The British American Project for the Successor Generation

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(This is a separate article on the history of the BAP, also see the current profile on BAP)

The British American Project for the Successor Generation

by Tom Easton

Originally published in Lobster: parapolitics and state research journal

Issue 33 – 1997, Summer. Retrievable for subscribers from

Let's start with the easiest question: what do George Robertson, Chris Smith and Marjorie 'Mo' Mowlam have in common? They are, of course, all strong Tony Blair supporters in the new Labour Cabinet. And what about Peter Mandelson and Elizabeth Symons? Not yet quite Cabinet members, but both are key figures in the 'modernising project' in Blair's 'New Labour' government: Mandelson as Minister without Portfolio having a roving brief to monitor, coordinate and brief the press on all areas of government activity and Symons, the former leader of the union for top civil servants, the First Division Association, is the Foreign Office Minister in the House of Lords.

Symons shares her unelected status with two other key figures in the new Blair administration, Jonathan Powell and Michael Barber. Powell, a former British diplomat in Washington, is now Blair's chief of staff at 10 Downing Street and Barber is special adviser to Education Secretary David Blunkett. And what do these two and the four ministers in the new government share with Ms Symons? They are all members of the British American Project for the Successor Generation (BAP for short) - an elite transatlantic network launched in 1985 with $425,000 from a Philadelphia-based trust with a long record in the US of supporting right-wing causes.

Its membership reaches beyond formal politics to include rising figures in finance, industry, academia, the military and the civil service. Media members include Economist political editor David Lipsey, Independent economics editor Diane Coyle, Times Educational Supplement editor Caroline St John-Brooks and BBC journalists Jeremy Paxman, Isabel Hilton, Trevor Phillips and James Naughtie.

BAP's Origins

The first recorded mention of the need for a 'successor generation' came in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan spoke to a group, including Rupert Murdoch and Sir James Goldsmith, in the White House. The reason for the 21 March gathering that year was US fear of the rising opposition to the siting of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe. Reagan's administration took this movement so seriously that it recalled its ambassador to Ireland, Peter Dailey, to Washington. He was given the task of coordinating a strategy to defeat the broad-based opposition to Reagan's 'evil Empire' policy and with it the first major European challenge to the NATO orthodoxies of the previous 35 years. The meeting, organised by National Security Council staff with the support of USIA director Charles Wick, was intended to recruit 'private sector donors' to help in this task.

In a confidential NSC memorandum Walt Raymond, the CIA director of operations who had left Langley for the NSC shortly before, described the upcoming meeting as 'the first session with donors and Charlie (Wick) has focused this meeting specifically on our needs in Europe ... I do not know whether the group assembled on March 21 will serve as the core for a large funding effort which could support the National Endowment for Democracy or whether the group, by background and interest, will remain focused on Europe. The problems of European public opinion, however, are sufficiently great that this is enough of a task to take on at this time.'

When Reagan stepped into the Situation Room that March afternoon his audience was not only Murdoch and Goldsmith, but also Ambassador Dailey, now restyled 'Chairman, European Public Diplomacy Committee', George Gallup, chairman of the polling organisation and Joachim Maitre, 'coming as personal representative of Axel Springer, German publishing executive.'

Reagan told them: 'Last June I spoke to the British Parliament, proposing that we - the democracies of the world - work together to build the infrastructure of democracy. This will take time, money, and efforts by both government and the private sector. We need particularly to cement relations among the various sectors of our societies in the United States and Europe. A special concern will be the successor generations, as these younger people are the ones who will have to work together in the future on defense and security issues.' (emphasis added) [1]

The British-American Project's own account of its foundation makes no reference to the President's remarks, but clearly shares the same concern for an improvement in US-UK relations when, in the early Eighties, both the Labour and Liberal parties opposed the major arms spending increases - nuclear and non-nuclear - central to Reagan and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.

In the BAP version of its foundation it would appear that the institution of regular meetings of '24 Americans and 24 Britons aged between 28 and 40 who by virtue of their present accomplishments had given indication that, in the succeeding generation, they would be leaders in their country and perhaps internationally' was the idea of two old Oxford friends - Sir Charles Villiers and US Rhodes scholar Lewis Van Dusen. Villiers, an old-Etonian banker, was a wartime Special Operations Executive veteran who subsequently became chairman of the British Steel Corporation. Van Dusen, senior partner in the law firm Drinker, Biddle and Reath, was deputy to the first US representative to NATO between 1950 and 1952.

The BAP account describes a dinner between the two old friends early in the Reagan presidency and observes that Villiers' 'relationship between him and Lew [Van Dusen] had implications far beyond their personal friendship and in fact provided networking for personal friendships and broader relationships between Britain and the US, with countrywide benefits. He [Villiers] further observed that such relationships were not continuing as they had hoped.

'Arrangements were made for Charles [Villiers] to see Robert I Smith, then the head of the Pew Memorial Trust. Subsequent discussions resulted in a grant underwriting the first three years of the Project. Advisory Boards were established in the US and Britain. The School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, would administer the American side. The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, London, would serve a similar function in Britain.

'Since that time, alternate conferences lasting approximately four days have been held annually in the US and Britain. All expenses including travel are paid for first-time delegates. Initially topics for study and discussion were proposed by Chatham House and SAIS.'

BAP people

  • George Robertson One of the Britons chosen for the delicate task of selecting participants for the Successor Generation project was George Robertson MP, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland who, to the surprise of some, was made Defence Secretary in the new Blair government. Why there should have been any shock in this move is in itself surprising because Robertson has been a pillar of the Anglo-American/NATO establishment from the time he left the service of the General and Municipal Workers' Union (as it then was called) in 1978 to become Labour MP for Hamilton. A former secretary of the right-wing Labour Manifesto group (most of whose members defected to the Social Democratic party in 1981), Robertson joined the government-funded British Atlantic Committee in the same year that it was publicly attacking the Labour party's non-nuclear defence policy. He was on the Council of the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) from 1984 to 1991 and on the steering committee of the annual Konigswinter conference for much of that time. He has been a governor of the Ditchley Foundation since 1989 and was vice-chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy from 1992 to 1994. A man more likely to be given the defence brief and less likely to include the possession of nuclear weapons in the Blair government's newly announced defence review can scarcely be imagined.
  • David Lipsey Robertson was helped in the task of selecting promising transatlantic talent for the early years of the BAP by David Lipsey, a man who also started life as a researcher with the GMWU. After Oxford Lipsey got to know and admire Anthony Crosland, the Gaitskellite MP, author of The Future of Socialism and one-time consultant to the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom. Crosland became Lipsey's mentor, hiring him as adviser at the Department for Environment and then at the Foreign Office. After Crosland's death in 1977, Lipsey moved to the office of Prime Minister James Callaghan. With the defeat of Labour in 1979 Lipsey switched to journalism, first at New Society and then the Sunday Times before returning as editor of New Society in 1986.

At the time he was helping to launch the BAP he was also involved in setting up the Sunday Correspondent, the short-lived and largely US-funded weekly. When it folded in 1990 he became associate editor of Murdoch's Times, quitting that for the Economist in 1992 and becoming its political editor two years later. Along the way he has been chairman of the [Fabian Society]], a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and a non-executive director of the Personal Investment Authority.

  • Nick Butler An old Streatham Labour party friend of Lipsey's from the Seventies, Butler is a central figure in the British-American Project. Alongside a career in British Petroleum, Butler has combined political activity in the Fabians (for many years he was its treasurer), Chatham House and Konigswinter with writing for the US Council for Foreign Relations journal Foreign Affairs. The Cambridge-educated Butler jointly authored with Neil Kinnock Why Vote Labour in 1979 and through the Fabian Society was deeply involved in the former Labour leader's successful efforts to move the party away from unilateral nuclear disarmament in the late Eighties. His wife, a former senior BBC current affairs executive, now works for the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Butler has been deeply involved in the BAP programme from the outset. He was UK treasurer when, in 1984, the Pew Trust - a big funder of the right-wing Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute at the time - chipped in with the $425,000 launch money. After Robertson, he is the senior Labour member of the UK advisory board, which is chaired by the former conservative Foreign Secretary and NATO secretary general Lord Carrington. The two other party political members of that board are Alan Lee Williams and Lord Holme of Cheltenham. 3

  • Alan Lee Williams Williams was Labour party national youth officer under Hugh Gaitskell's leadership before becoming an MP. He was parliamentary private secretary when Roy Mason was Defence Secretary and he followed when Mason became Northern Ireland Secretary. Defence was a constant interest of Williams, chairing the Parliamentary Labour Party's Defence Committee and, after losing his Hornchurch seat in 1979, chairing Peace Through NATO. In addition to work for the European Movement - he was treasurer from 1972 to 1979 - he has strong US links. He is currently director of the Atlantic Council. He became one of David Rockefeller's Trilateral Commission members in 1976 and has chaired the European working group of the right-wing Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington since 1987. In 1981, Williams was one of the founding members of the Social Democratic party and subsequently of the Liberal Democratic alliance.
  • Richard Holme Lord Holme of Cheltenham came to that alliance via the Liberal party of which he was president in the year the SDP was launched. After Oxford and Harvard, Richard Holme became active in the Liberal party and stood for them unsuccessfully on several occasions. A director of RTZ-CRA, which now helps fund the Successor Generation project, Holme is a central figure in 'centre' politics. He has directed the Campaign for Electoral Reform; chaired the Constitutional Reform Centre; remains a director of Political Quarterly, as well as vice-chairman of the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government and, in addition, chairs Threadneedle Publishing, a major publisher of political reference works.

He has been chairman of Brassey's, the defence publishers once owned by Robert Maxwell with a US subsidiary chaired by the late Senator John Tower, (President George Bush's unsuccessful nomination for Defence Secretary). He took over the chairmanship of the consultancy firm Prima Europe from Dick Taverne, the former Labour MP turned Social Democrat. Until his election as policy adviser to the Blair government, Prima also employed Roger Liddle, the former SDP candidate who jointly authored The Blair Revolution with Peter Mandelson.

Holme acted as treasurer of the Green Alliance for 11 years, during some of which time Tom Burke, an SDP activist turned adviser to Conservative governments, was director. Burke, a former adviser to David Owen, was one of a batch of younger SDP figures selected by the UK board for Successor Generation membership in its early days a decade ago.

SDP activists Others SDP activists receiving early invitations to join the Successor Project were Sue Slipman, the former Communist president of the National Union of Students; Penny Cooper, an old Communist party and NUS colleague of Slipman's who, like her, was a founder member of the SDP; Becky Bryan, a defence analyst and later BBC reporter who was 1983 Alliance candidate for East Hampshire, and Rabbi Julia Neuburger, a member of the government-backed multilateralist Council for Arms Control in the early Eighties and a prominent member of the SDP national committee.

Slipman, Bryan and Neuberger were joined at the 1986 BAP gathering in Philadelphia by George Robertson's fellow Cabinet colleague, Chris Smith. The MP for Islington South is no stranger to the United States. Between his first degree at Cambridge and his doctorate there, a Kennedy scholarship took him to Harvard for a year. A few years in local government earned him the chance of a seat and shortly after being elected became, first, secretary and then chairman of the Tribune group of Labour MPs.

Even more familiar with the United States is another Blair Cabinet member with a doctorate and a past involvement in the Tribune group, Northern Ireland Secretary 'Mo' Mowlam. After Durham University, Mowlam studied and taught in American universities for most of the Seventies. After winning Redcar in 1987 she followed Smith as secretary of the Tribune group at the time it was becoming less the voice of the radical Left in the parliamentary party and more of a support group for Neil Kinnock in his 'modernising' moves, particularly on defence.

Mowlam attended the 1988 gathering of the BAP in St Louis, where she was joined by the Labour Party's then director of campaigns and communications, Peter Mandelson. The theme, 'Present Alliance, Future Challenges', was very relevant to a world in which the Cold War was moving into a new phase with the crumbling of the former Soviet empire. Kurt Campbell, a Harvard academic who had lectured on Soviet studies in what was then apartheid South Africa, led the first session on 'New Empires for Old'.

In the subsequent discussion - led, according to the confeence report by British participants - Mowlam and Mandelson heard the contributions of Tim Gardam, the editor of the BBC TV current affairs programme, Panorama, and Michael Maclay, at that time a producer for 'Weekend World', London Weekend Television's rival programme on which Mandelson had been working before his Labour party job.

Maclay is an interesting figure in the BAP network. A career Foreign Office official, he left the diplomatic service for a media career, first at LWT and then, with David Lipsey, as a founding figure of the Sunday Correspondent. After that paper's collapse Maclay was rapidly recruited to Robert Maxwell's new newspaper venture, The European. His latest appointment has taken him out of journalism and back into diplomacy as special adviser to the European Union's High Representative in the former Yugoslavia, the Swedish Conservative, Carl Bildt.

Colonel Bob Stewart That same 1988 BAP gathering also included a soldier subsequently widely known through television for his presence in Bosnia and subsequently as a supporter of BBC war correspondent Martin's Bell's 1997 election candidature in Tatton - Colonel Bob Stewart. Less well known, perhaps, is that Stewart was a key figure on NATO's military committee and between 1994 and 1995 was chief of policy at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers, Europe. Since resigning from the Army in 1996 Stewart has been hired by the international public affairs consultants, Hill and Knowlton. [2]

Also at the same BAP meeting were Jill Rutter, now Chancellor Gordon Brown's Treasury publicity chief who in 1988 was private secretary to John Major. Her attendance in St Louis was during her Harkness Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. Her fellow Treasury colleague Douglas Board was along with her, as was Colin Walters the then head of the police division at the Home Office. So, too, was Iain Elliott, associate director of the CIA-funded Radio Liberty and former editor of Soviet Analyst.

Andrew Gimson, a former Conservative Central Office researcher who was then editorial page editor of the Independent newspaper was one of two British journalists present, the other being Yasmin Alibhai Brown, then an editor of the New Statesman and now a freelance writer whose work appears widely.

The purpose of the 1988 gathering - as of all the BAP functions Æwas summed up by Tory MP David Willetts, previously director of studies at the Centre for Policy Studies founded by Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph in 1974. Willetts said: 'The object of the conference is to enable bright young people from the United States and the United Kingdom to get to know each other in a friendly environment. This will help reinforce Anglo-American links, especially if some members already do, or will eventually, occupy positions of influence.' Given the result of the 1997 general election, it is unlikely that David Willetts will have quite the same influence for Atlanticism he exercised as a Tory minister or as a pathfinder for privatisation at the Centre for Policy Studies.

But there are plenty of Successor Generation members around to carry on the work. Robertson, Mowlam, Smith and Mandelson are central figures in the Blair regime. In place, too, is 1990 BAP attendee Liz Symons, the partner of Rupert Murdoch's labour editor at the Times, Phil Bassett. The BAP's 1996 newsletter welcomed her elevation to the Lords as follows: 'Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, aka Liz Symons, has tendered her resignation as general secretary of the FDA following the announcement of her life peerage in August. She will continue there until the end of 1996. After that she can be reached at House of Lords, London SW1A 1AA. Congratulations from all of us.'

Symons came to trade unionism by a somewhat unusual route, being an official of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation while her father, Ernest Vize Symons, was the Board of Inland Revenue's director general. (He was also, coincidentally, governor of the English-Speaking Union at about the time Alan Lee Williams was successfully seeking a post-parliamentary career as director of the ESU). Alongside her as a trade unionist within the Project is Barry Reamsbottom, the former editor of the Civil Service union paper Red Tape. Since 1992 he has been general secretary of the Civil and Public Servants' Association - the other end of the public service spectrum represented until last year by Symons at the FDA.

A third trade unionist with long-standing US connections was an early participant in the Successor network. He is John Lloyd, then of the electricians' union, the EEPTU, as it was called at the time of his participation in the 1987 conference.[3] Lloyd's successive bosses at the union, Frank Chapple and Eric Hammond, are long-standing anti-Communist, pro-NATO figures in the trade union movement. Both were active in the US-funded Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding and Alan Lee Williams's European Working Group at the CSIS in Washington. [4]

The only other figure with a trade union connection in the BAP network would appear to be Michael Barber, the University of London education specialist who was, for a short time, a policy official at the National Union of Teachers. Barber now has the role of principal policy adviser to the new Education Secretary, David Blunkett. BAP in the media

Readers who have followed this catalogue of careers and connections thus far might ask why they have read and heard nothing of the Successor Generation network in the media - after all, it has been in existence since 1985 and some quite important figures have taken part in its deliberations.

One reason might be that the network contains lots of journalists, a group who are often less willing to disclose their own activities than those of others. Of the most familiar names James Naughtie, the co-presenter of Radio Four's daily current affairs programme Today, is probably least surprising to find on the BAP's list of alumni. Naughtie's postgraduate studies were in New York at Syracuse and in 1981 he was awarded the Laurence M Stern Fellowship to spend a summer working on the Washington Post. A review of his radio documentary output makes it clear that transatlantic relations are a key field of interest.

Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight interviewer was a BAP participant in 1990, along with BBC current affairs producer Margaret Hill. Christopher Cragg of the Financial Times, kept them company, as did George Brock, the foreign editor of the Times.

Before them had come Michael Elliott and Daniel Franklin of the Economist; Isabel Hilton, at the time Latin America editor of the Independent and now freelancing, among others for the BBC and the Guardian; Frederick Kempe of the Wall Street Journal; Charles Moore, then of the Spectator and now the editor of the Daily Telegraph; Trevor Phillips, an ex-National Union of Students president at the time with LWT and now, more recently with the BBC and Pepper Productions, a joint UK/USA/South Africa production company, and Hugh Raven of the Sunday Telegraph.

The journalists' list is completed by Diane Coyle, a Treasury economist turned economics editor of the Independent and Caroline St John-Brooks, a former colleague of David Lipsey at New Society and the Sunday Times. After a spell working with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, she has this year been appointed to edit Rupert Murdoch's Times Educational Supplement. Defence and security specialists

Dotted around these annual gatherings are always a few defence and security specialists. Calum McDonald, the University of California-educated Labour MP for the Western Isles, is a stalwart opponent of unilateralism. Raj Thamotheram founded Saferworld, a defence and foreign affairs think-tank opposed to unilateralism. Colonel Tom Thomas is a NATO adviser with expertise in counter-insurgency. James Sherr is a New Yorker based in Britain who has worked for Group Captain Bolton's RUSI and the Heritage-funded Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, the latter a fierce opponent of the Labour party and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the Eighties. Gloria Franklin has headed the Ministry of Defence's civilian think-tank and has been responsible for the annual Defence White Paper. Steve Smith of the University of East Anglia lectures on strategic issues and Gregory Treverton of Princeton and Harvard has worked closely with the Council for Foreign Relations, the US sister organisation to Britain's Chatham House.

Last, but by no means least, on the foreign policy and defence front, we have Jonathan Powell, the career diplomat who gave up his posting at the Washington embassy to work for Tony Blair in opposition and now runs his No 10 office as chief of staff. Powell is the youngest of the Powell brothers, of whom Charles, the eldest, was Thatcher's foreign policy specialist and the middle one, Chris, advertising adviser to the Labour party. Jonathan Powell was the smiling presence at the Successor Generation's 10th anniversary get-together at Windsor in 1995.

The British organiser of that conference was a member of a familiar, if not quite so influential, family. Matthew Taylor is the son of sociologist-cum-media personality Laurie Taylor. Taylor Jr is the Labour party's new policy director. His US counterpart, Nina Easton, looked back proudly on that Windsor meeting. 'Once again the project demonstrated its commitment to grooming leaders for a new generation, and highlighted the leading global role that these two allies will continue to play in promoting democracy.'

A decade after calling on his visiting White House multi-millionaires to help create a reliable 'successor generation', a fitter Ronald Reagan might today have cause for a chuckle. The Labour administration his successor Bill Clinton came to smile upon in May seems safely in the hands of an elite well-groomed in the ways of Atlantic cooperation.