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From The Socialist newspaper, 8 November 2002

True Spies

DAVID SHAYLER has been given a six-month prison sentence on charges that he acted illegally in blowing the whistle on the undemocratic and murderous activities of Britain's secret state.

Ken Smith

Yet, Special Branch and MI5 officers have been revelling in recounting their own law-breaking and devious activities. The programme True Spies, broadcast on Sundays, BBC2, 9pm, has pulled together much information about the role of the secret state. How they spied on the trade unions, left-wing activists, political organisations and Labour MPs with legal impunity.

Other revelations include how union leaders like Joe Gormley and Ray Buckton reported to Special Branch on their fellow trade unionists and that MI5 intervened at the BBC to blacklist playwrights.

Of particular interest to many of this paper's readers, is the information that Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) was extensively spied upon from the 1970s onwards.

Dave Nellist, the Militant-supporting Labour MP who is now a Socialist Party councillor in Coventry, was targeted by MI5 and Special Branch, precisely because of his publicly espoused links with Militant.

But Dave's support for Militant was no secret to the tens of thousands of constituents who voted for him to be Coventry South-East's MP from 1983-92, until he was expelled from the Labour Party for refusing to pay his poll tax.

Yet MI5 undemocratically spied on an MP and a political organisation which had thousands of supporters, among whom were other MPs and dozens of councillors.

The agent who spied on Dave Nellist also stole details of hundreds of Liverpool Militant supporters who struggled against the Tory government in the mid-1980s.

MI5 also claim they filmed a Militant conference. The spy was in a cubby hole for 15 hours with only a bucket to urinate in. How exactly such devotion to duty defended the security of Her Majesty's realm is hard to fathom.

One officer claimed the information they received from Special Branch and MI5 agents "beat the [miners'] strike there's no doubt about that."

Undoubtedly, the information they provided was used to undermine the strike but there were wider factors at work, especially the effective strike-breaking by prominent union and Labour leaders and the huge onslaught of the police and other state forces.

All the state's activities could not stop the huge public support for the miners or the overwhelming support that Dave Nellist had in Coventry or the Liverpool city councillors had in their struggle against Thatcher and the Tories.

Nor could the secret state's activities undermine the effective role Militant played in mobilising a mass movement of 18 million non-payers against the poll tax in the early-1990s. That ultimately led to Thatcher's downfall - something none of her secret agents could prevent.

Behind the agents' bravado is the true sinister nature of their role. Individuals' lives were blighted at Ford Halewood - Ford only agreed to invest in the plant if the unions were monitored and the plant kept free of 'subversives'.

The sinister and absurd nature of the secret state's behaviour continues. The number of applications for telephone taps increased by 15% last year. These activities are a disgrace and travesty of democratic rights and civil liberties, which have to be challenged by socialist and working-class organisations.

The Socialist Party calls for the activities of the secret state to be revealed, brought to account and for these agencies to be abolished. The government and the police should be held accountable and put under greater scrutiny at every level, through democratically elected bodies representing working-class organisations, local communities and the public generally.

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In The Socialist 8 November 2002:

Fight Poverty Pay

No To War With Iraq

Top-Up Fees Will Increase Society's Class Divisions

Fight For The Full Claim

Turkey's Ruling Parties Routed In Elections

Building The Action Against The War

Brazil: Will The Workers' Party Live Up To Its Name?

Rob Williams - Standing For Socialism

Israel's Governing Coalition Splits

True Spies


 

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