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 makes them important is the large number of individuals and organizations that actually believed them, or used them, for their own purposes. This right-wing alliance included—in addition to many within the security services and in Whitehall—elements within the press, a number of bankers and industrialists, certain Tory mps, others for whom the war in Northern Ireland provided a base for their counterinsurgency operations, and the cia. The victims of all this activity, in addition to Harold Wilson, were many other Labour ministers, mps and individuals, and even Edward Heath, who may well have lost his leadership of the Conservative Party because he was seen by the security services to be too weak and unreliable to be trusted with the premiership. James Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson, and Margaret Thatcher succeeded Edward Heath, but the real beneficiaries of all this secret plotting and systematic propaganda were those who gained financially, by virtue of the fact that these events greatly helped to instal an extreme right-wing Tory government in Whitehall, which then used its power to carry the process of destroying the Left still further.

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 necessary to protect its own interests. How else can you explain the fact that incoming prime ministers and ministers are, in the name of the Crown, forced to submit themselves to the privy councillors’ oath, and their advisers subjected to positive vetting, as if the verdict of the electorate was not a sufficient warrant for them to take up their duties as the government of the day. Nor does this secret control end with retirement; for it was apparently indicated to Harold Wilson that if he made public, after his resignation, what he believed the security services had done to try to destroy him, he might, himself, be held guilty of breaching his own oath of secrecy as a privy councillor.