Posts Tagged ‘Daily Express’

Schools Display and Document Folder on the 1920s General Strike

March 13, 2017

The General Strike: Jackdaw No.l05, compiled by Richard Tames (London, New York and Toronto: Jackdaw Publications Ltd, Grossman Publishers Inc., and Clarke, Irwin and Company 1972)

I picked this up about 20 years ago in one of the bargain bookshops in Bristol’s Park Street. Jackdaw published a series of folders containing reproduction historical texts and explanatory posters and leaflets on variety of historical topics and events, including the Battle of Trafalgar, the slave trade, the voyages of Captain Cook, Joan of Arc, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise of Napoleon, Ned Kelley and Wordsworth. They also published another series of document folders on specifically Canadian themes, such as the Indians of Canada, the Fenians, Louis Riel, Cartier of Saint Malo, the 1867 confederation of Canada, the vote in Canada from 1791 to 1891, the Great Depression, Laurier, and Canada and the Civil War.

This particular folder is on the 1926 general strike, called by the TUC when the Samuel Commission, set up to report into the state of the mining industry, published its report. This recommended that the mines should be reorganised, but not nationalised, and although the miners were to get better working conditions and fringe benefits, they would have to take a pay cut. The folder included a poster giving a timeline of the strike and the events leading up to it, and photos of scenes from it, including volunteer constables practising self-defence, office girls travelling to work by lorry, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and buses and train signal boxes staffed by volunteers. There’s also a Punch cartoon commenting on the end of the Strike. It also contains a leaflet explaining the various documents in the folder, along suggested projects about the issue and a short bibliography.

Poster and timeline of the Strike

Leaflet explaining the documents

The facsimile documents include

1. A leaflet arguing the Miner’s case.

2. Telegram from the Transport and General Workers’ Union to a local shop steward, calling for preparations for the strike.

3. Pages from the Daily Worker, the official paper of the T.U.C. during the Strike.

4. Notice from the Met calling for special constables.

5. Communist Party leaflet supporting the Strike.

6. Handbill giving the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of the Free Churches for an end to the Strike.

7. Handbill denouncing the strike as ‘The Great ‘Hold-Up’.
The accompanying pamphlet states that this was very far from the truth, and that it was a government lie that the T.U.C. were aiming at a revolution.

8. Emergency edition of the Daily Express.

9. Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin’s guarantee of employment to strike-breakers.

10. Contemporary Analysis of the causes of the Strike’s failure, from the Public Opinion.

11. The British Gazette, the government’s official paper, edited by Winston Churchill.

12. Anonymous letter from a striker recommending that the T.U.C. shut off the electricity.

13. Appeal for aid to Miner’s wives and dependents.

14. Protest leaflet against Baldwin’s ‘Blacklegs’ Charter’.

The General Strike was one of the great events of 20th century labour history, and its collapse was a terrible defeat that effectively ended revolutionary syndicalism and guild socialism as a major force in the labour movement. It left a legacy of bitterness that still persists in certain areas today.

The jackdaw seems to do a good job of presenting all sides of the issue, and the final section of the explanatory leaflet urges children to think for themselves about it. And one of the folder’s features that led me to buy it was the fact that it contained facsimile reproductions of some of the papers, flyers, letters and telegrams produced by the strikers arguing their case.

Looking through the folder’s contents it struck me that the strike and the issues it raised are still very much relevant in the 21 century, now almost a century after it broke it. It shows how much the Tories and the rich industrialists were determined to break the power of the unions, as well as the sheer hostility of the press. The Daily Express has always been a terrible right-wing rag, and was solidly Thatcherite and anti-union, anti-Labour in the 1980s. Since it was bought by Richard Desmond, apparently it’s become even more virulently right-wing and anti-immigrant – or just plain racist – than the Daily Heil.

The same determination to break their unions, and the miners in particular, was shown by Thatcher during the Miner’s Strike in the 1980s, again with the solid complicity of the media, including extremely biased and even falsified reporting from the BBC. It was her hostility to the miners and their power which partly led Thatcher to privatise and decimate the mining industry, along with the rest of Britain’s manufacturing sector. And these attitudes have persisted into the governments of Cameron and May, and have influenced Tony Blair and ‘Progress’ in the Labour party, who also bitterly hate the unions and anything that smacks of real working class socialism.

Dennis Skinner Calls Trump a Fascist

February 3, 2017

Here’s a bit of real, Old Labour Socialism coming through. In this clip, the veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, the ‘Beast of Bolsover’, invites the Foreign Secretary to go back with him to the time when he was hiding under the stairs as Britain was being bombed by two Fascist dictators, Mussolini and Hitler. Now May is walking hand in hand with another Fascist, Donald Trump. He calls on the Foreign Secretary to condemn Trump’s visit and states that the Orange Dictator isn’t fit to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela.

There’s another clip of this speech, which shows BoJo rising up to respond to Skinner, saying that he is mistaken about Mussolini bombing Britain, but he hears his criticism. He then tries to answer it by saying that the government rejects the recommendation to cancel Trump’s visit, and instead will work to get the best deal for British citizens.

I left that out because, quite honestly, it’s more infuriating Tory lies. May and the Conservatives made the same claim about working to get the best deal for Britain with Brexit. And what they’ve actually managed to get is quite the opposite: a very bad deal for Britain, which has left millions of people worried about their jobs and how they’ll manage with the expected rise in prices now we’re outside the EU tariff wall.

And Mike this week put up a piece, which made it very plain that what limited criticism the Tories have made about Trump was motivated by their desire to defend a Muslim Tory MP from being stopped if he goes to America.

In fact, it seems to me that vast parts of the Tory party and press are solidly behind the ban. The Daily Mail, the Express and the Torygraph have for years attacked non-White immigration. I remember a number of articles from these papers in the 1980s where they talked about the growth of ‘unassimilable’ immigrants. As for the Scum, way back in the 1990s when the Sun was very loudly trying to tell the world that it was somehow non- or even anti-racist, Private Eye reminded its readers that the paper had been convicted something like 19 or 21 times by the Press Complaints Commission of racism. In one of the most repellent of the cases, the Scum ran a cartoon showing pigs marching in protest with banners. The caption read, ‘Even now the pigs are complaining about being compared to Arabs’. Or if not those precise words, then something very similar.

The party that was appealing for illegal immigrants to hand themselves in so they could be deported, amongst other anti-immigrant policies is not going to condemn Trump for his hardline stance against Muslim immigration. However much David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith may have tried to present the Tory party as now entirely anti-racist and comfortable with multiculturalism.

Backlash to Judges’ Brexit Ruling Reveals Right-Wing Racism and Authoritarianism

November 8, 2016

Last week the Guyanese-born investment banker, Gina Miller, succeeded in her legal action to force the government to open up the decision on the start of the Brexit process to the rest of parliament. Three judges ruled in her favour, and the result has been a tide of right-wing hatred and vilification directed against the lady herself and the judges, who made the ruling. And Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, has come out of the woodwork once more promising to lead a march against the decision.

Mike in his article on the original decision reports personal threats Miller received, including rape, and comments that she should ‘f*** off’ back to her own country, and people telling her that Brits were sick of foreigners telling them what to do. She has also been denounced as a traitor to democracy.

Miller herself hit back at her critics and those, who insulted and threatened her. Mike quotes the press report on this incident, in which she told the International Business Times

“Yes there has been a deluge of hatred and anger but this is because people were lied to in respect to the EU referendum, and because (of) irresponsible figures like Farage and tabloid media who lack any understanding of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law that is the bedrock of our civil society”.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/04/sad-state-of-britain-someone-stands-up-for-democracy-so-she-gets-racist-abuse/

The reaction of part of the Tory right, and the Daily Mail and Express has been hysterical. On the Beeb’s Question Time, Sajid Javid, who Private Eye suggested looks like The Claw, one of the villains from one of Gerry Anderson’s puppet SF series, went over the top, exclaiming that the ruling was an attempt ‘to thwart the will of the British people’.

The Express, never known for anything like statesmanlike restraint and diplomacy, declared that “Today this country faces a crisis as grave as anything since the dark days when Churchill vowed we would fight them on the beaches.”

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/04/irrational-responses-to-brexit-high-court-ruling/

Not to be outdone in the ultra-patriotism stakes, the Daily Mail put photos of the three judges on its front page along with the screaming headline ‘Enemies of the People’. As Mike, Tom Pride and many others have pointed out, the Heil is never very far from Nazism, and this was another instance where the rag’s headline almost exactly reproduced the propaganda and stance of the Nazi party. The cartoonist Gary Barker put up the image of the Heil’s front page, along with a similar page from one the Nazis’ newspapers, denouncing a line of judges as ‘Volksverrater’. Barker translates this as ‘Enemies of the People: Get Out of the Way of the German People’s Will’. This isn’t quite right. A more literal translation would be ‘Betrayers of the People’ or ‘Race Traitors’ – the German word volk has an ethnic connotation, which the word ‘people’ doesn’t have. The sentence underneath reads something like ‘shoved out of the German racial community’. That’s roughly what the German Volksgemeinschaft means, rather than ‘common people’s will’. Volksgemeinschaft was obviously one of the key planks of Nazi domestic ideology. I don’t know where Barker got the page from, but it looks very much like the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer. On its own, Sturmer just means an impetuous fellow. The Nazi newspaper of the same name is infamous as the vehicle through which the Nazis, under the rag’s editor, Julius Streicher, demonised the Jews. Back in the 1980s the goose-steppers in the BNP or NF decided to launch their own version, The Stormer, which was similarly intended to spread hate against Jews and non-Whites. Mike in the title of his article on this appalling headline asks if it is proof that the UK is shifting towards Nazism. I’d say that it was. English doesn’t quite have a word for ‘racial community’ like the Nazis’ Volksgemeinschaft, but the ideology is certainly there on the Tory xenophobic right. Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Devon, who’d like to privatise the NHS, has raved in his column on the Telegraph blogs about ‘the Anglosphere’, meaning the English-speaking world, and there certainly is a tendency in the American Libertarian Right to view this in racial terms. White Anglo-Saxons are inclined towards free trade and small government, according to them, while the Irish and Continental peoples are genetically determined to be the enemies of freedom favouring Socialism and big government. This is despite the fact that Adam Smith based his views on free trade as the foundation of the ‘Wealth of Nations’ on those of the French physiocrats. And the hostility of the Heil and Express to non-White immigration is notorious.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/06/is-this-proof-that-uk-politics-is-shifting-towards-nazism/

As for the Fuhrage’s declared intention to lead a mass demonstration of 100,000 outside the high court to protest against the judges’ ruling, Mike states in the title of his piece on it that ‘someone should tell Nigel Farage this is the UK, not Nuremberg’.

A mass rally to oppose democracy? Someone should tell Nigel Farage this is the UK, not Nuremberg

Mike has defended the democratic basis of the judges’ decision, pointing out that far from being traitors to democracy, the judges have upheld it. Their decision does not affect the Brexit decision, which has been settled by the referendum. It does, however, prevent Theresa May and her cabinet from deciding how it is to be implemented solely by herself, and then presenting it to the rest of us as a fait accompli. This, Mike quite rightly points out, would be despotic. He rebuts the Javid’s stupid comment by making the point that the judges merely upheld the sovereignty of parliament, which is enshrined by law. He shows how ridiculous it is to compare their lordships’ decision with the threat of Nazi invasion, as well as the homophobia in the Express’s article, which attacked one of the judges for being ‘openly gay’. As if the man’s sexuality had anything to do with the judicial soundness of his decision. And he rightly quotes the Angry Yorkshireman on the ridiculous bigotry and hypocrisy of the Heil’s attitude, who wrote:

“Thus anyone who doesn’t agree that Theresa May should be allowed to behave like a dictator by bypassing democratic accountability and making up the law as she goes along is an ‘enemy of the people’ (as decided by a bunch of right-wing hacks working for a billionaire sociopath who lives in Monaco to avoid paying British taxes!).”

The ranting of the Tory ‘Leave’ campaign on this shows the fundamental racism and authoritarianism which runs all the way through them. The Tory right are deeply undemocratic. They would far prefer that the issues were settled by a small coteries of elite, moneyed individuals in their favour. Parliament is grossly unrepresentative of the economic background of British society. Most MPs are millionaires, as Mike has shown again and again in the meme showing this fact. Even so, they represent a wider and more diverse circle than May and her cabinet. As for Gina Miller not being ‘British’, Guyana is a former British colony, and before Thatcher altered the immigration law in the 1970s, citizenship of a British colony or member of the commonwealth automatically granted the right to immigrate to this country and be considered a British citizen. This principle was held by an older generation of imperialists, including Winston Churchill. By their standards, she’s as British as the rest of us. You could even argue that as someone born in Guyana, she also has a perfectly reasonable right to bring her court action. One of the arguments of the ‘Leave’ campaign has been that if Britain leaves the EU, we will have greater freedom to develop trade links with our Commonwealth partners. As a lady born in one of those former colonies, she therefore has every right to make sure she and the other prospective trading partners are properly represented in these decisions.

The Tory attitude also contradicts one of the fundamental principles of democratic freedom articulate by John Stuart Mill. Mill was concerned that the views of the minority should always be protected and represented, even to the extent of being over-represented. He stated that if everyone in the country held the same political opinion, with the exception of one man, that one man should still be allowed to hold and express his views without suppression. But the Tories behind all this hysterical ranting clearly don’t believe that the views of the general public should be represented in the ability of parliament to vote and decide on this issue, rather than just May and her privileged cronies.

It’s also highly hypocritical. Remember when the Tories were complaining at how ‘presidential’ Tony Blair was, and how he was sidelining parliament? They were right – Blair was presidential. But this shows that their objections to a presidential style of British politics, in which power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister in a manner more suitable to the American political system, was purely tactical. Once presidential power is in the hands of a Tory PM, all objections mysteriously disappear, and it is the defenders of the sovereignty of the British people and parliament, who are vilified as ‘enemies of the people.’ Perhaps, like the judges denounced by the Nazis, they’d like to see them shoved out of a British volksgemeinschaft.

This has to be stopped. Mike is quite right to recommend that people stop buying these dreadful right-wing rags, and vote out the Tories. They’re the real enemies of democracy and popular sovereignty here. Not the EU, and not the judges.

Private Eye on Daily Express Hack’s Defection from Brexit

June 9, 2016

Mike yesterday ran the story about the defection of MP Sarah Wollaston, a doctor, who chairs the Commons Health Committee, from the Vote Leave campaign, citing her discomfort over the group’s false claims. This included the specific claim that Britain was spending £350 million a week or so on the EU.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/08/mp-sarah-wollaston-quits-leave-over-untrue-claim/

Wollaston isn’t the only Brexiteer to break ranks and start supporting Remain. A month ago, Private Eye in its issue for 29th April-12th May 2016 reported how a hack on the Daily Express, Greg Swift, who was responsible for a series of anti-EU articles urging British voters to back the Leave campaign, left the paper to work for the Dave Cameron in Downing Street. This will necessarily mean that he would end up working for Remain. The Eye wrote

Swivel Lips

As assistant editor (news) at the Daily Express, Greg Swift has helped head up the paper’s “Special Crusade” to ensure votes for Brexit in recent weeks.

The crusade has featured front-page splashes such as “ILLEGAL MIGRANTS FLOODING INTO EU”, “EU WANTS CONTROL OF YOUR PENSION”, “NOW BATTLE FOR BRITAIN BEGINS”, and “NONSENSE! TREASURY’S EU EXIT SUMS DON’T ADD UP” – but it reached its zenith on 16th April, when the paper gave away a free piece of sticky-backed plastic depicting the white cliffs of Dover and urged its readers to “let this sticker be the standard under which the nation unites to strike a mighty blow for freedom and democracy”.

Last week, however, it was announced that Swift is off to a new job: after nearly two decades at the Express he is to become head of news at Number 10 and deputy spokesman to David Cameron. Despite an attempt by Express editor Hugh Whittow to make him work out his three-month notice period in full, Swift will start in Downing Street on 3 May – which will put him right at the centre of the campaign to stay in the EU and obliged him to spend his days countering the sort of swivel-eye froth he has been enthusiastically serving up so far. (p. 7).

This makes you wonder just how malleable are the other consciences behind the campaign.

Nationalisation: The Reason the Tory Press Feared and Hated Tony Benn

June 8, 2016

In 1970s and 1980s, Tony Benn personified everything the Conservatives and the right-wing press hated and feared about the Labour party. In the early 1970s the party had adopted an increasingly radical platform, advocating the nationalisation of 25 companies, including BP, and introducing a form of industrial democracy, which would have seen up to 50 per cent of management boards composed of workers’ representatives. Benn, who had won press approval in the 50’s and 60s for his efficient management of industry, had moved leftward, and fully supported these proposals. Instead of arguing against these ideas, which were the policy of the wider Labour party, the Tory press held Benn almost solely accountable for them. He was therefore reviled as a fanatic, compared to Adolf Hitler, and derided as a ‘loony’. None of this was even remotely close to the truth. Those, who had personal dealings with him, such as the head of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, where Benn was the local MP, stated that he was calm, reasonable, and always gave a clear answer. Other industrialists spoke about how Benn always listened intelligently to what others had to say, and sought out all opinions on an issue before he made his mind up. But this was very firmly ignored and denied in the press’ caricature.

Mark Hollingworth discusses the press’ demonization of Benn, and how it sharply differed from the reality, in his book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship. In the chapter on Benn, he makes the case that what the press feared most about Benn was his advocacy of increasing nationalisation and state control. They were afraid that after he’d nationalised the initial 25 firms, he’d extend it even further, until the press itself was nationalised. Hollingworth writes:

During a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee on 28 February 1975, a prominent member suggested that if Tony Benn were to save a child from drowning, the headlines the next day would read ‘Benn’s Latest Grab’. He was exaggerating, of course, but not by much. for between May 1973 and June 1975 Labour’s industrial policies were consistently portrayed as the pipedream of one politician.

The press campaign began with the advent of ‘Labour’s Programme for 1973’ – a radical nationalization document. Benn fully backed its proposals

What we have in mind goes far beyond the window dressing of some European schemes. We are thinking of say 50 per cent of workers, elected through their trade union membership onto supervisory boards with real power. And we mean to carry through this sort of reform in the public sector as well as in the private sector. We shall carry through a real redistribution of income and wealth by radical changes in the tax system.

Fleet Street was horrified. Suddenly Benn was part of ‘the wild Left’, ‘trying to attract the support of the extreme left militants.’ The Sun, at that time loosely pro-Labour, stated: ‘If Mr Benn is to be believed, Britain may shortly become a Marxist state,’ while the Sunday Telegraph preferred ‘Bolshevik Benn’.

In September 1973, Labour’s National Executive proposed that 25 leading companies be taken into public ownership. The Daily Express interpreted this plan as Benn toeing the Moscow line: ‘Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – those four grim, grey spectres from the past who started it all – might not have been displeased with the former Lord Stansgate.’

But the press’ hostility to nationalisation was for reasons much closer to home, according to Charles Wintour, then editor of the London Evening Standard and now a member of the SDP: ‘They’re planning this socialisation of the 25 firms,’ said Wintour at the time

Well, in the long run, if this process continues indefinitely, they will start brooding on state control of the newspapers. I mean, nationalization means a production – the newspapers are produced. In the long run, this must be part of their policy. that’s logical. They believe in it. And consequently I think that the newspapers have a right to be particularly suspicious of the Labour Party in its extension of nationalisation and state control.

Wintour’s analysis turned out to be correct. The press was deeply hostile to nationalisation. But this political opposition was concealed in the form of linking the policy with Benn’s political ambition. This is how Noyes Thomas reported the issue for the News of the World: ‘In his thirst for power he has seemed recently to be prepared to see even his party out of office for a further term provided it brings Wilson and his moderate colleagues to the end of the political road. It was Benn who bludgeoned through the party’s policy document – the threat to nationalise Britain’s top 25 companies.’ (pp. 39-40).

The British press claims to be a democratic check, holding the government to account through questioning and reporting. In fact, as the authors of several of the chapters in Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS SOS, show, the press, with some notable exceptions, along with so many of the other British institutions which should have been defending it, signally failed to do so. They have been quiet as this most precious of British institutions has been and is being privatised. Elsewhere in the book, Hollingworth states that at the 1979 election, Thatcher only got 44 per cent of the vote, but she had 84 per cent of press support. And the press’ bias against Labour has continued. It only abated under Tony Bliar, because the wretched warmonger caved in, and gave the Thatcherite privatisers, and particularly Murdoch, everything they wanted. It’s high time that relationship changed, and we had a truly free press.

The Press and Accusations of Communist Influence/Infiltration in the Labour Party

June 5, 2016

Mark Hollingworth’s book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also does an excellent job of showing how the press, at just about every general election since the 1920s, repeats the lie that the Labour party has been infiltrated by Communists and others from the hard left, or that their policies hardly differ from those of the Communist party. He writes

Ever since the Labour Party have been in a position to form a government – by themselves or in coalition – Britain’s press have tried to portray them as being Communist wolves in sheep’s clothing. In their polling day edition for the 1923 general election, the Daily Mail produced the headline: ‘Moscow Funds For Rowdies – Labour Candidates Subsidized’. The paper alleged that Labour’s parliamentary candidates ‘received £300 apiece’ from Bolshevik sources. Two years later, on 25 October 1925, the Daily mail produced – ‘Civil War Plot by Socialist Masters-Moscow’s Orders To Our Reds’. the basis for this story was a letter supposedly written by Zinoviev, president of the Third Communist International in Moscow, to the British Communist Party which the Mail described as ‘the masters of Mr Ramsey MacDonald’s [minority Labour] government’. Despite clear indications that the Zinoviev letter was a forgery, the story was given uncritical coverage by all the popular papers. Six years later, in 1931, MacDonald and his supporters deserted the Labour Party and formed a National Government with the Conservative Party.

Very little has changed. At almost every election various lists of Labour candidates with alleged Communist or Marxist sympathies are displayed with great prominence on the front page of the popular papers. The 1983 campaign was no exception. In fact, Fleet Street tried harder than usual to show that the Labour Party was, as the Sun put, ‘penetrated at all levels by sinister Marxist forces’. This section of the chapter describes how the press repeated the claims of Douglas Eden, a member of the Council for Social Democracy, that 55 members of the Labour party, later expanded by the Daily Express to 70, had extreme left-wing, Marxist-Leninist sympathies.

The chapter also discusses the way the press decided that there were marked similarities between Labour’s manifesto and that of the Communists at the 1983 election.

That same day, 19 may, the Communist Party manifesto was published. The next morning ‘Red Shadows’ headlined the Daily Express editorial:

Pick up the Communist Manifesto and it might be Labour’s. The two have chilling similarities. From unilateral nuclear disarmament to withdrawal from Europe, from economic controls to nationalisation. The difference is that the Communists will not win a seat… The voters rumbled them long ago. That is why the clever Marxists have gone into the Labour party. Mr Foot is no Communist. Doubtless he finds their support thoroughly distasteful. But his policies have made him a tool of those who are foes of the democratic freedom he upholds.

This was not a sudden discovery by the Express. The paper produced an identical response to the Labour and Communist manifestoes in the previous general election in 1979. ‘The Red Face of Labour-Communists Pick Same Policies’, was the headline to a front-page news report by John Warden on 11 April 1979. ‘The Communist Manifesto made an astonishing appearance yesterday as the Red Face of Labour. This “carbon copy” of policies is embarrassing for Mr Jim Callaghan.

One of those smeared as a Communist was Robert Hughes, who was the MP for Aberdeen North, and a member of the left-wing Tribune group. The evidence for his supposed Communist sympathies was that he had written for the Morning Star, Marxism Today, and Labour Monthly and Straight Left, the last two pro-Soviet magazines. The Express also claimed he was a member of three other pro-Soviet organisations, the World Peace Council, British-Soviet Friendship Society and Friends of Afghanistan. In fact, the World Peace Council had made him a member unilaterally, without consulting him or even telling him. Hughes didn’t know anything about the two other organisations, nobody he asked knew either, and he concluded they didn’t exist. When Hughes contacted the Express, they claimed that he had also been a member of Liberation and Voice of the Unions, which they also stated were Communist front organisations. Hughes had indeed been a member of them, but they weren’t fronts for the Communist party. The only evidence that they were was the fact that some of the leadership were former members of the Communist party. Hughes took the Express to the Press Complaints Council, which issued an adjudication in his favour, ruling that it had published inaccurate information.

Under Tony Blair, the Labour party managed to avoid being smeared as being infiltrated by Communists, as Murdoch had switched sides and was backing the Neoliberal future warmonger. But they were back on course with the gibes at ‘Red’ Ed Miliband, and they’re repeating the smears against Jeremy Corbyn. Well, it’s nonsense – nasty, pernicious nonsense intended to scare the public, but still nonsense. And once you find that it’s been more or less tried against the Labour party at just about every general election the party has fought, the allegation soon loses its force.

Benn, Livingstone, Tatchell and Scargill, Popular Socialists Not Communist Dictators

June 5, 2016

One of the aspects of press policy that comes across most strongly in Mark Hollingworth’s book on the hounding and vilification of left-wing politicians, the Greenham women and the miners in the 1980sThe Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, is the repeated tactic of concentrating on a particular politician, and trying to present them as crazed and dictatorial. I’ve described in a previous post yesterday how Tony Benn was compared to Adolf Hitler, complete with a retouched photo to show him with Adolf’s toothbrush moustache. This was very much despite the fact that Tony Benn had served as an RAF pilot during the War. The same tactic of smearing a brave man, who had fought for his country as a traitor was repeated a few years ago by the Daily Heil on Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. They ran an article denouncing Ralph Miliband as ‘the man who hated Britain’. Miliband was indeed a Marxist intellectual, who hated the capitalist system and therefore much of the class-based structure and institutions of British society. But he also fought in the British army against Fascism during the Second World War.

Scargill and the Miners

Arthur Scargill was another working-class political figure the press smeared with comparisons to Hitler, and claimed was a dictatorial monster during the Miner’s Strike.

Maggie Thatcher in one of her rants had described Scargill and the NUM as ‘Red Fascists’, and so the press followed suit. On 19th April 1984 the Daily Express ran a piece by Prof. Hans Eysenck comparing Scargill and the striking miner’s to Hitler and the Nazis, entitled ‘Scargill and the Fascists of the Left – from the Man who Witnessed the Rise of Hitler: A Warning We Must Not Ignore’. The Sunday Express under its editor, John Junor, ran a similar piece.

Mr Arthur Scargill has clearly been flicked in the raw by suggestions that he has been acting like Hitler. But isn’t he? Hitler used his thugs to terrorise into submission people disagreed with him. Isn’t that precisely what is happening now at night in Nottinghamshire mining villages? Hitler had an utter contempt for the ballot box. By refusing the miners a right to vote, hasn’t Mr Scargill against invited comparison? There the serious similarity ends. For although Mr Scargill may be a stupid man, I do not think he is an evil one.
(pp. 275-6).

Peregrine Worsthorne, the editor of the Torygraph, compared Scargill to Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists. The Daily Heil on the 1st April 1984 ran a piece with the headline, ‘Coal Boss Hits Out at Union ‘Nazis”. But it was the Scum that really went overboard with the accusations of Nazism. It ran headlines like, ‘Mods in Fury at “Adolf” Arthur’, showed a photo of Scargill with his right arm raised, greeting other miners, with the headline, ‘Mine Fuhrer’, and then ran another piece comparing Scargill’s determination to fight to the bitter end with Adolf Hitler in his bunker.

But Scargill personally was far from a dictator. Hollingworth points out that Scargill did not start the strike, but was simply following the directions of the union’s members quite democratically. Hollingworth writes

In fact, the dispute began in Yorkshire when mass pithead meetings were held at every colliery to decide whether to support the fight to oppose the closure of Cottonwood. A Yorkshire NUM Area Council meeting was then arranged which took the decision to sanction all-out industrial action. Scargill didn’t attend or speak at any of these meetings. Nor does he have a vote on the miners’ National Executive Committee. (pp. 272-3).

The miners themselves repeatedly told the press that they weren’t blindly following Scargill, and that the situation was in fact the reverse: he was doing what they told him. This was repeated by the Coal Board’s Industrial Relations director general, Ned Smith, stated ‘I don’t think Scargill has kept them out. That is nonsense. A lot of the areas have a great deal of autonomy. It’s simply not true to say it’s Scargill’s strike.’ (p. 273).

Hollingworth also notes that the press had a personal obsession with Red Ken. When he took over the GLC, the Scum declared ‘Red Ken Crowned King of London’. Hollingworth, however, describes how Leninspart was again, very far from a bullying egotist monopolising power. Bob Quaif in a published letter to the Evening Standard stated that he was a Liberal/SDP, supporter, but he was impressed with the pluralist and democratic terms in which Livingstone expressed his opinions. Moreover, the Labour group when it took power removed some of the patronage powers from the leader, and gave them to elected committees. Ken controlled overall policy, but real power was held by the Labour group which met every Monday. Livingstone himself said of his role

I act more like a chief whip, co-ordinator and publicist of the group. I go out and try to sell the message and to hold the group together… people really only come to me when there is a problem. I never know anything that’s going right. I only get involved in all the things that are going wrong. Committees run into problems with the bureaucracy and I come along and stamp on it. (p. 84).

Hollingworth goes to state that if Livingstone had been personally ousted from power in the Autumn of 1981, the council would still have had much the same policies under the leadership of Andy Harris or John McDonnell.

Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell Smeared as Communists

Throughout all this, Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and Peter Tatchell were all smeared as Marxists and Communists. The Sunset Times described the miner’s strike as ‘Marxist inspired’, with Hugo Young declaring ‘Call Scargill a Marxist, and correctly identify members of the NUM executive as Communists, and you seem to have solved the entire analytical problem’. The Daily Express even published a piece entitled ‘Scargill’s Red Army Moves In’, ranting about the miner’s had been infiltrated by militant Marxists, determined to prevent changes to union rules which would make striking more difficult. The piece, written by Michael Brown, stated

The militant Red Guards responsible for most of the pit strike violence will attack against today when Arthur Scargill attempts to rewrite his union’s rules. A rabble of political activists plan to invade the streets of Sheffield to browbeat any opposition to a delegates conference designed to reduce the majority needed for strike action … It will be orchestrated by a ‘5th Column’ of political activists who have taken over the running of the miners’ strike. All are handpicked men, some with university training who have Communist, Marxist or Trotskyist backgrounds. They run the flying pickets and handle funds for paying them. (p. 266). There was absolutely no evidence for this, and the papers didn’t provide any.

The Sunday Express and the Scum also claimed that Livingstone was a Marxist, an accusation that lives on in Private Eye’s nickname for him as ‘Leninspart’. But again, Hollingworth states that there’s no evidence that he is either a Communist or Trotskyite. Roy Shaw, the moderate Labour leader of Camden council, who did not share Ken’s left-wing views and opposed him on many issues, stated of ‘Red’ Ken ‘He embraces Marxism if he thinks it will be of advantage to him. But he is certainly not a Marxist. He plays along with them and uses a lot of their methods, but he certainly is not one of them.’

The press also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of Militant Tendency, the Marxist group was that was allegedly trying to take over the Labour party. The Daily Mirror claimed Tatchell was linked to Militant and Tariq Ali. The Torygraph also claimed he was a member, as did the Daily Star, while the BBC on 2nd August 1982 on a late-night news bulletin called him ‘the Militant Tendency candidate for Bermondsey’. To their credit, both the Graun and the Absurder published interviews with members of the local Labour party, who said that Tatchell was most definitely not a member of Militant.

Hollingworth describes Tatchell’s politics views and how they differed, at times very dramatically from Militant, and states that he was merely part of the Bennite Left of the Labour party. Indeed, Militant itself did not like Tatchell, and backed him only reluctantly. Hollingworth writes

But Militant’s stance towards Tatchell’s candidature was based on clear ideological differences. On many issues, the two were diametrically opposed. Broadly speaking, Tatchell belonged to the radical Left of the Labour party which rallied round Tony Benn’s banner during the 1981 deputy leadership campaign. According to Michael Crick’s excellent book on Militant. The ‘Bennite Left’ are often described as ‘petty bourgeois reformists by Militant supporters. For Tatchell one of the major differences was on the structure of a socialist society:

I see socialism as being essentially about the extension and enhancement of democracy, particularly in the economic realm. Militant have a very centralised vision of command socialism. Mine is more decentralised and concerned with empowerment. In other words, giving people the power to do things for themselves. Militant take a Leninist view based on a vanguard centre.

On specific policies the discrepancies between Tatchell and Militant are also stark. For several years the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) was Labour Party and TUC policy and Tatchell supported it fully. Import controls, one of the main proposals of the AES, was seen by Militant as ‘nationalistic’ and ‘exporting unemployment’. Other policies on wealth tax, planning agreements and industrial democracy are rejected by Militant as not going far enough.

When it came to social issues, Tatchell and Militant may as well have been in different parties. Tatchell supports ‘Troops Out’ of Northern Ireland, while Militant is against withdrawal. Positive action for women and ethnic minorities, backed by Tatchell, are seen as ‘bourgeois deviations from the class struggle’ by Militant. The issue of gay rights has only one been raised at the Labour Party Young Socialists conference since Militant took over Labour’s youth section in 1970. According to Michael Crick, Militant supporters are often hostile to gay Party members. (pp.158-9).

So while Scargill, Livingstone and Tatchell were certainly left-wing Labour, they weren’t dictators and definitely not Communists. It was all a smear. But it shows how the press and political establishment were convinced that any serious left-wing Socialist attack on the establishment had to be connected to Moscow. Hence Frederick Forsythe’s wretched little book, which has the British intelligence services battling a Communist plot to infiltrate the Labour party, ready to turn Britain into a Soviet satellite when Labour win the election. It’s says everything about Thatcher that she declared he was her favourite writer.

And Now Corbyn

And this type of abuse hasn’t stopped, either. The most recent victim is Jeremy Corbyn, who is again being smeared as a Communist. Hollingworth writes that it is an old tactic used against the radical Left – to single out a leader, and then go for the jugular. They couldn’t use it against the Greenham women, as they had a very decentralised and non-hierarchical ideology. There were no leaders, and those women, who did speak to the press, made it clear they were only articulating their own views. If they spoke to the press more than a certain number of times, they then refused to speak any more and directed the press to talk to someone else. In extreme cases they even left the camp.

They are, however, determined to use again and again. I found a book on Militant in the politics section of Waterstones recently, and on the back, with the usual approving quotes, was someone stating that the lessons from Militant were relevant once again with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party. This is just a smear, along with all the baseless smears against Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell before him. It shows how little the tactics of the Tory press change in their campaign to discredit genuinely principled and democratic radicals.

Nye Bevan and Nostalgia for the Era Before the NHS: My Response to a Critic

February 15, 2016

Last week I received a comment from Billellson criticising me for stating that Aneurin Bevan was the architect of the NHS. He also stated that we did not have a private healthcare system before the NHS, and although some charges were made, they were in his words, not so much that people would lose their house.

Here’s what he wrote.

“Nye Bevan, the architect of the NHS, was also acutely aware of the way ordinary women suffered under the private health care system that put medicine out of the reach of the poor.”
Aneurin Bevan was not the architect of the National Health Service. The NHS was a wartime coalition policy, for the end of hostilities, agreed across parties. The concept was set out in the Beveridge Report published in December 1942, endorsed by Winston Churchill in a national broadcast in 1943 and practical proposals, including those the things the public value re the NHS today, set out in a white paper by Minister of Health Conservative Henry Willink in March 1944. It would have been established whoever was Minister of Health after the war / whichever party won the 1945 general election. The UK did not have a ‘private health care system’ before the NHS. Most hospitals in England and Wales were local government owned and run, the remainder voluntary (charitable). Those who could afford to pay for treatment were required to do so, or at least make a contribution, but nobody was expected to sell their house. The poor were treated in hospitals free of charge. c11 million workers were covered for GP consultations by the National Health Insurance Scheme which had been established in 1911. In many places, particularly mining areas, there were mutual aid societies that established health facilities including dispensaries. Scotland had a greater degree of state health provision and Northern Ireland had greater faith based provision before their NHSs were established, starting on the same day as Bevan’s English and Welsh service, but always separate established under separate legislation.

So I checked this with what Pauline Gregg says about the creation of the NHS in her The Welfare State: An Economic and Social History of Great Britain from 1945 to the Present Day (London: George G. Harrap & Co 1967).

She states

In 1942, during the War, the scope of health insurance had been considerably widened by the raising of the income limit for participation to £420 a year. But it still covered only about half the population and included neither specialist nor hospital service, neither dental, optical, nor hearing aid. Mental deficiency was isolated from other forms of illness. Medical practitioners were unevenly spread over the country – they had been before the War, but now their war-time service had too often disrupted their practices and left their surgeries to run down or suffer bomb damage.

Hospitals were at all stages of development. There were more than a thousand voluntary hospitals in England and Wales, varying from large general or specialist hospitals with first-class modern equipment and with medical schools attended by distinguished consultants, down to small local cottage hospitals. There were some 2000 more which had been founded by the local authorities or had developed from the sick ward of the old workhouse, ranging again through all types and degrees of excellence. Waiting-lists were long; most hospitals came out of the War under-equipped with staff and resources of all kinds; all needed painting, repairing, reorganising; some were cleaning up after bomb damage; most needed to reorient themselves before they turned from war casualties to peace-time commitments; all needed new equipment and new buildings. Other medical services were only too clearly the result of haphazard development. There were Medical Officers of Health employed by the local authorities, sanitary inspectors concerned with environmental health, medical inspectors of factories, nearly 2000 doctors on call to industry, as well as doctors privately appointed by firms to treat their staff. A school medical service provided for regular inspection of all children in public elementary and secondary schools; local authorities provided maternity and child care, health visiting, tuberculosis treatment, and other services for the poor, which varied widely from district to district. How many people there were of all ages and classes who were needing treatment but not getting it could only be guessed at.

Since it was clear that ad hoc improvement would no longer serve, a complete reshaping of the health and medical service marked the only line of advance. The general pattern it would take was indicated by Sir William Beveridge, who laid down his Report in 1942 the axiom that a health service must be universal, that the needs of the rich and poor are alike and should be met by the same means: ” restoration of a sick person to health is a duty of the state … prior to any other,” a “comprehensive national health service will ensure that for every citizen there is available whatever medical treatment he requires, in whatever form he requires it, domiciliary or institutional, general, specialist or consultant, and will ensure also the provision of dental, ophthalmic and surgical appliances, nursing and midwifery and rehabilitation after accidents.”

The Coalition Government accepted the Health Service Proposals of the Beveridge Report and prepared a White Paper, which it presented to Parliament in February 1944, saying the same thing as Beveridge in different words: “The government .. intend to establish a comprehensive health service for everybody in this country. They want to ensure that in future every man and woman and child can rely on getting all the advice and treatment and care which they may need in matters of personal health; that what they get shall be the best medical and other facilities available; that their getting these shall not depend on whether they can pay for them, or any other factor irrelevant to the real need – the real need being to bring the country’s full resources to bear upon reducing ill-health and promoting good health in all its citizens.” The Health Service, it said, should be a water, as the highways, available to all and all should pay through rates, taxes and social insurance.

Ernest Brown, a Liberal National, Minister of Health in the Coalition Government, was responsible for a first plan for a National Health Service which subordinated the general practitioner to the Medical Officer of Health and the local authorities, It was abandoned amid a professional storm. The scheme of Henry Willink, a later Minister of Health, was modelled on the White Paper, but was set aside with the defeat of Churchill’s Government in the 1945 Election. In the Labour Government the role of Minister of Health fell to Aneurin Bevan, who produced a scheme within a few months of Labour’s victory.

Pp. 39-51.

Churchill’s own attitude to the nascent NHS and the emergence of the later welfare state was ambivalent. In March 1943, for example, he gave a speech endorsing it. Gregg again says

He was “very much attracted to the idea” of a Four Year Plan of his own which included “national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave”, a national health service, a policy for full employment in which private and public enterprise both had a part to play, the rebuilding of towns and a housing programme, and a new Education Act. He envisaged “five or six large measures of a practical character”, but did not specify them, … (p. 25).

However, two years later after the Beveridge Report had become the official policy of the Labour party, Churchill’s tone was markedly hostile.

Coming to the microphone on June 4, 1945, he said: “My friends, I must tell you that a Socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas of freedom … Socialism is in its essence an attack not only upon British enterprise, but upon the right of an ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils. A free Parliament – look at that – a free Parliament is odious to the Socialist doctrinaire.” The Daily Express followed the next day with banner headlines: “Gestapo in Britain if Socialists Win”. (pp. 32-3)

So Mr Ellson is partly right, but only partly. There was some state and municipal healthcare provision, but it was a patchy and did not cover about half the population. It was a Coalition policy, which was sort of endorse by Churchill. However, its wholehearted embrace and execution was by the Labour party under Aneurin Bevan.

And its immense benefit and desirability was recognised by many traditionally staunch Tories at the time. One of my mother’s friends was herself a pillar of the local Conservative party, and the daughter of a pharmacist. She told my mother that at the 1945 elections her father gather his family together and told them that he had always voted Tory, but this time he was going to vote Labour, because the country needed the NHS. He explained that he served too many people, giving them their drugs on credit, because they couldn’t pay, not to vote for Labour and the NHS.

Now I think the Tories would like to roll state healthcare provision back to that of the pre-NHS level, where there is some minimal state provision, but much is carried out by private industry. The Daily Heil a few years ago was moaning about how the friendly societies were excluded from a role in the NHS. Like them, I think Mr Ellson has far too rosy a view of the situation before the NHS. I’ve blogged on here already accounts from doctors of that period on how badly much of the population were served before the NHS, especially those without health insurance.

Britain needed the NHS, and the party that was most passionately in favour of it was Labour. That some Tories were in favour of it, including Churchill on occasions, is true. But there were others in the party that were very firmly against, and it was ultimately Rab Butler in the Tories who reconciled them to the NHS. But that reconciliation is breaking down, and they are determined to privatise it anyway they can.

Adam Curtis’ Bugger: A Century of Paranoia, Incompetence, Failure and Smears in MI 5

January 11, 2015

Gerbil

Agent ‘Whisters’ of the elite Gerbil Squadron. Danger Mouse and Penfold were unavailable for comment.

As the Human Rights Blog has warned, this week the government is trying to rush through further legislation that will diminish traditional British freedoms as part of its anti-terror campaign. These measure are ill thought out, and represent potentially serious breaches of human rights and justice. Yet they have apparently support from both sides of the House, and criticism has been extremely muted. Anyone who genuinely believes that these measures will be administered by a sober, professional intelligence service, concerned for justice and with a clear and objective view of the threats to Britain from without and within should read the post on Adam Curtis’ blog ‘Bugger’ on the BBC site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/3662a707-0af9-3149-963f-47bea720b460. It has the slogan ‘Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their job, and don’t know very much about the world’.

MI5’s Real History: Incompetence and Paranoia

Curtis’ point is that MI5’s history from its inception at the First World to the end of the Cold War in the 1980s is largely one of incompetence and abject failure. It’s few successes were either the result of accidents, or actually due to efforts by outside agencies, like the police. Some of them have even fabrications by the agency itself, designed to promote itself. The image of cold efficiency promoted in John Le Carre’s novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People are completely opposite to the reality. In reality the agency has been riddled with failure and incompetence and torn by factionalism. And rather than having a clear, objective view of the world, the spies have been massively paranoid to the point where they suspected Prime Minister Harold Wilson of being a KGB agent, and did not actually believe that Communism had fallen.

William LeQueux, The 1906 Invasion Scare and the Foundations of MI5

Curtis’ post includes the story of how William LeQueux, who feared a coming war with Germany, offered his 1906 book The Invasion of Britain to the Daily Mail. The book was set in 1910, and designed to warn the British of the dangers of a possible German invasion. Lord Northcliffe accepted the book, but changed the German invasion route through East Anglia and the east coast, so that the Germans conquered towns, where there were actually Daily Mail readers. The result was a runaway success for the book, and an invasion scare, which saw people writing into the Mail informing on neighbours they suspected – falsely- of being German spies.

The scare led, however, to the creation of MI5. In 1914, the agency boasted that it had successfully broken a German spy ring, and imprisoned the captured agents. But as recent historians have uncovered, this was completely false. It was a lie designed to promote the new agency.

Cecil Day-Lewis and the Magnetic Mountain

During the 1930s, when the Agency was determined to guard Britain against the threat of revolutionary Communism, they placed Cecil Day-Lewis, Damian Day-Lewis’ father, under surveillance as a suspected Communist. This was because he had made a £5 donation to the British Communist party. However, they failed to find any further evidence that he was a revolutionary Marxist, despite the fact that he was the author of the poem, The Magnetic Mountain, hailed as the most revolutionary poem by an Englishman, which actually called for Communist revolution.

Factionalism and Percy Sillitoe

In the 1940s the agency had real success in turning German agents against their masters and sending them false information. But this success was offset by the development of vicious factionalism within the spy agencies. Curtis quote the journalist Philip Knightley on the atmosphere of failure and nepotism within the organisations. After the War, the new Labour government tried to clean the mess up by placing in charge Percy Sillitoe. Sillitoe had had great success before the War when, as Chief Constable of Glasgow, he cracked down on the razor gangs in the city. Sillitoe was treated with contempt and insubordination by the spies, he had been brought in to sort out. He was eventually forced out after a string of traitors were found, like Klaus Fuchs, who had passed nuclear secrets to the Russians. None of these had been unmasked by MI5, however.

Anthony Blunt

And the situation got worse with the scandal around Philby, Maclean, Burgess and co. When the agency was told that Anthony Blunt was a Communist mole in 1965, they were so embarrassed that they gave him immunity from prosecution, and he carried on with his job as the ‘surveyor’ of the Queen’s art collection. In fact the Queen Mother had known he was a Communist as far back as 1948.

Oleg Lyalin

The agency suffered a further setback in 1971 by one of its few real successes. This was the success of the Soviet agent Oleg Lyalin for drunk driving. Lyalin wanted to stay in Britain with his British mistress, and in exchange for this he named 105 Soviet spies, who were then deported. This effectively broke the Soviet spy network in Britain, and left the agency with very little to do. The British government and the civil service were extremely suspicious about the agency’s claims that there was a continuing Soviet threat in the UK. Ted Heath, the Tory Prime Minister, also had a low view of them. He stated they talked the most dreadful nonsense, and were even paranoid of about Mirror readers they saw on the underground as a threat to British security.

The Hunt for the ‘Fifth Man’

Curtis also discusses the agency’s hunt for the ‘fifth man’ in Burgess and Maclean case. This was prompted by the fact that MI5 actually couldn’t accept the fact that the reason they hadn’t uncovered the moles was simply their own incompetence. No, there were further moles, secretly helping the Soviet spies, further up in the organisation. And so they accused a string of highly placed figures, including the head of MI5, Roger Hollis, the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson and Sir Andrew Cohen, the former governor of Uganda.

Chapman Pincher, Nigel West and Peter Wright

Chief among those publishing these stories and accusations in the press were Chapman Pincher in the Daily Express, and Nigel West. I remember both of these journalists from their columns in those newspapers, and how they were promoted as almost infallible experts in the weird world of the spies. It’s interesting and amusing to find how misguided they were, and says much about the paranoid mindset of both those newspapers. One of the main people behind the accusation that Wilson was a spy was Peter Wright, the author of Spycatcher, whose publication also upset Maggie. Wright revealed one too many official secrets in the book, and so it was duly banned in Britain. But it remained freely available in the rest of the world, and so people in this country simply took the step of ordering it from America, Australia and New Zealand instead. The result was a farce, which Private Eye’s cartoonist, the humourist Willie Rushton, sent up in his book, Spythatcher.

And what was Wright’s reason for suspecting that Wilson was a spy? He had made a series of business trips to the USSR before becoming Prime Minister. And, er, that’s it. and he surrounded himself with people the agency didn’t like and didn’t trust. He did. Yes, really.

It got to the point where Maggie herself accused Lord Rothschild of being the ‘fifth man’, to the incredulity of both Labour and Tories. In 1986 the deputy leader of the Labour party, Roy Hattersley, backed by some of the Prime Minister’s own party, called in parliament for her to retract this spurious accusation.

Graham Mitchell and the Chess Conspiracy

The paranoia continued, however, with MI5 suspecting the international chess expert, Graham Mitchell, of passing on British secrets in the letters describing the chess moves he was playing by correspondence with other chess players in the USSR. The journalist James Rusbridger attempted to end all this by making clear that he believed the accusations were false, and journalists and the government misled by right-wing loonies in MI5. Unfortunately, he was found dead from a bizarre game of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and so the paranoia continued. Curtis quotes John Le Carre on the reality behind his novels about MI5. Rather than being cold professionals, they were really mediocre failures.

Michael Bettaney and Geoffrey Prime

The revelation of further moles in MI5 continued with the cases of Michael Bettaney and Geoffrey Prime. Bettaney was a former University Nazi, who admired Adolf and sang the Nazi party anthem in pubs. Despite this, he was recruited into MI5. After being posted to Northern Ireland, where he witnessed some of the horrors of the terrorist campaign first hand, he announced that was now a Communist. He was caught, because he began taking secrets home. He stuffed some of these into the letterbox of Arkady Gouk, the deputy head of the Russian embassy. Gouk didn’t know anything about Bettaney, however, and thought MI5 were trying to frame him. He thus took the secrets back to MI5 and informed on Bettaney.

Geoffrey Prime was a former RAF officer and a member of staff at GCHQ in Cheltenham. He left to work as a taxi driver, while also passing official secrets onto the Russians. He was caught as he was vicious paedophile, and his car was spotted in the area of one of the girls he assaulted. After the police came round to interview him about it, he confessed to his wife, who then, three weeks later, informed the cops.

Percy Craddock and the End of Communism

What finally discredited MI5 and the spies was their utter failure to predict the end of Communism, or even to accept that it had actually occurred when it had. The head of MI5, Percy Craddock, believed that the apparent collapse of the USSR and the Soviet bloc was a ruse, and that the USSR still remained, poised for world domination.

This was precisely the same attitude as various far-right conspiracy nutters in the American mid-West in the 1990s. They too didn’t accept that the USSR had collapsed, and so devised elaborated conspiracy theories in which it was still covertly existing. Among some of the more bizarre of these theories was that the Russians had secretly established bases just across the border in Canada and Mexico. On a given, tanks would pour out of these bases in preparation for the invasion of the Land of the Free. I don’t think Craddock was as far gone as to believe that, but from the sound of it he was still very far from reality.

Failure to Predict Fall of Shah in Iran

Faced with this manifest failure to accept facts, even Thatcher lost patience with them. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has been saying since the 1980s that the British intelligence agencies were corrupt, out of control and incompetent. They point out that the only Prime Minister in the ’70s and ’80s who actually bothered to read their reports was Maggie Thatcher. All the others thought they were rubbish. And on the international scene, none of the intelligence agencies predicted the fall of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The closest they came was the CIA’s prediction that the Ayatollah Khomeini would return to Iran to act as a Gandhi-like figure of peaceful protest.

If only.

The Gerbil Counterspies

One of the weirder schemes of the spooks at MI5 was to use gerbils to identify spies and terrorists. The idea was that they would identify them from the smell of their extra sweat they produced from fear. This had to be abandoned, as the gerbils couldn’t tell the extra sweat from terrorists on airplanes from that of people who were simply scared of flying. Hence the photo at the top of the post.

How Competent are the Spies Now?

Curtis makes the serious point that the spies are in control of vast budgets, and claim that they have reformed. The mistakes of the past could not be made today. But we, the public, cannot be sure, because the agencies are secret, and we can’t be informed how they’ve changed for security reasons.

Wrongful Internment Iraqi Students

This has very serious implications for human rights abuses in this country. Curtis begins his piece with the story of 33 Iraqi Ph.D. students, who were interned as potential terrorists and spies in 1991 during the War with Iraq. The students were all listed in a letter the Iraqi embassy had sent to the Bank of England, requesting that their student grants should not be frozen. The letter had been signed by the Iraqi deputy military attaché. MI5 considered this clear evidence that they were spies, and so they were interned at Rollestone Camp in Salisbury Plain. IN fact the military attaché was also the official in charge of administering the grants.

The students were later released after MI5 was challenged to produce the evidence showing that they were spies. They hadn’t any.

In the meantime, the students had been detained without either they or their lawyers knowing the reasons for it.

Threat from Secret Courts and the New Anti-Terrorism Act

The Human Rights Blog, in their post about the new anti-terror legislation, has raised its concerns that these measures are a further attack on British freedom, and that the potential for terrible miscarriages of justice is great.

The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice, Tom Pride, Johnny Void, and Mike over at Vox Political, have also raised their concerns about the secret courts planned by the Tories and Lib Dems. These courts will examine the cases of suspected terrorists in closed session, so that the accused and their lawyers may not know what they evidence against them is.

The danger that British citizens will be either exiled or interned as terrorists without an open trial, on the flimsiest evidence, is thus very real. So real it cannot be ignored.

The Tories, Lib Dems and the supporters of this bill across the House have shown that they fear British freedom as much as they fear the terrorists. They are knee-jerk authoritarians, and this bill should be stopped immediately.

Mark Pack: Liam Fox Wants to Stop Indians and Pakistanis from Voting

January 8, 2015

The Lib Dem blogger, Mark Pack, has commented on an article in the Times that the Tories’ Liam Fox wants to pass emergency legislation to remove half a million Indians and Pakistanis from the electoral register. Under current legislation, Irish and Commonwealth citizens, including Indian and Pakstanis, have the right to vote in British elections. The Times’ article states:

Some Conservatives believe that the number of voters from ethnic minorities included in the list will provide a boost to Labour. The previous election showed that Labour was far more successful in winning the votes of those from ethnic minorities…

Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, said: “It is ridiculous that the government of a country like ours could be decided by those who are not British citizens. It is high time we brought this law up to date.”
According to the Times, the move is motivated by Tory fears that the ethnic vote will determine the outcome of one of the closest fought elections in recent years. Pack in his article gives the numbers of Irish, Indian, Australian, Pakistani, and Zimbabweans, who will thus be prevented from voting. The article’s entitled Liam Fox wants to kick half a million Indians and Pakistanis off the electoral register and is at
http://www.markpack.org.uk/113663/liam-fox-wants-kick-half-million-indians-pakistanis-off-electoral-register/.

This is another piece of gerrymandering by the Tories, like the recent changes to the law that will require voters to make a positive effort to get on the electoral register. It also shows what the Tories really think about ethnic minorities, despite Cameron’s much publicised efforts to kick out racism from the party, and end its connection to the Monday Club.

You can find pretty much the same contempt for ethnic minorities and the Irish in newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Express, quite apart from the long list of times when the Sun was prosecuted for publishing racist material. I can remember an article in the Mail years ago, where one of the columnists lamented that we had to let in non-White immigrants into Britain on an equal basis with Whites from the White majority commonwealth countries like Canada and Oz. And under Thatcher, long before the beginning of the peace process in Northern Ireland, they also complained about Irish people in Britain having the same right as Brits to claim unemployment benefits. Now I have to say that I think that a long term foreign resident in a country should have the right to vote in its elections. I also suspect that the current right to vote of the Irish and commonwealth citizens comes from the old imperial belief that everyone born in the British Empire was equally a British citizen, a belief that Churchill in particular held. The Conservatives clearly what to sacrifice that tradition, in order to do their best to cling on to power.

And after they’ve disenfranchised the foreign nationals, I’ve no doubt they’ll try rolling back nearly a century of democracy in Britain. The Financial Times back in the 1990s reviewed one book written by a Tory, that attacked the abandonment of the property qualification for jury service, on the grounds that it had allowed people with no stake in society to sit on juries, who thus were soft on criminals. The same logic could be used to argue for the introduction of the same property requirements for voting in elections. There are doubtless some Tories that would support it. Way back in the 1987 election one of the senior Tories – I think it was Jim Prior – stated that he thought the owners of businesses should have two votes, one for themselves and one where they represented their staff. The Tories have always wanted to give far more electoral power and rights to the rich and powerful, and deny it to the working class and non-Whites.