Meet the No Planers

They believe there weren't any planes on 9/11, just missiles wrapped in holograms - and there weren'

At first sight, David Shayler and Annie Machon's home in Highgate - the leafiest of London's leafy suburbs - looks like a picture of middle-class respectability. There are Japanese landscape paintings on the living-room walls. Shelves groan under the weight of hardback novels and books on politics. An Alsatian with a well-kept, glossy coat looks on curiously as Belinda McKenzie - the grandmotherly landlady of the house - serves tea in china cups with a plate of delicious shortbread biscuits. "Enjoy," she says in a soft, plummy English accent.

Then you notice the curiosities. On the table sits a document about the "controlled demolition" of the twin towers. The shelves hold books titled The 9/11 Commission Report: omissions and distortions and The New Pearl Harbor: disturbing questions about the Bush administration and 9/11. There's a stack of colourful leaflets advertising a club night called Truth 9/11, to take place in Brixton in a week's time, the "11" in "9/11" represented by two tall stereo speakers. DVDs litter a work desk. One is called 7/7: mind the gap. The cover of another, titled Loose Change, asks: "What if 9/11 were an inside job rather than the work of al-Qaeda . . . ?"

This cluttered house in the heart of respectable, latte-drinking Highgate doubles as the hub of the British and Irish 9/11 Truth Campaign. It's a loose group, founded in January 2004, which suspects precisely that 9/11 was an "inside job", organised and executed by a "shadowy elite" made up of individuals from the FBI, the CIA, the arms industry and politics. Shayler and Machon - the boyfriend-and-girlfriend former spies who famously left MI5 in 1996 after becoming disgruntled - are its leading lights. They've gone from being the Posh and Becks of the whistle-blowing world to something very like the Richard and Judy of the 9/11 conspiracy-theory set.

Sitting on the comfy couch, their cups of tea in hand, they try to convince me that the 11 September 2001 attacks were executed by elements in the west who wanted to launch wars and "make billions upon trillions of dollars".

"We know for certain that the official story of 9/11 isn't true," says Shayler. "The twin towers did not collapse because of planes and fire; they were brought down in a controlled demolition. The Pentagon was most likely hit by an American missile, not an aeroplane." Machon nods. In black trousers and black top, this sophisticated blonde in her late thirties comes across more like a schoolmarm than a 9/11 anorak. "The Pentagon's anti-missile defence system would definitely have picked up and dealt with a commercial airliner. We can only assume that whatever hit the Pentagon was sending a friendly signal. A missile fired by a US military plane would have sent a friendly signal." She says this in a kind of Anna Ford-style newsreader's voice, as if she were speaking the truth and nothing but the truth. She takes another sip of tea.

Say the phrase "conspiracy theorist" (but don't say it to Shayler and Machon if you can help it, because they angrily deny being conspiracy theorists) and most people will think of those nutty militiamen in redneck areas of America who hate Big Government, or of taxi drivers with possibly anti-Semitic leanings in some hot, dusty backwater of the Middle East who revel in telling western clients in particular: "America and the Jew did 9/11." Yet, here in Highgate, I am talking to a man and woman who have worked in the British secret services and who, together with their landlady Belinda, a professional linguist, truly believe that American elements facilitated 9/11 in order to "justify their adventurism in oil-rich countries in the Middle East", in Shayler's words. Here we have a new kind of conspiracy theorist: the chattering conspiracist, respectable, well-read, articulate, but, I regret to report, no less cranky than those rednecks and misguided Kabul cabbies.

The 9/11 Truth Campaign tries to distance itself from the green-ink loons who have been spreading rumours about 9/11 ever since the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center. "In London we meet socially on the first Monday of every month, and for a discussion on the third Monday of every month," says the ever-chirpy Machon, as if describing a Women's Institute get-together to discuss knitting, rather than a meeting of individuals who think a dark cabal of nutters controls the world. Its activists - many of whom are fairly well-to-do, and who include lecturers, film-makers and other whistle-blowers - pore over footage and photos of the events of 9/11, furiously debate them online, and argue that, scientifically, the official version of events doesn't add up. For Belinda - who describes herself as the "tea-maker and dishwasher of the movement" and allows activists from outside London to stay at her home - this is about "getting to the historical truth of what happened".

Yet, for all their forensic pretensions, their views remain crankily conspiratorial and unfounded. Take the claim that a plane did not hit the Pentagon, which has been doing the rounds since the French journalist Thierry Meyssan published 9/11: the big lie in 2002. "Just look at the news footage," says Shayler. "You won't see any plane debris on the Pentagon lawn."

Truth-seekers on a mission

True, but there was plenty of plane debris inside the Pentagon, where Flight 77 entered and exploded. There are numerous photographs of the blackened belly of the Pentagon crash site, taken by officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other rescue workers, which clearly show airliner wheel hubs, landing gear, part of a nose cone and bits of fuselage in the smouldering rubble (I hate to have to do this, but if you don't believe me take a look here: www.rense.com/general32/phot.htm). What kind of warrior for historical truth doesn't pay attention to basic photographic evidence?

Or consider the claim that the twin towers were brought down in a controlled demolition (which would have involved sinister individuals planting tonnes of dynamite in the weeks prior to 9/11 without being spotted by any of the good citizens of New York). The US National Institute of Standards and Technology investigated the cause of the collapse - during which "some 200 technical experts reviewed tens of thousands of documents, interviewed more than 1,000 people, reviewed 7,000 segments of video footage and 7,000 photographs [and] analysed 236 pieces of steel" - and it found "no corroborating evidence" that the towers had been toppled by dynamite. There is a lot of scientific evidence there, yet it is ignored or discounted by the apparently scientifically minded truth-seekers of this campaign.

At times, the line between these middle-class campaigners' apparently "scientific investigations" and old-fashioned conspiracy-mongering seems uncomfortably thin. One of their leaflets has a web address for David Icke, the former sports presenter-turned-"Son of God" who thinks the world is run by a race of reptilian humanoids. Shayler says: "There is a Zionist conspiracy; that's a fact. And they were behind 9/11." Machon intervenes diplomatically: "Not everyone in the campaign shares that view."

Then things really go off the rails. I ask Shayler if it's true he has become a "no planer" - that is, someone who believes that no planes at all were involved in the 9/11 atrocity. Machon looks uncomfortable. "Oh, fuck it, I'm just going to say this," he tells her. "Yes, I believe no planes were involved in 9/11." But we all saw with our own eyes the two planes crash into the WTC. "The only explanation is that they were missiles surrounded by holograms made to look like planes," he says. "Watch the footage frame by frame and you will see a cigar-shaped missile hitting the World Trade Center." He must notice that my jaw has dropped. "I know it sounds weird, but this is what I believe."

The 7/7 photo "forgery"

What about 7/7? Some in the 9/11 Truth Campaign aren't "really into 7/7", in Belinda's words. But Shayler is. He recently finished making 7/7: mind the gap, a film in which he suggests that, given the late running of trains on that fateful day last year, the four bombers could not have blown themselves up in London at the times claimed. He also believes that the closed-circuit TV image of the four men entering Luton Station is a "Photoshop job - a forgery, and a bad one at that". He goes so far as to argue that those who forged the photo did it badly in order to send a signal to the rest of us. "This could be elements in the New World Order saying, 'Look, we're sick of lying. We've had enough.'"

So have I. The thought of behind-the-scenes suits being cajoled by their evil paymasters to create an image of four rucksack-wearing terrorists in order to cover up their own bombing of London is just too ludicrous. These 9/11 truth campaigners merely add a supposedly scientific gloss to already existing conspiracy theories, trying to make the ridiculous seem respectable. In the process, they actually do a disservice to "historical truth". History gets reduced to a mysterious force beyond our control, and politics - real politics - is imagined to be the preserve of unknown, faceless puppet-masters whom we can never hope to influence. And the rest of us are reduced to the status of helpless spectators, searching amid the rubble of 9/11 and the aftermath of 7/7 for signs of truth and meaning.

This article first appeared in the 11 September 2006 issue of the New Statesman, It must be Gordon, Gordon, Gordon

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Why Jeremy Corbyn is a new leader for the New Times

In an inspired election campaign, he confounded his detractors and showed that he was – more than any other leader – in tune with the times.

There have been two great political turning points in postwar Britain. The first was in 1945 with the election of the Attlee government. Driven by a popular wave of determination that peacetime Britain would look very different from the mass unemployment of the 1930s, and built on the foundations of the solidaristic spirit of the war, the Labour government ushered in full employment, the welfare state (including the NHS) and nationalisation of the basic industries, notably coal and the railways. It was a reforming government the like of which Britain had not previously experienced in the first half of the 20th century. The popular support enjoyed by the reforms was such that the ensuing social-democratic consensus was to last until the end of the 1970s, with Tory as well as Labour governments broadly operating within its framework.

During the 1970s, however, opposition to the social-democratic consensus grew steadily, led by the rise of the radical right, which culminated in 1979 in the election of Margaret Thatcher’s first government. In the process, the Thatcherites redefined the political debate, broadening it beyond the rather institutionalised and truncated forms that it had previously taken: they conducted a highly populist campaign that was for individualism and against collectivism; for the market and against the state; for liberty and against trade unionism; for law and order and against crime.

These ideas were dismissed by the left as just an extreme version of the same old Toryism, entirely failing to recognise their novelty and therefore the kind of threat they posed. The 1979 election, followed by Ronald Reagan’s US victory in 1980, began the neoliberal era, which remained hegemonic in Britain, and more widely in the West, for three decades. Tory and Labour governments alike operated within the terms and by the logic of neoliberalism. The only thing new about New Labour was its acquiescence in neoliberalism; even in this sense, it was not new but derivative of Thatcherism.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 marked the beginning of the end of neoliberalism. Unlike the social-democratic consensus, which was undermined by the ideological challenge posed by Thatcherism, neoliberalism was brought to its knees not by any ideological alternative – such was the hegemonic sway of neoliberalism – but by the biggest financial crisis since 1931. This was the consequence of the fragility of a financial sector left to its own devices as a result of sweeping deregulation, and the corrupt and extreme practices that this encouraged.

The origin of the crisis lay not in the Labour government – complicit though it was in the neoliberal indulgence of the financial sector – but in the deregulation of the banking sector on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980s. Neoliberalism limped on in the period after 2007-2008 but as real wages stagnated, recovery proved a mirage, and, with the behaviour of the bankers exposed, a deep disillusionment spread across society. During 2015-16, a populist wave of opposition to the establishment engulfed much of Europe and the United States.

Except at the extremes – Greece perhaps being the most notable example – the left was not a beneficiary: on the contrary it, too, was punished by the people in the same manner as the parties of the mainstream right were. The reason was straightforward enough. The left was tarnished with the same brush as the right: almost everywhere social-democratic parties, albeit to varying degrees, had pursued neoliberal policies. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair became – and presented themselves as – leaders of neoliberalism and as enthusiastic advocates of a strategy of hyper-globalisation, which resulted in growing inequality. In this fundamental respect these parties were more or less ­indistinguishable from the right.

***

The first signs of open revolt against New Labour – the representatives and evangelists of neoliberal ideas in the Labour Party – came in the aftermath of the 2015 ­election and the entirely unpredicted and overwhelming victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Something was happening. Yet much of the left, along with the media, summarily dismissed it as a revival of far-left entryism; that these were for the most part no more than a bunch of Trots. There is a powerful, often overwhelming, tendency to see new phenomena in terms of the past. The new and unfamiliar is much more difficult to understand than the old and familiar: it requires serious intellectual effort and an open and inquiring mind. The left is not alone in this syndrome. The right condemned the 2017 Labour Party manifesto as a replica of Labour’s 1983 manifesto. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

That Corbyn had been a veteran of the far left for so long lent credence to the idea that he was merely a retread of a failed past: there was nothing new about him. In a brilliant election campaign, Corbyn not only gave the lie to this but also demonstrated that he, far more than any of the other party leaders, was in tune with the times, the candidate of modernity.

Crises, great turning points, new conjunctures, new forms of consciousness are by definition incubators of the new. That is one of the great sources of their fascination. We can now see the line of linkage between the thousands of young people who gave Corbyn his overwhelming victory in the leadership election in 2015 and the millions of young people who were enthused by his general election campaign in 2017. It is no accident that it was the young rather than the middle-aged or the seniors who were in the vanguard: the young are the bearers and products of the new, they are the lightning conductors of change. Their elders, by contrast, are steeped in old ways of thinking and doing, having lived through and internalised the values and norms of neoliberalism for more than 30 years.

Yet there is another, rather more important aspect to how we identify the new, namely the way we see politics and how politics is conceived. Electoral politics is a highly institutionalised and tribal activity. There have been, as I argued earlier, two great turning points in postwar politics: the social-democratic era ushered in by the 1945 Labour government and the neoliberal era launched by the Tory government in 1979.

The average Tory MP or activist, no doubt, would interpret history primarily in terms of Tory and Labour governments; Labour MPs and activists would do similarly. But this is a superficial reading of politics based on party labels which ignores the deeper forces that shape different eras, generate crises and result in new paradigms.

Alas, most political journalists and columnists are afflicted with the same inability to distinguish the wood (an understanding of the deeper historical forces at work) from the trees (the day-to-day manoeuvring of parties and politicians). In normal times, this may not be so important, because life continues for the most part as before, but at moments of great paradigmatic change it is absolutely critical.

If the political journalists, and indeed the PLP, had understood the deeper forces and profound changes now at work, they would never have failed en masse to rise above the banal and predictable in their assessment of Corbyn. Something deep, indeed, is happening. A historical era – namely, that of neoliberalism – is in its death throes. All the old assumptions can no longer be assumed. We are in new territory: we haven’t been here before. The smart suits long preferred by New Labour wannabes are no longer a symbol of success and ambition but of alienation from, and rejection of, those who have been left behind; who, from being ignored and dismissed, are in the process of moving to the centre of the political stage.

Corbyn, you may recall, was instantly rejected and ridiculed for his sartorial style, and yet we can now see that, with a little smartening, it conveys an authenticity and affinity with the times that made his style of dress more or less immune from criticism during the general election campaign. Yet fashion is only a way to illustrate a much deeper point.

The end of neoliberalism, once so hegemonic, so commanding, is turning Britain on its head. That is why – extraordinary when you think about it – all the attempts by the right to dismiss Corbyn as a far-left extremist failed miserably, even proved counterproductive, because that was not how people saw him, not how they heard him. He was speaking a language and voicing concerns that a broad cross-section of the public could understand and identify with.

***

The reason a large majority of the PLP was opposed to Corbyn, desperate to be rid of him, was because they were still living in the neoliberal era, still slaves to its ideology, still in thrall to its logic. They knew no other way of thinking or political being. They accused Corbyn of being out of time when in fact it was most of the PLP – not to mention the likes of Mandelson and Blair – who were still imprisoned in an earlier historical era. The end of neoliberalism marks the death of New Labour. In contrast, Corbyn is aligned with the world as it is rather than as it was. What a wonderful irony.

Corbyn’s success in the general election requires us to revisit some of the assumptions that have underpinned much political commentary over the past several years. The turmoil in Labour ranks and the ridiculing of Corbyn persuaded many, including on the left, that Labour stood on the edge of the abyss and that the Tories would continue to dominate for long into the future. With Corbyn having seized the political initiative, the Tories are now cast in a new light. With Labour in the process of burying its New Labour legacy and addressing a very new conjuncture, then the end of neoliberalism poses a much more serious challenge to the Tories than it does the Labour Party.

The Cameron/Osborne leadership was still very much of a neoliberal frame of mind, not least in their emphasis on austerity. It would appear that, in the light of the new popular mood, the government will now be forced to abandon austerity. Theresa May, on taking office, talked about a return to One Nation Toryism and the need to help the worst-off, but that has never moved beyond rhetoric: now she is dead in the water.

Meanwhile, the Tories are in fast retreat over Brexit. They held a referendum over the EU for narrowly party reasons which, from a national point of view, was entirely unnecessary. As a result of the Brexit vote, the Cameron leadership was forced to resign and the Brexiteers took de facto command. But now, after the election, the Tories are in headlong retreat from anything like a “hard Brexit”. In short, they have utterly lost control of the political agenda and are being driven by events. Above all, they are frightened of another election from which Corbyn is likely to emerge as leader with a political agenda that will owe nothing to neoliberalism.

Apart from Corbyn’s extraordinary emergence as a leader who understands – and is entirely comfortable with – the imperatives of the new conjuncture and the need for a new political paradigm, the key to Labour’s transformed position in the eyes of the public was its 2017 manifesto, arguably its best and most important since 1945. You may recall that for three decades the dominant themes were marketisation, privatisation, trickle-down economics, the wastefulness and inefficiencies of the state, the incontrovertible case for hyper-globalisation, and bankers and financiers as the New Gods.

Labour’s manifesto offered a very different vision: a fairer society, bearing down on inequality, a more redistributive tax system, the centrality of the social, proper funding of public services, nationalisation of the railways and water industry, and people as the priority rather than business and the City. The title captured the spirit – For the Many Not the Few. Or, to put in another way, After Neoliberalism. The vision is not yet the answer to the latter question, but it represents the beginnings of an answer.

Ever since the late 1970s, Labour has been on the defensive, struggling to deal with a world where the right has been hegemonic. We can now begin to glimpse a different possibility, one in which the left can begin to take ownership – at least in some degree – of a new, post-neoliberal political settlement. But we should not underestimate the enormous problems that lie in wait. The relative economic prospects for the country are far worse than they have been at any time since 1945. As we saw in the Brexit vote, the forces of conservatism, nativism, racism and imperial nostalgia remain hugely powerful. Not only has the country rejected continued membership of the European Union, but, along with the rest of the West, it is far from reconciled with the new world that is in the process of being created before our very eyes, in which the developing world will be paramount and in which China will be the global leader.

Nonetheless, to be able to entertain a sense of optimism about our own country is a novel experience after 30 years of being out in the cold. No wonder so many are feeling energised again.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

Martin Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today. 

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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