The day I shook the hand of Fidel Castro

fidel-castro-pic-credit-bbc

Fidel Castro who died today. Pic Credit: BBC

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Today’s death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the age of 90 brings back an extraordinary memory of an event that took place nearly 40 years ago when Cuba hosted the 11th World Youth Festival.

The event  was organised by the left wing World Federation of Democratic Youth under the banner ” For Anti Imperialist Solidarity,Peace and Friendship ” and  some 17,000 participants from 145 countries attended.

At the time in 1978 it attracted a fair amount of criticism from the Establishment even though we had a Labour government with questions in Parliament on whether the government was funding the British delegation ( it wasn’t).

It also became  ” the event to be seen  at” for the rising  elite of  the British student movement – whether from the Left or the Right – who formed the British delegation.

I hitched a ride to report the event for the Guardian – therefore adding to the view that this was a Leftie event. I also conned the Cuban Communist authorities- by bringing along my wife, Margaret, by getting accreditation through a friend as representing the youth wing of British electrical engineers ( she wasn’t). I can’t remember whether I told the Guardian newsdesk, I probably didn’t.

Not only was this a rare opportunity to get to Cuba which then had no tourist industry but it gave me an insight into a generation of British students who went on to become part of the country’s elite.

Cuba was the place that Peter Mandelson honed his dark art of plotting before going on to advise Tony Blair and damage Gordon Brown. He was then the master of arranging meetings in dark rooms to weaken any support for the world Communist order. I had his measure then.

Charles Clarke, who went on to become a pretty establishment Labour home secretary, was seen  then as a dangerous Red Marxist, who had gone out to Cuba in advance to organise everything for the British delegation. His biggest achievement was probably to obtain a huge supply of  British stainless steel cutlery ( knives and forks were in short supply in  Cuba) and they got there despite US sanctions.

Tom Shebbeare, then of the British Youth Council  who went on to advise Prince Charles through the Princes Trust, was another big player.

So was Sue Robertson, a SDP follower when the handsome David Owen was the pin up boy for the moderate left,and went on to become a director of Channel Four, was also in the moderate camp.

And Young Tory  David Hunt, who went on to become a government minister under Margaret Thatcher, was in the delegation. He became closer to ” Tory wet” Peter Walker. He was coal minister during the miner’s strike of 1984-5.

As for Cuba itself there were certain facts at the time that no one wanted to know. The Foreign Office could not believe that you needed no vaccinations to go there because of its standards of health care. And education was a huge thing.

As remarkable  was that it was then trying to be a Communist state but was far too  Caribbean laid back for the Russian allies who despaired at its lack of Stalinist efficiency.

I remember chatting in halting Spanish to a Russian soldier ( it was neither our first language) who despaired at the laid back ways of the Cubans after living in the ruthless world of Moscow. I could see neither Russia nor Cuba were natural bedfellows.

The inefficiency was shown when Margaret and I gave our female minder the slip and wandered off to see laid back Havana for ourselves one evening. We got told off later but nothing happened.

The final image I have was a huge rally of thousands of people listening to Castro’s oratory  for over two hours  and later meeting him and shaking his hand.  Eat your heart out Jeremy Corbyn  your mass meetings have a long way to go  to beat Fidel’s.

There is rare footage of this rally here .

 

Why Labour’s patronising grandees have driven people to vote for Stormin’ Corbyn

Labolur's three grandees- Mandelson, Blair and Campbell  Pic Credit: wherebuttheuk.com

Labolur’s three grandees- Mandelson, Blair and Campbell
Pic Credit: wherebuttheuk.com

CROSS POSTED FROM BYLINE.COM WHERE MY SCOOPS ON WESTMINSTER AND WHITEHALL WILL REGULARLY APPEAR 

Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson,Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Tony Blair and now David Blunkett have all joined in bashing Jeremy Corbyn because he is the front runner in Labour’s leadership election and they are desperate to stop him.

Anyone but Corbyn is Campbell’s cry. Peter Mandelson has been up to his old tricks using back channels to try and get the election cancelled. The only person who has been wise enough to keep quiet is Ed Miliband who is leaving it to the members.

Yet what are these grandee’s credentials today for saying that Corbyn is unfit to lead Labour while the others would be fine.

Alastair Campbell’s reputation for plain dealing took a hit over the Iraq ” dodgy dossier” and is now a freelance journalist, a lobbyist and earns some of his money from dodgy Central European dictatorships like Kazakhstan.

Peter Mandelson has enjoyed a reputation for the ” dark arts” of politics and now is a strategic lobbyist with strong connections to Russian oligarchs who sympathise with Putin. We don’t even know the rest of his client list.

Gordon Brown is nowadays concentrating on education in Africa and stood down at the last election.

David Miliband is living in the United States doing good work in trying to provide humanitarian relief  to Syria.

Tony Blair is concentrating his entire life in making money from any country that will pay him large sums of cash – it is described in detail in  Blair Inc, my new book with Francis Beckett and Nick Kochan.

David Blunkett  along with Gordon Brown appears to have been the least avaricious but spends a lot of his time as an after dinner speaker.

None of them can say they are really in touch with the present mood of  Labour Party members, and some of them, notably Blair and Mandelson, have more in common with the wealthy global elite than a traditional Labour Party supporter.

And Labour Party activists long treated as foot soldiers and not given their head over policy formation by these grandees are revolting.  Ever since Blair reduced their power at party conferences they have had a diminishing say along with the unions.

The main charges from the grandees is that Corbyn will be hated by the  press and that he could never win an election.

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, not a grandee

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, not a grandee

But whoever leads the Labour Party will be monstered by the right wing press. Expect a simple nasty sexist campaign against Yvette Cooper saying ” vote Cooper get Balls” implying that the Ed Balls – just because he is married to her – will be inside Downing Street directing matters.

If it is Andy Burnham it will be that he is in the hands of the unions. If it Liz Kendall it will all be about inexperience etc

So people have remained unimpressed that by NOT voting for Corbyn they will escape the media’s wrath.

The election itself is five years away and Labour has a long time to redefine policy. Also with Corbyn’s promise of elections to the Shadow Cabinet –  Labour will be more diverse than just one faction.

What is quite clear that people want someone who will stand up for the party and launch a distinctive programme. They will not want a pale shadow of the present Conservative government- they can get a proper version already.

Yvette Cooper’s campaign has been disappointing. Instead of promoting women it has attacked men. Andy Burnham’s started well but seems to have gone all over the place. And Liz Kendall has not made the impact one might have expected.

This left Corbyn who no one expected to take off – striding into the lead. There seems to be a hunger out of there for a radical shift of direction. On September 12 we will know whether it has happened.

Naked Promo: My talk on Blair Inc at Waterstones in Berkhamsted

Blair INCIf you want to find out the story behind  my new book Blair Inc which I co-authored with Francis Beckett and Nick Kochan you can come along to my local branch of Waterstones next Thursday ( April 23) at 7.0pm.

For a modest fee of £3 – which can be claimed back as a discount against a copy – I will attempt to explain how we went about gathering information about the former Prime Minister after he left office in 2007 to the present day.

The book is unusual in that it concentrates entirely on Blair after he left government. It attempts to show how he and his family  became rich and the complex structure he and Cherie set up to hide where the money comes from.

It also includes a critical look at his role as Middle East economic envoy – a job which he may well have to give up according to recent press reports – as little progress has been made.

There is also some interesting findings about  how Blair and Peter Mandelson, once his closest friend, have gone their separate ways to make money through advising foreign entrepreneurs, governments , oligarchs and dictators.

This will be your chance to ask any questions you may have – whether you are an ardent Blairite or believe Blair destroyed his reputation over the war in Iraq.. Some come along – it’s a good time to debate his role in the middle of a general election campaign and a change from all those hustings.

Phone Hacking Trial: Help from Blair and Mandelson, Brooks the “phone hacking mastermind” – Martin Hickman

Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson both offered to help an embattled Rebekah Brooks who was facing questions from the police. She also said she never knew about the activities of hacker Glenn Mulcaire – paid £1m by News International – until he was arrested. And she condemned hubbie Charlie for an ” impulsive ill thought out decision” in stashing away his computers and a bag full of lesbian DVD porn.

Inforrm's Blog

Rebekah BrooksDay 67:   Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson privately offered to help Rebekah Brooks prepare for a grilling by MPs at the height of the phone hacking scandal, the Old Bailey heard today.

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