Published: 7 July, 2011
by ILLTYD HARRINGTON
I DISCOVERED a secret about my father last week – thanks to the legal requirement by MI5 to publish its files. In 1937, he had been ordered back from the Spanish Civil War for urgent medical attention. This enemy of the state was an unemployed labourer and given 150 pence (30 bob) a week to keep us, my mother my brother my sister and me.
With other noble spirits, they were listed carefully and followed. Until he died, he nursed one burning ambition: to return to Spain and murder the Spanish Fascist dictator General Francisco Franco.
Now I learn he tried to get back to Spain but his travel documents were too complicated. For non-Fascist Europe operated a non-intervention pact.
When I went with my partner to Spain in 1954 I had to apply for a visa. My father did not want me to go but then I found out that he was on a death list in Spain as was his friend Will Paynter later general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.
When invasion threatened us Churchill had to deal with these men to organise sabotage. In due course, like all spy organisations, the quality of information is mostly irrelevant but quantities of it need to be fed into their devouring mouths.
Inevitably the Secret Service buys, blackmails or bullies informants and agents provocateurs.
The late Jack Jones, former secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, was regularly reported upon by a close elected colleague. Jack ended up with a Companionship of Honour; the informant ended in contemptible loneliness.
A few months after the arrival of Margaret Thatcher on the bridge of state, Howard Brenton, an early voice of opposition, came to my house for dinner accompanied by a leading official of CND. Howard wrote the first theatrical attack on the Blessed Margaret, which caused an uproar because the theatre had a grant from the Arts Council.
The anti-nuclear guest turned out be a high-class informer from MI5 .
In the pre-Livingstone County Hall one of the principal political advisers was an MI5 apparatchik. Also a Special Branch man roosted on the police committee.
My home was burgled by one of MI5’s most visible resident lunatics Peter Wright, author of Spycatcher.
Margaret Thatcher had to send the Cabinet Secretary to Australia to prevent its publication.
“We burgled every Commie in north-west London”, Wright said.
This deranged defender of our liberties set up a “secret camera” in a house opposite the Soviet embassy in Kensington Park Gardens. Everyone who went in and out was photographed.
In the 1970s Dom Mintoff the Prime Minister of Malta asked me to act on his behalf so that he might find an alternative user for Valletta dockyard after the Royal Navy left leaving an army of skilled workers unemployed.
I made contact with the Soviet embassy through the commercial attaché and was told that the main building was the most convenient to talk. And the second secretary said to me: “You’ll even be photographed by Peter Wright from a house across the road.”
It was not the honeypot that I yearned for.
I challenged Merlin Rees, a family friend and Home Secretary. He wrung his hand woefully and said: “They’re out of control, Illtyd.”
I even came across a familiar face inside Number 10 one day. Jeremy, a man from Scotland Yard, recognised me from 10 years before when we had both been members of a group protecting black immigrants from Rachman the slum landlord.
Believe it or not he rang me and asked me if I could give him a list of any Marxist teachers. Now that’s chutzpah! I gave him the names of 20-odd of the most reactionary teachers in Britain. All’s fair in the Cold War.
Even Bruce Kent the saintly chairman of CND had to ward off many attempts to compromise him.
The hidden history of the miners’ strike 1984-85 will be told one day. Public sums were secretly moved into the anti-strike brigade who operated from Claridge’s Hotel in Mayfair.
The lunacy in a time of advanced listening technology came home to me in 1983 when the vice-chairman of the GLC Charlie Rossi – a member for Camden – went off to a posh reception at the Czech Embassy. A few days later the fifth secretary came with a gift of slivovitz and beer for Charlie. Charlie could smell a rat (he was, after all, Camden’s rat-catcher). He said to me: “He keeps on about me giving him secret data.“
On his fifth visit, with Charlie getting more and more nervous, I entered furtively and said to Charlie: “Please take care of these secret statistics.”
I had photocopied some documents and delivered them with dramatic undertones. Charlie passed them on.
What they made in the spy centre in Prague of the (public) report of the Central Electricity Generating Board from the north of Scotland I do not know, but they seemed well satisfied. After all, conspiracy is their weapon of choice.
Our leaders speak endlessly about transparency and an open society. So why in the name of God are we having the fifth inquiry into Blair’s War?
I’m amazed that the left in Parliament never questioned the appointment of Miss Manningham-Buller, the daughter of an outrageous reactionary as head of MI5 who served under Blair, As did Will Scarlett of MI6. He got a knighthood. Dr David Kelly got a coffin.
The question is who watches the watchers?