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Andy McSmith: Labour and the Soviet influence

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Thursday, 5 November 2009 at 01:03 pm
Reading extracts from the diaries of the Soviet apparatachik Anatoly Chernyaev in the Spectator reminds me how long I have been on this earth. I remember Alec Kitson and Jenny Little, who feature so prominently in the diaries, from when I was a Labour Party officer in the mid 1980s. It was no secret back then that Kitson was very fond of booze,  Jenny Little, and the Soviet Union - not necessarily in that order.  It is also true the TGWU block vote was used to make unilateral nuclear disarmament Labour Party policy, and to ward off attempts to change that policy, throughout the 1980s, which was attributable partly, but not wholly, to communist influence inside the union. 

Where the article veers from fact to wild conjecture is towards the end when it says: 

Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Margaret Beckett, Harriet Harman, John Reid — to name just a few — were all T&G people who made their Labour party careers thanks to the union’s backing. And at that time, of course, T&G political backing was within the gift of Alec Kitson.

This implies that all those named may have been creatures of a machine controlled by the soviet sympathising Alec Kitson. This is untrue, and misinterprets the nature of the TGWU, which was not a monolith, but a chaotic organisation within which, for instance, regional secretaries ran their territories in their way without much reference to the centre. It was the regional TGWU secretaries who could help place wannabe Labour politicians into safe seats. Tony Blair received a certain amount of help on the road to Sedgefield from Joe Mills, the North East regional secretary. Mills had faults, but was certainly not a soviet fellow traveller. Neil Kinnock was beholden for different reasons to Moss Evans, who beat Alec Kitson in  the election to succeed Jack Jones as head of the TGWU in 1978, but Kinnock never owed anything to Kitson. Nor did Harman or Beckett.

The one part of the UK  where Kitson could influence political careers was Scotland, his home turf. He may have exerted some influence in aid of John Reid, who had been a communist, and secured a safe Scottish seat a few months before Kitson retired. Given that when Reid was Defence Secretary, he declared that the UK should retain nuclear weapons for as long as any other nation anywhere in the world held them, I am not sure what the gain was here for the USSR, or the cause of unilateral nuclear disarament. 
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