UK Politics

Ken Clarke: Bilderberg conspiracy claims are nonsense

Ken Clarke has dismissed claims that the Bilderberg Group of politicians, business leaders and academics influences the coalition as "nonsense".

The organisation held a meeting in Hertfordshire last week, attended by the prime minister and chancellor.

But, Mr Clarke, a minister, told MPs the Bilderberg Group could not arrange a conspiracy, as its members could "never agree" on any subject.

Labour's Michael Meacher argued the meeting had not been a "cosy chat".

The MP for Oldham raised an urgent House of Commons question on the Bilderberg Group, which has met since 1954 and whose proceedings are not reported on, under what are known as "Chatham House rules".

'No transparency'

It describes itself as a forum for "informal, off-the-record discussions about megatrends and the major issues facing the world".

Mr Meacher had wanted Chancellor George Osborne to answer his question, but he was not available and Mr Clarke, minister without portfolio, filled in.

During a serious of humorous exchanges, he said: "This is a first occasion, as I've never previously fielded a question in the House of Commons on behalf of a private organisation for which the government has no responsibility."

Mr Clarke, who has been a member of the Bilderberg Group's steering committee for a decade, said discussions reflected a "wide range of opinion", adding: "I always find it greatly adds to the depth of my understanding of what's being contemplated in the States and in Europe as well."

Mr Meacher, a minister in Tony Blair's Labour government, said: "The Bilderberg Group comprises about 130 of the Western world's biggest decision-makers."

He added: "Of course it's not a conspiracy but, at the same time, 130 of the world's biggest decision-makers don't travel thousands of miles simply for a cosy chat...

"Why is there no transparency about a meeting that could affect us all?"

Mr Clarke told Mr Meacher: "We go there for the chance of having an off-the-record, informal discussion with the range of people you described, who are indeed distinguished but who are not remotely interested in getting together to decide anything."

'You been, Dennis?'

He added: "With the greatest respect, this is total, utter nonsense, and I would not normally regard you as the sort of person who would be taken in by this sort of rubbish."

Mr Clarke teased Mr Meacher that he was after an invitation for the next meeting, and he pledged to arrange one.

Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls was one of the senior UK politicians who attended the Bilderberg meeting in Watford.

He joked about Mr Clarke filling in for the chancellor, saying: "If he was to stand in at the next Treasury questions, then we and all conspiracy theorists would be rightly concerned."

Veteran Labour left-winger Dennis Skinner stood up to speak, only to be assailed with ironic cries of "Have you been, Dennis?"

Dead-pan, and to laughter, he growled: "I wouldn't be seen dead with them. How come that when all those media moguls, bankers, politicians have been meeting since 1954, not one of them was able to spot the recession coming, or maybe they caused it?"

Among the other politicians attending was Labour's former Business Secretary Lord Mandelson.

When Mr Clarke went against parliamentary protocol by referring to him as "Peter Mandelson", Speaker John Bercow intervened to correct the errant minister.

Mr Clarke told the House the Bilderberg meetings were informal.

Ed Balls joked: "The idea of Lord Mandelson attending any meeting informally is not something I have ever experienced."

After 25 not-very-serious minutes, the Speaker called a halt to proceedings.

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