Sunday, February 03, 2008

Mirrorball: Paul Staines and those "Liberals"

The consistently superb Bartholomew's notes on religion has published extensive details about Paul De L'Aire Staines, various old friends, and South Africa. As it seems inevitable that he will fire off a nastygram at any moment, readers are asked to mirror the text in the interests of public enlightenment; I've dropped it in the comments.

You may recall that Staines himself is on record as saying that he visited Johannesburg and UNITA-held areas of Angola in the late 1980s whilst working for fun-lovin' zillionaire David Hart, where he met with people including UNITA, Afghans, and Nicaraguan Contras. More recently, in comments over here, he specifically denied having any truck with apartheid or John Carlisle MP and claimed to have been "working with the liberals". This was itself somewhat interesting, as the Liberal Party of South Africa had dissolved itself in 1968 rather than accept the demands of the regime.

Of course, there were people in South Africa who could have been described as liberal; Helen Suzman springs to mind. When this blog contacted a white ANC member from the period who was involved in organising meetings between white liberal groups and the ANC leadership in exile, he stated that he never had any dealings with David Hart, in terms that rather suggested neither party would have wanted to.

The various organisations involved seem to have been far more interested in the Inkatha Freedom Party; and this is where it gets really interesting. It was Buthulezi who Jack Abramoff - for it is he! - organised US rightwing student support for. This support was channelled through, among other things, the International Freedom Federation, which turns out (and which turned out during Abramoff's own disgrace) to be funded by the South African state. It in turn funded the "Mozambique Solidarity Campaign" (that's solidarity with Renamo, for the avoidance of doubt), which provided offices to the "International Society for Human Rights".

Further, Paul Staines' solicitor Donal Blaney's writings at Conservative Home throw some light on the continued relevance of these links; here we are, in February, 2006.
During 2001 and 2002 I visited the United States five times. I had a series of meetings with the Heritage Foundation, the Leadership Institute, the American Conservative Union and the Young America's Foundation after being inspired by seeing Chief Buthelezi, Dick Cheney, Jesse Helms, Charlton Heston, J C Watts, David Trimble and Benjamin Netanyahu at the 2001 CPAC conference...

One of Paul Staines' other gigs has been, in the past, the Globalisation Institute; it's therefore fascinating to see it cited as one of Blaney's examples of new front organisations for the Tory Right.

Since the founding of YBF in 2003, a genuine conservative movement has begun to develop and I for one find this exciting. I am delighted that Francis Maude understands its importance, as evidenced by his decision to send Tim Montgomerie to Washington to see what, if anything, the Party can learn from the US conservative movement. The formation of activist groups such as the Taxpayers' Alliance, blogs such as and issue-based groups such as the Globalisation Institute is essential for the Party to win in 2009. Relying on a swing in the political pendulum or for the Party alone to secure a Conservative victory in 2009 is not an option. A true conservative movement is the only answer.

Returning to our theme, I can't imagine what possible purpose Buthulezi's appearance served, other than as a reminder of the good old days; he is now one of the world's most irrelevant politicians. But in Stainesworld, an obsession with Southern Africa, or rather its past, is a calling card; just check out how often commenters at use terms like "ZaNuLabour" or otherwise accuse the Government of being something like as bad as Robert Mugabe. It goes deeper, of course; Boris Johnson made just this accusation against Stephen Byers back in 2001. They're addicted. You would have thought that someone as punctilious about legality as Staines would exercise a more stringent control of comments.

You'd also think the Conservative Party itself might have some doubts about relying for its web strategy on Blaney in his capacity as a director of Doughty Media Ltd. (as in After all, this is the guy who asks
Maybe I drank too much rum when I was living abroad for the past two years?

Maybe in time I will wake up from this horrible dream, this nightmare, in which the political party that gave us Churchill and Thatcher – the political creed that gave us Reagan and is still adhered to by John Howard and Stephen Harper – have been discarded by David Cameron in what increasingly seems to me to be nothing more than a naked push for power at any price, without any regard for political principle or the true needs of the vast majority of voters.

And further...

Learning that the views of Winston Churchill have been discarded in favour of those of Polly Toynbee – who has been wrong on every single issue that’s mattered for the past quarter century – fills me with such a sense of dread that I am wondering more and more whether David Cameron is actually really a conservative at all.
The Tories; reliably a snakepit of backstabbing.

Leave aside that Winston Churchill nationalised BP, introduced wages councils and unemployment insurance, commissioned the Beveridge Report, led the fight for the People's Budget against the diehard Tories, wanted to abolish the House of Lords and repeatedly refused a peerage, and spent most of his career in the Liberal Party; I don't see anything in that policy program Polly would disagree with. In fact, you could make a case that, indeed, the Tories under David Cameron are closer to Winston in terms of social policy than any Tories since Harold MacMillan.

And, having fought in the Boer War and drafted a democratic constitution for South Africa, you could also say that Winston was, indeed, a South African Liberal. Just not in the same way.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Mirror, mirror, on the wall:

When Paul Staines was first threatening bloggers with libel actions last year over the republication of a 1986 report from The Guardian, not much was made of a second report from the following year:

...Between 6pm and 8pm tomorrow some 150 selected members of the Young Conservatives will be guests at the South African Embassy for a drinks party. According to the invitation, the host is the Counsellor at the Embassy, a Mr. C. Raubenheimer, and the shindig is to mark the departure of a Mr. P. Goossen...The invitation list was drawn up with the help of David Hoyle, chairman of the Conservative Student Foreign Affairs Group, who devotes a lot of his time arranging support for the Nicaraguan contras.

The paper names several of those who were invited:

...Andrew Rosendale, chairman of the Young Conservatives in London; Paul Delaire Staines, who once…[cut!] (1)

A couple of names here are spelt wrongly: "David Hoyle" is of course "David Hoile", who in 2001 managed to get the Guardian to retract a claim that he had once worn a "Hang Mandela" sticker – only for a photograph to emerge shortly after (Hoile is now a lobbyist on behalf of the Sudanese regime). "Andrew Rosendale", meanwhile is "Andrew Rosindell", at the time Chairman of the Greater London Young Conservatives and now a very right-wing MP in Essex. The GYLC had for a long time been supportive of South Africa: in August 1985 (just days before the notorious "state of emergency" was declared) it sent a delegation to the country (to meet "moderate" groups that claimed to be independent of the regime) (2), while the following November the vice-chair of the organisation, Adrian Lee, appeared in Tatler sitting under an "I (Heart) South Africa" banner (3).

One has to be extremely cautious when writing about this subject. While detractors claim that these kind of links amounted to support for the apartheid regime, the "libertarians" of the 1980s Tory right – and their American "Young Republican" counterparts – make an important distinction: they were, they insist, simply anti-ANC. Apartheid was abhorrent (and decried as "racial socialism"), but it only continued because of the Communist-backed and terrorist ANC. If South Africa were to enjoy greater support from the west, then apartheid would wither, so those wanting positive change in the region should support Chief Buthelezi and Inkhata in South Africa, Jonas Savimbi and UNITA in Angola, and the MNR in Mozambique – thus we see here Paul Staines posing with a pro-UNITA t-shirt next to a UNITA representative. Right-libertarians accused of having supported apartheid tend to threaten to sue; the left-wing blogger Charlie Pottins was at the receiving end of one such threat back in 2006.

Staines has entered into a bit of self-criticism over the anti-Mandela posturing of the era, writing in the libertarian Free Life magazine in 2000:

I never wore a "Hang Mandela" badge but I hung out with people who did. Why? What did we gain from doing so? Did we make ourselves more popular by calling for the death of a man who was fighting injustice by the only means available to him?

However, Staines doesn’t go so far as to wonder whether the right-libertarian movement as a whole may have been hoodwinked by a regime which knew that hard-right racialist arguments would no longer win South Africa support, just like some left-wing groups were manipulated by the Soviets. In 1995, the former South African spy Craig Williamson was quoted as saying that

We couldn’t convince Americans that apartheid was right. The only chance of manipulating things to survive just a little bit longer was to paint the ANC as a product of the international department of the Soviet Communist Party. (4)

The apartheid regime developed various "front" organisations, which were supposedly independent but were the secret beneficiaries of government funds. One of these was the National Student Federation (NSF), which developed close links with Republican students in the USA. This is explored in a book by Russ Bellant, who notes the role of one now-notorious American figure:

In 1983…Jack Abramoff went to South Africa as a chairman of the College Republican National Committee to begin an ongoing relationship with the extreme right National Student Federation (NSF). The NSF noted this as a "grand alliance of conservative students…an alliance that would represent the swing to the right amongst the youth in America and Western Europe." After an exchange of trips between College Republicans and South African student rightists, the College Republican National Council passed a resolution condemning "deliberate planted propaganda by the KGB," and "Soviet proxy forces" in Southern Africa, without mentioning apartheid or racism. (5)

In the UK, the NSF cultivated the libertarian Federation of Conservative Students. Searchlight profiled the FCS in 1985, and noted that this year’s conference, there were two delegates from a new student organisation in South Africa, the NSF, and Mr Peter Gossen, a visitor from the South African Embassy (venue of several luncheons for FCS members last year). (6)

It should be noted that the NSF’s head, Russel Crystal, denies there was any link with the security services – or at least, if there was one, he had not been aware of it. Buthelezi himself was also part of the strategy: in 2006 James Sanders published a fascinating book entitled Apartheid’s Friends, which details the secret support given to Buthelezi through "Operation Marion":

The name of the operation reflected its deeper function: ‘marion’ was a shortened form of the English and Afrikaans word ‘marionette’: a ‘puppet moved by strings’. (7)

Abramoff also headed the International Freedom Foundation, which had a branch in the UK directed by a libertarian named Marc Gordon (now based in South Africa). South Africa was named as the source of its funding in Private Eye as early as 1987 (8), and later it was shown that the money had been channelled via the USA through Jack Abramoff and Russel Crystal (9). A 2000 report in Searchlight notes that

According to the former South African spy Craig Williamson, the IFF grew out of a meeting in 1985 at Jamba, the headquaters of UNITA, attended by right-wing Americans, Nicaraguan Contras, Afghanistan Mujahideen and South African Securiyy police. (10)

The British IFF also financed the Mozambique Solidarity Campaign, which, according to a 1989 report in the New Internationalist, shared offices with the International Society for Human Rights (11). The British ISHR was run at various times by Adrian Lee and by Paul Staines.

The British libertarian right’s links with southern Africa in the 1980s is a story that has never been told in full, and indeed I’ve had to self-censor some interesting details for legal reasons.


(1) Edward Vulliamy, "People Diary", in The Guardian, 24 September 1987.

(2) Stephen Cook, "Young Conservatives for South Africa", in The Guardian, 10 August 1985.

(3) Camilla Desmoulins, "Tory! Tory! Tory!", in Tatler, 280 (10), November 1985, pp. 166-167. I’ve seen a copy to check this, by the way.

(4) Quoted in James Sanders, Apartheid’s Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa’s Secret Services, John Murray: London, 2006, p. 189.

(5) Russ Bellant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, South End Press: Boston, 1991, p. 82.

(6) "How the Libertarian Right Hijacked FCS", in Searchlight, May 1985, pp. 10-11.

(7) Sanders, Apartheid’s Friends, p. 266.

(8) See Private Eye (674) 16 Oct 1987 p. 9.

(9) Ken Silverstein, "The Making of a Lobbyist: Jack Abramoff’s start in South Africa", in Harper’s Magazine, blog 17 April 2006.

(10) Nick Lowles and Steve Silver, "Sound as a Pound?", in Searchlight (306), December 2000, pp.4-8. The Jamba conference was co-organised by Abramoff and Jack Wheeler, whom I blogged here.

(11) Paul Fauvet and Derrick Knight, "What is Renamo?", in The New Internationalist (192), February 1989. It should be noted that the very negative spin put on the ISHR in this article was disputed by its UK General Secretary, Robert Chambers, in a subsequent issue. As far as I can see the ISHR, while conservative, is quite respectable.

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