As the left prepares for a year of political struggles in defence of public services, the forces of reaction, and the corporations who fund them, are doing the same.
The Telegraph yesterday published an article by Sean Worth, a former 10 Downing Street ‘spad’ who is now at Policy Exchange – Cameron’s favourite think-tank, which played a key role in the modernisation of the Conservative Party. The article is entitled ‘Fighting back against the Left-wing guerrillas’ and is remarkably explicit, invoking both Sun Tzu’s Art of War and imperial counterinsurgency theory as tools to ensure that opponents of ‘public sector reform’ will be ‘roundly beaten’:
The hard Left... which vehemently opposes change to how our public services operate, is shifting its attack. Its activists are mobilising to infiltrate the very public bodies being set up to deliver the reforms they oppose, aiming to undermine them from within.
The Government could perhaps try to limit the abuse of citizen panels to undermine choice through tighter controls – but the attack on freedom would only shift elsewhere. Much more important is for politicians to understand and start explicitly standing up against vested interests.
Which brings us back to the analogy of guerrilla warfare. The most effective answer to dealing with that was developed by a free-thinking British Army officer, Robert Thompson, in the Sixties. Unlike the rest of the top brass of his time, Thompson understood that, ultimately, the battle for the hearts and minds of ordinary people was far more important than endlessly chasing after the guerrillas themselves or appealing to intellectual elites. The lesson applies more than ever in politics today.
Sean Worth’s employer, Policy Exchange, is funded by the very corporate interests that stand to benefit from the ‘reforms’ he seeks to defend. He also works for the specialist health lobbying firm MHP, whose clients include private healthcare company The Priory Group, the pharmaceutical giants Novartis, Roche, Shire, Sanofi, and the lobbying groups the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Association of British Healthcare Industries. That gives some idea where Worth is coming from and what interests he serves. What about his proposed political strategy? Robert Thompson, the ‘free thinker’ who so inspires Worth, was a key figure in the British counterinsurgency campaign in Malaya which, as Mark Curtis has detailed, was waged largely in defence of the rubber industry in the country, and combined anti-Communist propaganda with aerial bombardment and ‘village clearances’. Thompson later became head of the British Advisory Mission to South Vietnam where he urged the Americans to adopt these same tactics and strategy. His counterinsurgency theory was influential amongst right-wing intellectuals and activists in the 1970s and was introduced to domestic class struggles in Britain via New Right institutions like the Institute for the Study of Conflict (which Thompson co-founded, and which was bankrolled by the CIA, Shell, BP and other British companies).
Despite its association with ‘hearts and minds’, counterinsurgency theory was never really about winning over the consent of ‘ordinary people’. Rather it is a pragmatic approach to conflict which involves the strategic and combined use of coercion and propaganda in pursuit of concrete political goals. Just as the Americans must have known that the population of South Vietnam largely supported the ‘insurgency’ against the invaders, so Worth knows full well that (even with the shameful coverage given to the Health and Social Care Bill by the BBC) the public do not support the Tory ‘reforms’.
But the truth is that these people don’t want our hearts and minds. Just what’s left of our democracy and our public services. Expect them to play dirty.
Thanks to Tamasin Cave from Spinwatch for the information on MHP and for drawing my attention to the article.