Friday, 24 November 2006

Minister for arms dealing - poor old Stephen Milligan, begin again.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." - President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address.

While the Cash For Peerages scandal rages across the media, it seemed a suitable time to address the issue of governmental corruption and conspiracy. Corruption is the elephant in the room when it comes to government; I doubt that there is an administration in the world completely free of it, and where the seeds grow large it contaminates the system all the way down. Yet, while the idea of seeing Mr Blair escorted from No 10 in handcuffs has me at the point of salivating, this is more of an Al Capone is arrested for Tax Evasion situation than genuine concern about the honours system (one word here – Iraq, ok lets add his attacks on the English tradition of liberty). The peerage system may be corrupt, but its corruption is long institutionalised and in plain sight – it lacks the odour that comes from the corruption kept unseen but known to those above.

That stench, of compromised individuals who have got into the habit of bending the system, hangs lightly on The Blair Government, although I am sure it is already taking, or has taken, hold beneath the surface. In this piece I'm going to discuss the last administration, not with the intent to suggest they were worse than the current incumbent, but because we have just enough distance to see their misbehaviour clearly. A couple of ledes for this post - I am about to raise two unarguable, well documented conspiracies from this era, and a third that may be altogether more sinister. Underneath the propaganda that Murdoch’s media called “Back to basics” there are a series of points that may form something altogether nastier than sleaze. So put on your Fox Mulder hat, because we’re going back to the early nineties to describe a particularly ripe pong.

There’s one position in government above which I suspect the flies have always circled – it is currently held by Lord Drayson; who has been previously implicated in Cash for Peerages. The post is the number three position in The Ministry of Defence, named Defence Procurement. As is the case in the United States, the defence complex is a focus for subsidy led growth – pork barrelling - and Defence Procurement sits uncomfortably on the borderland between military capabilities and economic growth. Defence is a difficult industry to monitor, but the Institute For Strategic Studies estimated in 2004 that Britain annually exports material with a market value of $1.9 billion, making Britain the fourth largest arms exporter after the US, Russia and France. With an industry of this national value, and any government’s tendency to buy the products of their own companies, it is to be expected that the issues should become muddy. It is natural that when the government orders research and development into a new line of equipment from, say, BAE (the world’s fourth largest defence contractor), the resulting product will inevitably be sold on the open market. This benefits both parties (being able to produce a lot of arms fast has got to be good for the defence establishment), but there are significant risks of conflicts of interest in an industry that does not like to be watched.

Under the Labour government the stench has been partially aired by demoting it from a Minister of State position to a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and by their tendency to appoint a member of the Upper House to the job, but under the Conservatives it was considered a job for an MP.

"So what does it matter where it was when it was hit? We could have sunk it if it'd been tied up on the quayside in a neutral port and everyone would still have been delighted." - Alan Clark, on the sinking of the Belgrano.

I have found it difficult to find a complete history of the post, this article will focus on its tenants following the 1989 reshuffle, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Alan Clark to the position. Clark’s previous appointment had been in the Department of Trade And Industry (DTI), an office with a very similar pork barrel agenda. To get the measure of Clark I strongly recommend reading his extremely amusing and politically fascinating diaries. The impression they left on me was of an amoral, extremely intelligent individual with the sense of entitlement that comes from members of the aristocracy. The most corrupt individuals in public life seem to have a charm and capabilities that allows them to deflect accusations that were obvious in retrospect; Archer, Mandelson, Maxwell and Livingstone all show/showed similar traits. If there is a figure in politics less suited to dealing with issues as morally ambiguous as the arms trade, I cannot imagine them. By nature of his appointment Thatcher was either complicit in military corruption or unimaginably incompetent.

While in the DTI Clark was involved in authorising the sale of Matrix Churchill (a machine tools firm) to a holding company that were a majority held asset of the government of Iraq. Machine tools produced by these companies were ideally suited to the manufacture of weapons, and their sale directly violated a government ban on arms trading to either side in the Iran/Iraq conflict. On being moved to Defence, his involvement in this process increased and both departments were implicated by The Scott Inquiry into the affair after the first Gulf War.

I’m not going to use this piece to grind out the details of the Arms To Iraq scandal – the Supergun, The Scott Inquiry and Clark’s famous quote of being “Economical with the actualité” when questioned in court. I raise this to show the flavour of the department, The Scott Inquiry (published in '96) leaves little room for doubt that Clark had a responsibility for promoting the interests of British Industry when his post was intended on paper to equip the British Army, and furthermore that the levers of state were used the protect the department at the expense of the directors of Matrix Churchill who were on trial for the illegal export of munitions.

"The actual offence was small. It was the cover-up... I should have learned from Nixon's mistake." - Jonathan Aitken on his libel case. Aitken was notable for writing a favourable biography of Richard Nixon.

Following Clark (who left parliament in '92, after Thatcher's loss of power), the post was awarded to Jonathan Aitken. It didn't take long for Aitken to plough the same furrow as his predecessor. History remembers him for his sword of truth speech and his imprisonment for perjury after losing his libel case against The Guardian. However, this story led back to a Guardian investigation (The story of the investigation as told by the Guardian Journalist himself is here) into a weekend he spent in Paris in September of 1993 (told first hand here). This was the venue for a meeting with a Saudi representative, Said Ayas, where a defence contract between British Companies and the Saudi government was discussed. The affair took years to grind out, The Guardian published its investigation in '95 which lead to the collapse of the libel case in '97 and Aitken's imprisonment for perjury in '99. History has never completely cleared up what happened in Paris (no inquiry occurred).

Aitken claims to this day that he was guilty only of the cover-up, but the Guardian has a detailed special report here that suggests some truly staggering corruption. The Saudi Representative, Said Ayas, is said to have taken $150 million in commission into Swiss bank accounts for such deals, The Guardian gives the incredible figure of $1.2 billion in such commissions to the Saudi Prince over a period of twenty years - and Aitken, for whatever reason, was facilitating this illicitly.

Stephen Milligan MP, in the only photograph I can find.

So far, so well documented. But now we move onto the potentially juiciest but hardest to support issue attached to this post - around which there was demonstrably a culture of deceit. Five months after the Paris meeting, on the 7th of Febuary 1994, Stephen Milligan's corpse was discovered by his cleaner in his London flat. Milligan was one of the new intake of MP's from the '92 election and had an impressive history workin
g as a journalist for The Economist and The BBC. The obituary published by The Guardian suggests he was feted for high places, and he had been appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Jonathan Aitken. PPS is probably the least illustrious job in government and primarily consists of keeping a Minister informed of the events taking place in The House - it is the first step on the ladder. It is, nonetheless, known for expanding to fit the occupant and all current commentary suggests that Milligan was considered among the best of his generation.

In order to discuss Milligan, I'm going to have to mention the circumstances in which Milligan's corpse was found. Note should be taken that I can find no authoritative source on this topic on the internet. There was chord (although some sources say electrical flex) around his throat, he was dressed in women's stockings and possibly underwear, with a bin bag over his head, there was no evidence of drug taking but (and for some reason this has become the most well known fact about his death) there was a segment of either orange or satsuma - depending on your source - in his mouth. The coroner's report gave a verdict of death by misadventure, and in the eyes of history he has become the definitive figure (along with Michael Hutchence) linked to auto-erotic asphyxiation.

If ever there was a manner of death that totally overshadows the person's life, it was that of Milligan. It is entirely possible that his death was indeed the result of scarfing, I suspect that being a single man in politics must be a lonely life, and Milligan comes across as a high achiever with drive. However, I find the lack of information stongly suggests, at the very least, a cover-up by general consent after the inquest. The press did not want to tear into one of their own, and The Conservatives didn't want a scandal. Much like Churchill's stroke while in office in '53, here was a situation where everyone involved decided to step back from the issue. The Guardian's obituary is a case in point since it avoids discussing the implications of his death. Milligan's death is unique in the history of British Politics, but there is almost nothing on the topic on the internet. The most I can find is one badly written conspiracy theory by a local constituency hack. By this bizarre circumstance of death, Milligan the man (the fiance of future MP Julie Kirkbride) disappeared.

Lets treat Milligan as a man, and try to visualise the time leading up to his death. Milligan sat down at the kitchen table and removed his clothes. He clothed himself in some women's underwear that he kept in the flat, carefully putting on the stockings (maybe they were Julie's). He prepared the electrical flex, placing the noose around his neck (in order for this to work you would probably have to tighten it from your legs or a secure inanimate object). He then put a fruit segment in his mouth, placed a bin bag over his head, and grasped his member.

The circumstances are certainly arresting, and run at the edge of human behaviour (I have trouble imagining a person doing this). If there is a reader with more knowledge can you please explain the bin bag, or why you would perform something erotic (he's wearing women's underwear after all, this isn't just mechanical) at the kitchen table? The circumstances are quite so embarrassing it's as if the whole country had a "The Office" moment and let it slide.

So, lets look at the circumstances leading up to his death with a slightly more conspiratorial eye. Firstly, there is the timeline: Milligan died 5 months after Aitken's meeting in Paris - by the account of the Guardian journalist, he had already contacted The Minister asking for clarification on the circumstances of the meeting, and governm
ent (all the way up to and including Major) was closing ranks. The Scott Inquiry had been running for 2 years (and had 2 more to go) and had been hounding the MOD for documents that the report suggests had only been released under duress. It would be a further 1.5 years before The Guardian launched its attack on Aitken, but the Back To Basics "sleaze" backlash was already in full swing. Don't underestimate the siege mentality that gripped Whitehall at the time, 'since 93 the party had been groaning under a daily assault of illegitimate children, bribed politicans and underage affairs. And in it's centre we have an unstable government that already has an established history of corruption. These people had watched Clark and Aitken at work, and Aitken was promoted in the next reshuffle, they may not have known the details but there was complicity there. The Milligan affair wasn't to be investigated, it was to be dismissed as soon as possible.

Milligan alive was a successful professional journalist, and at the time these were the least popular people in the eyes of The Conservatives and particularly the MOD, his instincts and training would have grated badly against their reaction to the Scott Inquiry. Milligan dead was an embarrassment best kept out of sight. As a journalist in the MOD, Milligan was the nail that stuck up at a time of departmental crisis.

When discussing the possibility of an execution, lets take into account we are talking both vast sums of money in the form of, at the least, the Saudi commissions. We are also talking about the Ministry Of Defence, who's purpose at least in part is to be able to execute such operations. There are many ways both institutional and freelance that were within the senior MOD's options. In retrospect, if this was a murder, it was a truly inspired way to kill someone in the public eye with minimal fuss. If this is murder, it was utterly ruthless and they destroyed him in the eyes of his family, his friends, and history. We have motive, we have means, and we have opportunity.

I've had difficulty in concluding this piece: there was corruption at the top under the Conservatives (well, duh), it's possible that Stephen Milligan was murdered (I think the facts as presented here speak for themselves), that there is always something rotten in the state of government (I think most LMWN readers will agree with that anyway). But it is my view that no society is free of corruption, it is flawed processes that lead to it, and that the British Minister Of Defence Procurement was a post so horrendously compromised by its very nature - vast sums of money involved, no oversight, secrecy and ammorallity - that eventually someone died. If that person was an elected representative of the people who died in the public eye and no one even noticed. Well so be it, that's the game.

I'm no conspiracy theorist, and the reason I began this little research project was because, to be honest, I always thought there was a play to be written about sleaze, in the same way a play was written about Blunkett: something grand with elements of Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. I fell on the story of Milligan because it was the one with the best hook. Maybe I'm too quick to turn this series of events into a narrative but I will admit that I have convinced myself. No one ever properly investigated this story - there was unquestionably a cover up - and the timeline speaks for itself.

The scandals that destroyed Aitken and Clark only emerged as the result of accidents - The Scott Inquiry only took place because Britain went to war with the country they were dealing arms to, Aitken was only caught because Moha
mmed Al Fayed (who was implicated in the Cash For Questions scandal) decided to hand the receipt from his Paris Ritz stay to The Guardian. In the following years the Arms industry has continued to grow, with British Aerospace merging with Marconi in '99 to form BAE. There have been no fresh scandals.


Anonymous said...

There are certain similarities with the case Jonathan Moyle, editor of "Defence Helicopter World", found dead in Chile in 1990.

"British officials in Chile are claiming that the dead defence journalist Jonathan Moyle was a sexual deviant who hanged himself while attempting to obtain pleasure." (Guardian 2 June 1990, page 3)

The Chilean Appeal Court decided last month to re-open investigation of the case.

Anonymous said...

The most I can find is one badly written conspiracy theory by a local constituency hack

Mmm. I was the "local constituency hack" and was the last journalist known to have interviewed him and following his death released the transcript of a taped 15-minute telephone conversation.

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Well, Mr Harris, we would like to thank you for the source material for our article, it was very useful.

You're role in the story is significant, we thank you for it and welcome your commentary.

Charles Pooter said...

You called him a hack in the article!

Anonymous said...

"At 4:15 AM, Anonymous said...

So James Rusbridger was wearing a Noddy NBC Suit - wonder where that came from?

Wasn't a minor MP found dressed in rubbish bin bags with an orange in his mouth trying to heighten some sexual stimulation by controlled strangulation some weeks previous to Mr Rusbridger's unfortunate demise?

Perhaps he was topped too?
At 7:12 AM, mjs said...

Conservative MP Stephen Milligan was found dead on 7 February 1994, just over a week before James Rusbridger. Both deaths appeared to be in similar circumstances, with rumour that they were both linked to sado-masochistic sex practices. However, is that what we are expected to believe? Like all these inexplicable events, the whiff of conspiracy is never far from the surface. I guess we need an insider to spill the beans on this one."

Anonymous said...

Plenty of info on internet about Milligan now but absolutely zero on YOU TUBE.

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