The Democracy Movement and Matthias Rath *updated*
Posted by gimpy on March 10, 2010
This blog has been updated with a response from the Democracy Movement to the original post and my subsequent reply (see end).
The Democracy Movement is an anti-EU lobbying group which arose from the ashes of James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party with the help of funds from his wife, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, and businessman Paul Sykes. The Democracy Movement declares itself “a non-party campaign to defend liberal democracy in Britain and across Europe. “and is opposed to the single currency, the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Constitution. The Democracy Movement see their role as working
[...] alongside groups similarly committed to challenging the current structure of the EU. In the eventuality of there being a referendum on the EU Constitution or the euro, the DM will give its support to the official umbrella campaign that will be appointed by the Electoral Commission. A broad popular alliance including democrats from the left, centre and centre-right will be needed to safeguard liberal democracy and prevent the creation of an authoritarian Brussels-based government.
So far, so mainstream UK anti-Europe thinking. Another anti-EU organisation is the European Referendum Initiative (ERI). This was founded by Matthias Rath, the vitamin salesman who conducted illegal AIDS trials in South Africa and supports AIDS denialism which is estimated to have contributed to over 300,000 deaths in South Africa alone. The ERI regards attempts by the EU to regulate the sale of health products as a conspiracy by large pharmaceutical companies to facilitate medical experiments on the population similar to those inflicted on Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust. The Democracy Movement are now supporting the European Referendum Initiative.
Last week I wrote to the Democracy Movement expressing my concerns about this support, at the time I believed that perhaps the Democracy Movement has been careless in their choice of partner and failed to provide an appropriate degree of circumspection to collaborations with anti-EU organisations prone to attracting views outwith the norm. After all, the ERI had previously managed to fool several MEPs into supporting it, albeit indirectly. So I wrote this email:
I notice that the European Referendum Initiative (ERI), an organisation purportedly campaigning on the Lisbon Treaty and access to alternative medicine, has cited the Democracy Movement as one of its supporters .
The ERI are funded and controlled by the Dr Rath Foundation, an organisation headed by Matthias Rath, a particularly odious individual who is partly responsible for the AIDS catastrophe in South Africa . The ERI for a number of years have been trying to inveigle their way into EU politics through anti-EU rhetoric focussing on alternative health .
I have some questions regarding the Democracy Movement’s cited support for the ERI
1) Are the Democracy Movement correctly cited as supporters of the ERI?
2)If so, do the Democracy Movement endorse the ERI and thus the Dr Rath Foundation?
3) If not, will the Democracy Movement publicly dissociate themselves from the ERI?
and this is the response I received.
1. Yes – because it is an initiative against the Lisbon Treaty and in support of peoples across Europe being given a say on it. We also support the campaign against the EU outlawing perfectly healthy and acceptable alternative medicines and herbal remedies, as they are being lobbied to do by the expensive lobbying teams of the major pharmaceutical corporations.
2. Yes, we endorse the ERI but (contrary to the weak ‘thus’ in your question) no, we are not affiliated to the Dr Rath Foundation and cannot necessarily be taken as supporting its outlook or actions in the many other areas in which it is active. We are affiliated to the ERI, which as you saw has clearly defined aims and which has a range of other supporting groups and organisations. Many of these operate in markedly different fields to us, but the ERI is about what supportive groups have in common; on the Lisbon Treaty and against EU action to outlaw herbal remedies. As a eurosceptic pressure group, we certainly wouldn’t claim to have all the answers about the right course to combat a complex and troubling problem like AIDS in Africa, or indeed many answers in the field of public health more generally, but I’m quite sure these are issues that are hotly debated by groups active in the field. Likewise, we wouldn’t expect any ERI-supporting groups to share our view on, say, the EU’s authoritarian activities in the field of criminal justice, such as the EU Arrest Warrant, email and internet monitoring laws or the immunity from prosecution of officers in its ‘operational’ police force, Europol.3. No – because of the points made in No.1.
The ERI website is registered by Matthias Rath and run by the Dr Rath Foundation, an affiliation with the ERI is an affiliation with Matthias Rath and the Dr Rath Foundation. No amount of weasel words can break this link. It looks like the Democratic Movement’s hatred of the EU has blinded them to the character of some of their affiliates. Not only that they seem spectacularly ignorant of the science and politics of HIV and AIDS denialism as well as that surrounding the regulation of vitamin supplements and herbal remedies.
The Democracy Movement’s involvement with Matthias Rath would be only a minor cause for concern were it not for the background of their members and supporters. Lady Goldsmith’s son, Robin Birley, a former chairman of the Democracy Movement, funded David Davis’ unsuccessful campaign to become the leader of the Conservative Party. Paul Sykes has demonstrated he will throw his considerable wealth behind a party that shares his views, and withdraw it when they do not. He is now a supporter of the Conservative Party. These are rich and powerful people with rich and powerful friends. As well as this they also have some influence in anti-EU politics. Members of the Democracy Movement have spoken at the respectable anti-EU thinktank The Bruges Group, where they shared a platform with then shadow minister Oliver Letwin. More recently the eurosceptic MEP Dan Hannan and representatives from the Tax Payers Alliance, popular amongst the Libertarian Right, have spoken at their events. Democracy Movement member, Marc Henri Glendening, a former chair of the Federation of Conservative Students (then the youth wing of the Conservative Party) is a contributor to the Conservative Home website, which is considered reflective of the views of many members of the Conservative Party. Nor are the Democracy Movement politically neutral despite their claims, Stuart Coster, who wrote the reply above, runs an anti Liberal Democrat website , presumably because he feels it is unacceptable for a party to be pro Europe, and the Democracy Movement host anti Liberal Democrat literature.
None of this is to say that any of the above support the actions of Matthias Rath in South Africa nor endorse AIDS denialism (although some sections of the Right do). I think this is merely an example of people assuming that an individual who shares their views on one issue is worth supporting, even under a shadow cast by the corpses of 300,000 South Africans. This amoral pursuit of political objectives is undesirable. Especially so when the impact of these objectives has not been considered. Take the regulation of the sale of vitamin supplements and herbs for example, claims of efficacy are generally only permitted with robust evidence and doses of pharmacologically active compounds kept within safe limits. Proposed EU legislation is designed to improve this to protect the consumer. What Matthias Rath and his alternative health supporters want is for these restrictions to be loosened so they may be free to ply their evidence free trade with little intervention from the law. Indeed Rath has already taken his vile pursuits to Russia, where the rule of law in commerce and public health is often weak.
The Democracy Movement do not understand that although Matthias Rath may oppose the Lisbon Treaty he also wants to peddle his miracle cures to the desperately ill, he is not a friend to the respectable. If purportedly respectable anti-EU organisations succumb to the advances of murderous quacks such as Matthias Rath then it discredits their movement and those they share a platform with. If there are eurosceptic Tories reading this then they need to make sure their party does not fall prey to the folly of assuming their enemies enemy is their friend and accept conspiracy theories over the EU as peddled by the alternative health movement. It would be a disaster if political objectives were put before the health of voters.
The following email was recieved from the Democracy Movement, I have published the text below unedited and included my reply beneath.
I appreciate you clearly have an issue with Dr Rath and his activities in what you call ‘AIDS denialism’ (though, from what little I know of the problem, isn’t the debate more about best treatment rather than denial of the existence of the disease?). So I sense misrepresentation there already on your part, before even looking more deeply into the issue.
But I’m afraid expecting a eurosceptic pressure group that has simply signed up to aclearly EU-focussed initiative to take a view on who is right or wrong over such complex unrelated questions being addressed by other participants in the initiative is, I have to say, not a reasonable line of attack.
It’s where you later go throwing together selected snippets about our supporters and activities to try to portray us inaccurately as Tories that you really undermine any faith I may have been open-minded to having about your judgement of Dr Rath. I’m afraid the technique of association you have sought to employ can work both ways, and you’ve rather shot yourself in the foot if you were hoping to persuade us to take your views about Dr Rath seriously.
For example, Robin Birley had long stepped down from the DM before (if indeed he was) being involved in David Davis’s leadership campaign. As had Paul Sykes before he supported any political party. I’m sure no reasonable person would think that they both must abstain from all political activity in perpetuity, for having once been involved in the DM. Which is presumably why you neglected to detail the timeline.
Plus our supporters speak on all sorts of platforms, not just Tory ones. For example, Marc was last weekend speaking at the trade union-based Campaign Against Euro-Federalism AGM in Birmingham. Neither, obviously, do you have to be a Tory supporter to contribute to ConservativeHome, and who could criticise a pressure group for seeking to influence a party that may well become our next government?
More fundamentally, being non-party clearly doesn’t mean we can’t criticise any party. That would be absurd. We criticise them all. You similarly neglected to mention our current Cameron-critical postcard campaign and recent series of blog posts. It’s true the Lib Dems have more recently come in for a special focus from us, for arguably behaving the worst of all over the promised Lisbon Treaty referendum. At least Labour’s position, as much as we disagreed with it, was consistent. Whereas the Lib Dems abstained in the Commons and voted against a referendum in the Lords – basically, voting whichever way it took at each stage of the process to prevent people being given the promised consultation on transfers of more decision-making to remote EU institutions.
What you’ve done by omitting such ‘details’ from these and other similarly cheap jibes about us is shown me that you’re not so interested in reality as manipulating information to serve whatever agenda it is you are pursuing. Which makes it particularly rich that you talk of “weasel words”.
Are you interested in restoring your credibility by publishing these clarifications and portraying us accurately? Or should I continue to assume that all your portrayals are similarly misrepresentative?
With respect to your comments about Conservative Party funding, ConservativeHome and your allegation that I tried to portray you as Tories. My intention was not to suggest that the Democracy Movement was a Tory led organisation, but rather that the individuals behind it have some influence in mainstream politics, both in their funding of political parties and the credibility of the platforms they use. The intent of this was to portray the DM as a credible organisation by virtue of having access to the ears of those in politics and to make explicit the observation that they express views considered acceptable in mainstream political discourse. However, this, and any arguments over the precise nature of your opposition to the Liberal Democrats, are irrelevant to the main point I made. Your association with Matthias Rath risks discrediting your arguments and those that share them.
Matthias Rath is truly an odious individual. I would strongly urge you to read Ben Goldacre’s article on Matthias Rath  or at the very least his wikipedia page . If you have more time then I recommend that you look through the Treatment Action Campaign’s documents on Rath . These should provide you with more information on the character of the man, quite apart from my own opinions.