By Harry Phibbs
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For a secretive outfit, the Bilderberg Group is getting lots of publicity. I remember hearing years ago, a conspiracy theory that it controlled the world. Presidents, Prime Ministers, business leaders would turn up at its conferences to receive their orders. We would never read about it – as the newspapers proprietors were in on it. (The Trilateral Commission also used to crop up in this context).
These days I wonder if the Bilderberg Group has quite the same sinister cache. It is currently meeting in Watford. Furthermore a list of those going along is on their website.
Some have regarded the Bilderberg Group as a negative force – promoting corporatism and seeking to erode Parliamentary democracy and national sovereignty. To the extent that such views reflect establishment thinking there may be something in this. But the difficulty with the analysis is that there have always been people with a range of views attending. Even Margaret Thatcher went once apparently. Various Thatcherites have been involved over the years – Lord Black used to be on the steering committee.
Given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, are both pitching up at the Watford event, does that really mean that Mr Osborne and Mr Balls are in cahoots? I think more likely it is just a rather efficient networking event.
Probably the tea breaks are the most productive. Mr Osborne can have a quick chat with Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF. Then dart off for a word with Eric Schmidt the head of Google. Mr Balls might sidle up to John Micklethwait, the editor of The Economist, to spin away about how Labour's deficit reducton plan is really jolly credible.
Lord Black recalls in his memoirs that he used one of the gatherings to plot with Norman Lamont against our then Prime Minister John Major:
At the Bilderberg meeting in Bürgenstock, Switzerland, in 1995, I probed this subject with him over some local wine. He exclaimed, “I am prepared to discuss treason, but not while drinking this ghastly Swiss weasel-piss.” We moved to a more potable French wine.
However Lord Black adds that its conferences did contribute to "group think."
After twenty years, I was tired of Bilderberg, tired of raising polite opposition to the endless smug togetherness of Euro-federalists and American liberal Democrats exchanging timetables as they proceeded on their wrong-headed policies. And I was tired of patronizing tribalism, the
bright Young boys, the Winston Lords, Andrew Knights, Jim Wolfensohns, were patted on the head by the David Rockefeller–Eric Roll elder sages.
In later years, especially when I was in prison, I was amused by stories of Bilderberg’s world influence, but the sense of entitlement that pervaded it, especially among the precocious, was often almost impenetrable. A few more or less amiable scoundrels like Vernon Jordan and Victor Halberstadt played the associations for all they were worth.
The group-think was almost always wrong; George Will, Richard Pipes (and they never returned), and I were a voice in the wilderness about Reagan. Bilderberg missed the rise and then the fall of Japan, the end of the Cold War (except for my Hollinger colleague Dwayne Andreas), the problems of Euro-federalism, almost anything to do with Islam, and the current economic debacle. They all but waved the incense pot before Bob Rubin and Alan Greenspan.
The Tory MP Douglas Carswell has criticised David Cameron for attending this "unaccountable clique of Davos men." Mr Carswell says these issues should be "discussed in public." Come off it. Is Mr Carswell saying no meetings should be private?
David Cameron is right to go to Watford. Given all the big shots from around the world turning up, it would have been rude not to. It is also an efficient use of Mr Cameron's time to be able to speak to so many of them informally at one event. However he should certainly treat with scepticism the consensus notions put forward in the speeches, if Lord Black's analysis of their past success rate is accurate.