Is a clandestine world government meeting in Watford?
Published in The Daily Mail (June 6th, 2013)
Even though it’s the birthplace of a Spice Girl, a former Gladiators champion and the Tory chairman Grant Shapps, nothing can have prepared Watford for the circus descending on it today.
For the line-up of famous guests checking into the five-star Grove Hotel on the town’s outskirts is even more star-spangled than when Russell Brand celebrated his stag party there with the likes of Noel Gallagher and David Walliams.
Those ferried in via fleets of limousines and helicopters include billionaires, bank bosses, defence chiefs, oil barons, politicians, royals and statesmen. For the next four days, these 138 very important people will discuss our futures over the finest food, wine and flattery — interspersed, no doubt, with the odd game of golf or a massage at the hotel spa.
For this is the unlikely home for the annual gathering of the mysterious, highly-secretive and very self-congratulatory Bilderberg group — long seen by conspiracy theorists as a malevolent cabal that actually rules the world, a suspicion sparked not least by its refusal until recently to confirm its own existence.
In truth, one has to question whether a clandestine global government is really going to set up shop in Watford, for all the town’s undoubted charms.
But there is no doubt the roll-call of those attending the world’s top networking event from 21 countries is impressive — although it is noticeable that only 14 are women.
Guests include Chancellor George Osborne and his Labour shadow Ed Balls; Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands; Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund; Jose Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission; Henry Kissinger, the veteran U.S. politician; and David Petraeus, the former general and CIA director.
They will be joined by politicians such as Lord Mandelson and former Tory foreign secretary Lord Carrington, both regular participants, along with about 60 chairmen and chief executives from major companies such as BP, Goldman Sachs and Shell.
The bosses of Amazon and Google have been invited, despite intense public anger over their corporate tax avoidance. There will also be three senior executives from HSBC, which only six months ago was hit with a massive fine after allegations of money-laundering for terror groups and drug lords.
For all the mystique surrounding the event, one of those who attended last year’s conclave in the U.S. town of Chantilly, Virginia, was perfectly happy to prick the bubble of secrecy and pomposity.
‘Of course I was delighted to be asked,’ said the source. ‘But you turn up to find a lot of people who are quite self-important, speaking in platitudes. There is a tidal wave of inanity washing over you from start to finish.’
He said he struggled to remember anything of substance from the event beyond watching Kissinger in action, though he said the informal chats over meals were often interesting.
The Watford meeting is the 61st since the group began life ‘to foster dialogue between Europe and America’ at the Hotel de Bilderberg near Arnhem, Holland, in 1954.
It was launched by a Polish exile and leading advocate of European union named Joseph Retinger, who was alarmed by the spread of communism and soaring anti-Americanism. He was backed by the Dutch royal family and key U.S. officials.
Guests are seated in alphabetical order, which is reversed each year — although it is unclear how the hotel rooms are allocated. Who, for instance, will get the Grove’s £1,050-a-night presidential suite — beloved by Kylie Minogue — and who will be consigned to the cheapest west wing rooms?
One thing sets it apart from the plethora of other similar talking shops such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: its mafia-like code of silence.
Guests are ordered to come on their own, minutes do not recall the names of speakers, and participants are warned never to discuss anything with outsiders if they want to be invited again. Even the word ‘Bilderberg’ must not be mentioned.
Such is the secrecy that when Tony Blair was asked in Parliament, shortly after becoming prime minister, if he or any of his ministers had ever attended Bilderberg group meetings, he emphatically denied it.
Later it emerged he had been in 1993, plucked as one of the rising political stars invited each year. His denial only serves to add to the mystique, though he did confess to a recent interviewer: ‘Yeah, it’s a really useful group actually.’
This lack of transparency — which is supposed to encourage open debate during the meeting — has led to dozens of daft conspiracy theories. Online forums buzz about the group’s supposed desire to unleash a new world order with perpetual war, and ‘non-conformists targeted for extermination’.
Osama bin Laden, Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh and London nail-bomber David Copeland all believed that Bilderberg runs the world, while the group variously stands accused of being a Zionist plot, hiding the cure for cancer and ousting Margaret Thatcher from power.
One Greek bishop even said Bilderberg represented an attempt to set up a: ‘cruel world dictatorship under the headship of Lucifer’.
The reality is rather less diabolical, despite there being an undoubted capitalist, corporatist and EU bias which reflects the origins of the organisation.
One ex-president admitted that the group helped lay the groundwork for creating the euro, which in some people’s eyes is proof enough that dark forces are at work; sure enough, that arch europhile Ken Clarke is among those on the steering committee.
This year’s guests will debate 12 ‘megatrends’, including the politics of the EU, Western economic growth and cyberwarfare. There are also sessions on ‘Africa’s challenges’ and the Middle East, despite the lack of representatives from these regions.
Those who have attended say it is full of people who previously held powerful jobs discussing world events as if they were still key players. Perhaps this explains why Shirley Williams will be in Watford this year.
‘It is all very enjoyable and pleasant,’ one said. ‘But really it was all these people reassuring each other they were still important and stroking each other’s egos.’
Among the few to have broken the code of silence was Denis Healey, the former Labour chancellor and one of the founding fathers of Bilderberg, who revealed how a fiery David Owen speech at one meeting helped swing international support for sanctions against Argentina after the Falklands invasion.
Healey admitted that attendance at one of the group’s get-togethers could boost a political career, and he told the author Jon Ronson, who was investigating it, that it was not ‘wholly unfair’ to say it sought more united global governance.
‘Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn’t go on fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing,’ he said.
‘Bilderberg is a way of bringing together politicians, industrialists, financiers and journalists. Politics should involve people who are not politicians.’
It is, of course, profoundly undemocratic to have a highly-secretive forum for politicians and a few self-selecting friends in business. But Healey insisted to Ronson: ‘We aren’t secret, we’re private.’ So that’s all right then.
Since the organisers are so uncommunicative — although they have at least begun revealing who joins their jamborees — it is unclear how they alighted on Watford. But it has caused excitement locally, with the costly hotel gym closed to members and the local rugby club rented out to police officers who have been bussed in to protect the event’s participants.
Fear of protests by those who take exception to the group’s secrecy has caused problems for guests. ‘I’m honoured to have been asked to go,’ Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Afghanistan, said yesterday. ‘But it’s crazy. They wouldn’t tell us where we were going to stay until a couple of weeks beforehand.’
The Grove — which claims to be where a young Queen Victoria started the fashion for weekend breaks — is no stranger to secrecy, having been the clandestine wartime headquarters for much of Britain’s railway system.
Yet one of those who has attended several recent Bilderberg meetings said he rather wished the conspiracy theorists were right.
‘If only there was a global government and someone was in charge,’ he said. ‘The trouble is when you go to these events you realise no one is running anything — and that’s why the world is in such a mess.’