Has the Bilderberg Group lost the sinister, world-controlling plot? – Telegraph Blogs

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Robert Colvile

Robert Colvile is the Telegraph's acting Head of Comment. He tweets as @rcolvile.

Has the Bilderberg Group lost the sinister, world-controlling plot?

Spot the giant shape-shifting lizard (Pic: PA/REUTERS/AP)

The annual meeting of the Bilderberg Group used to be the high point of the conspiracy calendar. Every year, the world’s elite would apparently meet in secret conclave and determine – amid the exchange of sinister smiles and knowing winks – the course of the future. Would the government in Luxembourg tack to the Left or Right? Would the price of frozen concentrated orange juice rise or fall? Would corduroy make a comeback? All this was within their power to determine.

Bilderberg-mania was kicked off by the journalist Jon Ronson, who wrote a brilliantly entertaining account of crawling through hotel shrubbery alongside the obsessives determined to pierce its veil of secrecy. The group was said to have launched the career of Margaret Thatcher; to control fleets of black helicopters; even to be secretly composed of giant shape-shifting lizards, bent on ruling the world.

So it’s something of a comedown to see its current state. A body whose natural meeting place would appear to be a hollowed-out island volcano is this weekend slumming it in the Copenhagen Marriott. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Marriott, but it doesn’t exactly scream supreme might and power – more business traveller with a pleasantly plump expense account. Even the inevitable calls on Twitter for the chain to be boycotted, to punish it for accommodating such sinister activity, barely picked up a head of steam.

This isn’t to say, of course, that Bilderberg isn’t still a hot ticket. The guest list is thronged with CEOs, politicians and dignitaries – here a Queen of Spain, there a Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Should the head of BP or the SIS want to have a quiet word with Henry Kissinger and the editor-in-chief of The Economist, or the chairman of the Greek central bank hope to borrow a few billion from the founder of LinkedIn, they will have no better opportunity.

But while the guest list is certainly top-drawer, it’s no more impressive than any of a dozen similar beanfeasts. There is no Bill Clinton, and neither of the George Bushes. David Cameron has decided to give it a miss after last year (when he only had to travel to Watford – again, hardly the most glamorous or secretive locale). George Osborne and Ed Balls will be there, but Justine Greening, the only other Cabinet-level minister in attendance, is hardly spoken of as a potential PM.

Part of the fascination of Bilderberg was always the disconnect between the terrifying rhetoric about a sinister new world order, and the identities of the movement’s leading figures: if Ken Clarke and Denis Healey were neo-fascist conspirators, they were doing a very good job of hiding it (that, or the conspiracy’s main focus was a concerted effort to empty the planet’s whisky supplies).

And sure enough, once the group agreed to let a little daylight in on the magic – in order to defuse some of the wilder conspiracy talk – it turned out that there wasn’t as much magic as people thought. Just a group of supremely accomplished networkers, and old pals from the international elite, doing what came naturally.

For the conspiracy theorists, of course, it’s the greatest trick the devil ever pulled: by revealing where it’s meeting, and who’s going to be there, Bilderberg makes itself seem inoffensive and harmless, even though (they insist) it’s anything but.

Yet that’s not actually the most interesting thing that’s happening here. On its website – which appeared as part of the nothing-to-see-here publicity drive – the group says its conference is designed “to foster dialogue between Europe and North America”. But Europe and North America don’t matter as much as they used to.

Only this week, the President of the United States gave a speech that sounded a qualified retreat from the world, or at least from the use of force to shape it. And if we Europeans can’t kick Putin out of Crimea, or find jobs for the millions of youngsters thrown on to the dole by the failure of the euro, how can we presume to dictate to the rest of the planet?

It’s hard to avoid the feeling that if there really are secret meetings in secret rooms that determine the fate of the world, they’re taking place on the other side of it – inside the politburo in Beijing, or the anonymous factories where Tim Cook of Apple meets with his suppliers.

True, the World Economic Forum in Davos still has a certain cachet as the ultimate cocktail party for the ruling elite – but only because it has done its best to adopt a more global tone. And even then its guest list cannot possibly encompass every single mover and shaker who’s out there.

In fact, while some power has shifted to the East, much of it has simply dispersed. Today’s world is so complicated and hydra-headed that no one actor, or even group of actors, can control it.

It’s telling that Bilderberg-mania reached its peak shortly before the destruction of the Twin Towers, and subsided shortly after. In the wake of 9/11, and Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the financial crisis, the idea that global events can be dictated (or rather, successfully dictated) by a small group of white-skinned men in a First World banqueting suite looks increasingly quaint.

People cling to the conspiracy theory because they want to believe that someone is capable of controlling things – to believe that men like John Pierpoint Morgan, who could start or halt Wall Street panics with a flick of their moustache, are still out there. But even for hyper-intelligent, shape-shifting lizards, bringing order to our chaotic world would be a bridge too far.

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