The refound smears of good Labour people as Soviets and Subversives

26th November, 2009 9:09 am

CommunistThe Paul Richards column

Is there a new concerted attempt to suggest the Labour Party is riddled with communists and subversives, who were filling their boots with Moscow gold during the 1980s?

The Spectator has been running a series of allegations based on the diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev, who was the Kremlin’s link man with the Labour Party in the 70s and 80s. He suggests that Labour figures from Ted Short to Neil Kinnock were desperate for Soviet support, including meetings with Soviet leaders such as Brezhnev, to beat the Tories in the 80s.

Gerald Kaufman writes for that magazine:

“The remarkable revelations published in the Chernyaev diaries make this attempted political suicide [the 1983 manifesto] easier to understand. It is clear that key elements in the Labour party structure were determined to ingratiate themselves with Moscow – regardless of any adverse electoral impact in Britain. They show, vividly, how Labour was being poisoned by key officials who were laying the groundwork, apparently deliberately, for the debacle of 1983.

Let us take Ron Hayward, who was Labour’s general secretary for most of the previous ten years. He was the worst, a vain and self-regarding saboteur who at the 1979 party conference publicly attacked the outgoing Labour government in virulent terms. As Chernyaev’s memoirs make clear, his aspiration was not a Labour government implementing beneficial policies for the electorate but a National Executive Committee, elected partly by trade union block votes and partly by hard-left constituency parties.”

The new official history of the security service MI5 suggests that Jack Jones, who fought against the fascists in Spain and led the T&G in its heyday, was a Soviet agent. Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB’s highest ranking defector, has alleged that in Spain Jones was recruited by the KGB, who considered him a ‘very disciplined, useful agent’. (The book’s suggestion that Militant Tendency was penetrated by MI5 agents is far more interesting: raising the prospect that some poor MI5 agents had to sit through Labour Party GC meetings in the 80s. I hope they got medals.)

Yesterday, the new EU foreign minister Cathy Ashton has had to deny being a communist, having links to the KGB, or being in receipt of funds from the Kremlin, during her time as treasurer to CND. I first learned of Cathy Ashton’s involvement in CND yesterday, when someone who remembered her from her CND days mentioned it on Facebook. Then I forgot all about it until the Times headline this morning said that she had denied ‘taking funds for CND from Soviet Union’. The political titan that is Nigel Farage has called her unfit to hold the post of EU foreign minister.

So what’s going on? Anyone who’s been around in politics knows that these kinds of smears resurface every now and again. The Sunday Times ran a story in 1992 headlined ‘Kinnock’s Kremlin Connection’ which on closer examination revealed the non-story that the leader of the opposition had had some meetings with Russian diplomats. Michael Foot was smeared as a Soviet agent (codenamed ‘Boot’), with allegations that funds were channelled to Tribune. The main evidence seems to be a penchant for the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho, which is run by Hungarians (and does a really good chilled wild cherry soup).

It is a laughable suggestion. Former members of the Communist Party or Young Communists such as Denis Healey, John Reid, Charles Clarke or Peter Mandelson are routinely smeared as subversives by the right-wing green ink brigade. They even tried it on Tony Blair, who signed a round robin organised by CND in the early 80s, although his actions since suggest that he might have had his fingers crossed as he wrote his name.

It’s all nonsense, of course. Even at the height of the Cold War the number of Labour MPs with sympathy for the Soviet Union was tiny, and less so after the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. British socialism has a strong grain of libertarianism, rejection of the over-arching state, and a concern for civil liberties. British Labour politicians are not, and have never been, in thrall to another country or form of government; our tradition is too strong and too deep to allow it. And what of the CND connection? No-one has ever proved that CND was funded by Moscow. As the chair Kate Hudson pointed out yesterday, a £1000 prize was offered in the 80s (when £1000 was a lot of money) for anyone who could prove a link between CND and the KGB. Baroness Ashton was in CND. So was half the Labour Cabinet. So was a huge number of the Labour membership over the age of 45.

At a time when Tories were denouncing Nelson Mandela and the ANC as terrorists, and backing the destruction of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Labour people were trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Their methods may have been ineffectual (big demos, face painting, pretending to be dead outside Downing Street) but their hearts were in the right place. I attended the 1988 CND annual conference and it was filled with idealistic people who wanted a better world. I chaired a meeting with Bruce Kent. The photos are probably still on file somewhere. Does this mean that if you were in CND you are a subversive? No, of course it doesn’t.

As the election nears, and the Tories’ lust for power becomes more and more desperate, they, and their chums, will try anything and everything to win. That includes the most preposterous of smears against Labour politicians. My bet is that ‘Labour = Communist’ is not a slogan that was buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall. For some on the right, the cold war isn’t over. The reds were never under the bed, but the Tories still want you to think they might be.

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