Posted on Dec 28, 2019
During the recent UK General Election, much was made of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s relationships with international and home-grown terrorist groups, and his seeming infatuation with any state or revolutionary leader that might even appear to be hostile to the UK and to the very concept of Western Liberal Democracy, writes Gary Cartwright.
In his desire to throw in his lot with the enemies of his own country, Corbyn was - and in political terms we can now speak of Corbyn in the past tense - following in the footsteps of a long line of Labour Party parliamentarians: some long forgotten, some household names.
Bob Edwards (pictured left), considered by many of his colleagues and his constituents alike as highly able, held two parliamentary seats, first Bilston, and then Wolverhampton South-East.
Born in Liverpool in 1905, he was to work as a messenger for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) during the General Strike of 1926. In the same year he led a youth delegation of the Independent Labour Party to the Soviet Union, where he met both Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin. Dazzled by these murderous ‘champions of the Proletariat’, the naive and impressionable Edwards became a Labour councillor the following year at the age of 22.
Later, he led an International Labour Party (ILP) contingent serving with the Soviet-backed and equipped Workers' Party of Marxist Unification, a Spanish Communist party. The British writer George Orwell also served under the ILP banner, and his first-hand experiences of Stalinist repression were to heavily influence his anti-authoritarian stance in later life.
Edwards was to prove a life-long asset to the Soviet Union. MI5 wrote of him that ‘there is no doubt that he would have passed on all he could get hold of to the KGB’. Having served his masters as a councillor, an MP, and then as a Member of the European Parliament, he was to receive recognition for the traitor he was.
His KGB handler, one Leonid Zaitsev, met Edwards in his office in the European Parliament, Brussels, where he showed him the Order of the People’s Friendship that had been bestowed upon him. He was allowed to hold it, before it was taken away from him and returned to Moscow where it presumably languishes in his case file to this day.
Another Labour Party MEP to betray his country was Alf Lomas, who sat in the European Parliament from 1979-97. Between 1995-97 he was leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.
His handler, Czech spy František Hrůza, reported that Lomas was useful because he would ‘discuss politics with him and also get information on other possible Labour collaborators’.
Hrůza, who masqueraded as a Czech diplomat, also handled Stan Orme, who served as a minister under James Callaghan. Orme met with agents on a monthly basis and passed on information about foreign policy decisions, reports from Czechoslovak agents at the time show.
Sir Barnett Stross MP, Labour’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (1964-65), was another of Hrůza’s 'assets'.
According to Josef Frolík, another Czech spy, who, in 1969, who defected to the United States and joined the CIA, Stross (code-named 'Gustav') had provided 'interesting information about the domestic and foreign policies of the Labour Party while it was in opposition'.
Frolik also gave information about another Labour MP, Tom Driberg, described as a ‘flamboyant homosexual and double-agent’, who whilst Chairman of the Labour Party (1957-58) had been extensively blackmailed into handing over secrets to the KGB after having been photographed having sex with a young man he met in public toilets adjacent to Moscow’s Metropole Hotel. The public toilets in question are reported to have been put in place for exactly this purpose.
Driberg is also reported to have ‘pimped’ for another traitor, Guy Burgess, at the Metropole.
Frolik also named three Labour backbenchers – John Stonehouse, Bernard Floud, and Will Owen.
John Stonehouse (pictured right), MP for Walsall and a Junior Minister in Harold Wilson’s government, was a colourful and controversial figure, whose career also involved faking his own death.
In his book The Defence of the Realm, by Professor Christopher Andrew (2009) the author confirmed that Stonehouse had been working for the Czechs as the tensions heightened during the Cold War. He had provided secrets about government plans as well as technical information about aircraft, and received about £5,000. At the time this was revealed, Stonehouse was already in Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs serving a seven year sentence for fraud.
Bernard Floud was elected to the seat of Acton, West London, in 1964. Harold Wilson considered appointing Floud to high office, and MI5 was tasked with giving him security clearence. Floud had been friends with many Communists while at Oxford, and was directly named by two separate inactive agents as having worked a spy in the past, handling recruitment. After two days of interrogation, on October 9th 1967 MI5 refused to clear him. The next day Floud committed suicide.
Will Owen was elected to the seat of Morpeth, Northumberland, in 1954. On 15th January 1970 he was arrested at his home in Carshalton, Surrey, and charged with communicating information useful to an enemy. He admitted receiving a regular envelope each month which sometimes contained £10, and sometimes £20, although it was obvious that the figure was much higher, as Frolik was to confirm.
‘Lee' (Owen’s codename) was interested solely in the five hundred pounds a month retainer which we gave him .. In spite of the obvious danger, he was always demanding free holidays in Czechoslovakia so that he might save the expense of having to pay for the vacation himself. He even went as far as pocketing as many cigars as possible whenever he came to the Embassy for a party.
Owen was found not guilty of spying, although Prof. Andrew wrote that he was ‘he was almost certainly guilty as charged’.
Backbench politicians were of particular interest to Soviet intelligence as they were more prone to emphasise, or in many cases exaggerate, their own importance by providing party gossip, which was of great interest, not least because agents were under pressure to show evidence of infiltration of parties. But far more importantly, some of those recruited and compromised might rise to higher office.
Whilst it has never been proven that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which called for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the UK at the height of the Cold War, was funded by the KGB, MI5 carried out surveillance of CND members it considered to be subversive and from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s it designated CND as subversive by virtue of its being ‘communist-controlled’, subsequently downgrading it to ‘communist-penetrated’.
Prominent Labour Party members of CND have included Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Blair and Baroness Cathy Ashton, former head of the European External Action Service.
The current Chair of CND is Kate Hudson, a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In the 1990s Ms. Hudson married Redmond O’Neill, himself a former member of the International Marxist Group, a Trotskyist organisation that rejects parliamentary democracy.
But amongst all the KGB’s assets, one stands out above all others, being in his day one of the Labour Party’s most prominent members. Originally classified by the KGB as ‘Agent BOOT’, the man who was first elected to Parliament in 1945 was to become Secretary of State for Education in Harold Wilson’s government in 1974.
However, following the defeat of James Callaghan’s government in 1979, in the wake of an economic crisis that was disastrous even by the standards of a Labour government, Agent BOOT, recruited by one Major Ivan Petrov in London, suddenly became of even greater interest to the KGB.
In 1980 agent BOOT, Michael Foot, became the leader of the Labour Party, and leader of Her Majesty’s opposition.
Foot’s KGB file, which ran to some 300 pages, described, step by step, how a 20-year relationship evolved from the late 1940s.
At their first meeting with Foot, in the offices of the left-wing newspaper Tribune, which he edited, KGB officers posing as diplomats slipped £10 into his pocket. He did not object. One page in the file listed the payments made to Foot over the years.
This was a standard form, with the date, amount and name of the paying officer. There were reported to have been between 10 and 14 payments during the 1960s, of between £100 and £150 each.
In the ensuing years, there were to be many meetings, often casual lunches at the famous Gay Hussar, a somewhat Bohemian Hungarian restaurant in London’s Soho.
The KGB regarded Michael Foot as an actual agent until 1968. He took cash directly from us, which meant we could regard him in good conscience as an agent. If an agent takes money it is very good – a reinforcing element in the relationship.
The file, when inspected in 1981 by former London Bureau Chief of KGB Oleg Gordievsky, later to be described by MI5 as ‘an exceptionally committed and able British agent in the KGB’s London residency’, had been downgraded from Agent to Confidential Contact.
By this time, Michael Foot was in a position to challenge Margaret Thatcher for the keys to 10 Downing Street at the next General Election, and so he became of great importance to the KGB, despite having had little or no contact over the preceding decade. What they did not know, of course, was that thanks to Oleg Gordievsky, MI5 and MI6 knew everything…
Those who Lenin is famously credited as describing as ‘useful idiots’ still abound in British politics, as Russian intelligence knows so well. Like the backbenchers mentioned above who were so useful to the KGB, they tend to be minor figures keen to attract attention and to be seen as important, to themselves if to nobody else: although sometimes a vain party leader may also fall prey.
In today’s political world success is measured not by real achievement, but in terms of levels of media exposure. In a busy bar in Brussels, in 2011, I was pleased to meet with a somewhat inebriated journalist from RT (Russia Today).
Taking advantage of the situation, I asked, ‘will you tell me the names of the British MEPs you pay to appear on RT?’
‘Of course’, my interlocutor replied. ‘As soon as they stop playing ball with us, we’ll give you their names…’
I look forward to writing that story!
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