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Why is Nick Timothy’s Telegraph column on anti-Brexit billionaire George Soros so disturbing?

Within its coverage, the paper has seen fit to uncritically repeat a series of anti-Semitic conspiracies about Soros.

Today’s Telegraph column from Nick Timothy carries an account of a meeting between George Soros, the billionaire and funder of various liberal causes, and Conservative donors, and the theme continues on the paper's frontpage, where “Man who 'broke the Bank of England' backing secret plot to thwart Brexit” is the splash.

The problem is that the aim of Best for Britain, the Gina Miller-founded group that wants to stop Brexit, is no more secret (or indeed newsworthy) than the fact that you're reading this on the New Statesman. That Soros is one of those funding the anti-Brexit campaign is not news either, though the Telegraph's headline has provoked a disclosure of the exact sum – £400,000 – that Soros is putting towards the campaign. (He is by no means their main donor and the organisation is also pulling in not inconsiderable amounts from small donors.)

The reason that many find the Telegraph's treatment so disturbing is that Soros, who is Jewish, has been at the centre of a series of anti-Semitic conspiracies by the increasingly authoritarian governments in Poland, Hungary and Turkey – and the paper has seen fit to uncritically repeat those accusations in its write-up of the story. That Timothy was the author of that “citizens of nowhere” speech only adds to feeling among many that the original speech was a coded way of talking about “rootless cosmopolitans”; aka the Jewish people.

Timothy's column itself is a series of facts we already knew topped up with an interesting anecdote in the opener (Soros had some Tory donors over for dinner, and it didn't go well). The demands of a weekly politics column – speaking of which, here's mine – mean that everyone will have to do that from time to time. His target isn't Jewish people, but Conservative MPs thinking of allying with Best for Britain – he's trying to accuse them of being useful idiots for a Corbyn government. As with “citizens of nowhere”, while the offence he's caused is real and in my view understandable, the target he's aiming at is elsewhere.

But the bigger question for Timothy is this: why does he keep blundering into racially-charged rhetoric, and why he is so incapable of listening and displaying contrition? His response to the “citizens of the world” row was to declare that everyone who objected to it was simply making trouble for trouble's sake. On Twitter he is busily retweeting everyone who is defending him, including Eric Pickles, who argues that Timothy couldn't possibly be engaging in anti-Semitic behaviour because he is a “friend of Israel”.

Once more with feeling: one's support or opposition to the policies pursued by the state of Israel at any given time aren't relevant to whether or not you've said something anti-Semitic. Jackie Walker's Facebook post that Jews were responsible for the bulk of the slave trade wouldn't have been any less troubling if she'd written it while wearing a “Vote Netanyahu” sticker. Timothy's friendship towards the state of Israel doesn't change the fact that the invocation of Soros, and the Telegraph's overall treatment of the story, puts him in worrying company. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.