The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: United Kingdom

The absence of nepotism

by fpman

Not so long ago the sibling gap was discussed here. One obviously interesting factor that went undiscussed in the process is how siblings can of course help each other using the various resources they have. That is a very real possibility in politics and one of the central subjects of this blog in fact. Nepotism, that is.

Thus it is always interesting to find examples of the opposite, when nepotism is completely absent.

The link goes to an article in The Mirror about Darren Offord, the homeless brother of Tory MP Matthew Offord.

The sibling gap really couldn’t have grown much greater than here.

Darren used to be an HGV (heavy goods vehicle) driver, had an accident, alleges that he became infected with HIV and Hepatitis through a blood transfusion upon that accident (although he was also a user of heroin for a while), and as a result of his joblessness and a bad break-up is now homeless. He receives some support from his sister. He also has two grown-up children, from different relationships. It is unclear how much help he may receive from his children or his former partners.

Brother Matthew meanwhile earned a PhD at King’s and is now in the House of Commons. Among other things, he is reportedly the owner of a £785,000 cottage, even as he spends much of his time in his constituency home.

Via the media, Darren is now telling Matthew:

“Matthew get your ­flipping a*** here and put your arm out and lift me up… lift me up. Give me a hand up and help me get off the streets.”

Brother Matthew does not appear eager to respond to the call. Apparently they don’t share the same political views with Darren and they had some bad quarrels over this in the distant past. It seems like they won’t start sharing that £785,000 cottage any time soon, and both may take a share of the blame for that.


The Wine, Whisky and Song Society

by fpman

Pakistan is one of those countries where there is a limited set of dominant political families as such — a subject which we will surely return to one day.

For now, let this brief look at Sidi Mohammad Muzzafar Mustafa Khan suffice. Mr. Khan is a relatively non-political member of a pretty significant political family (the Bhutto family). He is a nephew of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a cousin of the late Benazir Bhutto, both former Prime Ministers of Pakistan, both eventually killed in Pakistan’s internal political struggles — one hanged by the Army, the other assassinated.

Mr. Khan is already contemplating a legacy-building great undertaking to leave his mark on this world in a different way. A significant member of the United Kingdom’s Pakistani diaspora, he is also the owner of nightclubs and hotels in the UK (and had a son grow up beside Benazir for the latter thought his managerial duties and the nature thereof would not permit him to be the best father). He has lived a playboy life or did a very good job of creating the semblance of that and is now interested in passing on the torch to 252 single men carefully selected through a methodical vetting process; young males whom he hopes to socialize into gentlemanhood. This would be his Wine, Whisky and Song Society. Mr. Khan is taking steps to provide for adequate female company, too, of course. And his plan is to throw some great parties in the near future on his luxury yacht and in other convenient venues.

His summary of his personal reasons for all his noble efforts just begs to be quoted here:

“The main reason I’m doing this is I’ll have 250 pallbearers at my funeral and they’ll say ‘this man taught us how to live’. My dear cousin Benazir had a million people at hers so I’ll still be some way behind.”

“Was Nick Clegg’s aunt a Soviet spy?”

by fpman

Betteridge’s law of headlines says “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

An important qualification to this clever adage could be: “except when it comes to espionage.”

So when Guy Walters for the Daily Mail is asking the question in the title above, it cannot be answered with a definitive no.

Moura Budberg (born as Maria Ignatievna Zakrevskaya-Benckendorff-Budberg) surely had a long and interesting life (along with the equally long and interesting name) and it’s summed up well in the above article. Maura/Maria was very actively socializing throughout her life and this brought her into the company of mostly very interesting people. Or, as Walters puts it, we find her in “compromising” company with some “regularity” as we follow her story. From sci-fi writer H.G. Wells to actual Soviet spy Guy Burgess she was close to a lot of noteworthy members of the chattering (and gin-drinking) classes.

This probably doesn’t have too much significance as far as her “great-great-nephew,” Nick Clegg (UK Deputy PM and leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats) is concerned — unless it suddenly makes his person more interesting to you through a kind of positive halo effect.

Moura_bookNick Clegg may not be the best reason to get this book on Moura Budberg, by Nina Berberova

Of synergies, negative and positive

by fpman

We have recently concluded our groundbreaking analysis of Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney’s wedding with the following assessment:

“Given that both are involved in some ambitious international, or rather global, humanitarian initiatives, our prognosis is that there is likely to be a fair amount of synergy in their efforts.”

We love to say “we were right.” It is a pleasant feeling for a poor analyst. So here it is. We were right.

Have you heard of the Elgin Marbles? It’s a collection of marble sculptures, em, “obtained,” with Ottoman approval, from the Parthenon in Athens’ Acropolis by a 19th century British gentleman who happened to be the Earl of Elgin. George Clooney is pretty convinced these days he has to weigh in on this issue, of all issues, and he already did, in fact, multiple times, as part of the promotion of his ‘Monuments Men‘ movie. Return what thou shalt return – is what he basically says. So the Greek government is happy to call on Mrs. Clooney’s, i.e. Amal Alamuddin’s, legal assistance now, and she is happy to respond to this call. Flying to Athens for a visit related to the issue, on October 13-16, “holding a series of meetings with government officials during their stay, including the Prime Minister, Mr Antonis Samaras, and the Minister of Culture, Mr Konstantinos Tasoulas,” as a recent statement by Doughty Street Chambers (where Amal is working) reveals.

A first time? No. As the same statement also points out: Mr Robertson (another lawyer at Doughty Street) and Mrs Clooney were first asked to provide legal advice to the Greek government on this matter in 2011.” Talkin’ about synergy… So do we think that the Elgin Marbles issue simply occurred to George Clooney one day, in a “by the way” manner…?

Now what’s the opposite of synergy? I have consulted this forum where some interesting suggestions are put forward, with the word “antergy” seemingly coming out on top. I consider that awkward. Etymologically it doesn’t make sense but it reminds me of ants and that is my problem. Ants are the best at making more of themselves than the sum of the parts. Leave ants alone! Hence I’ll be using the equally awkward term “negative synergy.”

Here is an example of dubious, or potentially negative, synergy. For all the humanitarian initiatives Amal and George are involved in, Amal’s uncle is apparently no other than Ziad Takieddine, a very international guy (What do we call him? A dealer? A go-between? A facilitator? Mr. Fix-It?) who was involved even in the far-reaching “Karachi case,” a textbook case of what can be wrong about adding up a bit of arms trade, corruption, and terrorism. Here’s the “deal” as it may have happened: France sold some submarines to Pakistan. To be able to sell them and make a profit, it had to pay commissions or kickbacks to Pakistani officials, for them to be willing buyers. In turn, the Pakistani officials paid kickbacks to French politicians, for them to be willing sellers (and payers of the commissions). This turned into a source of campaign financing for some people in France. Some of the money apparently went into financing Édouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential elections campaign which Balladur then lost. He was defeated by Jacques Chirac who then cancelled the deal with Pakistan on the commissions. And then in May 2002 eleven French engineers were blown up in the Pakistani port town of Karachi. Which may or may not be related to the commissions that went unpaid.

ZiadTakieddineZiad Takieddine (source: AFP/Getty)

Beyond being a part of the money flow, as an intermediary, to Balladur, Ziad Takieddine alleges that he was also part of the money flow to President Nicolas Sarkozy (who used to be a close associate of Balladur’s back in the latter’s days as Prime Minister), and that in part the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi financed Sarkozy’s own campaign struggle, from which he came out victorious, in 2007. A sum total of over 50 million Euros may have been put up by the Libyans for this purpose, and it is said to have been funnelled to the beneficiaries through Panama and Switzerland in the kind of sophisticated arrangement that seems to be Standard Operating Procedure in some circles.

Ziad Takieddine is currently banned from leaving France, by court order, related to the Karachi affair, and so, unless he’s granted special permission to leave the country, he cannot make it to the October 25 reception organized by Amal’s parents in London on the occasion of her recent wedding. Ziad is demanding the chance to do so.

Alright, that’s it for today, folks! May all this talk of synergy give you some energy.

Amal Alamuddin’s wedding

by fpman

Even though I can very much appreciate George Clooney’s work as an actor, I just can’t help but sympathize with the way The Business Woman’s Amanda Rose accounts of his getting married. Namely that the news for her, unlike for a major part of the world’s media, is not that he married someone but that British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Alamuddin – the newly-wed wife in the story – married someone.

Here are some pictures of the event, from Venice.

And here you can watch Amal Alamuddin in action earlier this year, as the lawyer who had once represented Yulia Timoshenko of Ukraine in a trial (many would say it was a political trial) that saw Timoshenko jailed – to be freed once former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was swept out of power in Ukraine, in February. In the video, Amal is talking to the BBC discussing Timoshenko’s release.

AmalAlamuddinAmal Alamuddin in action somewhere (pic from Wikipedia)

Rose concludes her piece on Amal’s wedding by saying

“We only hope he doesn’t hold her back from conquering the world.”

Given that both are involved in some ambitious international, or rather global, humanitarian initiatives, our prognosis is that there is likely to be a fair amount of synergy in their efforts.

The Cousinhood of Humanity

by fpman

So apparently it is very popular these days to be looking for one’s distant cousins, and a pioneer of this is popular author A. J. Jacobs.

In this case, by “cousin” one does not mean people whom one would really think of as relatives in the sense of being closely related.

In its more distant sense, A.J. Jacobs is “cousins” with Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Bloomberg and others, among 75 million cousins of his that he managed to identify so far. In fact, they may be “n-degree cousins x times removed” – where n may be a fairly large number and x may be zero or larger, to be scientifically accurate.

This is possible given how there really were not that many ancestors in previous generations to provide every living person today with their very own neat blood lineage. Instead, we all carry mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes from a rather narrow group and thus share in our DNA heritage. Our most recent common ancestors (who are descendents of earlier common ancestors of course) can thus be found through both matrilineal and patrilinial descent. “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam,” respectively. Given the science of this, Eve might have lived a mere 2,000 years ago (if we assume enough blending of teh peoplez since the beginning of comprehensive globalization) whereas Adam roamed the wilderness about 60,000 to 90,000 years ago.

From the point of view of politics, it may seem interesting to reflect on how Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders and Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or, say, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange may be distantly related. Not only with each other but with each and every one of those listed.

Having said that, one remembers how British King George V, German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russian Tsar Nicholas II were actually cousins and yet it still didn’t work out all that well between them.

They were related through George V who was first cousins with both (as cross cousins, i.e. as the offspring of opposite-sex children of shared grandparents).

Wilhelm and Nicholas were thus not first cousins (sharing grandparents) but were only third cousins in fact, sharing great-great-grandparents in the Romanov family (though at the same time Nicholas was also second cousin once removed from Wilhelm’s point of view, through their shared ancestors in the Hohenzollern family).

The image below, via the Brookings Institute, is worth having a look to develop an understanding of these nuances.


Given such a prominent instance of intra-family feduing as World War One it is hard to argue with A. J. Jacobs’ pessimistic assessment when he says:

“I don’t think KKK members will be singing Kumbaya with African Americans.”

And unlike Jacobs, we do not even expect, as a result of his considerable efforts at finding cousins, a significant decrease in what he refers to as the “elitism” of those proud of their descent. People who were simple-minded enough to think that being born into a family or where and when they were born constituted a merit of theirs can’t, shan’t, and won’t change their minds about this.

The Cousinhood of Humanity will likely remain a utopian idea – beyond being scientific fact of course.

Gordon Brown and the prospect of Scottish independence

by fpman

The Scottish independence referendum is set to be held on September 18, less then a week from now. With the “yes” campaign in the lead, many from the other side are now making a desperate attempt to convince prospective supporters of independence to change their mind, and to keep current opposers from doing the same.

Such was the address by former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown to a group of activists in Glasgow, the day before yesterday. One of his central arguments focused on the benefits of the National Health Service (NHS). It seems that key groups of voters in Scotland, for example many elderly women, fear that these would be lost (or unsustainable) in independent Scotland, even as the Scottish National Party, for its part, promises to save the system from privatization through independence. We are tuning into this after Brown made some very personal remarks related to the subject. Quoting him:

“When I lost the sight of my eye and faced the prospect of going blind, my sight was saved by the NHS.

When my daughter died it was as the result of not being able, not being able, to do anything to save her life and my respect for the NHS grew as a result of the experience that Sarah and I had.”

Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah have lost their ten days old baby daughter, Jennifer Jane, in 2002. She was born prematurely and died of a brain haemorrhage. The couple since have two children, John Macaulay and James Fraser, but it took a long time for Gordon Brown to recover from the loss. This interview with him might well convey how much. At one point there he says: “I couldn’t listen to music for six months,” which for some reason I find particularly revealing of the pain he must have felt.

That he is now speaking of his daughter’s death in the context of the independence referendum may not be the best way to make the case for “no” but it certainly means a lot to him.

The burden of legacy: Aung San Suu Kyi’s presidential hopes

by AiteVer

Aung San Suu Kyi’s story may be a prime example of why we created this blog. A person with global outreach and immense political capital – a beneficiary as well as a sufferer of her family connections. ‘The Lady,’ as she’s known by many, once again seems headed towards political deadlock in her struggle with the regime ruling Myanmar/Burma, in part because of her family ties. We’re tuning into this at a moment when not much seems to be going forward – to provide the context now so we can refer back to it when keeping you posted on developments later on.

AungSanSuuKyiAn iconic image of Aung San Suu Kyi from her Wikipedia file

The Nobel laureate leader of the National League for Democracy (the main opposition party in Myanmar) was born in Rangoon (today: Yangon) in 1945 and was only two years old when her father was assassinated by his rivals. Bogyoke (meaning General) Aung San was the founder of the modern Burmese army as well as the main negotiator of the country’s independence in 1947. After years of attempts to erase his memory by the present rulers of the country, he is today again celebrated as a national hero.

Suu Kyi inherited this legacy but had no ambitions to enter Burmese politics. She followed her mother to Nepal and India when she was appointed ambassador to the two countries in 1960, and afterwards went on to study in the UK, and then live in the US and work for the UN for a while. She returned home eventually to be at her mother’s bed after she had suffered a stroke. It was at this point when she joined the pro-democracy movement that originated in what seemed transitional times but culminated in the failed “8888 uprising” – so named after its starting date of August 8, 1988.

Still in that August, standing under a giant picture of her father, she told a massive gathering that ‘I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on’. Events, however, led to the military once again taking the reins, in September, cracking down on opposition protests.

Suu Kyi may have lost an important battle at that point, but her image as a global defender of human rights had only just begun to take off, in great part thanks to her husband, Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibet, author of many studies, among them this one.

ArisFamilyMichael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi, and son Alexander in 1973 (source: Aris family collection)

Their marriage was a symbol of voluntary sacrifice, as Suu Kyi remained under solitary house arrest right up till her ultimate release in 2010. In the meantime, Aris and their two children were rejected visas by Burmese authorities on most occasions and they could only meet with Suu Kyi a couple of times. The relationship carried the air of tragedy about it. It ended in 1999, when Aris died in the UK of prostate cancer, on his 53rd birthday. He patiently promoted his wife’s cause around the world and collected the awards she received, on her behalf – including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. His death must have been a shattering loss to Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has, since, taken steps towards a more democratic form of government. After she had been released in 2010, Suu Kyi was even elected to the parliament in 2012. But the current constitution still bars her from running in next year’s presidential elections – related to her family ties…

The Constitution – proposed, and subsequently accepted in a referendum, under military rule in 2008 – says that the president cannot be directly related to a foreigner.  As Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British national, and so are her two sons, too, it is hard to see this provision as anything but targeted at her in the present context.

Earlier this year, there were signs of hope that this may change, and a parliamentary committee began to review the constitution. At the same time a petition to amend it was signed reportedly by over 5 million people. However, as of today it seems that the clause in question is going to stay. And this leaves the strongest opposition candidate with less than a fair chance to contest the elections.

Characteristically, she relates to this with a stoic’s optimism (if there is such a thing). Speaking to a group of artists a couple of days ago she promised:

“As I often say, 2015 will not decide which way our country will go forward—it is 2014 that will decide it. If we can progress the right way in 2014, we can get what we want in 2015.”

Unfortunately, she will be 70 by the time of the election next year. Even if the ultimate constitutional hurdle is removed, she will have a long life of struggle to look back to before she can realise her ambition.

Mr. and Mrs. Blair

by AiteVer

Throughout the last few years British news sites have been increasingly involved in covering the intertwined deals of former prime minister, Tony Blair. Tony Blair Associates (TBA) and his seven other companies make the flow of both money and advice difficult to follow, which has alarmed many in Britain and worldwide.

One of the juiciest stories gone viral in the past is that of Mr. Blair’s close connections to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Astana’s questionable human rights record and continuing rampant corruption may throw doubt on the effectiveness of his advice on ‘good governance’ that TBA was initially hired for in 2011.

Blair_NazarbayevBlair and Nazarbayev at Downing Street 10 (photo: Eddie Mulholland)

Three years, a bloody riot in Zhanaozen, multiple handwritten letters, several blooming investments, a reaffirming book, and a comprehensive promotion campaign later the importance of Mr. Blair in clearing up Kazakhstan’s image seems unquestionable.

Having defused allegations that he ‘profits personally’ from the matter, it was interesting to see when his wife Cherie Blair, also an avid defender of human rights, recently accepted to review Kazakhstan’s bilateral treaties through her company, Omnia Strategy. According to the article, Mrs. Blair has declined to comment on whether Omnia won the job on a tender or it was directly offered to them.

Tony_and_Cherie_BlairTony and Cherie Blair (source)

The similarities between the ventures of the Blairs do not end at having a similar pool of clients. The organizational structure of their ventures and the use of limited liability partnerships (LLP) make it easier for the two to stay under the radar.

As the Blair name continues to pop up all around the world, there is little question whether the pair is planning to enjoy their well-deserved retirement.