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Bilderberg 2013: The sun sets on Watford

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Charlie Skelton
London Guardian
June 11, 2013

The lens caps are back on for another year. The satellite trucks have trundled off, the police patrols have melted away and the security fence has been forklifted off. Bilderberg has left the building and finally the residents of Old Hempstead Road are getting their verge back.

No one who witnessed it will soon forget Bilderberg Watford. Or “Hertfordshire 2013″ as the official security lanyards call it, coyly. (The organisers clearly couldn’t quite bring themselves to embrace the name Watford – it hasn’t got that blue-chip, billionaire ring to it.)

“Hertfordshire 2013″ went out with a bang, not a whimper, as talkshow host Alex Jones exploded on Sunday Politics, and Ken Clarke found himself answering questions in parliament. Issues of security funding, lobbying registers and undeclared interests remain, but they will be picked apart in the weeks to come. For now, it’s time for Watford to reflect on what just happened.

“I wouldn’t join ‘em, even if they asked me,” said Jack Ruck, an 87-year-old RAF veteran. Jack stared up at the luxury Grove Hotel. “200 quid a night? I’d rather sleep in my car.” Jack felt a genuine pang of sorrow for the Bilderberg delegates, spending so long conferencing in their five-star gulag. “What do they want out of life?” he wondered. “I think they’d have been happier round my back garden having a barbecue.”

Of all the politicians and policymakers at Bilderberg this year, the happiest, without a doubt, was none of the delegates. It was Michael Meacher. He had such a rewarding time in the press zone on Thursday – “the most fun I’ve had in the last 20 years of politics” – that he came back towards the end of the conference to deliver a barnstorming speech at the Bilderberg Fringe.

A grey and dapper fireball of righteous indignation, Meacher energised the crowds, railing mightily against the failure of democracy that the conference represents. He pointed out the irony that that while people were demanding more transparency from those in power, the public themselves have never been more transparent to the powers that be, with every email, text and private message visible to GCHQ & co.

The crowd whooped and roared, the sun blazed and the years fell away from Meacher. He hopped off the platform like a young firebrand, and was mobbed by grateful campaigners. “This moment is historical,” smiled Basílio Martins, a journalist from Portugal. “People need to know about Bilderberg, and now they start to know.”

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

At the weekend, the press zone inside the hotel grounds morphed into a public zone, and the crowds were astonishing. Two thousand people inside the paddock – that’s up from barely a dozen in 2009. A huge queue of people zig-zagged up and down Grove Mill Lane; it’s estimated that another 2,000 were turned away. So, more people were turned away from Bilderberg 2013 than had shown up to all previous Bilderberg conferences put together. If that’s not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.

But the biggest change has been in the coverage. Finally, after 59 years, Bilderberg has beeped its way onto the radar of the mainstream press. Basílio showed me photocopies of some Portuguese papers. He translated from the Diário Económico: “They get together to define the political agenda of the world.” Portugal’s main opposition leader, António José Seguro, was confronted by journalists on live television, and asked about Bilderberg. “He was very angry, he turned his face and said he would not answer.”

David Cameron is likely to face questions from journalists about the visit he paid to Bilderberg on Friday. But he’ll be fine about that, as Downing Street declared: “The Prime Minister has always been clear about the importance of transparency.”

Tamsin Cave of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency is sceptical. “The Prime Minister is a public servant. His job is to represent the public interest. When he is meeting with this elite group of business leaders whose interest is he really serving?”

One pro-transparency campaigner has had enough: “For too long, those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account.”

This particular critic of closed-doors government is a certain David Cameron, speaking shortly after taking office. “This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture,” he said, “and it’s called transparency.”

Cameron wasn’t the only one swinging the wrecking-ball of transparency inside this year’s Bilderberg. He was joined on the end of the chain by Jessica Mathews, who sits on the advisory council of Transparency International, and James Wolfensohn, who’s on the advisory council of Transparency International USA. Together, I’m sure, they were lobbying hard to open up this last bastion of murky politicking to the sunlight. If they could find the time between seminars.

No time for slacking off and lolling about on the lawns. These oil company bosses and billionaire venture capitalists have got “Africa’s challenges” to sort out, and all that “big data” to divvy up. That’s why, as Bilderberg’s brand new “media contact” told me, the conference food is “buffet only, all days, all meals”. You don’t align this many diaries to waste time on banqueting. A scoop of coronation chicken and a bread roll, then it’s back to the coalface.

“Aye, they’re hard at work up there,” said Jamie Hughes, who drove seven straight hours from Kilmarnock to see the event for himself. “They’ve got deals to sign, the world to globalise – it always gets me how busy they are.”

Jamie is impressed by their industry, if not their candour. “Our politicians have lied to us for years. At first it makes you depressed, then it makes you angry.” Is that why you’re here, I asked him, because you’re angry? “I’m here because I don’t trust them.”

Trust and loo rolls, two things that were in short supply in Watford this week. Up behind the security fence, politicians and prime ministers skulked around with billionaire industrialists and media moguls at the world’s biggest private corporate lobbying jolly, while down in the Bilderberg press paddock it was so busy that the portaloo roll-holders ran low. Over by the hedge, the Hare Krishnas did a roaring trade with their free vegetable curries. A connection? I prefer not to speculate.

The free food and glorious sunshine kept the mood light, and the only time you saw a policeman with arms around a protester was for a souvenir photo. Inspector Moss of Herts Constabulary spent days pedalling around the venue, keeping an eye on the crowds. He hopped off long enough to give his verdict. “It’s been very peaceable, no issues. Everyone’s been friendly, polite.”

Dutch journalist Jurriaan Maessen agrees. “It’s a great atmosphere on the ground, beautiful people, very dynamic. I have beautiful feelings about it,” he says. “There are all kinds of people here. Different opinions. It is not monolithic.”

Maessen is covering “Hertfordshire 2013″ for explosivereports.com. Half a mile away, his prime minister was closeted with the head of Google, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell and the chairman of Lazard International (otherwise known as Lord Mandelson).

“I feel a kind of moral indignation,” Maessen says. “I pay taxes, so I want to know what my elected officials are talking about. That’s how I’d like my politics to be. It is time for Bilderberg to make a choice: either it’s private, you hold a nice little party, but you don’t let the police secure your event, you pay all the costs, and it’s a nice little talking shop between friends. Or it’s not private.”

As to what they’re discussing, “perhaps they are sitting around saying beautiful things. A bunch of enlightened souls sitting together.”

Maessen smiles at the thought. “I doubt it though.”

This article was posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 4:35 am





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