smear, which describes in meticulous detail the activities of the security services, over many years, in seeking to discredit and destroy the Left in British politics, and Harold Wilson in particular, is by far the most important book that has been published on this subject.footnote* It is based upon the most comprehensive research—which, in my own experience, is accurate—and connects all the sources available, adds new material, and backs it all up with an analysis of what was really going on, and what this meant in political terms. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when the political role of mi5 and mi6 was first identified and discussed on the Left, it was all dismissed as a form of paranoid, conspiratorial fantasy, while today it is accepted as quite normal and natural. These two, and quite contradictory, responses to what has been going on are equally wrong and dangerous, because both seek to discourage any serious examination or analysis of the constitutional importance of the issues raised by the secret state and how it operates within our system of government.
Chapter after chapter in this book is devoted to accounts of the secret meetings that took place, and the right-wing networks which systematically fabricated lies and had them disseminated to undermine public confidence in all those whom the establishment regarded as hostile to their privileges and power. The justification for all these campaigns was the supposed existence of a powerful Communist influence in British politics, especially in the Labour Party, and later the theory that Harold Wilson was actually a Soviet agent and that 10 Downing Street itself had been penetrated. Later the threat was seen as being more domestic in character, with ultra-left groups believed to dominate the trade unions and seeking to disrupt the economy in order to produce a breakdown of society—a forerunner of the ‘enemy within’ doctrine which Mrs Thatcher articulated and made the basis for her attacks upon the Left.
However absurd or exaggerated these stories may have been, what
It is very important to remember that the campaigns against the Left, which Dorrill and Ramsay write about, are still going on and have been intensified, since those who now conduct them are doing so under the protection of a sympathetic government. And it is because of the future—rather than the past—that this book should be compulsory reading for all those who may be invited to serve in the next Labour government, since, however ‘moderate’ Labour’s policies may now be, the security services will see them as subversive, and seek to undermine them with equal vigour. We may also be sure that the British and American security services have long since planted their own people within the Labour Party, the trade unions, the Parliamentary Labour Party, and hence within the new Labour cabinet and amongst their advisers, and that they will use them as and when it seems necessary. But what matters is not so much the identification of past or future conspiracies, still less the unmasking of the conspirators themselves—who are, in the main, quite ignorant people of no weight or substance—but the whole constitutional process that permits this subversion of democracy to go on and flourish in secret.
What is really important about this book is that it tells us more about how Britain is governed, and by whom, than most of the standard academic texts put together, and the first thing we should learn from it is this: that the Crown—as distinct from the Queen personally—remains, at the end of the twentieth century, by far the most powerful element in our present Constitution. For every single one of the treasonable activities described in this book were undertaken by persons who had convinced themselves that their prime duty was to the Crown; that their bugging, burgling and smearing was done under the authority of the royal prerogatives; and, later, that the cover-ups were necessary to protect their lifelong obligation of confidentiality to the Crown. The secret state does exist, quite separately from our parliamentary system, and the Crown is both its head and its cover, and thus gives it the legitimacy it needs to destroy democratically elected governments or individuals within them, if it believes that to be