Socialist Worker

Dame Porter gets away with corruption

Issue No. 1899

A SCROUNGER and a criminal sneaks into another country to escape justice. Doesn't that sound like the sort of case the anti-refugee press love to splash on the front page? Except it is the Tory Dame Shirley Porter, heiress to the Tesco empire. Porter was the leader of the Tories' flagship Westminster council in the 1980s. Porter, along with nine other councillors, was found guilty of selling off council houses in marginal wards to potential Tory voters. The scheme cost £42 million. She was supposed to pay every penny of that back.

But Porter has been "officially living abroad" in the US and Israel since the scandal broke. She claims she only has assets worth £300,000. This is despite her father being the founder of Tesco, the company that makes £63,900 every minute of the day.

Porter has done a deal with Westminster council to just pay back £12.3 million of the debt. She wants to end the legal action she has avoided for the last 14 years. Does this mean the rest of us can demand to only pay off a fraction of our credit card debt or mortgage? One of Porter's protege's Simon Milton is now the Tory leader of Westminster council.

The Tories say they are taking a "pragmatic" view about the amount of money she is willing to pay back. These are the same Tories who attack the poorest in society for "benefit fraud". Porter was responsible for one of the biggest corruption scandals in local government.

It was also the most sordid example of the Tories' policy of selling off housing stock, which has helped create the crisis in housing today. Yet the Tories have allowed Porter to buy her freedom with what to a multimillionaire must be loose change.

Migrants: Blair bows down to tabloids

THE RIGHT wing tabloids that cheered on Tories like Dame Shirley Porter in the 1980s are whipping up a frenzy against migrants, calling them "scroungers". This Saturday marks the expansion of the European Union (EU) when ten new countries, mainly in the former "Eastern Bloc", will become part of the EU. The papers have published wild figures about the "hordes" that are supposedly ready to run to Britain from 1 May.

The Daily Express, owned by porn baron Richard Desmond, has led the racist ranting against migrants. It has demanded ever more brutal policies. It has now ditched New Labour to back the Tories. The hysteria against migrants is so high even Blair was forced this week to point out that migrants play a key role in the economy in Britain.

But his defence is a sham. In the same breath he rushed to reassure papers like the Express and Sun that he is not going "soft" on migrants. He said migrants who don't have a job would not be entitled to social housing or benefits for at least two years.

A spokesman for deputy prime minister John Prescott's department, which covers housing, talked about migrants "just abusing the system". It is a myth that there is a stockpile of council housing waiting to be handed out to anyone. Council house building has plummeted since 1970. Very little has been built in the last 15 years.

Tony Blair is happy for frustrated people in Britain to blame any Eastern European migrant who might come here for this crisis. Yet many migrants could use their skills to build new homes.

Denying the providers

BLAIR'S HEALTH minister John Hutton was desperate to tell the right wing press about New Labour's policies over migrants and the NHS. He announced that migrants will be denied any healthcare, except in a casualty department, unless they can prove they qualify.

He is demanding each health trust spends precious budget money on an "Overseas Visitors Manager" who will police healthcare. Yet it is doctors and nurses from abroad who are keeping the NHS afloat. There is a record number of skilled overseas doctors in the NHS-some 9,000 registered to practise last year compared to 4,443 doctors, who went through training in Britain.

Many of the low paid, low status NHS jobs are done by migrant workers. New Labour's every instinct is to ratchet up the scapegoating of asylum seekers and fuel the racist hysteria from the right wing.

The Sun's list

Facts behind the smears

THE WARMONGERS have lost every argument they made, so in desperation are turning to a well-funded smear campaign against those who opposed them-including the pope and Nelson Mandela. The Sun claims a "list" that has miraculously appeared under the occupation implicates hundreds of people "on Saddam Hussein's payroll". The "list" was supposedly discovered in January.

But the Sun used the fact that it was discussed in the US Congress last week, where speeches are exempt from libel actions, to spread the smears. The facts, however, are:

  • The list first appeared in an Iraqi newspaper called Al Mada in January. Ahmed Chalabi owns Al Mada. He is a convicted fraudster. He is wanted in Jordan for embezzling millions of dollars from the collapsed Petra bank. He is a favourite of the Pentagon and the most right wing figures in George Bush's White House. His INC organisation was given $96 million by the US state in the 1990s. Chalabi is more unpopular in Iraq than Saddam Hussein, according to a widely reported recent BBC poll. He has enriched himself as Iraq's people suffered under bombs, sanctions and dictatorship.

  • Fakhri Kareem is Al Mada's editor. Left wing Iraqi oppositionists who suffered under Saddam accuse Kareem of helping run a paper set up by the Kuwaiti royal family and backed by the CIA to campaign for the first Gulf War. It printed the lie that Iraqi soldiers had torn babies out of incubators, which was a fabrication by Hill & Knowlton, a "PR company" with links to the Pentagon. During the 1990s Kareem called for even tighter sanctions on Iraq.

  • The internationally respected AFP news agency says Al Mada's management "refused to disclose how it procured the documents".

    The documents do not show that those named-among them Nelson Mandela's ANC and the Pope's Vatican-benefited financially. One of those smeared in the list is George Galloway. Galloway has won an apology from US daily the Christian Science Monitor after it used forged documents to accuse him of benefiting from Saddam's regime.

    He is also fighting a similar action against the Daily Telegraph, which is not even trying to defend its version of the same story as true. As he says, the Al Mada "documents" do not show a link between him and a single barrel of oil.

    Hans von Sponeck, the former chief UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, is also having to go to court in Germany to quash similar smears. He says he would "dearly like to know who is behind them". The same lies are being hurled, from apparently the same murky sources, against Von Sponeck's predecessor Denis Halliday, a quaker.

    Both men are beyond reproach. Both opposed sanctions on Iraq. The lies are being championed by those who told us Iraq had WMDs that could be fired at a moment's notice, built with uranium from Africa. All this was backed up by a "dossier" culled from a student essay 11 years old.


    Labour councillor joins Respect

    ELAINE ABBOT, a senior member of Preston council, has sensationally resigned from the Labour Party to join Michael Lavalette as the second Respect councillor in the Lancashire town.

    "I've been overwhelmed with support from people in my ward," she told Socialist Worker. "I've had people from aged 25 to 75 applauding me and saying they want to work for my re-election, as a Respect councillor, on 10 June. This was a very difficult decision as I have been a member of the Labour Party for 15 years, a Labour supporter all my life and a Labour councillor for Riversway Ward in Preston for the last ten years. However, I have been very unhappy with both the Labour government and the local Labour council for some time and decided that I must follow my conscience and resign."

    She was due to give a resignation statement at a full council meeting on Thursday and is throwing herself into the Respect campaign for the June elections.

    "Every person we get elected and every vote will point the way to a left alternative to New Labour," she says. "What Respect is saying is what I have believed in all my life. With hard work I believe we can attract wide and diverse support. The Preston Labour group is planning to cut services, possibly pensioners' bus passes, while spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on unnecessary refurbishment of the town hall offices. My views opposing the war in Iraq and the continuing killing and maiming of innocent Iraqi people are well known. I am opposed to student top-up fees and increasing backdoor privatisation of public services to totally unaccountable bodies. The poor in this country are getting poorer proportionately while the rich get richer. Yet the Labour government refused to index link pensions to average earnings. My views have not changed over the years but the Labour Party no longer represents the socialist values which I support. I think Tony Blair has stopped listening to the people. I have not stopped listening to the people I represent."

    Another former Labour Party member, Anne Swingler, the widow of left Labour MP Stephen Swingler, has joined Respect. She wrote to Respect saying, "I enclose a cheque for £50 and a standing order mandate for £20. I joined the Labour League of Youth in 1935: I'm now 89 years old! My husband, Stephen Swingler, was a Labour MP from 1945 until he died in 1969."

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    Article information

    Sat 1 May 2004, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1899
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