Seumas Milne's bookThe Enemy Within explores the media myths created around the miners' strike. We reproduce an extract of it here:
Since the first edition of the book was published in 1994 under the title The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair – and an accompanying documentary, Spy in the Camp, broadcast by Channel Four television – more has emerged about the covert methods used against the NUM and other trade unions; formerly secret cabinet papers have thrown new light on the Thatcher government’s plans to break the miners’ union, with troops if necessary, drawn up before and after the strike; the principal accuser of the miners’ leaders in the 1990 scandal was repeatedly found by the French courts to have lied and himself signed documents he claimed were forged by Scargill (and the judgments enforced in England); the Mirror conceded that its original allegations had ‘falsely smeared’ Scargill’s reputation; and fifty MPs called for a public inquiry into security service operations against the miners’ union. On the basis of the allegations set out here and in the Channel Four film, the parliamentarians declared at the time, Stella Rimington should be sacked as head of MI5. Instead, she retired two years later and glided effortlessly into a new role as a corporate non-executive director, dining off the system her organization had spent so many years working to protect – and later turning her hand to writing spy fiction. But in 2001, Rimington herself ran into trouble with the secret state for publishing a book of heavily filleted memoirs.
Her successor as head of MI5, Stephen Lander, was particularly insistent on deleting passages about the 1984–5 miners’ strike. She did at least publicly confirm for the first time – as earlier laid out in this book – her own role during the strike and MI5’s targeting of Scargill and other NUM leaders, while attempting to pass the buck for the most controversial operations to police Special Branch. But the experience of coming into conflict with the Whitehall security machine also appeared to bring out the former spy’s inner civil libertarian: she attacked New Labour for undermining civil rights, warned it was playing into the hands of terrorists by fuelling fear of a ‘police state’, criticised the US over torture (while insisting MI5 ‘doesn’t do that’) and called for greater oversight of the intelligence services.
Meanwhile, the MI5 whistleblower David Shayler revealed that while working for the security service he had seen part of Scargill’s personal file, which made clear there had been at least one agent operating at a senior level in the NUM national office during the 1984–5 strike. Former senior police officers also claimed Special Branch had had a high-level agent in Scargill’s office who helped ‘beat the strike’. As the Cold War has receded into history, veterans of the secret state have been increasingly prepared to yield up a little bit more of their seedy, anti-democratic world: the mass blacklisting of activists, the use of agents and informers at all levels of the labour movement, the destabilisation and undermining of strikes, and the betrayal of their members by trade union leaders who secretly worked for the security services. A retired police Special Branch officer told the BBC True Spies programme in 2002 that one of his covert sources inside the miners’ union during the 1970s had been none other than its then president: the bluff ‘moderate’ Joe Gormley.
Neither the security services nor their political masters have ever been called to account for any of these abuses of power. But given that MI5 has never even been held accountable for the fact that a faction in the agency plotted to bring down Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the 1970s, perhaps that should come as no surprise. Rimington insisted when she was the security service’s director general, both in public and private, that the plot against Wilson had been a figment of the former MI5 assistant director Peter Wright’s imagination (the more recent MI5 authorised history does so as well). However, as Lord Hunt, the cabinet secretary during Wilson’s second administration, was prepared to concede in 1996: ‘There is absolutely no doubt at all that a few malcontents in MI5 . . . were spreading damaging and malicious stories about some members of that Labour government’
You can hear Seamus Milne discussing the legacy of the miners' strike along with Arthur Scargill, Ewa Jasiewicz, Owen Jones and Dawn Foster in our event, The Enemy Within.
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