Peter's New Friends
Peter Mandelson's recent attendance at one of the most select international gatherings in the world is a sure sign that he is being groomed for a significant role in the Government in the medium term.
 
 
Peter Mandelson has managed to maintain political clout, despite the furore over his failure to declare the loan for his Notting Hill house from Labour's favourite sugar-daddy, Geoffrey Robinson MP. Most MPs would have by now sunk into relative obscurity. But not Mandy.

Mandelson's latest setback, caused by his avoidance of nearly £4,000 in stamp duty on his new flat in Notting Hill, seems to cut no ice with his loyal ally, Tony Blair. Despite unease from labour party back-benchers, Blair seems intent on keeping Mandelson on the inside track.

Nothing indicates that more strongly than Mandelson's recent attendance at one of the most exclusive and influential gatherings in the world. At that conference he must have represented, albeit informally, the interests of New Labour and therefore, Her Majesty's Government.

Secrecy

At the beginning of June, more than a hundred of the most powerful and influential industrialists, bankers and politicians in the Western world converged on a lavish hotel complex in Portugal.

The three-day meeting, cloaked in secrecy, at the Caesar Park Penha Longa golf resort near the port of Sintra, 45km north west of Lisbon, was put together by one of the world's most mysterious organisations, the Bilderberg group. It was subjected to a virtual news blackout and the massive security operation to protect the VIP guests from prying journalists was provided by the Portuguese Government.

Among those who flew in to the meeting were Conrad Black, owner of the Telegraph, Henry Kissenger, former US Secretary of State, Umberto Agnelli, chairman of Fiat, James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, William McDonough, President of the Federal Reserve Bank, Stanley Fischer, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Bill Richardson, the US Secretary of Energy. From Britain came Jonathon Porritt, the former boss of Greenpeace, Martin Taylor, the former chief executive of Barclays Bank, and the Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke, a regular attendee of Bilderberg meetings.

And mixing with the great and the good, was the Honourable Member for Hartlepool, Peter Mandelson MP, now embroiled in yet more controversy. It was at this secret conference in Sintra that the disgraced former minister sustained his black eye, allegedly from 'walking into a tree'.

Agenda

The Bilderberg group was founded in the 1950s by an enigmatic Polish political philanthropist, Joseph Retinger, a former agent for Britain's Special Operations Executive. The group was originally backed with money from the CIA. It is widely credited with precipitating the formation of the European Economic Community, the fore-runner of the European Union.

The agenda for its meetings usually covers items deemed to be of vital interest to the economic and strategic security of the Western World. This year it included, among other things, a discussion on the future of Kosovo, the replacement of Nato with a Western European defence force, and contingency plans to deal with the Year 2000 bug.

The invitation list for its meetings, which happen irregularly but roughly once a year, is drawn up by a secret committee. It includes those people whom it is felt have something significant to say.

For those (such as Mandelson) that crave influence in the world, it is considered a great and unique honour to be invited to attend. It implies that you have achieved a certain status. You have arrived on the world stage. Seemingly, Mandelson, has made the grade.

Benefit

The blurring between Government and organisation 'representatives' and private individuals is a feature of Bilderberg meetings, and has often led to the questioning of Bilderberg attendees in the House of Commons. Two MPs in particular, Christopher Gill, Conservative MP for Ludlow, and Paul Keetch, Liberal Democrat MP for Hereford, have kept a watching brief over MP's comings and goings to Bilderberg conferences over the years.

Both Kenneth Clarke and Tony Blair initially failed to declare their attendance at a Bilderberg meeting which was held in Greece in April 1993. Blair registered his trip two years later, following a complaint to the then Select Committee on Members' Interests. However Clarke's failure to declare his trip was taken up by Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards and Privileges in 1997.

Clarke argued that he and Blair had attended the conference as 'representatives' of the Government and Opposition respectively. The Committee decided that the 'partial benefit' Clarke had received ought to have been registered but concluded that he had attended the conference as Home Secretary and had observed the requirements of Questions of Procedure for Ministers to ensure that 'no undue influence was involved'.

Last year the Bilderberg Conference was held in Turnberry, Scotland. Clarke again attended the conference, together with George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence. In March this year Christopher Gill, asked Robertson what mode of transport he had used to get to the meeting at Turnberry; and what the cost was to public funds. Robertson told him that he had flown to Scotland in an aircraft of the RAF Communications Fleet, accompanied by the Secretary General of NATO, Javier Solana. He added: "I left the following day in an Army helicopter for a further official engagement." The estimated cost to the taxpayer for these flights was £3,840.

Robertson was then asked by Paul Keetch to make a statement on his attendance. He replied: "I attended part of the Bilderberg Conference… to contribute to one of the discussions relevant to my Ministerial responsibilities." Robertson was later asked by Gill to disclose further details. Robertson replied: "I have no Ministerial responsibility for the agenda or production of a record of the Bilderberg meeting which I attended..."

Although Clarke declared his trip to Turnberry in the Register of Members' Interests, stating that his accommodation had been paid for by the Bilderberg Group. Robertson did not, presumably because of his argument that he was there on Ministerial business. Sometimes, it seems, you can have your cake and eat it.

Ambitions

Earlier this year Keetch asked Tony Blair which Ministers would attend the Bilderberg Group meeting in Portugal in June. Blair replied: "I am told that the Bilderberg Group usually invites a number of people from government, politics, industry, finance and education from a wide range of countries to its annual Conference. There is no formal representation by the UK Government."

So whether Mandelson represented the Government 'informally' will probably never be known. However, it is clear that Mandelson would not have been allowed to go without the tacit support of Blair. His invitation to this most exclusive of clubs is a sure sign that that his fall from political grace is not a serious obstacle to his future ambitions, at least not from the point of view of the Bilderberg Group.

David Trimble, Northern Ireland's First Minister has already suggested that Mandelson should take over from Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlem. But with Peter's new-found Bilderberg friends, and if he can overcome the latent hostility towards him in the Labour Party, he could, within a few excruciatingly short years, be aiming for a senior cabinet post, such as Foreign Secretary or Defence Secretary.

More significantly, no longer content with a small island, once his return is secured, he could be gunning for a role on the world stage. There are pointers to this. Since the beginning of the year Mandelson has made more than eight foreign jaunts, some funded by organisations with Bilderberg links, and many of them covering subjects with familiar Bilderberg-inspired themes.

Jaunts

In January he went to Cologne on a trip sponsored by the Foreign Policy Centre-New Policy Network. In February he was in Milan speaking at a conference on the 'Dilemmas of Globalisation, organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

In March Mandelson travelled to Madrid to speak at a conference called 'Agenda 2000', organised by the Economist, a magazine which allies itself closely to the Bilderberg group. This years' reporters at the Bilderberg meeting in Portugal were both drawn from the Economist.

In April he went to Washington to speak at an International regulatory forum organised by the Hudson Institute, a privately funded policy research organisation based in the Mid-West, founded by the late Herman Kahn, an American physicist-turned-futurologist. A Senior Fellow from the Hudson Institute, Marie-Josée Kravis, also attended this year's Bilderberg meeting in Sintra.

In May Mandelson returned to Madrid to speak at an economic and political scenario conference on Mexico and Europe, paid for by the Euroamerica Foundation. And later in the month he went to Georgia, USA, to speak at a symposium organised by the Howard Gilman foundation, a non-profit organisation set up by the billionaire owner of one of America's largest paper companies. Mandelson's flight and accommodation was paid for by FirstMark Communications and the Progressive Foundation, both based in America. That same week the Clintons were holidaying on a wildlife park in Florida as guests of the Howard Gillman Foundation.

Under House of Commons rules, these overseas trips have to be declared - and all have been declared. Mandelson post-loan is generally quick these days to register his interests. His Bilderberg trip was an exception. When I first made enquiries about Mandelson's visit to the Bilderberg conference back in June, he had omitted to declare the trip. The Registrar of Members' Interests told me that 'In principle' Mandelson's Bilderberg visit was registerable, particularly as no-one knows for sure who the ultimate sponsors of the Bilderberg conference are. Soon after I made my inquiries Mandelson registered the trip.

Despite all the international jet-setting, Mandelson is smart enough to maintain his grass-roots involvement with the party. In July he was promoting Labour's European policies to members of the Tooting Labour Party in South London. Pale-faced and speaking softly to a hushed audience, he explained his and the Labour Party's views on Britain's role in Europe and the World. To Bilderberg-watchers the rhetoric was all too familiar. Mandelson had well and truly joined the club.

First published on Pete Sawyer's 'Assignments Unlimited' homepages June 1999 updated August 1999.

 
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