the pen of Britain's top civil servant. Rather than draw a line under the episode, its vagueness on key details should keep the media alive and put the opposition to work. It is not a matter of bandwagons but the stench of corruption and corporate influence that now needs to be followed up.
Nowhere is this vagueness more apparent than on the central issue of who funded Adam Werritty during his association with Dr Fox.
The report lists six donors to Werrity's vehicle Pargav Ltd.:
Mr Jon Moulton
It may be pedantic to point out that the reference to Oceana Investments is less likely to refer to the company registered under that name than to the Oceana Investment Corporation chaired by Michael Lewis, who has been widely named in the press as a donor.
More serious is the uncertainty over IRG Ltd. There are more than thirty companies using these initials, according to the Guardian, whose inquiries initally focussed on International Resources Group, a Washington-based company whose website uses the address irgltd.com. It was an intriguing hypothesis given that the International Resources Group is part of L3, which benefitted from Fox's decision to replace the RAF's Nimrod aircraft, and was part-owned by Michael Hintze, who had previously funded Werritty through Atlantic Bridge. It seems to have been a false trail, however. International Resources Group has denied funding Pargav, and attention in the past few days has increasingly focused elsewhere.
One candidate in the frame is Iraq Research Group, initially identified by the Times defence correspondent, Deborah Haynes. This IRG is reportedly run by Stephen Crouch, who had previously been the conduit for a Conservative donation from Tony Buckingham, the mercenary boss at the center of the Arms to Africa affair. Another Arms to Africa player, Rupert Bowen, is also linked to IRG according to a British-Iraqi commerce website.
Crouch himself is no stranger to MOD advisers. In 1994, while working as a lobbyist for the Iraqi-British Interests Group, Crouch met an Iraqi official in Amman, Jordan, in the company of Henry Bellingham, the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Malcolm Rifkind. Bellingham's somewhat vulpine explanation was that "he paid for the visit himself, had not expected to meet the Iraqi official and had informed both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office of the meeting. He insisted last night that he only had irregular contacts with IBI."
If this is the IRG which funded Pargav it suggests a Conservative Party that is still mired not only in early-90s splits on Europe, but in the milieu of the Arms to Iraq Affair, with its opaque connections between the City, the defence industry and the world of intelligence.
A similar conclusion is suggested by another Pargav donor, the private security company G3. The Telegraph reports of this firm:
Geoffrey Tantum, a former MI6 Middle East director with wide-ranging connections, is also on the advisory council. Mr Tantum’s daughter, Laura, operates Universal Exports, G3’s charitable foundation which is also the name of the fictional company used as cover by James Bond.
Tantum's 'wide-ranging connections' may be as significant as his MI6 background. The Independent named him in 1997 as the Secretary of Le Cercle, a right-wing intelligence colloquium formerly chaired by Jonathan Aitken.
The existence of such private intelligence networks perhaps supports the Telegraph's claim that Werritty's adventures in Iran were disapproved of by MI6.
This would fit a pattern dating back to the 1970s era of détente and Watergate, when western intelligence agencies retrenched and cut back support for cold war propaganda networks. The response of the cold war liberals was to reinvent themselves as neoconservatives, creating a lobby that became adept at working around the official intelligence structures to push government policies in a more hawkish direction. The 1987 Iran-Contra Affair and the 2003 Iraq War were two key examples. On both occasions, be it noted, the neoconservatives seem to have beenstrung along by Iranian intelligence, something which very likely happened to Werritty too during his meetings with the opposition in Iran.
For its part, Labour has not come close to confronting this right-wing lobby since the Arms to Africa Affair, and was ultimately co-opted by it entirely with the war on Iraq. If Ed Miliband is serious about learning the lessons of Iraq, and moving Britain beyond the neoliberal era, it is a battle he will have to fight. Labour's will to pursue the Werritty scandal wherever it leads should be a key test.