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Why are Labour MPs working with the Henry Jackson Society?

SOLOMON HUGHES shines a light on the politicians joining conferences held by the notorious neocon think tank

SOME Labour MPs are still working with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society (HJS), even as the right-wing think tank has turned itself into a platform for Boris Johnson. 

Anti-Corbyn MP John Spellar joined four Tory MPs and one from the DUP on the Henry Jackson Society “UK-US Legislators’ Conference” in Oxford before Christmas. 

It was a weekend away organised by the HJS to mix up British and US politicians to hear a series of right-wing talks.

It’s not really a surprise that Labour right figures like Spellar are happy to work with the HJS. But I got hold of the timetable for the trip which showed Labour’s Yvette Cooper and shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith also helped the event — although to a much lesser extent.

The HJS is a foreign policy think tank that was founded in 2005. It is typically described as “neoconservative” and “right-wing.” It has been solidly pro-military intervention and associated with inflammatory anti-Muslim statements. 

One of its best-known figures, Douglas Murray, became an “associate director” in 2011. In 2017 Murray told the BBC that “less Islam in general is obviously a good thing,” because of terrorism. 

This echoed Murray’s demand in a notorious 2006 speech that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board” and “immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop” before “a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities.” 

Murray was still listed as HJS staff in 2018, though he now seems to have disappeared off its website.

US Republican politician Bobby Jindal also created a scandal in 2015 when he said immigrants were trying to “colonise western countries” by setting up “no-go zones” in European cities in a speech at an HJS event. 

Last year the HJS also tried to promote Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman as a “man with vision” and “the ally Britain needs,” although it has been quieter since his Saudi government had dissident Jamal Khashoggi murdered and dismembered in its Istanbul consulate.

HJS runs on £1.3 million a year from secret donors and has worked hard to be influential in Parliament. In the past some Labour MPs, like Gisela Stuart, have served on its board. So have Tories like Michael Gove. But there has also been pushback. 

Around 2010 Murray claimed he had been “blackballed by Cameron” — the Tory front bench “broke off relations” with Murray because of his anti-Islam speech, so the Conservative leadership kept HJS at a distance. There have been persistent arguments about Labour MPs being close to HJS.

The HJS now seems to be making a play for the most Brexity Tories: Boris Johnson launched its latest report on “Global Britain” at an HJS event where he suggested Britain could “turbo charge” as it left the EU by getting closer to the US and cutting aid.

The Register of MPs’ Interests shows the HJS held its British-US Legislators’ Conference in December — a £450 a head weekend conference in Oxford, “for UK and USA delegates, on Brexit, international affairs and terrorism.”

The Tory MPs attending were the Brexity quartet Andrea Jenkyns, Matthew Offord, Tim Loughton and Julian Lewis, along with the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly.

US politicians have to give much more detail about their foreign trips than British MPs, so I used US records to get hold of the timetable for the Legislators Conference.

They showed it was a joint event held by the British HJS and the US Hudson Institute, which is a big, well-funded think tank. 

The Hudson Institute is variously viewed as “neoconservative” or just plain “conservative” — veteran “neocons” who helped George W Bush run the Iraq war like Doug Feith and Scooter Libby work at the Hudson Institute. 

The Hudson Institute has also hosted events with Steve Bannon, although it has also been critical of Bannon and Donald Trump.

The Hudson Institute arranged for seven US Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the British MPs — Republicans Mike Turner, Debbie Lesko, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon and Jim Sensenbrenner and Democrats Jared Huffman, Linda Sanchez and Joe Courtney.

While in Oxford, the MPs and US politicians were treated to talks by HJS and Hudson Institute staff and, for a special treat, a “reception and dinner” in Oxford’s Bodleian Library with Isabel Oakeshott as guest speaker. 

Oakeshott is a journalist who works for Tory Lord Ashcroft, co-writing the billionaire’s books. As well as being Ashcroft’s aide, Oakeshott has worked with Brexiteer businessman Arron Banks, and is currently one of the leading spokespeople for a Tory Brexit.

Having Oakeshott as guest speaker shows the weekend really had elements of a right-wing rally rather than a “study weekend.” 

Labour MP Gisela Stuart — both a long-term pal of the HJS and like Oakeshott, very Brexity, also addressed the event. 

At the end of the weekend, the British MPs went home, but the US politicians were then shepherded to the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel for a series of events in Westminster. 

The HJS/Hudson Institute got International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan and Dominic Grieve to address the visiting senators. 

They also had a meeting timetabled with Yvette Cooper, in her role as chair of the home affairs select committee on “UK-US and European policing and security co-operation in a changing world.”

And another meeting was with Nia Griffith on “The Opposition’s views on UK-US Defence & Security Relations.” I asked Cooper and Griffith if the meetings actually took place,but got no response.

Cooper and Griffith were much less involved with the trip than Spellar. They may have perceived the trip as more of a Hudson Institute tour by US politicians than an HJS event, as the British members of the trip were not involved. 

They were also both giving the visiting US politicians their point of view rather than listening to HJS spiel. But if Labour politicians want to meet US legislators, there is surely a better host than either HJS or the Hudson Institute.

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