It’s a fact that the right-wing media has disproportionate influence on the outcome of Britain’s general elections. But that media doesn’t work in isolation. One key player who specialises in political smears is Paul Staines, better known as blogger Guido Fawkes. Indeed, he learnt his trade in the 1980s when working for a bulletin that was not only funded by Rupert Murdoch, but boasted a senior spy chief on its staff. This is the real story of a ‘very British coup’ and now taking place against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s been decades in the making.
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Then come back to read the Appendix (below).
A. The Institute for the Study of Conflict
In 1970 Brian Crozier wrote to Sir Peter Wilkinson to ask his help in setting up the Institute for the Study of Conflict (ISC). Crozier provided advice to MI5, the Foreign Office and to the CIA. Notoriously, Crozier was identified as one of the cabal who promoted the idea of a mutiny by the British military of the government (then under Harold Wilson). According to an article by Nafeez Ahmed, the ISC was “created jointly by the British and American intelligence services, specifically the CIA and the Foreign Office”.
Wilkinson was a former officer with the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War (an agency that was later subsumed into MI6). He was later appointed Coordinator of Intelligence and Security in the British Cabinet Office and Cabinet Office intelligence chief. He eventually become a member of ISC’s Council of Management and edited an issue of ISC’s journal, Conflict Studies.
Among a tranche of documents leaked from the ISC to Time Out magazine in 1975 was a memo from John Whitehorn urging member companies of the CBI to increase their funding to five organisations working against “subversion” in British industry. ISC was one of these. The other organisations included the Economic League, Common Cause, Aims of Industry and Industrial Research and Information Services – all far-right organisations committed to countering trade unions.
B. Spying on the left
‘F2’ Division was the section of MI5 later shown to be responsible for the surveillance of ‘left wing’ radicals, some of whom went on to become Labour MPs and Ministers in Government. According to ex-F2 staffer (then whistleblower) Annie Machon, Charles Elwell’s ‘F Branch’ regarded the following well-known individuals worth monitoring:
“John Lennon, Jack Straw MP, Ted Heath MP, Tam Dalyell MP, Gareth Peirce (solicitor), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mike Mansfield (barrister), Geoffrey Robertson (barrister), Patricia Hewitt MP, Harriet Harman MP, Garry Bushell (journalist), Peter Mandelson (European commissioner), Peter Hain MP, Clare Short MP, Mark Thomas (comedian), Mo Mowlam (politician), Arthur Scargill (NUM leader, who famously had his own recording category: unaffiliated subversive), Neil Kinnock (politician), Bruce Kent (peace campaigner), Joan Ruddock MP, Owen Oyston (businessman), Cherie Booth aka Blair, Tony Blair MP, David Steel (politician), Teddy Taylor MP, Ronnie Scott (jazz musician), Robin Cook MP, John Prescott MP, Mark Steel (comedian), Jack Cunningham MP, Mohammed Al Fayed (businessman), Mick McGahey (former union leader), Ken Gill (former union leader), Michael Foot (politician), Jack Jones (former union leader), Ray Buxton (former union leader), Hugh Scanlon (former union leader), Harold Wilson (politician), James Callaghan (politician), Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian journalist)…. I also came across a file called: ‘Subversion in contemporary music’, which consisted of press clippings about Crass, then a well-known, self-styled ‘anarchist’ band; the Sex Pistols; and, rather surprisingly, UB40.”
C. ISC smear campaigns
Annie Machon also confirmed Elwell’s role in the ISC smear campaigns:
“The ‘subversion’ of cabinet ministers Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt was to have been leading members of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL — now Liberty), the very organisation designed to protect us from such unwarranted abuses of our liberties. At one point David [Shayler, her MI5 colleague who was responsible for monitoring the left, including anarchists] came across a series of minutes on a file dating from the early 1980s. They were written by Charles Elwell, a publicly named and notoriously paranoid former head of F2 ,who saw a red under every bed, and who had successfully argued that members of the executive of the NCCL were recordable as ‘suspected sympathiser: Communist’, simply for being members of the executive. He based this assumption on the fact that, as one or two leading members of the NCCL had Communist sympathies, the organisation was therefore by definition a Communist front organisation.”
According to The Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, Elwell also targeted Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey:
“He opened a file on him during the late 1970s after the Grunwick dispute, in which Dromey, now Labour party treasurer, played a leading part. Other trade union leaders on whom Elwell and his MI5 team kept files included Jack Jones, the transport workers’ leader, and Hugh (later Lord) Scanlon, president of the engineers’ union, the AUEW. “Fact sheets” on the two trade union leaders were regularly distributed to 10 Downing Street and selected ministers. In 1977, Scanlon was prevented from becoming chairman of British Shipbuilding because MI5 advised that he should not see documents marked confidential or above.”
D. More spying
Elwell’s ‘F2’ branch undertook the sort of undercover work later associated with what are now dubbed ‘Spycops’. Anarchist groups were one target – these included the Direct Action Movement (later renamed Solidarity Federation) and Class War. Liaising with the undercover cop who was tasked with infiltrating Class War was the responsibility of former spook David Shayler.
According to Machon:
“Some years before David had joined F2, a Metropolitan Police Special Duties Section (SDS) agent, code named M2589, had penetrated Class War. Unlike the vast majority of agents recruited by MI5, he was not a member of an organisation who had been ‘turned’ by the service. He was a full-time policeman from Special Branch under deep cover. For six days a week, he lived, ate and breathed the life of a class warrior before returning to his normal life with friends and family for a day. Whether Class War merited this kind of resource intensive coverage is open to debate. I quote David: “When I met M2589 in February 1992, at a safe house in London, it was quite obvious that this peculiar arrangement had affected the agent psychologically. After around four years of pretending to be an anarchist, he had clearly become one. To use the service jargon, he had gone native. He drank about six cans of Special Brew during the debrief, and regaled us with stories about beating up uniformed officers as part of his ‘cover’. Partly as a result, he was ‘terminated’ after the 1992 General Election. Without his organisational skills, Class War fell apart.”
There was also a direct link between the ISC and undercover policing. John Alderson, the director of the Bramshill Police College in 1972, asked ISC’s Peter Janke to help the college develop a course on terrorism and counter-subversion. This was signs of things to come re. think-tanks.
E. Links to present day campaigns
In 1977 the ISC published a report co-written by Caroline Cox on how leftwing “radical minorities” were subverting “capitalist, free market civilisation.” Cox went on to become Baroness Cox and a former deputy speaker of the House of Lords and also a special representative for the Foreign Office Freedom of Religion Panel. In 1987 she co-founded the Committee for a Free Britain.
According to Nafeez Ahmed, “In his book, Conservative Party Education Policies, 1976-1997, historian David Callaghan documents how in the 1980s, Cox and [Dr. John] Marks operated a network of neocon ideologues known as the Hillgate Group, which coordinated various publications to influence government policy. Their focus was hyping up the threat of Marxist, left wing or “radical” infiltration of British academia. Another Hillgate Group member, philosopher Roger Scruton, told Callaghan that these policy reports were in fact “quietly encouraged by 10 Downing Street to concoct an outside pressure group to influence policy.” Cox and Marks also campaigned against peace groups, which they labelled as “subversive” organisations exploiting their charitable status to promote pro-Soviet propaganda. “Key institutions, particularly educational institutions” were being “infected” by “institutionalised leftism,” they opined, especially in the media, schools,and universities, undermining the “moral legitimacy of British society”.
For a time the ISC shared offices with the Royal United Services Institute and later the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies. In late 1989 the ISC merged with Paul Wilkinson’s Research Foundation for the Study of Terrorism to form the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, which was dissolved in 2001.
There is probably no exact equivalent to ISC today, though no doubt Dr Ahmed would nominate their ‘spiritual successors’ as the Henry Jackson Society or the Centre for Social Cohesion, or even the Quillam Foundation.