Tainted hands across the water: the special relationship shows up shared values

The values we share with America are those of rapacious power and wealth.

When Gordon Brown spoke recently about his government's devotion to the United States, "founded on the values we share", he was echoing his Foreign Office minister Kim Howells, who was preparing to welcome the Saudi dictator to Britain with effusions of "shared values". The meaning was the same in both cases. The values shared are those of rapacious power and wealth, with democracy and human rights irrelevant, as the bloodbath in Iraq and the suffering of the Palestinians attest, to name only two examples.

The "values we share" are celebrated by an organisation that has just held its annual conference. This is the British-American Project for the Successor Generation (BAP), set up in 1985 with money from a Philadelphia trust with a long history of supporting right-wing causes. Although the BAP does not publicly acknowledge this origin, the source of its inspiration was a call by President Reagan in 1983 for "successor generations" on both sides of the Atlantic to "work together in the future on defence and security matters". He made numerous references to "shared values". Attending this ceremony in the White House Situation Room were the ideologues Rupert Murdoch and the late James Goldsmith.

As Reagan made clear, the need for the BAP arose from Washington's anxiety about the growing opposition in Britain to nuclear weapons, especially the stationing of cruise missiles in Europe. "A special concern," he said, "will be the successor generations, as these younger people are the ones who will have to work together in the future on defence and security issues." A new, preferably young elite - journalists, academics, economists, "civil society" and liberal community leaders of one sort or another - would offset the growing "anti-Americanism".

The aims of this latter-day network, according to David Willetts, the former director of studies at the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, now a member of the Tory shadow cabinet, are simply to "help reinforce Anglo-American links, especially if some members already do or will occupy positions of influence". A former British ambassador to Washington, Sir John Kerr, was more direct. In a speech to BAP members, he said the organisation's "powerful combination of eminent Fellows and close Atlantic links threatened to put the embassy out of a job". An American BAP organiser describes the BAP network as committed to "grooming leaders" while promoting "the leading global role that [the US and Britain] continue to play".

The BAP's British "alumni" are drawn largely from new Labour and its court. No fewer than four BAP "fellows" and one advisory board member became ministers in the first Blair government. The new Labour names include Peter Mandelson, George Robertson, Baroness Symons, Jonathan Powell (Blair's chief of staff), Baroness Scotland, Douglas Alexander, Geoff Mulgan, Matthew Taylor and David Miliband. Some are Fabian Society members and describe themselves as being "on the left". Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is another member. They object to whispers of "a conspiracy". The mutuality of class or aspiration is merely assured, unspoken, and the warm embrace of power flattering and often productive.

BAP conferences are held alternately in the US and Britain. This year's was in Newcastle, with the theme "Faith and Justice". On the US board is Diana Negroponte, the wife of John Negroponte, Bush's former national security chief notorious for his associations with death-squad politics in central America. He follows another leading neocon, Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the invasion of Iraq and discredited head of the World Bank. Since 1985, BAP "alumni" and "fellows" have been brought together courtesy of Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Saatchi & Saatchi, Philip Morris and British Airways, among other multinationals. Nick Butler, formerly a top dog at BP, has been a leading light.

For many, the conferences have the revivalist pleasures honed by American PR techniques, with management games, personal presen tations, and a closing jolly revue to lighten the serious business. The 2002 conference report noted: "Many BAP alumni are directly involved with US and UK military and defence establishments."

The BAP rarely gets publicity, which may have something to do with the high proportion of journalists who are alumni. Prominent BAP journalists are David Lipsey, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and assorted Murdochites. The BBC is well represented. On the Today programme, James Naughtie, whose broadcasting has long reflected his own transatlantic interests, has been an alumnus since 1989. Today's newest voice, Evan Davis, formerly the BBC's zealous economics editor, is a member. And at the top of the BAP website home page is a photograph of Jeremy Paxman and his endorsement. "A marvellous way of meeting a varied cross-section of transatlantic friends," says he.

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 17 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2007

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Shell-shock symphony: Berg’s Wozzeck – opera’s take on post-traumatic stress disorder

Begun in 1914 and premiered in 1925, Wozzeck has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects.

When I was 12 years old, I made a devastating discovery. The arias from my favourite operas – Rigoletto, Turandot, The Barber of Seville – which I played over and over again, winding and rewinding the cassettes ­until they ceased to work, did not ­necessarily have words that matched the beauty of the music. Intense study of a book I had received for Christmas called Stories from Opera taught me that although some of the soaring melodies I adored carried words about love, death, horror and tragedy, other lyrics, in translation, proved to be people agreeing where to meet later, or misremembering each other’s names.

This crushing disappointment came to mind again recently while I was listening to an edition of Radio 3’s Building a Library, a segment of its regular Saturday-morning CD review, in which new releases are compared and contrasted with archive recordings to find the best listening experience. The reviewer Gillian Moore was surveying the available recordings of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. She gave credit to several English-language recordings for the clarity they offer newcomers to this work, but eventually concluded that she must recommend a version using the original German, because there were crucial aural elements that could not be reproduced without it.

Moore, now director of music at the Southbank Centre, chose to kick off a series of semi-staged concert performances of operas with Wozzeck. Although undoubtedly an opera, it was a far cry from the fairy stories and doomed romances that filled my pre-teen ears, but it worked surprisingly well stripped of scenery, costumes and other theatrical accoutrements.

Zurich Opera’s presentation placed importance on the orchestral score above all else, allowing its jagged and insistent lines to remind us that this is music born of the dark years between the world wars. Begun in 1914, but delayed while Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian army (it premiered in 1925), it has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects. The score owes much to Berg’s fellow Viennese composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg (Mahler’s widow put up the money for the initial publication of the score). At times in this production, the orchestra was so utterly central that it felt like a symphony with singing, rather than vocal melodies with accompaniment.

The Wozzeck of the title is a poor soldier, flawed and dogged by madness and visions we would probably now see as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He scrapes a living for his girlfriend, Marie, and their son by humiliating himself before his military and class superiors (the Captain, the Doctor, the Drum Major) and by participating in degrading medical “experiments”. The star of the show, the German baritone Christian Gerhaher, had to withdraw at the last minute for health reasons, so the British singer Leigh Melrose stepped in to reprise his Wozzeck from the widely acclaimed 2013 ENO production. Despite performing from behind a music stand, Melrose acquitted himself well, handling the transitions between Berg’s three singing styles: “half-singing”, Sprechgesang (or “spoken singing”) and full vocalisation to great effect.

Gun-Brit Barkmin, with a severe Twenties bob and a flowing scarlet dress, was a superb Marie – alternately harsh and soft as the music demanded it, flirting destructively with the Drum Major while conveying how little choice she had in the matter. Of the ensemble, Lars Woldt’s Doctor particularly stood out, using the German libretto to drag every ounce of black comedy out of his character’s fascination with Wozzeck’s bodily functions. The high vocal standard proved Moore’s point about the necessity of the original German libretto – it is a difficult language to sing, because of all the harsh consonants and modified vowels, but when used expertly can be unendingly expressive. We hear this in the way the double “zz” of the title character’s name becomes a derisory bitten-off “tz” in the mouth of the Captain; and Wozzeck’s exclamation in Act I that “Du, der Platz ist verflucht!” sounds so much more accursed and deranged with all those consonants in such close proximity.

The German sociologist Theodor Adorno once called Berg “the foreign minister of the land of his dreams”, much to the composer’s amusement; but, hearing the score for Wozzeck laid so bare, you understand what Adorno meant. The incredible double crescendo on a single B from the orchestra after Wozzeck murders Marie – raised by the conductor Fabio Luisi in this performance to an unbearable volume before being allowed to die away – feels like music from an other-worldly nightmare. Yet, for the war-battered men who inspired Wozzeck, his tragic half-life was all too real.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis