NOTES From The Borderland, (NFB), is a long-established journal published and edited by the researcher Larry O’Hara and styles itself ‘The Parapolitical magazine’. On its website, it gives a brief definition of the term “parapolitical”, including others’ variations on it, but for the purposes of this review of issue number ten, which was published during 2012, we will confine ourselves to theirs: “For us, parapolitics refers to the social reality of conflicting forces and their-oft hidden agendas. It is by analysing these conflicts and tracking their trajectory/outcomes that parapolitical research advances”. Thus we have the ethos underpinning the magazine.
The lead article by Larry O’Hara is Gareth Williams: Murdered Twice. Most of us no doubt remember the strange, and to this day, unexplained death of Gareth Williams in August 2010. He was found inside a locked holdall after what may have been some kind of sex-game gone wrong, or was it murder? That the deceased worked for GCHQ and had been living in London on secondment to MI6 at the time of his death was not surprisingly seized upon by not only the tabloid press but other more respectable papers and subject to much speculation, much of which was lurid insinuations about his private life.
O’Hara does a fine job in going beyond the sensationalism surrounding Williams’s death and looks at various factors including what exactly did Gareth Williams do? Was his death linked to his work? If it was, has there been a deliberate campaign of dis-information to obscure any such connection? What is actually known about Williams’s private life and activities outside of work as opposed to what the media might care to infer/speculate? The roles of the media, the police and the security services in this case are meticulously examined in this article and it includes a very helpful timeline of events. Critically examined is one of the more far-out theories linking Williams’s death to the most likely accidental one of an Oxford lecturer that occurred the same month. It serves as an object lesson of how speculation and debate on unexplained events can descend into the realms of fantastic conspiracy theory.
Pandora’s Pox: How Far Right Labour Hijacked The Hope Not Hate Campaign by Larry O’Hara and Heidi Svenson charts the internecine squabbles between self-styled “anti-fascist” journal Searchlight and its former ally, the Hope Not Hate campaign group. O’Hara has been a keen observer of the Searchlight scene for over twenty years now so he is uniquely qualified to comment on this tale which is almost reminiscent of what happened with Dr Frankenstein and his monster! On the one side, we have what might be termed the traditional Searchlight group headed up by the husband and wife team of Gerry and Sonia Gable, and on the other, the Hope Not Hate team which while it contains the former Searchlight editor and long-time employee Nick Lowles, is largely comprised of relative newcomers to the Searchlight scene.
The backgrounds of these newcomers are quite interesting and could easily fit into the pages of a thriller. They include a merchant banker, a person named in Wikileaks as a source to be protected by the US Embassy and a former ‘far-right’ activist who moved to Australia for a bit after changing sides and then returned to the UK to work for the Searchlight group. Now it is open to the judgement of the individual reader whether or not O’Hara and Svenson make a convincing case for the cause of the split being an attempt by failed New Labour, (or should that be Neo-New Labour!), types to re-launch their careers by adding a bit of street cred to their CV’s through their involvement with Hope Not Hate, not a totally unrealistic proposition given the group’s cosy relationship with various elements of the establishment. Other factors to take into account include the dispute over whether or not the septuagenarian Gable actually set a date for his retirement, (both sides dispute what was said on this and NFB provides excerpts from e-mails and letters on the issue), and whether the less noble motivation of competition over the various sizeable grants available from both local and central government for work in local communities to tackle “extremism” played a part in causing the rift. Strange dealings such as the removal of the Searchlight archives, some twenty filing cabinets’ worth, are also covered.
On a more general note, O’Hara and Svenson look at the work undertaken by Hope Not Hate and highlight the modern phenomenon of “clicktivism”. This comprises various activities undertaken in the virtual world such as online petitions and their conclusion is that such work does not achieve much. Perhaps there is a lesson there for groups across the political spectrum? The article also looks at the various projects undertaken by Hope Not Hate in the real world and gives a serious and in-depth analysis of it. Again, it is up to the reader to decide whether or not this work has been effective, but it is hard not to conclude that a lot of money has been spent with not a lot in the way of results in return.
There are a number of shorter, but nonetheless very informative articles in this issue, of which we will mention but one. In Not Over Till It’s Over: The BNP and the 2012 Local Elections, Larry O’Hara gives his rather perceptive analysis of the BNP’s electoral performance in that poll. His debunking of the conventional left mantra that the BNP is finished, bust, etc. can, in light of more recent developments, be seen as somewhat prescient and places him above the less sophisticated analysis of those writers on the left who based their predictions of oblivion for the BNP more on wishful thinking than actual facts.
Finishing with an update section on stories carried in previous issues and at a total of eighty-seven pages, issue ten of Notes From The Borderland is a considerable read. Whilst the writers do not make any secret of their own political leanings, they manage in the main to avoid being tendentious and thus make the journal readable to a wider audience that does not necessarily share their views. This reviewer would recommend picking-up a copy by mail or ordering online.
- Reviewed by Andrew Hunter