Having a fun time in New Orleans: the latest recruits (sorry, "alumni") of latter-day Reaganism

The meaning of the Pinochet affair appears to have been lost on some. Given critical support by the United States and Britain, the Chilean mass murderer was a beneficiary of an ideology called Atlanticism. The word is a euphemism, conjuring hands-across-the-sea movies and Coca-Cola. In truth, it represents an unbroken record of conquest and control, underwriting Pinochet, Suharto, the Gulf sheiks and other tyrants.

Atlanticism gave us the atrocity of Diego Garcia, the island in the South Atlantic whose people were denied their freedom by Britain in the mid-1960s and forcibly "removed" so that the United States could convert their homeland into a nuclear dump and refuelling base for its planes patrolling and attacking the Middle East.

Atlanticism backed apartheid. Between them, the American and British establishments accounted for most of the capital investment in South Africa. As the black opposition was progressively crushed, British and American profits soared to 17.5 per cent, twice the worldwide average.

Atlanticism produced the attack on Iraq in 1991, which left 200,000 people dead and a blockade of that country and its children, of whom a million are estimated to have died as a result of Anglo-American sanctions (executed behind a UN veil). Perhaps Atlanticism's greatest achievement has been its domination of the world's arms trade.

Such an impressive record will not, however, be on the agenda of the annual conference of the British American Project for the Successor Generation, which opens on Saturday at the Royal Orleans Hotel in New Orleans. Instead, the "introducers" and "alumni" of this Atlanticist freemasonry will be discussing "Going global: what does it mean?"

In this space a month ago, I described the Successor Generation network as part of the rise of the Atlanticist new Labour elite. Although its roots in this country go back to the Gaitskellite wing of the Labour Party and David Owen's SDP, the idea for a "successor generation" came from the extreme right in the United States in the early 1980s, then propping up their glove puppet, Ronald Reagan. Their fear was that many "baby-boomers" on this side of the Atlantic, who had opposed the American invasion of Vietnam and the Reaganite plan for a "limited" nuclear war using Cruise missiles launched from Europe, might be abandoning the Walt Disney view of the United States. Rupert Murdoch and Sir James Goldsmith were early backers, as was the Heritage Foundation, a hothouse of reactionary causes, and the Institute for Policy Research, set up by William Casey, the former head of the CIA. The start-up money came from the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia, established by the oil billionaire J Howard Pew, a devotee of the far right of the Republican Party. "A successor generation [in the US and Britain]," said Reagan at the launch ceremony in 1983, "will have to work together on defence and security issues."

Conferences are held alternately here and in the US. Five members of the Blair government are "alumni" - George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, Liz Symons, a Foreign Office minister, Peter Mandelson, Mo Mowlam and Chris Smith, as well as Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. At the 1995 conference in Windsor, Tony Blair's specious "Third Way" was unveiled.

Graham Moore, now a leading primary healthcare analyst at York University, went out of curiosity to the 1996 conference in Dallas, Texas. "I never imagined it was so right-wing," he said. "It was held at the ranch of Ross Perot's son-in-law. One of the speakers described what he called the genetic causes of homosexuality, criminality and other deviant lifestyles. Afterwards, a party was held in a 'sculpture garden', whose theme was 'Victory over communism'. Millbank, the Foreign Office, Rio Tinto Zinc, Merrill Lynch send people to these conferences. Of course, there are those people who are flattered to be asked or just go along for the free trip. They give it credibility."

Moore was "introduced" by Marjorie Thompson, the former chair of CND. Her membership, I suggested to her, reinforced the appearance of diversity. "For me, it's an amusing opportunity to subvert," she replied, though I felt she was uneasy about that. Many members are journalists, the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

The BBC is well represented. Last year's conference in Scotland was supported with "hospitality and donations in kind" by BBC Public Affairs. Evan Davis, the economics correspondent of Newsnight, flies off this week to the luxurious Royal Orleans Hotel. Thereafter his name will be added, along with his colleagues, to the "register" available to all networking members. Not surprisingly, the Successor Generation, its origins, aims and backers have had little publicity - certainly none on the BBC.

If journalists who are "alumni" are able to suspend their judgement on what the Successor Generation represents and its place in the web of great power, they can have it two ways, neither of them connected with journalism. They can feel part of an elite while enjoying a cosy freebie with "plenty of jazz, Cajun and Creole food and a riverboat trip [and] our own BAP Delegates revue". The CIA renegade, David McMichael, once said: "Give the Brits a nice hotel, a souvenir briefcase and flattery and they're happy." That, after all, is how the lobby system works in Britain. But are not journalists meant to guard their independence against even the most insidious corruption? It seems in these days of the "Third Way", that notion is far too exotic.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 13 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Why gays become politicians

Show Hide image

Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.