Poor Tony. With the election of George W Bush, the Prime Minister is like a poodle left behind when his owners have moved house. The poodle could try to make it on his own in the woods, but accustomed to domestication, the sorry cur realises his only hope for a bowl of Kibbles is to lick the slippers of the new masters of the House.
This week, the PM meets with the new resident of the White House, and will do his best to show he can fetch and carry. Certainly, his riding in the back of Bush’s bomber to Baghdad earned him a biscuit. Unfortunately for Blair, George Bush can see right through Clinton’s former pet PM. And he doesn’t like what he sees.
Bush may be thick as a T-bone on a barbecue, but those he pays to think for him have told the president that Blair unsubtly supported the candidacy of Al Gore and worse, actually believes in the Clinton-Gore Third Way, which Bushites snub as a muddy trench to nowhere.
What can Tony do to win a warm place on the rug near Bush’s feet? To the rescue has come an obedience trainer to explain all the PM must do: Dr Irwin Stelzer. For those of you foolish enough to believe that Stelzer, bespectacled professor and Sunday Times columnist, is just some freelance scribbler, let me set you straight. Dr Stelzer is the most powerful lobbyist in Britain bar none. He is Rupert Murdoch’s policy adviser, but no lowly retainer on the payroll. A multi-millionaire without Murdoch’s help, Stelzer has become a sculptor of the thoughts and conduit of the wishes of the planet’s most powerful men.
‘Lobbyist’ describes only one of Stelzer’s functions and certainly does not do justice to his authority. To my knowledge, Stelzer is the only policy adviser who can walk into the Prime Minister’s office at will. But now he won’t bother.
Stelzer has determined to deliver a nasty little dressing-down to the PM in public and nail George Bush’s wish list to Blair’s forehead with a rusty tack.
Rather than speak to his friend Tony directly, Stelzer chose the forum of the Times to deliver the word from Bush’s team. In his column on 4 January Stelzer wrote, ‘Tony Blair has lost two big bets and the British people will have to pay up.’
Here are particulars on the invoice, which Stelzer makes clear were communicated to him by the new Washington powers. First, ‘America will need to upgrade radar equipment at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire’ for the new Star Wars missile system. (Note the phrasing, ‘America will need…’ Forget the buddy-buddy ‘we’ need.)
But missiles aren’t money. The bill will be paid by Bush’s plans for control of the UK economy.
First, says Stelzer, out of the window must go EU health restrictions on the importation of American beef. (I can’t help but note that the US was the first nation to ban British beef, years before Europe acted, and continues to do so.)
Bush, rhinestone cowboy though he is, has more on his mind than cattle. The president’s team, says Stelzer, are ‘unhappy’ with Europe’s resistance to signing up to the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats). As Blair’s goal from this day forward must be Bush’s happiness, let me provide a helpful guide to the Gats. Corporate America’s wish list, and therefore that of the president, includes adding a ‘necessity’ test to Article Six of Gats. If Bush prevails, what that means is that Europe may not impose laws and regulations on businesses unless they are ‘least trade-restrictive’.
Britain may have to put itself in a position similar to that of Mexico under the Nafta treaty. For example, the Nafta board ordered Mexico to pay millions of dollars to an American company for delaying the building of the firm’s toxic waste processing plant, although Mexico concluded the plant could pollute ground water.
The Bushies also want to extend the WTO’s ‘National Treatment’ provisions to ensure that all public services are opened to bidding by US privateers. Want to keep the NHS public? Well, forget it, Jack! (I should note that Peter Mandelson, always a step ahead, is already Stelzerised and Gats-ready. During Mandy’s year between portfolios in 1999, he travelled to all the power points on the planet, from Aspen to Bilderberg and, notably, to the Hudson Institute in Washington DC. At ultra-right Hudson, founded by the living model for Dr Strangelove, Herman Kahn, Stelzer trains world leaders in the details of deregulating, decapitating and selling off public services.)
And Mr Blair need no longer worry about all those little holes in the ozone. Stelzer reports that Paul O’Neill, Bush’s new Treasury Secretary, ‘is very sceptical about the global warming scare’. Therefore, says Stelzer, Blair’s job is to lay down the law to Europe and tell them to get off their ‘anti-market, anti-permit-trading position’.
The White House demands that Europe back off its opposition to any restrictions on the trade in these credits for filth. The US wants to buy pollution rights from Russia and thereby relieve American industry from any need to cut ozone-depleting carbon dioxide emissions under the Kyoto Treaty.
Remember when John Prescott got caught up last year in a bitch-fight with France’s environment minister? It was all about these crud credits. But now, it’s away with Prescott’s clownish attempts to bridge the gap between America’s demands and Europe’s. Rather, warns Stelzer, ‘Britain is going to have to choose’. And Britain had better choose the American Way because, as Stelzer says: ‘America has a new captain with an aversion to Third Way bilge.’
Stelzer’s former comrade at the American Enterprise Institute, Larry Lindsey, now heads Bush’s council of economic advisers.
Stelzer reports that Lindsey laid down the law to one of Gordon Brown’s minions that the Bush team would slice Britain right out of the trade talks power loop unless Blair agreed to join in the American push to smash EU trade controls, including the restrictions on US films and television.
Last month, Stelzer took the message against regulation of media to the Commons Culture Committee where, on behalf of News Corp, he warned the Government against maintaining restrictions on cross-media ownership.
The communications White Paper wove and waffled on the issue. Murdoch’s operation wanted to make certain that government understood there would be a ‘cost’ for any attempt to restrict someone owning say, both a satellite broadcasting company and a terrestrial television station.
It would not be worth the Prime Minister’s time to attempt to distinguish between which element of these warnings reflects Murdoch’s interests, Stelzer’s market philosophy or Bush’s demands. Besides, Blair is already adapting to the new order. The Financial Times reports, deadpan, that the Government ‘has accepted the view that media markets have changed significantly since [the communications] legislation was devised’ and that, ‘there was an argument for no regulation [of ownership] because of the proliferation of new services’. Good boy, Tony, here’s a biscuit!
Should Blair choose to whimper a few objections to President Bush on trade, Gats or media control, Stelzer reminds him that US Treasury Secretary O’Neill has a weak dollar pointed straight at Europe’s head – and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger. O’Neill favours cushioning a US recession by expanding American exports at Europe’s expense.
So there were quite a few policy tricks for the Prime Minister to learn before his brief minutes with the new Leader of the Free World.
In a pinch, Blair can always return to the routine that he regularly practised with Bill Clinton – roll over and play dead.
Gregory Palast’s column “Inside Corporate America” appears fortnightly in the Observer’s Business section. Nominated Business Writer of the Year (UK Press Association – 2000), Investigative Story of the Year (Industrial. Society – 1999), Financial Times David Thomas Prize (1998).
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