The Enemy Within - MI5 and the miners' strike

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! - no 123 - February/March 1995

MAXINE WILLIAMS reviews a new account of how the British state dealt with 'the enemy within'.

On New Year's Day 1995 the few remaining coal mines in Britain passed quietly into private ownership. In the past fifteen years 200 mines have been closed, with a loss of 200,000 jobs. There are now only 7,000 miners left in Britain. Mrs Thatcher's final solution to the problem of the militant miners was to destroy their industry. It served not only as a dreadful revenge against the miners but also a terrifying warning to what remains of the organised working class.

Seumas Milne's book The Enemy Within is the revealing and powerful story of the covert means used by a coalition of the rich, their state apparatus, their Labour Party allies and the media.

It is a shocking story. The NUM and Arthur Scargill were victims of a level of state violence and harassment more commonly used against the Irish people. Nor is the similarity coincidental. When Mrs Thatcher called the miners 'the enemy within', she effectively labelled them 'terrorists'. She said:

'At one end of the spectrum are the terrorist gangs within our borders and the terrorist states which finance and arm them. At the other are the hard left, operating inside our system, conspiring to use union power ... to break, defy and subvert the laws'.

As Milne says: 'As far as the Thatcherite faction in the Cabinet and their supporters in the security services were concerned, the NUM under Scargill's stewardship was the most serious domestic threat to state security in modern times. And they showed themselves prepared to en-courage any and every method available — from the secret financing of strikebreakers to mass electronic surveillance, from the manipulation of agents provocateurs to attempts to "fit up" miners' officials — in order to undermine or discredit the union and its leaders.' (p5)

MI5's 'Get Scargill' campaign

To all who witnessed the methodical and violent police operation against the miners' strike, it was clear that the government had prepared and mobilised unprecedented resources. Indeed Nigel Lawson (former Chancellor of the Exchequer) was later to say: 'It was just like arming to face the threat of Hitler in the late 1930s'. 11,000 miners were arrested, thousands suffered severe beatings and pit villages were under police occupation.

It is now clear that an equally well resourced covert operation was underway. In 1990 disaffected employees at GCHQ (the government's communication monitoring organisation which employs 11,000 people to tap phones and faxes) told The Guardian that Thatcher personally authorised a 'Get Scargill' campaign both during and after the strike, aimed at destroying him 'politically and socially'. This was run by MI5, GCHQ and the Special Branch. The MI5 campaign was organised by Stella Rimington, whose sterling work led to her promotion to head of MI5.

Throughout the strike, MI5 leased a building directly opposite the NUM's Headquarters in Sheffield. The phones of NUM leaders, local officials and activists were tapped. The scale of the tapping was so great that at one point, in what was code-named the Tinkerbell Operation, the overloaded system ground to a halt.

The GCHQ employees said that the operation included an unsuccessful attempt to deposit £500,000 in a Scargill-linked bank account in Dublin with the aim of making Scargill look like an embezzler.

Thatcher had personally authorised a vast electronic eavesdropping operation, using GCHQ and US National Security Agency facilities across Europe to trace the miners' funds. Banking operations in Europe were monitored, particularly those involving named NUM members and also transfers from socialist countries. By these means, following the sequestration of their assets by the courts, NUM funds were traced and seized and those running the strike were forced to spend much time and effort raising money and disbursing it in cash. The information that enabled Price Waterhouse to trace carefully hidden NUM funds came directly from GCHQ. It was no accident that it was on the issue of funding that the second stage of the 'Get Scargill' operation, the 1990 accusations of theft/corruption, was centred. The GCHQ workers confirmed that MI5 had set up the Mirror campaign against Scargill.

It is worth noting that before approaching The Guardian with this information, the GCHQ employees had given details of it to a Labour MP close to Kinnock. They were surprised that nothing had happened as a result.

So widespread was MI5 interference during the strike that police feathers became ruffled. Scottish officers repeatedly complained to Tam Dalyell MP about interference by the intelligence services. One Chief Constable reported that at one meeting of Chief Constables, Mrs Thatcher's dissatisfaction at the poor level of police intelligence gathering was conveyed. She urged them to set up a Public Order Intelligence Unit to monitor and infiltrate groups and activities which, although legal, 'threaten public order'.

Another finger in the pie

One of the major propaganda tools used against the miners was the existence of the working miners. The main financial backer and organiser of the scabs was David Hart, a millionaire with close personal and political ties with Thatcher and the intelligence services. Touring pit areas in his Mercedes, he put together twenty five cells of dissident miners under the auspices of the National Working Miners Committee. From this came the 'political roots of what would later become the Union of Democratic Mineworkers'. (p266)

Hart reported regularly to Mrs Thatcher and was virtually inseparable from Coal Board Chairman, Ian MacGregor. Using his own money and half a million pounds raised from sources such as Sir Hector Laing (United Biscuits) and Lord Hanson, Hart devised a strategy aimed at paralysing the NUM. He used legal actions by working miners to get the strike declared unlawful and the NUM fined. When the union refused to pay the fines they were declared 'in contempt' and their assets subject to sequestration. The government came closest to defeat in the autumn of 1984 when it looked as thought the pit deputies union, NACODS, might join the strike. Hart made frantic efforts to prevent this, meeting with right-wing members of NACODS. The pit deputies decided not to strike for reasons which Thatcher said were 'unclear'. Others believe that some NACODS officials were offered money, jobs and special pensions to ensure that the pit deputies stayed at work and thus the working mines remained open.

Throughout, Hart maintained close links with MI5's Stella Rimington. He stiffened the resolve of McGregor not to pursue a negotiated settlement, convincing him that the fight against the NUM was a crusade for democracy against Marxism. 'It was essential, Hart believed, that the miners should be forced to return to work without a settlement — which, at the initiative of Kim Howells (now a Labour MP) and others in the NUM's South Wales Area, is what eventually happened.' (p270)

And Hart? Since the strike he has acted as an adviser to Michael Portillo and been employed as a consultant to Minister of Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, advising on defence privatisation. Apparently he also made £1m on property deals for British Coal's pension fund. Oh yes, and he has been publishing British Briefing, 'an intelligence analysis of the activities of the extreme left.'

M15 inside the NUM

In 1993, Roger Windsor, former Chief Executive of the NUM, was named by MPs as an MI5 agent sent into destabilise the NUM. They based this on information from previously reliable senior Whitehall sources. Windsor previously worked for over 10 years for Public Services International, an international trade union body with long-standing CIA links. His behaviour both while he was Chief Executive of the NUM and after, when he sold his fictional revelations about Scargill to the Daily Mirror, certainly show a man who was adept at causing trouble.

He came to public attention when during the strike, in a gift to government propagandists, he was shown on TV embracing Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. The NUM's aim in sending Windsor to Libya was merely to try to cut Libyan oil supplies to Britain during the strike. Windsor apparently insisted on meeting Gaddafi and embracing him on TV. His other coups as Chief Executive included: forging a UDM member's signature, an act which cost the union £193,000 in damages and costs; obstructing negotiations and, after the strike, collaborating with the Eurocommunist wing of the CP in the NUM on fomenting splits.

It is known that MI5 had been actively seeking an agent to 'park... alongside Scargill' in preparation for the coming strike. MI5 officer Cathy Massiter revealed that MI5 had considered Harry Newton for this role. Newton, an MI5 operative for 30 years, masqueraded as a socialist and was active in the Institute of Workers Control, CND and the labour movement. He knew Scargill well but was too ill to undertake a post with the NUM. But MI5 definitely placed someone 'high up' according to Michael Bettaney, former MI5 agent currently serving 23 years for trying to pass information to the Soviet Union. (Interestingly Bettaney also said MI5 had an agent in the union TASS whose identity remains unrevealed).

But it was Windsor's work after-wards that was to prove most deadly. The allegations that he made in 1990 caused enormous problems for the NUM at the very time when the next stage of the government plan to close the mines and destroy the union was in preparation.

Enter Maxwell

In 1984 Robert Maxwell bought the Daily Mirror and rapidly turned its editorial line against the miners. As the Mirror was the only mass pro-Labour newspaper this was of considerable value to the ruling class. But it was in 1990 that Maxwell turned in his finest performance for them. Roger Windsor, having left the NUM, approached the Mirror claiming that Scargill and Peter Heathfield, the General Secretary, had used Libyan money to pay off their personal mortgages. The Mirror paid Windsor £80,000 for this nonsense and ran it as a huge story with an editorial personally signed by Maxwell.

The Mirror story was used to attack the NUM, and Scargill in particular, in a media frenzy. A Cook Report programme for Central TV (in which Maxwell owned 20 per cent of the shares) elaborated the fictions and added a few more. Scargill had sought not just money but guns from Libya.

The major problem with the Libyan money story was that it was immediately arid easily shown to be false. Scargill had paid off his mortgage out of his own savings months before Windsor's Libyan trip. Heathfield's home was owned by the Derbyshire NUM. At the time of the strike both houses were in the process of being bought by the NUM and to keep them from being seized by the sequestrators there were some financial transfers made. All were transparently above board.

With the Libyan story damaged the Mirror turned to that good old standby - Soviet gold. They accused Scargill of diverting Soviet donations to an international fund set up to further his personal ambitions. The Soviet story is a very complex one but is revealing. Soviet mining unions had provided material aid to the miners during the strike and had ended oil and coal exports to Britain from the Soviet Union. Scargill visited the Soviet Embassy and asked the unions to send urgently needed money and an amount of just over $1m was agreed. This money, never having been received by the NUM, proved a continuing source of rumours. The money had in fact been paid not to the NUM but to an international miners' solidarity fund. This, it later turned out, was the result not of NUM wishes but of a split in the Soviet Central Committee. The darling of the Western world, Gorbachev, was against sending aid to the miners in Britain, fearful that it would offend his friend Mrs Thatcher. Behind the scenes such much-vilified figures as Gromyko lobbied for the British miners. In vain. Soviet money was never sent to the NUM and most of the money which was sent to the international solidarity fund came after the strike was over. Eastern European countries did send money during the strike.

Several points emerge from this. Firstly, it was clear that from its earliest days the Gorbachev faction was anti-working class on an international scale. Secondly that, whatever faults could be found with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, there were forces there still in the 1980s which were socialist and which did provide a serious source of support for the international working class.

A Moscow gold story is always a good one for the British intelligence services and the hounds unleashed by MI5 and Maxwell were many and various. Labour MP Kim Howells demanded that the Fraud Squad be brought in and by July 1990, seven legal actions, prosecutions and investigations were launched against Scargill, Peter Heathfield and the NUM.

Milne gives enormous detail in rebutting all the charges against the NUM. In the course of it, he shows that MI5 was the hidden hand behind the Windsor story and subsequent media onslaught and legal actions that so split and exhausted the NUM. It is a supreme irony that whilst the story about Scargill and the NUM was shown to be false, his two main accusers have been shown to be dishonest. Maxwell stole £400m of pension funds and Windsor actually did use NUM funds to pay off his mort-gage. The NUM is taking proceedings against him in the French courts for the return of this money.

Enemies in the camp

The least publicised part of Milne's book is that which deals with the Labour Party's actions against the NUM. Yet it is clear that the Labour leadership wanted Scargill finished off as much as the Tories did. When the Mirror/Cook Report allegations broke, Kinnock and Willis lost no time in calling for a public inquiry. Labour coal spokesman (and NUM-sponsored MP) Kevin Barron, and former NUM worker Kim Howells, both Kinnock lieutenants who had appeared in the Cook Report, joined the chorus of calls for investigation.

Kinnock was widely known to loathe Scargill and all he stood for (ie the working class), describing him as the 'labour movement's nearest equivalent to a First World War general.' (p196) He carefully avoided all picket lines and rallies whilst holding regular private press briefings against the strike and blocking parliamentary debates. He condemned the `violence' of the miners whilst ignoring the overwhelming evidence of police violence. As Kinnock purged the left out of the Labour Party and made his famous appeals to semi-detached Britain, the militant miners became a political obstacle. With Scargill still undefeated in 1990 and a possible merger between the NUM and TGWU on the cards, Labour wanted to finish off Scargill.

Who better than Labour's old friend Robert. Maxwell who, in between embezzling pension money and sacking union members at his plants, provided the Labour Party with funds, practical help with electioneering and a newspaper. The Labour leadership knew in advance about the Mirror smear and the active involvement of Howells and Barron showed that the smear campaign had the full backing of the Labour leadership. Both had been previously identified with the left of the Labour Party and NUM during the early part of the strike. Towards the end, Howells had called for a return to work without a settlement. That this meant abandoning the sacked miners did not disturb them. Howells was part of the South Wales group which planned the back to work move with support both from Kinnock and the Eurocommunist wing of the Communist Party. During the Mirror smear Howells and Barron 'were ready whenever necessary to provide a Labour face for the media campaign'. Kinnock later, even after the Mirror stories were discredited, presented the British Press Awards 'Reporter of the Year' prize to the Mirror smear team.

For Kinnock's Labour Party, the miners were the real enemy. They represented a fighting spirit that was a continual threat, having come closest to defeating Thatcherism and providing a lead to the rest of the beleaguered working class. As Milne comments: 'The Scargill Affair depended on a coincidence of purpose between an exotic array of interests, foremost among which were the Thatcher administration and the Labour leadership'. (p24)

It is interesting to note that the Eurocommunist wing of the Communist Party played a major part in fighting for Kinnock's line in the NUM. Martin Jaques has since boasted about this. He has not, to my knowledge, boasted about the fact that after Roger Windsor fled to France, where he set up business as an estate agent and translator: 'one British network he was able to draw on for his business was a group around the Democratic Left, the organisation set up by the Euro-communist faction of the old Communist Party ... Peter Carter, the CPGB's ex-industrial organiser who played such a key role in stoking the internal opposition to Scargill's leadership during and after the 1984 strike, even did some building work for Windsor in France'. (p168)

Not the first time

Shortly after Milne's book was published, the 1964 Cabinet Papers were released under the 30-year rule. They showed that when Macmillan was Prime Minister, the government funded a secret anti-trade union organisation - the Industrial Research and Information Service (IRIS) to build anti-communist cells in the unions, target left-wing activists and 'inspire' media stories culled from 'secret sources'. They were keen to enlist the help of the Daily Herald and, later, the Daily Mirror. A committee of industrialists, bankers and 'outsiders' working with the 'security people' was set up. The funds came from the secret vote, an unaccountable budget used to finance MI5 and MI6, as well as from Ford, Shell and other companies. It was set up by Lord Shawcross, a former Labour Cabinet minister who defected to the Tories. He boasted that it had influenced elections in the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Committee had US links and fed Labour Party officials information about left-wing MPs and activists. It helped to defeat the left in the engineering unions and swing unions against unilateral disarmament. It continued operating in the 1970s and '80s.

And, obviously, provided a model for the operation against the miners.

A warning

Milne has done an excellent job in not only examining the forces that lined up against the miners but also warning of what will face other sections which fight back against the British ruling class. As MI5 daily discovers new internal foes which must be combated, all those in struggle should be alert to their methods. No doubt watchful eyes are there at the anti-Criminal Justice Act activities, Brightlingsea, the anti-roads struggles, the Kurdish events. And amongst the watchful eyes, doing deadly work for the state, are many newspapers and media outlets. The spies are, by definition, hard to spot. There are more obvious sources of trouble which can be dealt with at once. First and foremost - the Labour Party. They are the real enemy within and should be treated accordingly.

The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair by Seumas Milne, Verso 1994, £16.95.