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BORIS JOHNSON’S leadership campaign is funded with donations including £20,000 from a defender of murderous fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In July Johnson accepted £20,000 from Robin Birley, a London club owner with a long history of backing ultra-right-wing causes. Birley also gave £248,000 of donations to Ukip between 2011 and 2017.
Birley was involved with Pinochet in 1998. General Augusto Pinochet was the dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990.
He overthrew the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, in a US-backed coup. At least 2,000 Chileans — and probably many more — were murdered in the coup.
Greater numbers were imprisoned and tortured. Despite the violence, British and US rightwingers admired Pinochet because under his dictatorship Chile went for “free market” policies of privatisation, low taxation and slashing spending.
A very slow transition back to democracy began in 1990, with guaranteed government and military positions for Pinochet.
In 1998 the old fascist dictator visited Britain for medical treatment. He was arrested on a Spanish arrest warrant for his murderous human rights abuses.
Birley was one of the people behind the campaign to free Pinochet. Birley reportedly funded a pro-Pinochet pamphlet, alongside the very right-wing Spectator gossip columnist Taki Theodoracopulos, and backed a fund for Pinochet’s stay in a luxury flat in Wentworth, Surrey, while he was on bail.
Chilean exiles and torture victims protested outside Pinochet’s flat throughout his stay.
But Birley told the Telegraph his arrest was “an abuse of hospitality to ambush an old man when he has come to this country year after year. He has done an immense amount for Chile.”
Birley tried to paint Pinochet as a sympathetic victim, adding: “I have sympathy for the underdog.”
The pro-Pinochet campaign was partly successful as the general was able to avoid the charges by claiming he was too poorly to face trial and return to Chile in 2000. The case against him rumbled on until Pinochet died in 2006.
Birley is an interesting example of how British right-wing networks are old, deep and weird. He is linked to one of Britain’s historic right-wing circles, the “Clermont Set.”
In 1962 John Aspinall set up the Clermont Club in Mayfair, a gambling club that attracted lots of buccaneering businessmen, including a few who wanted to spend cash on right-wing causes, alongside celebrities and various trashy upper-class people.
Notable members of the set were financier Sir James “Jimmy” Goldsmith and Lord Lucan, who murdered his nanny and then disappeared — some say with help form his posh, rich friends.
Robin Birley is the son of Annabel and Mark Birley, also a club owner. His mother left Mark Birley to marry Sir James Goldsmith, becoming Lady Annabel Goldsmith. Their sons, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith and Ben Goldsmith, are Robin’s half-brothers.
Robin Birley was close to his step-father, Sir James Goldsmith, who founded the Referendum Party. This was a kind of proto-Ukip, a right-wing anti-EU party in the 1990s.
The Referendum Party had a lot of money and made a lot of noise but won very few votes in the 1997 election. Both Goldsmith and John Aspinall were Referendum Party candidates.
Aspinall had what he called a “Zulu philosophy” — summed up as loving wild animals and hating people. A sort of right-wing ecological thought wafts around the Clermont set.
James Goldsmith was very “ecological,” but a lot of this seemed to be about defending “nature” from “overpopulation” and “immigration.”
Jimmy Goldsmith’s views about what is “natural” included arguing that immigration of black and ethnic minority people with “high birth rates” caused “social breakdown in the cities” in the US.
This somewhat misanthropic “environmentalism” recurs in the Goldsmith family: Sir James’ brother Teddy founded The Ecologist magazine, but he too feared “mass immigration” as a threat to the environment.
Sir Jimmy’s other son, Ben Goldsmith, has a similar complaint about “mass immigration” hurting “green” England.
John Aspinall’s love-nature-hate-common-people feelings led him to open a number of zoos. Aspinall was regularly accused of caring more about animals than people because of the high number of fatalities in his zoos, with five keepers mauled or crushed to death by big cats and elephants.
Robin Birley was himself mauled by one of Aspinall’s tigers when he was 12, badly damaging his face with injuries that required years of surgery.
Birley helped run one of his father’s clubs, Annabel’s, for many years. However, they fell out in 2006, after Birley hired a private investigator to find dirt on his sister’s new husband.
Birley then set up his own Mayfair club, 5 Hertford Street or 5HS. The Spectator, which I think knows more about upmarket clubs than the Morning Star, described it as “Mayfair’s most happening members’ club when it is packed with the rich, beautiful, entitled London elite and their elegant, leggy consorts necking really rather good champagne.”
It continued with the young-women-as-sex-objects tone, quoting one observer describing Birley’s club as “the place where you find the prettiest girls in the greatest clothes. Their hair reaches down to their bottoms and their dresses reach up to them.”
The Spectator said the “London elite” at the club included City folk, hedge funders and Liam Fox, Norman Tebbit, Peter Mandelson, Norman Lamont and Michael Gove. Which I guess is somebody’s idea of a “most happening” club, though it may be other people’s view of hell.
In June 2019, the Independent Workers of Great Britain, a small independent union, launched protests with Kitchen Porters at the club, who were only getting £9 an hour — well below the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour. Their campaign continues.
As well as backing Johnson, Birley is a supporter of new right-wing youth movement Turning Point UK, which is an attempt to link US “alt-right” activism and the Conservative Party.
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