Spies at Work

This is the full story of the right wing subversive organisation "The Economic League", which became known for its secret blacklisting activities on behalf of big business, but which has been also involved in anti-democratic conspiracies since the First World War.

This book was first made available online by the 1 in 12 Publications library.

Produced largely as a result of the successful campaigning of LEAGUEWATCH, this book traces the links between the League and international fascism, describes the operation of the League's "blacklist" and gives a blow by blow account of the campaign to expose the League and the League's ultimate collapse.

A frightening vision of the power of the Right and its links with the secret state. Complete with a detailed "Who's Who" of individuals, companies and organisations involved, this book is invaluable.

"... a fascinating study on the origins of the Economic League and its significance as a right wing pressure group as well as a political vetting agency" - Mark Hollingsworth & Charles Tremayne.

"Mike Hughes deserves congratulations for putting together a history of the League from its beginnings in 1918 to its demise 2 years ago. Especially so as SPIES AT WORK is available on computer disk giving researchers and readers the chance to call up very quickly any references to individuals connected to the League or the names of companies that used to subscribe to the League's dubious services. Recommended." - Labour Research

1. Introduction

Many things have changed since I first became interested in the Economic League six years ago. The most obvious change is that the League itself no longer exists. When I started writing "Spies at Work" it was intended to be a further weapon in the battle to bring about the League's demise. It is now a history and obituary of the League as a political organisation, although its two most senior members of staff perpetuate its worst excess through their own business consultancy called "Caprim".

The League was forced out of business, by a Parliamentary campaign led by Maria Fyfe, an extra parliamentary campaign led by Labour Research (for the best part of seventy years), key Trade Unions, and more recently by League Watch. But what really did for the League was a relentless onslaught of good investigative and campaigning journalism in newspapers and magazines and on television. What has been particularly impressive and unusual has been the way in which local as well as national journalists have taken up the story.

If I have had any role to play in the League's demise, beyond being periferally involved in Maria Fyfe's Anti-Blacklisting Campaign and more centrally in League Watch, then it has been as an initial source of information to many of those journalists. Invariably they have always come back with new information, and far more information than I could have gathered through conventional research methods.

The journalists to whom we all owe the greatest debt however are those at World in Action. The three meticulously researched programmes they transmitted (and in which I had no role whatsoever) did more than anything else to stop the League in its tracks.

It is thus particularly disappointing to record that when Tony Watson, a researcher on the last two World in Action programmes, returned to Yorkshire Post newspapers to edit first the Yorkshire Evening Post and then the Yorkshire Post that he was given - and accepted - the task of derecognising the NUJ.

Much of the material from those WIA programmes was published by Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties) in "The Economic League - The Silent McCarthyism", by Mark Hollingsworth and Charles Tremayne (1989, ISBN 0 946088 35 7). Mark Hollingsworth was also co-author with Richard Norton-Taylor of the equally valuable book "Blacklist - the inside story of political vetting" (Hogarth Press, 1988).

The most sustained and thorough investigation of the League however has been that conducted by the Labour Research Department. They have been publishing details of the League's activities since the mid 1920's and I am particularly grateful to them for their help and support and access to their library. Without their eternal vigilance the League would still be operating. It is difficult to know how to thank the countless people who have helped me in one way or another over the last six years. Unfortunately I cannot thank them by them name. The League might be defunct but blacklists are not, and even those who would have been happy to have been named would have received more trouble than glory.

Finally I must thank my colleagues on 1 in 12 publications, and say a word about the unusual way in which most copies of this book are being distributed. Over many years we have been publishing occasional investigative books and magazines. Access publishing, that is establishing and maintaining control of our own publications, has always presented logistical and financial problems. How do we find the money to print the books and magazines, to distribute them, and where on earth do we keep the stock? Issuing the text on this purpose-designed software package has solved many of these problems.

Please feel free to make and distribute copies to your friends and colleagues. If you feel able to pay a registration fee of £3.00 (or £10.00 for the hard copy plus disk) we will keep you updated with future versions and publications.

Mike Hughes, May 1994

2. Chapter 1: Origins & Early Days

Early in 1919 a small group of powerful and influential men met to discuss what might be done to halt what they saw as the growing "Red Infection" in Britain. They met in the offices of the "National Publicity Agency", the brewery owners' lobbying organisation based at number four Dean's Yard in Westminster. When the meeting closed an organisation had been created which would play an important, and largely clandestine, role in British political and industrial life for the remainder of the twentieth century. After a number of name changes, in 1926 it finally adopted the name by which it is known today - "The Economic League". Dean's Yard is a spacious, elegant and almost Oxbridge quadrangle immediately behind Westminster Abbey, and no more than a couple of minutes walk from the House of Commons. The meeting had in fact been called by one of the House of Commons' newest Conservative and Unionist Party members, Rear Admiral William Reginald Hall. Hall had been elected for a Liverpool constituency in the hastily called post-war election1.

Also at the meeting was Major Richard C. Kelly (director of the National Publicity Agency), and the right wing Conservative MP John Gretton (Chairman of the Bass Brewery and member for the brewing town of Burton in Staffordshire) who was presumably already a regular visitor to the offices. The leading industrialists at the meeting included: Evan Williams (president of the mine owners' Mining Association); Cuthbert Laws (of the ship owners' association); Arthur Balfour (later Lord Riverdale and perhaps the leading Sheffield steel manufacturer) and Sir Allan Smith (director of the Engineering Employers Federation). The only published account of that first Dean's Yard meeting is the Economic League's sketchy and unreliable autobiography "Fifty Fighting Years". According to this, the Dean's Yard meeting had decided

". . . . to raise sufficient funds to set up an organisation to counter subversion in industry during the critical period of post-war re-adjustment".

This organisation had at first consisted of "a number of groups in industrial areas. . . known as Economic Study Clubs, each with a small staff of speakers and lecturers to hold meetings and distribute leaflets at factory gates, pit heads and on docksides". These Economic Study Clubs were "co-ordinated from an office in London, this task falling mainly to Admiral Hall and R. C. Kelly". There is, however, compelling evidence that the League's origins were by no means as straightforward as they themselves were presented them. These Economic Study Clubs were just one element in what was a complicated and highly organised network of groups and organisations which supported and advanced the cause of a group of radical right wing politicians and industrialists known as the "Diehards". Although there are good reasons for believing that Admiral Hall's entry into politics really did give an impetus to the growth of this network, its origins and therefore the origins of the Economic League, can be traced back to at least 1915 and perhaps to other equally important individuals2.


The League began life as the National Propaganda Committee of a group called the British Commonwealth Union, and it is likely that it was this committee which was being established at the Dean's Yard meeting. It quickly acquired an identity of its own - becoming known simply as "National Propaganda". National Propaganda acted as the co-ordinating body for a growing number of groups often treated by historians as independent entities - the British Empire Union, National Citizens Union, National Alliance of Employers and Employed, Industrial League and Council, Industrial Welfare Society, Christian Counter Communist Crusade, Children's Faith Crusade, the Economic Study Clubs. In 1924 National Propaganda changed its name to "The Central Council of the Economic Leagues" and this name was finally shortened to The Economic League. Although the current name was not formally adopted until 1926, all its literature has subsequently claimed 1919 as the date of its formation. In addition to these public organisations there was also a secret and tightly knit intelligence operation run by Sir George Makgill, the author of some minor novels of imperial life. Makgill's little known organisation was inextricably linked to the National Propaganda/Economic League network. However Makgill's intelligence operation was fragmented, with agents working in "cells" which knew little or nothing about the work of other cells. It was perhaps at best a semi-detached wing of the National Propaganda network and certainly thus did not survive intact his early death in 1926. But one particular cell, called "Section D", did continue to function and flourished under the shadow, if not strictly within, the Economic League3.


The British Commonwealth Union, that is the group that acted as midwife to the Economic League, was according to the historian Barbara Lee Farr :

"An important, unique direction of right-wing activism. Money not moral pronouncements was its means of persuasion. Its methods reveal an underground network of secret subsidies to sympathetic politicians and labour leaders, infiltration of government departments and spying. "4

But the most complete published account of the BCU's origins is to be found in an essay by J A Turner describing the BCU's activities from its foundation in 1916, until the Election of December 19185. According to this the first meeting of the group that became BCU took place on December 18th, 1916. It was attended by: Sir Vincent Caillard, Sir Trevor Dawson, Sir William Bull MP, F Orr Lewis, F H Barker, G Muir Ritchie, F N Garrard, F W Ashe, Grant Morden. This group, which initially called itself the "London Imperialists", had from the outset the intention of creating some sort of "Industrial Party" in Parliament. To this end they set about trying to enlist the formal support of the Federation of British Industries (FBI). The FBI had also been founded in 1916, with the aim of being an employers' organisation capable of representing the political interests of business and manufacturing. But in order to attract the broadest support from industries, the FBI had to fudge its position on the one issue that dominated the political thinking of industrialists and manufacturers - the debate between the Free Traders and Protectionism, about which there was some considerable dispute between industries. On March 29th 1917 the London Imperialists met 9 members of the FBI council with the objective of securing its official approval for their plans. After the meeting eight of the FBI council members joined the London Imperialists. The ninth was the FBI President, Frank D Docker who was enthusiastic but reluctant to become a paid up member without the FBI's formal support of the group. In spite of the success of this meeting, within the FBI there was considerable, and successful, resistance to the London Imperialists' approach. Their opponents argued, successfully, that support for the protectionist London Imperialists would jeopardise the compromises over "tariff reform" that were then essential to the FBI existence6. Spurned by the FBI, the London Imperialists changed their name briefly to the "Industrial and Agricultural Legislative Union" and went a-courting the British Empire Producers Organisation. By October 1917 it was now finally calling itself the British Commonwealth Union and was in negotiations with the "patriotic labour" group called the British Workers League. The British Workers League was one of the more successful of a number of political organisations trying to mobilise support for conservative and anti-socialist causes amongst working class voters. The negotiations with the British Workers League were, it seems, successful. But it was a relatively small and poor group and the BCU therefore continued to make overtures to a variety of employers' organisations. These included the Engineering Employers Federation, Shipbuilding Employers Federation, the National Employers Federation and other manufacturing, chemical, commercial and shipping organisations7. Eventually, on February 22nd 1918, the BCU received the formal support of the management committee of the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF). According to its Director Allan Smith: "The political developments which are taking place and the probable large increase in the strength of the Labour Party in the House of Commons makes such an action appear to be a necessary development. . . . "8

In the light of its success with the Engineering Employers, on May 8th the BCU was again reorganised. There was now to be a "Council", meeting infrequently and chaired by Sir Richard Vassar-Smith. Also on the Council were the FBI's Frank Docker and three members of the Engineering Employers Federation. A monthly "Executive" was chaired by Sir Hallewell Rodgers and included Docker and Sir Joseph Lawrence. Sir Ernest Hiley chaired its "Finance Committee", and Allan Smith, its weekly "General Purposes Committee". On 13th June the BCU appointed Patrick Hannon, then secretary of the Navy League, as its General Secretary with the substantial salary of £1,500 per year. In the run-up to the 1918 General Election the BCU spent a great deal of time and money establishing a secret slate of its own candidates. Although these candidates were expected to run for already established parties, it was made clear to them that the "political label of the candidate takes second place following upon his clearly defined duty to the Union". By the time of the Election, in December, there were 26 BCU candidates of which 20 entered parliament9. All but one of the BCU's clandestine candidates (Norton-Griffiths) had pledged support for Lloyd George's coalition, and all but five were Conservatives. Morris was a Liberal, Hallas and Seddon were British Workers League, Cristabel Pankhurst had been a candidate for the "Women's Party" and J. B. Cronin was a "Lower Deck" candidate standing for better pay for ordinary naval ratings.

Contributors to the BCU funds, and thus to these candidates' election expenses, had included shipbuilders, gas companies, electrical supply companies and British Sugar refineries. The two largest contributors were Vickers Ltd and the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co10. After the election, according to J A Turner, the BCU "abandoned its attempts to organise in constituencies and concentrated upon propaganda and organisation among M. P. s; in 1922 it turned exclusively to propaganda and in 1926 submerged its identity in the Empire Industries Association." The secretary of the Empire Industries Association was Patrick Hannon, by then a Birmingham MP11.


To understand what the British Commonwealth Union must have been hoping to achieve at the Dean's Yard meeting it is first necessary to have a clear picture of Admiral Hall, the man who had set up the meeting, and who subsequently took charge of the organisation it created. Hall was a larger-than-life, Mr Punch-like figure, whose Dickensian features were accentuated by a facial twitch which earned him the nickname "Blinker", though to friends, like Peter Wright's father, he was generally known as Reggie12. His distinguished sea going career, during which he earned a considerable reputation as a firm-but-fair captain, a fine trainer of gun crews and something of an innovator, had been cut short by ill health just as war was breaking out in 1914. In order to keep him in the service, and, it was suggested, after some intensive lobbying by his wife, the Admiralty appointed him Director of Naval Intelligence, a post held in the past by his father. Although Hall's appointment as DNI was accidental, it was for the Admiralty a fortuitous one which influenced not only the course of the Great War but also the course of British, American and Irish history. Blinker Hall was by all accounts a charismatic and, when he wanted to be, a charming figure. His piercing stare had impressed both Compton Mackenzie (the novelist and thoroughly disillusioned former secret agent) and Walter Page (the American Ambassador to Britain during the Great War). Page had been particularly impressed by Hall's abilities as an Intelligence chief, and described him as:

"a clear case of genius . . . . All other secret service men" are amateurs by comparison"13.

Patrick Beesly, the naval historian who himself knew Hall, paints a vivid picture of a "maverick" who was "not typical of the naval officers of his generation":

"He was fascinated by "The Great Game", the world of spies, agents, deception, bribery, disinformation, destabilisation, all that side of Intelligence now stigmatised as the "Dirty Tricks" department."14

The Great War saw dramatic changes in the British intelligence services. The two armed services ran their own intelligence departments to provide military and naval commanders with intelligence, while three other main services covered the political, civilian and diplomatic fields. MI5, then under the leadership of Vernon Kell, was responsible for domestic intelligence operations in Britain and on British territory. However because MI5 had no official status and thus no legal powers of search or arrest, MI5 shared its responsibility for domestic intelligence with the police force's "Special Branch", then under Basil Thomson. Finally MI6 (also known as the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS) then under Admiral Sir Hugh "Quex" Sinclair, was responsible for foreign intelligence.

In this grand scheme, therefore, Hall's main responsibility as DNI should have been to provide the Admiralty with the intelligence it needed to wage war against the German navy. But under his extraordinary leadership Naval Intelligence became the most important of all the British Intelligence Services operating during the Great War. This was partly the result of its good fortune in acquiring the German Naval codes within twelve weeks of the outbreak of war. But most of the credit for the Naval Intelligence's pre-eminence must go to Hall. He supported and encouraged the development of the technology needed to intercept the German radio messages that were subsequently decoded. He also relentlessly and ruthlessly pursued any interesting intelligence that passed through the code breakers in "Room 40" at the Admiralty - regardless of its particular interest to the Navy, or its political and diplomatic consequences. Patrick Beesley, in his book "Room 40", provides us with the most detailed published account of the activities of Naval Intelligence's code breakers, and Hall, during the Great War15. Beesley suggests that they were largely responsible for the Navy's success in the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland, and the British mastery over the U-Boats. But he also claims, with justification, that they were responsible for the quick defeat of the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, and for dragging the unwilling Americans into the War in April 191716. Hall played a central part in the arrest and execution of Sir Roger Casement and later in the manipulation of the intercepted "Zimmerman Telegram" to try to draw the United States into the War. Naval Intelligence had provided the information which led to Casement's arrest, and the inevitable failure of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. This had mostly come from intercepted wireless messages although Hall had also organised an undercover mission in which British seamen masquerading as American tourists sailed around the coast of Ireland in a prestigious yacht call the "Sayonara" looking for information about German support for Irish nationalists. Hall and the head of Special Branch, Basil Thomson, then interrogated Casement. After his conviction for treason it looked like a powerful campaign, led by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was going to be successful in getting Casement's death sentence lifted. Hall however leaked to the press details from Casement's homosexual diary and the campaign fell apart. Casement was executed. Walter Page, the American Ambassador to Britain, was a committed anglophile and relied on Hall's unauthorised help to win his battle to draw his country into the War. A coded telegram from Zimmerman, German Foreign Minister, to Washington which was sent on January 16th 1917 seemed to propose unrestricted submarine warfare. It was intercepted by Hall's department, decoded, and passed to Page. The implication was clear - it would make neutral American merchant shipping a target for U-Boats. It also suggested that attempts should be made to secure a German alliance with Mexico in the event of the United States entering the War on the side of Britain.

The Zimmerman telegram earned Hall his knighthood. But at the end of the war the 48 year old Hall sought permission from the Admiralty to stand as a Unionist candidate in the 1918 General Election. This was not a unique request at the time, and it would have been unusual if it has been rejected. However the Admiralty seem to have considered, though ultimately thrown out, the unprecedented possibility of allowing Hall to continue as DNI while sitting in parliament17. Although he therefore retired from the service when he entered Parliament, he continued to be well known and respected in the intelligence community. In 1924 he was implicated in the "Zinoviev Letter" affair, in which information from MI5 was leaked to the press in an attempt to discredit Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister. A few years later, in 1927, he was involved in the discovery of a Russian spy named Wilfred McCartney and much later, in 1939, when he was 69, he was recalled to advise on the reorganisation of Naval Intelligence for the Second World War18.

When he entered Parliament in 1919 it became clear that he was no ordinary, novice, backbencher. Yet this hardly explains what he was doing in Dean's Yard, with some the country's most powerful industrialists just a few weeks after entering Parliament. The explanation for this is perhaps to be found in a scheme he hatched in conjunction with Basil Thomson before he had left Naval Intelligence. Both men were aware that, with War ended, the government would be seeking to reduce and rationalise the intelligence services and so they proposed the creation of a single, centralised, domestic intelligence service. Their idea was to combine the functions of MI5, Special Branch and the various "labour unrest" intelligence departments that had been operated by many of the wartime ministries. But this apparently reasonable suggestion was only part of a grander, and more dubious scheme. If their plan had gone ahead Thomson would have headed the new department, and MI5 would have been disbanded.

Vernon Kell, the head of MI5 whom Hall had described as "short sighted and timorous", would have been pensioned off. But this scheme was more than just an early example of inter-service rivalry in the intelligence community. Both Hall and Thomson were profoundly worried by the growth of the Labour Party and the increasing activity of the trade unions. They realised that the intelligence services would be vulnerable to control by the Labour Party if, as a result of the extension of the franchise, it was to obtain a parliamentary majority and form a government. So with the help his assistant Claud Serocold, a former financier he had recruited from the City, Hall devised a plan in which this new domestic secret service would be funded by a one-off undisclosed payment by the government of £1 million. This money would then be used to create a fund, managed by trustees, which would provide a steady and reliable income, and thus protect the service from any possible Labour government19. It is easy to see now that what the two men were proposing was a peacetime political police force. In the Cabinet, Hall and Thompson had the enthusiastic support of Walter Long, Secretary of State for the Colonies and a confirmed "Diehard". Fortunately, perhaps aware of the potential of the monster they would have been unleashing, the Cabinet as a whole did not fall for the plan. Instead they adopted what was in the end an incoherent and watered down version of the scheme. A new department with responsibility for domestic intelligence, the Directorate of Intelligence, was established at the Home Office. Thus on May Day 1919 Basil Thomson became its chief, while at the same time he retained control of Special Branch. But MI5 was not disbanded, only slimmed down, and it stayed under the control of Vernon Kell until 1940. No section of the intelligence community was to be given absolute financial and political independence from government. The fears that had led Hall and Thomson to seek protection for the domestic intelligence services from a democratically elected Labour government were not uncommon at the time. Nor were they particularly unreasonable fears. They also knew how hard it would be to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of fighting men, and that in the months after the Russian Revolution, rebellion had broken out in army camps, and industrial action was growing. To make matters worse, from their point of view, the 1918 Representation of The People Act had given a vote to hundreds of thousands of potentially rebellious working class voters.

In the end Basil Thomson's Directorate of Intelligence was short lived. A series of intelligence fiascos and problems led the Cabinet to appoint, in 1921, a committee of senior civil servants to examine "Secret Service Expenditure". Their report was fiercely critical of the Directorate of Intelligence and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, General Horwood, twisted the knife by calling the independence of Special Branch "a standing menace to the good discipline of the force". Horwood was also critical of the quality of the intelligence being provided by the Directorate:

". . . As to its information regarding labour matters at home, I have recently called the attention of the Secretary of State to misleading and inaccurate reports by the Directorate of Intelligence to the Cabinet in regard to meetings of the unemployed in London itself. . . " 20.

Horwood insisted that Special Branch be brought back under the control of the Metropolitan Police. In this he won the support of Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister. When Basil Thomson refused to co-operate Lloyd George summarily dismissed him, without consulting his coalition cabinet colleagues. Hall was convinced that Lloyd George had traded Thomson for Labour Party support for his Irish policy and in a debate on the issue, on 3rd November, he forced a vote in which forty two other Diehards voted against the Tory dominated coalition21. The establishment of the Directorate of Intelligence had not offered the domestic intelligence service a cast iron defence against the Labour Party. This fact had, for Hall, been underlined by Thomson's humiliating dismissal. But Hall had not waited for proof that his suspicions were correct. His resignation as DNI, and the government's refusal to adopt his scheme for a politically and financially independent intelligence service had left him free to develop the idea himself. The money that would have originally been raised through a secret War loan would now have to be obtained from private sources and the meeting in Dean's Yard, and the creation of National Propaganda, was the first stage in creating his new private intelligence service.


National Propaganda was based at 25 Victoria Street, in London, which was one of the bases for right wing lobbyists. It was here that the Union Defence League, the Employers' Parliamentary Council and the Property Defence League were based. The Union Defence League was one of the central organising committees of the Conservative Party, coordinating Conservative resistance to Irish independence. The other pressure groups both run by Frederick Millar, a veteran anti socialist who at the end of the nineteenth century had been editor of the "Liberty Review" which described itself as "The Organ of Free Labour, Free Contract and Free Trade"22. National Propaganda organised a network of regional groups. By 1923-1924, there were 14 of these each of which used the name "Economic League", for example "Leeds Economic League"; apart from a short lived West Yorkshire group targeted at women, called "Women's Work" and the group working on Tyneside and Teeside which called itself "National Propaganda". However an Independent Labour Party 1926 pamphlet, part of its regular series of "Notes for Speakers", made explicit National Propaganda's connection with a string of other organisations, most notably the British Empire Union and National Citizens' Union. The ILP's claims would seem to be supported by a Special Branch memo to the Foreign Office, from about the same time, which also makes these connections. Another organisation which was absorbed by National Propaganda was the Liberty League. Though hardly a major force it was nonetheless interesting since it was an anti-Bolshevik organisation set up in 1920 by the authors H Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling, and Lord Sydenham, who later in the twenties was a prominent member of the British Fascists. It was taken under National Propaganda's wing in 1921, when its Treasurer absconded with its funds23.


From the beginning the Economic League was designed to be more than merely a platform for anti-socialist politicians. Fifty years later the League explained that the original objective had been not only to:

"Fight subversion relentlessly and ruthlessly . . . But replace it by constructive thought and ideas, by what, for want of a better term, is known as simple economics. "24

Although the Economic League originated within the BCU and may well have accounted for all of the BCU's £50,000 spending spree, it soon became a distinct organisation. What distinguished the League from similar anti-socialist groups was the way in which it set about "replacing" socialism with "constructive thought and ideas". It adopted the same evangelical methods as the socialists, syndicalists and communists. The Economic League took the self interested politics of manufacturing industry to the factory gate in what it later called a "Crusade for Capitalism".

National Propaganda was of course not the only active anti-Labour Party organisation. By 1919 the Anti-Socialist Union had already been in existence for more than ten years. After the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain it changed its name to the Anti-Socialist and Communist Union. Its founders, in 1908, had included Harry Brittain who would be a key figure in the Economic League for half a century. The Lords Malmesbury and Illiffe were also executive members of both the ASU and the Economic League. Both groups coexisted happily until 1949 when the ASU dissolved itself and passed all its assets to the Economic League25. Unlike the ASU however the job of putting the League's message across was given to speakers recruited and paid to do it:

"Speakers were selected not only because of their aptitude for discussing economic problems in simple terms but also for their ability to make themselves heard and deal with violent opposition. They were big men in every sense of the word, tough, well able to look after themselves, and with plenty of physical and moral courage. Most of them had come to the League straight from the services. "26

The pitches from which the League's "big men" would preach their message were exactly the same ones used by the infant Communist Party of Great Britain:

"The town centre gathering points of the unemployed (Bigg Market in Newcastle, Tower Hill in London, The Covered Market in Wigan, the dockside in Liverpool, The Bull Ring in Birmingham) and outside the factories where in the days before works canteens the workforce would eat their lunch. " 27

Although "Fifty Fighting Years" tells us nothing about the arguments that its paid preachers were using at the factory gates, it is possible to obtain a comprehensive picture of their economic arguments. In 1921, the Economic Study Club, operating by this time from 2 Millbank House, published "The Facts of The Case - for speakers, writers and thinkers". This is a fascinating, revealing and exceptionally well put together anti-socialist reference book, "compiled" by the editor of "Industrial Peace". Its 250-odd pages present carefully worked out responses to the whole range of topics likely to be encountered in a debate with a member of the Labour Party, the newly formed Communist Party or an active trades unionist: Capitalism, Direct Action, Leninism, Marxism, Nationalisation, Prices, Production, Profits, Revolution, Socialism, Unemployment, Wealth, Statistics. Indeed, reading it today, it is possible to believe that, in the hands of National Propaganda's paid mercenaries and the working people they drew into its Economic Study Circles, that "The Facts of the Case" did much to damage the impair the growth of the labour movement in Britain. National Propaganda's active, rather than reactive, battle plan meant presenting capitalism in a way that would have popular appeal. This was something it had never before needed to do. Revolution in Russia, the growth of the Labour Party and trade union movement at home, and the creation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920, had each, in their own way, contributed to the need for accessible and convincing capitalist propaganda. However it was the extension of the franchise, through the 1918 Reform Act, which gave it a sense of urgency. This Act had given voting rights to practically every man in the country and to women over thirty, and had thus raised the very real prospect of a democratically elected Labour Party Government in the immediate future. What Hall and the other founders of National Propaganda feared was less a violent revolution than, what Basil Thomson called, a "democratic revolution".

From its outset therefore National Propaganda had two objectives, an overt one and a covert one. Overtly they set out to support and encourage working class opposition to socialism. Covertly they began to establish the framework of a shadow state, out of reach of Parliament and Government. In this respect although 1912 marked the beginning of the Secretive State, with the introduction of official secrecy and the formalisation of counter-subversive policing, it was 1919 that marked the beginning of the Secret State in Britain. It was no longer enough to protect government from the people, the machinery of the state had to be protected from government. National Propaganda, and those behind it and those drawn into their circle, were to play a leading role in this transformation from the State-being-secret to the Secret State proper.

3. Chapter 2: The Diehards' Hidden Hand

National Propaganda quickly established itself as an active and influential agent of the radical right wing political alliance known as the "Diehards". To understand exactly what, and who, Blinker Hall and Richard Kelly were coordinating by means of National Propaganda it is first necessary to gain a clear picture of the "Diehards" and their role within the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party had entered the 1918 election publicly committed to a coalition government whose days were clearly numbered and with which a substantial section of the party, inside and outside parliament, was thoroughly unhappy. The Party emerged from that election with a massive parliamentary majority, yet still with a Liberal Prime Minister, in the person of Lloyd George, and less than their fair share of ministers. The Conservative and Unionist Party has always been an uncomfortable coalition - not so much a "broad church" as a divided church with two parallel aisles and some pretty eccentric nooks and crannies.

The two main traditions, and the resulting tensions, within the Party are generally associated with the conflict between patriarchal landed interests and the more radical and robust industrial interests. From its earliest days in the 1840s until 1974 and the election of Margaret Thatcher as Party Leader, the patriarchs maintained control of the Party. But this is not say that the Radical Right were a weak, impotent or disorganised force. Despite their apparent weakness they influenced the Party's political agenda, and shaped and mobilised rank and file Conservative Party thinking to considerable extent. The Diehard's agenda dominated Conservative political life during the inter war years: tariff reform, the integrity of the Empire and the Union, and later a generally misunderstood approach to continental fascism which combined pressure to rearm faster with a barely disguised sympathy towards fascism as a practical political force in Germany, Italy and Spain.


In the years before the Great War "protectionism" was the issue which highlighted the division within the Conservative Party. The idea of stiff duties on goods and materials imported from outside the British Empire was generally supported by the industrial lobby, the main exception being the textile industry. Opposition to this "Tariff Reform" movement was not restricted to textile manufacturers, it was opposed by socialists, Liberals and by many of the landowners in the Tory Party.

The two main bodies which argued the case for protective tariffs were the Tariff Reform League and the Tariff Commission. They could command support powerful enough to dominate the political agenda in the first decade of the century. But ultimately the struggle, and failure, of the pre-war Tariff Reformers left the pro-industry section of the Conservative Party feeling that their interests were unrepresented in parliament. When war broke out there was an immediate party-political truce between the Tories and Liberals. As the historian John Stubbs points out:

"A party that suddenly ceased to have a positive or even negative role in the political life of the country, that acted as a mere rubber stamp in the legislative process, and seemed doomed to silence through patriotism not unnaturally found some release of tension in internal stress and strain. "1

The inevitable fault line was the fundamentally class-based distinction between the old money and the new money. Early in 1915 it became clear that a dissident and hawkish backbench voice was emerging. It found a platform on January 27th in the Unionist Business Committee. Attendance at UBC meetings rarely exceeded 40 of which "only a handful regarded themselves as landowners". The following January, 1916, another backbench committee, called The Unionist War Committee, was established. More openly dissident than the Unionist Business Committee, its aim was a "vigorous prosecution of the War". It seems to have filled the role of a sort of unofficial opposition for the remaining years of the war. Indeed, together with the like-minded Liberal War Committee it was regarded at first as a potential opposition party2. The UWC was led in the Commons by the veteran Diehards Frederick Banbury and Ronald McNeill 3 but it was chaired, at least occasionally, by Lord Salisbury and it included the man who would become a central figure in the inter-war Radical Right wing - Leo Amery4. After the armistice the UWC became the Unionist Reconstruction Committee - pressing for even more punitive terms against Germany. John Gretton was chair of both the Unionist Business Committee and the Unionist Reconstruction Committee. But the Unionist War Committee was most closely associated with Sir Edward Carson, Tory MP for Dublin University and leader of the Ulster Unionists5.


The election of December 1918 was a foregone conclusion. Although it was the first general election since the new "Representation of the People Act" had substantially increased the working class vote the threat of a dramatic boost to the Labour Party's for- tunes was held off by the indecent haste with which Lloyd George had called it. Many new voters still in France, and thus disenfranchised6. As a result of Lloyd George's manoeuvring the Coalition won 516 seats and a majority of 263 while the official opposition comprised 27 "Wee Frees" (Liberals loyal to Asquith whom Lloyd George had usurped as Liberal leader in 1916), 62 Labour members and 80 Irish Nationalists (73 of whom refused to take their seats). There were 59 non-coalition Conservatives.

Endorsement as a coalition candidate had guaranteed many candidates unlikely seats in parliament. With this as the carrot, and the possibility of a increased Labour vote as the stick, even the most fundamentally anti-coalition candidates accepted their "coupon" and took their seat in the Commons as supposed supporters of the coalition. As with any landslide electoral victory the "official" opposition was to be less significant than the unofficial opposition within the ruling group. But once the votes had been cast the election had served its purpose for Diehard dissidents within the coalition. They had their seats in parliament and the growth of Labour had at least been temporarily contained. It was only a matter of time before the rebellion began and it was MPs associated with the BCU who were to be key figures.

After the election the BCU set about recruiting those sympathetic MPs they had been unable to contact earlier. At the same time they were contemplating an extra-parliamentary role. These two developments came together with the recruitment of "Blinker" Hall and John Gretton.


The Diehards quickly became the greatest threat to the Lloyd George led coalition, although a small number - including Patrick Hannon and Lord Long - seem to have remained loyal to it and the Party leadership, probably fearing the possible impact of the Labour Party in another election. Gretton and Hall organised the Diehard opposition to the Coalition in the House of Commons, away from it two Diehard peers became the focus of wider Tory opposition to it: Salisbury and Northumberland.

With their encouragement and support the campaign against the Coalition moved into top gear in 1921. In June, Salisbury wrote to the "Morning Post" and other papers calling on the Conservative Party to form an independent government. The following month Gretton and Martin Archer-Shee (a former chief whip) resigned the party whip in protest at negotiations with De Valera in Ireland7. In October Northumberland attacked the coalition in the Morning Post (which he later bought in 1924), and in a speech to Newcastle Conservatives. In November Gretton and Rupert Gwynne tabled a censure motion against the government over its negotiations with De Valera. Later in the month they attempted to get the policy overturned at the Party conference in Liverpool.

At about the same time Hall also forced the division over Lloyd George's summary dismissal of Basil Thompson. Although Gretton and Hall only had the open support of 42 other Diehard MPs in the Commons, it was enough to reduce the coalition majority significantly, and while the vote on the Gretton/Gwynne Diehard resolution at the Liverpool conference went decisively against them, it was received well enough to unsettle the Party leadership8. The Diehards pressed on with their campaign into 1922. According to Maurice Cowling, between January and July, John Gretton "managed a House of Commons "Party" of about 50".

It was a party that included not only Conservative Party members but also the two National Party members and the rump of supporters of the corrupt political maverick, Horatio Bottomley9. There were however still tensions between the Coalition's opponents. Lord Salisbury, for example, didn't get on with Gretton and dealt with him largely through intermediaries. He had since December been trying to set up a parliamentary opposition centred on Edward Carson, Lord Londonderry and Ronald MacNeil. At the same time his Peoples' Union for Economy was campaigning for cuts in government expenditure. Northumberland was also running his own high profile anti-coalition campaign in the pages of the Morning Post and through his publishing firm, Boswell Press, and his magazine "The Patriot".10

But by March, 1922, these three "circles of dissent", as Webber calls them, were finally being drawn closer together. H. A. Gwynne, the editor of the Morning Post (not it seems related to his namesake Rupert) circulated a "Diehard Manifesto". It was published on March 8th and in addition to Gretton, Salisbury and Northumberland its signatories included: Sir Edward Carson, Sir Frederick Banbury, Finlay, Joyston-Hicks, Londonderry, Sir A Sprot, Linlithgo, Capt. Foxcroft, Sumner, Rupert Gwynne, Sydenham, Esmond Harmsworth, Ronald McNeill.11

The Diehard Manifesto itself said little with which the party leadership would quarrel, it was more a gesture of defiance. The campaign against the coalition was given a boost in June 1922, when the Morning Post launched its "Diehard Fund". The impetus was an "Honours Scandal". For years Lloyd George had been manipulating the honours system to the financial advantage of his Liberal Party. However he over-reached himself, and presented the Diehards with their best shot at the "Welsh Wizard", when he tried to bestow a peerage upon J B Robinson - a crooked South African mine owner who had been a generous benefactor of the Liberals. The Diehard's own newspaper, The Morning Post, not unnaturally, led the hue and cry and took advantage of it to portray them as the last bulwark against "National Dishonour". Its banner headline of June 13th -

"An appeal to the National Honour. The restoration of clean government, support the Diehards. "

The money came rolling in. When the fund was closed, two months later, it stood at £22,000. The responsibility of distributing the fund was given to Salisbury. Blinker Hall and the Duke of Bedford were its trustees, and John Gretton its business manager. But with only £8,000 of the money distributed the Conservative leadership finally pulled out of the coalition and the fund remained unspent for a number of years. Two years later there was a dispute about whether, as Gretton wanted, the money should be given to the Irish Loyalists. Gretton lost the argument and in the end it was only in 1933 that it was finally used, to finance opposition to the National Government's Indian policy.12

The policies of the coalition government had not been a success; a short lived post war boom had soon turned into a slump and its foreign policies had no shortage of opponents. The growing support for the Diehards among rank and file Conservatives was a major influence on the Conservative leadership's decision to break the coalition.


The Coalition collapsed on the 19th October 1922. Lloyd George resigned on the 23rd, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Bonar Law who had come out of retirement to supervise the Coalition's demise. The following May, Bonar Law retired again on the grounds of ill-health and was replaced by Stanley Baldwin. Shortly before this, Law had made Blinker Hall the Party's Principal Agent. According to Party historian, Ramsden, Hall "was perhaps the only true Diehard to be promoted by Law".

As Principal Agent, Hall had been given full control of the Party mechanism and although it was good news for the British Commonwealth Union's clandestine Industrial Party, it was bad news for the Party:

"He was the only MP ever to direct the professional side of the organisation and found that he had insufficient time to give to the task; nor did he have the appropriate knowledge of electoral matters that made up the bulk of his subordinates' work".13

An election was due in 1923 and Baldwin, who had succeeded Law to the leadership of the Conservative Party and thus as Prime Minister, decided, "at some point between August 27th and October 8th"14 to make protectionism the issue upon which it was fought. The Election, on December 6th, sought a mandate for Tariff Reform. It was a disastrous decision - ninety Conservatives lost their seats, including Hall (who was defending a Majority of 10,000). But in spite of this the Tories remained the largest party and Baldwin resolved to remain Prime Minister - daring the Liberals to throw their lot in with the Labour Party. Which is what they did. On January 21st the Liberal and Labour Parties carried a vote of no confidence against Baldwin's minority government. Baldwin resigned and the Labour Party (with 191 seats to the Liberal's 158) formed its first government.

This first Labour government's reliance on Liberal support made it an unspectacular affair. Most of its activity was devoted to attempting to reach an agreement with the Russian government. When it became clear that the Liberals were not going to support the terms of the Anglo-Soviet treaty this Labour-Liberal alliance collapsed. It was inevitable that "Bolshevism" would be the prominent issue in the ensuing election. Hall, the red scaremonger, would have been well placed to mastermind the election campaign.

However, contrary to the impression sometimes given by historians, he was (albeit briefly) in the political wilderness. He had been sacked unceremoniously by Baldwin in the previous March; he was out of Parliament and no longer running the Economic League15. Nevertheless he returned to Parliament in the General Election as member for Eastbourne, having played a useful but far from honourable role in the "Zinoviev Letter" affair, which was perhaps the most notorious election ploy before "Watergate". On October 25th 1924 the Daily Mail and The Times printed in full a letter alleged to have been sent by Gregori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, to the Communist Party of Great Britain on September 15th. The letter urged the CPGB to make preparations, "in the event of danger of war . . . . to paralyse all the military preparations of the bourgeois".

The letter had originally been passed to MI5 by Donald im Thurn, a former agent. The foreign office, MI5 and Special Branch all vouched for its authenticity and it was passed to Ramsay MacDonald who accepted their judgment. Zinoviev's instructions in the letter merely confirmed the intelligence services' understanding of the Comintern's ideas, and although it was useful intelligence it was by no means clear that it required any public response from the prime minister or government. Before MacDonald could make any final decision about the text of the official response to the letter, the letter was leaked from MI5 to Conservative Central Office and also to Reggie Hall and thence to the two newspapers with the implication that MacDonald had been trying to suppress it.

It was Hall who almost certainly leaked one of the two copies of the letter received by his friend Thomas Marlowe, the editor of the Daily Mail. But there were two ironical twists to the story of the Zinoviev Letter. The first twist is that it was a forgery. However there is no evidence to suggest that, at the time, any of those involved in leaking the letter, or authenticating it, or drafting the government's response to it believed it to be less than genuine. The second twist is that although Labour Party was the overt target of the leak it was the Liberal Party which was decimated by it. In the election the Liberals lost 117 of their 156 seats, the Labour Party just 40 of their 191 seats and actually increased the number of votes cast for them. Whatever Hall's intention, the leaking of the Zinoviev letter had once again polarised British political life and not only effectively secured the Labour Party's position as the second party but also strengthened the democratic socialists' and social democrats' control of it.


From its formation National Propaganda rapidly became the focus for most of the Diehards' extra-parliamentary activity. Its absorption of the British Empire Union and the National Citizens Union in particular created a coordinated and active Radical Right wing network whose power and influence in shaping British political life has never been properly grasped.


By far the largest and most active of the groups whose activities National Propaganda was coordinating was the British Empire Union. It had its origins in the Anti-German Union of 1915, changing its name to the British Empire Union in 1916. A minor novelist of imperial life, Sir George Makgill, was the secretary and organiser of the AGU and was then the BEU's Honorary Secretary. Its treasurer was the newspaper proprietor Edward, later Lord, Illiffe who was later also to be a member of the Central Council of the Economic League.16

Despite the change of name throughout and following the War it was associated not only with general anti-German agitation but specifically with the sort of anti-semitic agitation and conspiracy theories associated with Leo Maxse, editor of the National Review and speaker at its first public meeting in the Aeolian Hall on June 191517. By 1916 the BEU was organising anti-German demonstrations, four in Hyde Park in London during June and July. and 50 throughout the country during the year. It later raised petitions in support of its campaign for wholesale internment, one containing 1,250,000 signatures was presented to Downing Street following a demonstration organised by the National Party in July 1918. At the same time it also adopted a boycott of German goods and refusal to employ anyone of German origin for six years after the end of the War, which had been proposed by the Merchant Seaman's League. The League was run by J Havelock Wilson, who stood successfully against the Labour Party in South Shields having received at least two secret payments from the British Commonwealth Union18. The British Empire Union's attempts to disrupt the meetings of pacifist and civil libertarian organisations didn't stop short of violence and threats of violence, and it was implicated in anti-jewish riots in Leeds in 1917.

The historian Panikos Panayi has estimated that by the end of the War the British Empire Union had a membership of 10,000 - spread across fifty local branches. Its vice presidents included 25 peers or their wives, and it had been closely associated with establishment figures such as Lord Derby, Lord Leith, and the Earl of Harewood and with leading Diehard figures such as Lord Carson, Ronald McNeill, and William Joyston-Hicks. After the War the BEU maintained its anti-German and anti-semitic campaigns but also adopted many of the "imperial unity" ideas of the Tariff reformers and became fanatically anti-communist.

In Liverpool the British Empire Union became the instrument of its secretary, a remarkable man called John McGuirk Hughes. Hughes obtained substantial support from Liverpool employers, in particular the shipping firms, for what was obviously something more than a simple propaganda machine. According to John Hope:

"For five years Hughes and his agents broke into premises, stole and forged documents and behaved as agents provocateurs. "

Documentary evidence of Hughes' and the BEU's activities in Liverpool were first unearthed by Ron Bean in 1977, in the Cunard Papers which were deposited with Liverpool University. These show that not only was Hughes passing on to local employers the names of trades unionists he felt to be in some ways "ringleaders", he had also established a formal relationship with Scotland Yard.

In one of his reports, in the Cunard papers, Hughes wrote:

". . . . we have the complete confidence and help of Scotland Yard, and in fact have received payment from them. The Assistant Commissioner [Col. Carter] considers that we are the only efficient organisation. . . our relations with the provincial police continue to be good. . . We had placed under us a number of plain cloths (sic) men of the Glasgow police. . . . ".

Hughes seems to have been recording the activities of the BEU nationally here, not merely in Liverpool and in 1924 he would seem to have been involved in the theft of documents from the Headquarters of the Minority Movement in London19. But it is also possible that he was presenting a report from another organisation, since by 1924 Hughes relationship with the BEU national and locally had collapsed. Indeed between 1923 and 1925 he was running his "Special Propaganda Section" as an independent organisation and operating in Liverpool, Glasgow, Barrow and Sheffield. This organisation seems to have been financed by shipping lines of which Cunard was the main one.

Eventually Reginald Wilson, the Secretary of the BEU and a director of the Economic League, approached Cunard asking for the support for Hughes to be withdrawn. Cunard did withdraw its support with the result that Hughes' setup was closed down and the Central Council of the Economic Leagues and its satellites once again had a monopoly on this area of private intelligence work. Quite what was actually happening during this early, and obviously acrimonious, split remains a mystery.

Afterwards James McGuirk Hughes disappeared from the scene until 1932, when he reappeared, as "P. G. Taylor" head of the intelligence section of the British Union of Fascists. At the same time he was also claiming to be an established MI5 agent, probably therefore controlled by Maxwell Knight. This of course only deepens the mystery and further muddies already murky waters. It would seem to suggest that some sort of reconciliation may have been effected, but it may simply bear witness to Knight's pragmatism in choosing agents, at a time when MI5 resources were limited and fully stretched20. In the first years following the Great War there was a reorganisation and rationalisation of Radical Right wing pressure groups. According to the historian Maurice Cowling, after the War the BEU had absorbed "about twenty similar organisations in Britain and Ireland". 21

How long the BEU was closely associated with National Propaganda remains unclear. It remained in active until the mid 1970's, although it changed its name to the "British Commonwealth Union" in 1960, and it was publishing a monthly journal until at least 195222. Those later involved in it included the Monday Club Founder, Sir John Biggs Davison who had in the Club's first pamphlet described it as an attempt to revitalise the Diehard tradition in the Conservative Party.


The Middle Class Union was established in March 1919, to "withstand the rapacity of the manual worker and profiteer". It became the National Citizens Union in 1921 under the presidency of the Rt Hon Lord Askwith. Its Vice Presidents included Sir J R Prettyman-Newman who had links with the British Fascists23. In 1926 Lord Askwith was still president and it was claiming that it "Organised Volunteers for service on Railways, Tramways, Electricity Power Stations, and for Road Transport etc., in 1919, 1921 and 1924, and in many local stoppages". When it issued its volunteers with a questionnaire, in 1926, asking them to specify there areas of work in which they could offer their services, the General Secretary Colonel H D Lawrence offered to negotiate with the employers of any volunteers who were reluctant to release them for service with the NCU. In 1927 the Chair of the National Citizens Union was Colonel A. H Lane, who was a member of the overtly anti-semitic group called the Britons which the following year published "The Alien Menace", an influential anti-semitic book, and founded the Militant Christian Patriots24.

The British Empire Union and National Citizens Union were, like the Economic Study Clubs, the public face of National Propaganda's network, though the existence and breadth of the coordinated network itself was certainly not public knowledge. Within two years of its formation therefore National Propaganda was not only running a strike breaking mechanism which would provide the groundwork for the defeat of the General Strike, it was contributing to the ideological foundations of British fascism, and establishing a domestic, "counter-subversive", intelligence operation which was many times larger than the state's own.

4. Chapter 3: John Baker White, Sir George Makgill & Section D

If one man ever held a key to the complex interconnections between the Radical Right and the Secret State it was John Baker White, the veteran anti-communist and anti-socialist activist who died on December 10th 19881. From leaving Malvern College in 1920 (when he was eighteen) to his death, his career encompassed a range of organisations which have played important roles in the development of the secret state. Freelance courier for Special Branch, adviser to MI5, MI10, the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, the Political Warfare Executive, Director of the Economic League for nineteen years and Publicity adviser for another twenty five, Conservative MP (Canterbury 1945-53) and chair of a Freedom Association branch in Kent.

In addition to the occasional publication of propagandist tracts, White also published four important autobiographical books - "It's gone for good", "The Big Lie", "Sabotage is suspected" and "True Blue". They are at times frustratingly imprecise books, and at times straightforwardly misleading. Perhaps this is only to be expected from a professional propagandist, writing about politically sensitive issues. However unless they completely fabricate, rather than merely distort the truth, then they reveal the existence of two important and related, secret and private intelligence organisations that have so far more or less slipped through the parapolitical historian's net.


White left Malvern School with no clear idea of what he would do with his life and turned his hand to a number of short lived and out of the ordinary jobs. The first of these was for Special Branch. His step father, Gerald Hartley Atkinson had worked at Scotland Yard as unpaid personal assistant to Sir Edward Henry, Metropolitan Police Commissioner in the early years of the century. During the First World War Atkinson returned to Scotland Yard where he acted as (secretary) to Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett during the time when he was creating Special Branch. Shortly after leaving school, Atkinson offered White the opportunity to go to Dublin as a courier for him. This he did, handing over a sealed envelope to a "Mr Jacobs" in the Shelbourne hotel. Two years later his stepfather told him that Jacobs had been in "the I. R. A. intelligence" and the envelope had contained a letter from Lloyd George to I. R. A. leader Michael Collins "putting forward conditions for a truce"2.

Although Atkinson gave White instant access to the fringes of the intelligence community, it was his mother Katherine (nee Blythe) who introduced him to militant anti-socialism. Katherine was a close friend of, and collaborator with, Nesta Webster. It was their influence that persuaded him to "devote my life to fighting communism" with what he himself recognised was a religious zeal3. He consistently claims to have begun his undercover investigations of "subversion" as an independent amateur, though it must be at least presumed that he fed the information into Webster's sophisticated propaganda machine4. He began this surveillance in London and Cambridge, attending meetings of the recently formed Communist Party of Great Britain.

In Cambridge he was fairly quickly confronted by a local activist - "H" - who having established that White's interest in the Communist Party was malevolent revealed that he too was a committed anti-communist working undercover. "H" immediately obtained for White an introduction to the man who ran the organisation for which he himself was working, later named as "Sir George McGill". After a gruelling interview with "McGill" White was taken on, and told that "H" would be his contact with the organisation, and that he should therefore not establish too obvious a friendship with him.

In none of White's accounts is this organisation, or "H" named. Even worse for the researcher is that despite some tantalising descriptions of his activities and connections there was at the time nobody called "Sir George McGill", never mind one answering the description given by White. White provides little personal detail about Sir George "McGill", but fortunately enough to identify him. According to White he died suddenly in 1926 - "just as he was bringing to fruition his plans to establish a voluntary organisation, O.M.S. - the Organisation for Maintaining Services (sic)", was a member of the Caledonian Club, and "was a close personal friend of Sir Vernon Kell, the founder and first head of MI5". "McGill", he says, "created at his own expense, a private counter subversive intelligence service that had one unique feature. Every man and woman working in it could be trusted". He contrasts it with official intelligence services which "all over the world have to use men and women who are selling their own side for money, but he would have nothing to do with them. He put people into the revolutionary movement at the bottom and let them work their way up".

"McGill's" organisation concentrated on "investigating not only all forms of subversion, including communism, but also the international traffic in drugs and the traffic in women and children". But, he says, "McGill" "also devoted a considerable amount of time to unmasking the cult of evil of which Aleister Crowley, alias "The Beast", was the centre". Drawing together White's autobiographical accounts it also possible to piece together a rough sketch of how "McGill"'s organisation worked. Whether or not its members were as trustworthy as White claimed "McGill" operated a cell structure, that is "in watertight compartments". Thus White himself was only aware of that part of the organisation of which he was a member and leader, and of which before "McGill"'s death he was already using the name "Section D".

White's own recruitment was therefore probably typical of the way in which members were recruited. He says that he could not "pretend to know what [McGill's] contacts with official departments were" but in addition to mentioning "McGill"'s friendship with Vernon Kell, he says "I discovered some years later that he could always see the Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet when ever he wished and at short notice". Elsewhere White makes it clear that Churchill was also aware of and impressed by "McGill"'s work. If this was the case then "Sir George McGill" was in close contact with three of the most powerful figures in the Intelligence Community during the early twenties, and in fact throughout the inter-war years: Kell, Churchill, and Sir Maurice Hankey. Its connection with these three figures alone must seriously challenge White's own suggestion that "McGill"'s group was a purely private affair.


There are two immediate problems with White's story - firstly O.M.S. is misnamed, and secondly and perhaps more serious, "Sir George McGill" did not exist. The reference to the Organisation for Maintaining Services, seems inescapably to point to the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. If White is telling us that the O. M. S. was in fact McGill's brainchild then there are still serious problems since accounts of the formation of the OMS, omit to mention "McGill" Nor is it clear to what degree OMS was ever intended to continue after the General Strike, and the general understanding is that it passed its prime by the time McGill had died, not "about to come to fruition".

It is possible to say with a considerable confidence that there was no "Sir George McGill" in the early 1920's. None of the standard and comprehensive directories list one, Who's Who or Whitaker's for example. So why, when he finally relinquishes code letters for the mastermind of this secret intelligence set up, does he use a none existent title? Is the group a complete fabrication or have we simply reached the end of the line as far as tracking the group down? Is it another slip, a misspelling for example, and if so how has he contrived to make it and does it cast a shadow over the reliability of his account?


Happily we there is convincing evidence of someone who not only fits White's description of "McGill" but was also moving in precisely the right the political circles. That man was not Sir George "McGill" but Sir George Makgill. I stumbled across him while researching the early history of the Economic League and was already interested in "McGill", but unclear about his significance in relation to the League or even where to begin to track him down5. I was also interested in a number of other groups that played key roles in the formation and early days of the Economic League and had asked some one to check them out for me in a contemporary London directory.

When a "Sir George Makgill"'s name cropped up in relation to two of them it seemed too good to be true. Yet in fact further investigations showed that Makgill could hardly be anyone other than John Baker White's "McGill". Born in 1868, Makgill died in October 1926 at the age of 57. He was the eldest son of Sir John Makgill, tenth baronet, and Margaret Isabella Haldane, half sister to Lord Haldane. On the death of his father Makgill registered his claim to the lapsed family Scottish title of Viscount Oxfuird. Though he never gained the title, his heirs have. He married a New Zealander, Frances Elizabeth Grant and they had two sons and two daughters. According to his Times obituary, published on the 20th October, 1926:

"He was educated privately, and became known as a writer of novels, articles, and stories, chiefly of colonial life. In what is, perhaps, the best of his novels "Blacklaw", which appeared early in 1914, he gives a vivid picture of a Scottish peer converted to an almost fanatical methodism, handing over his property to a missionary society, and carrying off his five young children to New Zealand, there to lead a simple, Christian, patriarchal life. "6

But his obituary also makes reference to his "association" with the Anti German Union during the Great War:

"In June 1915, he raised the question whether Sir George Cassel and Sir Edgar Speyer, having been born out of the British Dominions and not of English parents were capable of being members of the Privy Council. In the following December the Court of King's Bench (the Lord Chief Justice and justices Avory and Lush) delivered judgment, directing the orders nisi obtained by Sir George Makgill to be discharged, on the grounds that the respondents, having been naturalised under the Act of 1870, were capable of being Privy Councillors when they were respectively appointed. "

The Anti German Union, in which Makgill was obviously such a central figure, has been suggested by Gerry Webber as a forerunner of the British Commonwealth Union, which in turn gave rise to National Propaganda and itself became the British Empire Union. Unfortunately Webber's simple evolutionary tree is in this case almost certainly mistaken. The British Commonwealth Union had evolved from the group of industrialists which came together in 1915 calling themselves first the London Imperialists and then the Industrial and Agricultural Legislative Union, before becoming the British Commonwealth Union at the end of 1917.

The British Commonwealth Union and British Empire Union in fact co-existed for a number of years, and the link between the two organisations cannot be merely described in evolutionary terms. As we have seen, what seems to have happened is that soon after the 1918 election, in which the BCU had pursued its ambitions to be a clandestine "Industrial Party" by funding twenty six of its own candidates standing for established political parties, it then decided to restricted itself to being a Parliamentary pressure group, or rather super group. It established National Propaganda, which by the early 1920's was acting as a coordinating committee for a number of other Diehard pressure groups including the British Empire Union, which itself had absorbed a number of smaller groups.

That Sir George Makgill was active within this complex network of inter-related organisations is however beyond doubt. In the London telephone directory for 1917 he is listed as the Honourary Secretary of the British Empire Union based at 346 Strand Walk (the office of the Diehard newspaper "The Morning Post"). In 1918 the "business secretary" of the British Empire Union was listed as Reginald Wilson, who was later associated with National Propaganda, and its successor the Economic League. Makgill was also, in the same years, the General Secretary of the British Empire Producers' Organisation, which had certainly been courted by the BCU as a potential sponsor, as early as 1917. A further link with this Diehard, anti-socialist network around National Propaganda, is suggested by an entry in The Times on December 17th 1920, in which it was announced the Makgill was standing as a candidate for Horatio Bottomley's People's League in a Parliamentary election in East Leyton. Bottomley was a jingoistic, right wing populist closely associated with the diehards. His group was one of the more successful "patriotic labour" movements which sprang up after the extension of the franchise to attract and encourage anti-socialist working class votes.

In The Times announcement, Makgill is described as the vice chairman of the People's League.


White implies that when "McGill" died in 1926 his organisation died with him. White himself didn't have any contact with any other sections of it, and no one contacted him with a view to perpetuating it. To support the idea that there was more to the organisation than his particular section/cell he recalls his discovery during the Second World War of two colleagues in Military Intelligence, presumably MI10, who had also worked for "McGill". After McGill's death "Section D", that is the cell run by White since "H"'s death, chose to continue operating as "an independent self-financing organisation of dedicated men and women".

According to his account it continued to use the name "Section D" and operated until the outbreak of the Second World War. Ignoring D Branch of MI5, there would seem to have been three different British intelligence organisations called "Section D". The first emerged in the early years of "Special Branch", White's was the second and the last was a covert intelligence operation established in the mid thirties and subsequently absorbed into the Special Operations Executive. Whether there was a tangible link between these three organisations must be regarded as an open question. There is at the moment only the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence to justify this idea. The Section D associated with White really consisted of two groups: that which worked for Makgill, and the later independent organisation which will be examined later.


White's explanation of the origins of Section D is not as clear as it could be. In "The Big Lie" he says that he formed it together with a an un-named "tough middle aged man" with whom he fallen into conversation after a CPGB meeting they had both attended at the "Grove" pub in Hammersmith, London, in 1923. White's companion had heckled at the meeting and over a drink they hatched the idea of the group which became Section D, and they agreed to meet the following day to set the ball rolling. "By 1926" he says "we had built up a group of men and women dedicated to fighting communism from the inside". In this account, White describes Section D as "a mixed lot. Engine Driver, retired policeman, skilled engineer, a university student and a farmer, both of whom were killed in mysterious circumstances, shipping agent, society girl, economist, soldier and others".

However "The Big Lie" story of the origins of Section D, if not blatantly contradicting it, does not easily fit with the story he offers later in "True Blue". According to this it was only after "H"'s death that he was given greater responsibility in the organisation,"and was now running my own group, known as Section D". Nevertheless White also clearly states that "H" was a member of this group. But whether John Baker White created or inherited Section D he clearly claims to have been running it after "H"'s death, some time between 1923 and the late summer of 1926.


From White's fragmentary accounts of Section D it is possible to build up some sort of battle order and identify some of its operations and targets. These suggest, for the time, a sophisticated organisation with a significant role within the developing secret state.


One early and key member of Section D was "H", never named. In fact if White is to be believed it was "H" who recruited him when he confronted White about his true purpose in attending CPGB meetings in Cambridge. The confrontation happened after a CPGB meeting addressed by C. P. Dutt, on the "Struggle of the Indian Masses". White owned up to his real purpose in attending the meeting, only to discover that "H" too was an infiltrator. "H" then introduced White to Makgill.

When White went to work in Makgill's organisation, he was told that "H" would be his contact with Makgill - "but don't see too much of him". Makgill "also devoted a considerable amount of time to unmasking the cult of evil of which Aleister Crowley, alias "the Beast", was the centre". But White claimed to have only discovered this after "H"'s untimely death:

"What I did not know until later when, at his father's and McGill's request, I had been through his papers was that he had uncovered a blackmail plot, involving two well known politicians, connected with Crowley's activities in the island of Cefalu".

White was convinced that an international gang of blackmailers were responsible for "H"'s death. On the night "H" died the two men had dinner together in London, and it was on his return to Cambridge that night that "H" met his death. At the "Trocadero Grill" that night, White says that "H" had been "full of plans for a visit to Paris to meet some of the leading French Communists".

However in addition to this undercover anti-communist activity White subsequently found out "how deep H. had been, not in communism but in the traffic in women and drugs".

"H" according to White was "In Name, Manner and dress . . . . the complete younger son of a peer", which he was. He was a "glib-tongued young man with the pale, rather stupid face crowned with untidy fair hair. . . . . ".

After dinner at the "Trocadero" "H" returned by motorcycle to Cambridge, where he lived in a flat "almost opposite the University Arms". The following morning "workmen cycling to work in the half light" found his body lying by the roadside, on the Bishop Stortford to Newport Road with his motorbike "a twisted mass of metal lying in the ditch". White recalls that the inquest found that "he had taken the corner too fast in the dark, crashed and broken his neck". White was not convinced by the inquest. He had "ridden hundreds of miles on the back of his motor cycle and knew him to be a magnificent and very careful driver, not the sort of man who takes corners too fast on a road he knew like the back of his hand".


Ashby Pritt is referred to in all of White's autobiographical books, but named in only one. He was clearly a powerful influence on White. Pritt worked in the IRA during the troubles 1919-20, at one time acting as a courier for Michael Collins. He died, rather like "H", in a motor cycle accident in Yorkshire, on the York to Stockton Road in September 1929. Three weeks earlier he had been shot at. As in the case of "H", White did not believe that the inquest was correct in deciding that his death was accidental. Pritt was, according to White, " a good-looking young Irishman who was also interested in Political intelligence", whom he had met around 1923. From white's account it is possible to glean some quite remarkable claims for him:

"After the truce was signed in Ireland and the Free State government set up he worked for that Government's intelligence service inside the I. R. A. , and the information he collected played an important part in rounding up the rebels".

One of Pritt's main contributions to this intelligence work was in taking photographs of "many of the important leaders". He was able to do this by providing them with snaps of themselves posing with revolvers or rifles to give to their girlfriends and wives. Afterwards Pritt returned to England where "Ashby spent most of his time in the North, as he had a job in York". He continued collecting information on the IRA exiles in Britain but concentrated on gathering information on the "traffic in women and drugs, which at that time was quite considerable in Hull and Sunderland".

Although Pritt was "one man working on his own", he met White periodically in London, "generally on his way to or from Paris, Dunkirk, Marseilles or Paris". Most of the information he collected "went to the League of Nations' Special Commission in Geneva and contributed to the breaking up of several gangs".

Eventually Ashby decided to settle down. He married, "taking a farm outside York". Soon afterwards his wife wrote to White of Ashby's death, as a result of a motor cycle accident. Like "H" he had been found dead on the side of a road "on which he travelled nearly every day" with "the twisted remains of his motor cycle in the ditch".


Rose was, according to White, "an elderly lady of independent means with an inside knowledge of the then flourishing Communist Sunday School Movement". She died naturally before the Second World War. But what is perhaps interesting about specialism in Sunday schools is the degree to which the Economic League (or rather its fore-runner National Propaganda) and the British Fascists were also interested in the activities of these Sunday schools. The description of Rose, and what is known about the leading woman member of the British Fascists, Rotha Linton-Orman, are so close it would seem likely that White has deliberately used "Rose" as a cover-name for Linton-Orman. This is especially true as elsewhere he admits to have come into contact with her in 1923, and makes no secret of his admiration for her.


Ted was "a retired mining engineer who had made enough money in Australia and Canada to live in modest comfort. He was in close touch with Percy Gladding and other top communists working inside the Engineers' Union. . . ". Like Rose he died a timely and natural death before the Second World War.


Bill, "a loco man who drove expresses out of Kings Cross", was still alive in 1970.


"The English Max", "a naturalist who later entered government service". According to White, Max died, "much too young", in 1968 It is impossible not to draw the conclusion that this Max was Maxwell Knight, later "uncle Max" one of the first children's broadcasters, who joined MI5 in 1925 and was to be one of its key agent runners.7


Valerie "after months of patient plodding got a job in ARCOS, the soviet trading organisation later raided by the police". She eventually ". . . worn out and suffering from consumption, died during the Second World War".


Hops was a retired CSM in Royal Signals, "specialised in red propaganda in the forces" and died after the Second World War.

White's frustratingly fragmentary and, perhaps deliberately inaccurate, accounts of his own activities and "McGill"'s organisation suggest much closer links between many of the organisation which have attracted the attention of historians of the radical right during the 1920's. Even a cautious analysis of what White wrote about it and its members over the course of thirty years must suggest that Section D provided a functional link between MI5, the Economic League, British Empire Union, the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies and also (through both White and Maxwell Knight) with the British Fascists and (through White) with the organised anti-semitism and anti-socialism of Nesta Webster.


White, without stating it openly, is clearly trying to underline the links between Makgill's, and then his, organisation and MI5. The inclusion of references to ARCOS and Gladding, which were the focus of two major operations between the wars, and the barely disguised reference to Maxwell Knight as a member of the group can not be coincidental.

The Arcos Raid

The All Russian Co-operative Society (ARCOS) was the Soviet Trade Delegation, and thus the focus for a considerable amount of attention by militant anti-communists and anti-socialists. After the General Strike, Sir William Joyston-Hix (the Diehard Home Secretary) targeted it as part of his own obsessive desire to show that the Strike had been a Soviet plot. On 11th June 1926 he claimed that ARCOS had made large payments to the British Cooperative Wholesale Society and that this had been immediately passed on to trades unions. Four days later he was forced to withdraw the allegation8. It was in May 1928, however, that Joyston-Hicks ordered the raid on ARCOS, in intriguing circumstances. It was a controversial move intended as a trawl for evidence to justify breaking off diplomatic relations with the Soviets. But as such it was a failure and a cabinet committee decided that it had not produced evidence of ARCOS's or the Soviet Legation's involvement in espionage.

The circumstances that led to the raid would seem to lend credence to White's heavy handed hint that Section D were involved. In March 1927 a somewhat bohemian Lloyds underwriter named George Monkland had been approached by a former intelligence officer called Wilfred Macartney who had become a Communist some two years earlier. He asked Monkland to supply him with information, from Lloyds, on shipments of armaments to the USSR's neighbours. This at first he seemed to do to Macartney's satisfaction and, as a result, he was promised £50 a month for his services.

On 11th March however Monkland went to see Blinker Hall, who immediately contacted Kell. Monkland was run as a double agent until November when Macartney and his Soviet Control, Georg Hansen were arrested. Even so, the evidence Joyston-Hicks had so far obtained by this operation was not, according to the cabinet sufficient to initiate a breach with the Soviets. His chance came when he received information from an ARCOS employee that the trade delegation had obtained a copy of the Army's signals training manual. According to Christopher Andrew this information had "possibly" come "via Monkland", though he offers no justification for the assumption.

The raid lasted three days and it took the Special Branch officers a further three days to sort the papers they had seized. They found nothing of any significance. Nevertheless with the help of some earlier intercepted Soviet telegrams, Joyston-Hicks and the government pressed on and broke of diplomatic relations at the end of May after an uproarious commons debate. According to Andrew it was a disaster for British Intelligence. The Arcos raid had produced insufficient evidence to justify either the raid or the severing of diplomatic relations.

To justify both of these results the government had had to compromise its interception and cryptanalysis of Soviet telegrams, thus prompting the Soviets to tighten up their security and effectively end this source of information until the Second World War. It could well be possible the information which prompted the disastrous raid came not from, or rather "via", Monkland as Andrew suggests, but from section D's insider - Valerie. In this case it might have come via any number of connections - either Blinker Hall, White's own direct connections with the Intelligence community, other links between the Economic League and Joyston-Hicks, or perhaps most likely via Maxwell Knight, who was after all MI5's agent runner, as well as a member, or former recent member, of Section D.


Of course the extraordinarily remote possibility remains that "McGill", his organisation and its "Section D" was a fiction created and maintained by White. However there was a group which seems to have shared the same interests as Makgill's group - the National Vigilance Association and the International Bureau for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic. This had found itself in conflict with Aleister Crowley when he sent them a mischievous letter complaining about prostitution in a remote rural area of Scotland9. The group also gave evidence to the League of Nations inquiry, which in its report thanked the group's secretary, William Alexander Coote, for his assistance. In 1919 National Vigilance was based in 76 Victoria Street where the Merchant Seamen's League, run by J Havelock Wilson who had close links with the British Commonwealth Union and the British Empire Union and Makgill's Anti German Union, also had offices.


It becomes harder and harder to make sense of the interconnections of these various groups - National Propaganda, British Commonwealth Union, British Empire Union and Makgill's intelligence service - if one persists in treating them as independent of each other. For example Baker White is generally regarded as only having joined the Economic League after the General Strike, and that is certainly the impression he seems to have tried to give in his writing. However in 1924 the Economic League became the British delegate to an international organisation called "The International Entente Against the Third International". The representative at its meeting was, according to his own testimony, John Baker White - two years before he became Director of the League, before he had joined Philip Gee's section of the Mining Association, and in fact while his only acknowledged involvement was as an agent for Sir George Makgill. According to Baker White:

"This organisation was founded by a Swiss avocat, Theodore Aubert, after his successful defence of Poluline, who killed Varovsky, the Soviet envoy to Switzerland, and it was the first attempt to co-ordinate on a world scale the activities of anti-Communist organisations in the different countries. It achieved much and could have achieved more had not the Germans, Italians and Japanese attempted to use it as a medium for totalitarian propaganda. "10

Although the Entente, which survived until the end of the Second World War has seemingly been relegated to the historical dustbin, from the point of view of the development of the Economic League the Entente was significant. It provided continental links and an entry into the international industrial world for its young director, John Baker White. From the late twenties onwards he was a regular visitor to France and Germany, where by means of the Entente he seems to have had some high level links with the German armament manufacturers Krupps:

"My work took me to Germany quite often in the years before and after the Nazi accession to power. . . . I met Udet in the bar of the Cologne airport when he was a stunt pilot . . . The next time I saw him was years later in the uniform of a colonel in the Luftwaffe. . . . In the Kaisserhof at Essen . . . a young Ruhr coalmaster told me that the Nazis were "a pack of silly schoolboys. " Like a lot of the industrialists he was cute enough later on to see the way the wind was blowing. He bought his way into the Party, and today is a Gruppenfuhrer in the SS. . . . . I caught glimpses of German rearmament. On successive visits to Krupps I found that the number of shops into which I was not taken steadily increased, until it was put to me very politely but quite plainly by Dr Jennes that they would be delighted to lunch and wine me at the Essenerdorf and take me for a walk round Essen's beautiful gardens, or anywhere except inside the gates of Krupps. "11


There are major chapters of British twentieth century history missing. Private papers have been destroyed, public papers also destroyed or locked away perhaps indefinitely. Politicians and officials have always lied, and have always been infatuated by their own and others' significance. Without access to significant documents it is simply impossible to establish an accurate picture of how life in Britain came to be as it is now. And of course the very reason we are still denied access to some historical documents is precisely because that information would influence our views of history.

The "high politics" of Hansard and the carefully weeded personal and public files represent only one, albeit rich, stratum of significant events. Especially in a limited and imperfect democracy like Britain the decision making process is fantastically complicated, and the power to influence decisions frequently rests with those who influence the political agenda and control the flow of information, rather than with those who superficially have the authority to make a final decision. Without access to all the relevant information it is inevitable that myths will be created or maintained.

The emergence of a secret state after the First World War is probably one of the most important incomplete chapters of British history. There is much solid academic historical research that needs to be done, a thoroughly researched history of Diehardism and a competent biography of Blinker Hall spring to mind immediately, although the Admiralty controls access to the latter's papers. But this sort of research alone cannot tackle the complexity and the elusiveness of the sources. The historian of the secret state is less a historian and more an odd sort of archaeologist, piecing together fragments in the hope of forming some sort of comprehensible and credible picture.

In examining the early history of the Economic League I have had to rely on extraordinarily unreliable primary sources and, generally partisan secondary sources. Too often these reach a dead end just as they begin to get interesting. John Baker White, for example, was an accomplished propagandist who laid a trail of tantalising clues peppered with errors. Whether these errors were deliberate or otherwise can only be guessed, that he had a motive and the opportunity to re-write his own corner of history cannot be denied. The question, in trying to determine the historical significance of the League and its satellites, is not whether anything White wrote was a hundred percent accurate but whether any of it was a complete fabrication.

He certainly believed that most effect propaganda was "The Big Lie" surround by countless little truths and half truths. That it is unlikely that White fabricated "McGill" and his organisation is borne out by the fate of the real George Makgill's personal papers. After discussing what I presumed to be the identity of "McGill" with fellow researcher John Hope, he undertook what we expected would be the hopeless task of tracking down any of Makgill's surviving papers. We were however surprised to eventually discover that many of his papers had been preserved. Unfortunately they had been deemed to be so sensitive and potentially dangerous that they had been entrusted to the care of the Vatican.

5. Chapter 4: The Economic League and the General Strike

By 1924 Admiral Hall's overt involvement with the League had come to an end. His position as chairman was briefly taken over by Sir Aukland Geddes. The League's "5th Annual General Report" of 1925 recorded that:

"One of the first tasks initiated by Sir Aukland Geddes was the compilation of a chart and dossier of socialist and subversive organisations and their interlocking directorates. Arrangements are in hand for a permanent clearing house of information in connection with alien organisations and individuals. A document containing a considerable body of information on "red" ramifications and methods had already been circulated in confidence to district Economic Leagues. Supplements to the documents will be circulated from time to time."

Geddes was in many ways a more appropriate figurehead for the League which was, at least in public, trying to distance itself from the Conservative and Unionist Party and establish itself as an non-aligned pro-industry lobby. Hall was one of the most outspoken and right wing "Diehard" Unionist MPs. Geddes on the other hand was a distinguished surgeon who became Director of Recruiting at the War Office from 1914-1916 then sat as a Unionist M.P. for Basingstoke for just three years between 1917 and 1920 during which time he was Minister of National service, Minister of Reconstruction and finally President of the Board of Trade in the Coalition Government. In 1920 he left Parliament to become (until 1924) British Ambassador to the USA. On his return he must have become director (or president or chairman) of the League. Although a Conservative, Geddes was a far less controversial figure.

By 1924 Hall had already made clear in the House of Commons his attitude towards the Labour leaders "unusual even by the standards of the Tory "diehards""1 According to "Fifty Fighting Years", by 1925:

"The League had also succeeded in developing a non-party image, keeping clear of party politics and receiving no support from political funds".

Dubious as this was, it would have been impossible to have presented to any such claim if Hall had been publicly involved. Geddes was appointed president of National Propaganda with a then considerable salary of £4,000 per annum2. But in fact he held the post for barely a year before leaving to pursue an even more lucrative career as an industrialist. Under his presidency National Propaganda had been wound up and replaced by The Central Council of the Economic League. On April 8th of 1924 this had launched an appeal for £100,000 per year to support a "National Campaign to Combat Socialism". Contributors were asked to mark subscriptions for either the General Fund, British Empire Union or National Citizens Union. The appeal was signed by Colonel O. G. Armstrong, president of the FBI; Sir Vincent Caillard, of Vickers; Lord Gainford, coal owner; Lord Invernairn; Sir Allan Smith, chairman of the EEF; Sir Alan Sykes, chairman of the Bleachers association; and Evan Williams, president of the Mining Association of Great Britain3.


The Central Council of Economic League's "5th Annual Report", marked "for private circulation only", provides an impressive account of its activities during 1924:

"The operations throughout the country are conducted under the direction of Local Economic Leagues, with area offices located in convenient centres. The principal media of propaganda activities has been the Economic Study Club and Speakers' Club, and the regular staff of speakers has been retained, thus consolidating and strengthening the work as a result of their local experience".

If there was any doubt that the principal target of the organisation was the Labour Party this is dispelled in the introduction to the report:

"The period covered by the Annual report witnessed the establishment in office of the first Labour-Socialist Government. The question whether or not "Labour" is fit to govern has thus become academic. "Labour" HAS governed and a cabinet of Socialists is tacitly accepted by the nation as a potential alternative to a Cabinet of Constitutionalists."

The report cautions its readers against being complacent about the short lived nature of MacDonald's government and reminds them that, despite being defeated, the Labour Party had actually increased its vote by 1,000,000. It goes on to argue:

"The fact that there were found five and a half million British citizens willing to place in power as well as in office a body of men plunged in uneconomics, pledged to the nationalisation of industry, and plighted in troth to subsidise Russian Bolshevism with British savings, is a measure of the educational work that remains to be done."

The report then describes the activities of its various local branches:

Lancashire and Cheshire Economic League: Operating from Royal Central Chambers in Manchester, this was chaired by Sir William Clare Lees and was also represented on the Central Council by Lieutenant Col. Sir Alan J Sykes. It claimed to have held 1,417 meetings of various sorts attended by 333,497 people. F. W Astbury MP was a member of its executive.

Liverpool Economic League: Operating from 10 Hatton Gardens it was chaired by Sir Max Muspratt and claimed to have organised some 200 meetings. Also on its executive committee was J Sandeman Allen MP.

Greater London Economic League: Operated from the Central Council's HQ, then at 2 Millbank House, and chaired by Neville Gwynne. Its 595 meetings were attended by 145,000 people. "A special feature of propaganda in London" it claims is "Dinner- hour talks" to employees inside factories". The work of the League's paid workers was by 1923 being augmented by "25 working men, all of whom are trades unionists and constitutionalists".

South Wales Economic League: Operated from 46 Stuart Street in Cardiff. It was represented on the Central Council by its chair, Frank Shearman and James Miles.

Leeds Economic League: Held 751 meetings attended by 111,000 people.

Sheffield Economic League: Held more than 1,000 meetings

Huddersfield Economic League: 347 meetings attended by 32,000

Keighley Economic League: One of the small districts holding just 295 meetings with a total attendance of 32,000

Women's Work (West Riding): A potentially fascinating area of the League's work it disappears in subsequent reports, although in 1923-24 it held 133 meetings attended by 5,400 women and 74 study circles with a total attendance of nearly 1,000.

North East Coast - National Propaganda: A split district with separate executive committees for Tyne and Wear, operating from 10 Leazes Terrace, Newcastle, and one for Tees and Hartlepool. These were represented on the Central Council by Launcelot E. Smith although the Tyne and Wear executive included Clive Cookson who would remain a League stalwart for all his life, and Major General Sir R A Kerr Montgomery.

Hull and East Riding Economic League: Operated from 5, Myrtle Street, Hessle. It noted its gratitude to the local press for "the very comprehensive reports they have given of the meetings in the area". They also recorded the establishment of a branch of the "Children's Faith Crusade" in February 1923. "Results to date are encouraging" it reports ".... The largest Communist Sunday School has been closed". The district's chair was G. F. Robinson.

Barrow-in-Furness Economic League: Operating from Hector House, Newbarns its 578 meetings included afternoon classes for the unemployed.

Midland Counties Economic League: Chaired by Gilbert Vyle it operated over a massive area which included Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It claimed to have been particularly active in mining areas during a ballot of miners on the National Wages Agreement - "it being of interest to note that in all areas where the League concentrated the vote was for acceptance of the terms submitted".

North Wales Economic League: A small and shortlived branch of the League more or less run, it would seem, from Lancashire and Cheshire or Liverpool.

While the League claimed that Aukland Geddes had commissioned the dossier on the activities of socialists in 1924, much of the work must have already been done. Hall had brought with him from Naval Intelligence a substantial body of domestic intelligence. He was also expert in the sort of espionage and information gathering network the League would have needed to produce such a dossier. The League certainly also have access to the secret intelligence network operated by Sir George Makgill, and the sophisticated intelligence gathering operation run by anti-socialist and anti- semitic activist Nesta Webster. Webster was a close friend of John Baker White's mother, and had collaborated with her on an anti-communist pamphlet.

The scale of the Leagues' operations in 1924, as recorded in its 1925 annual report, means that it must have been receiving high and low level intelligence not only from the thousands of students at its study circles but also from the firms owned or represented by the 150-200 Central and Regional Council members. It was a considerably more diverse and sophisticated operation than the state's own - concentrated by 1924 in a tiny MI5 and an unsophisticated and chaotic Special Branch. The fledgling intelligence community was fortunate in having the Economic League's extensive network to augment its own slim resources. For, in the early 1920's, not only could the Economic League collect and collate intelligence, it could also pass it to the state's intelligence services through contacts, like Maxwell Knight, Hall and Aukland Geddes.

Aukland Geddes did not remain President of the League for long, leaving to enjoy a successful career in Industry. He had probably contributed little new to an organisation that was by then growing under its own momentum, and was already established as the most coordinated anti-Labour machine this country has ever seen. Thus it was well placed to play an important role in the General Strike in 1926. The Government and industry decided to try to break the strike by using volunteers, rather than by force and the army. This meant that they needed every bit of intelligence the Leagues could provide and all their expertise in mobilising volunteer scab labour by means of the National Citizens Union.

Even before the War there had been much talk of a general strike by the revolutionary left, who saw it as some sort of prelude to a revolution. But the General Strike caught the left and the trade unions on the hop. The miners' strike, which was its cause, had certainly been precipitated by the coal owners, and other employers, determined on a show down with the unions - and if necessary with Baldwin's Tory government. A bloody victory over the miners would achieve their aim of reducing wages, increasing the output of the mines and stabilising the price of coal for years to come.The Strike was a critical test for the League's organisation, and its success guaranteed its continuation. By 1926 the League had enough speakers and employees around the country to make a significant "intervention" both in the General Strike, which was over within ten days, and in the miners strike which continued for months afterwards.

While the League was making its intervention, several of its founders were playing a much more central role.


Williams was still the president of the Mining Association, which represented the coal owners in the strike. In 1926 he was also president of the National Confederation of Employers Organisations (NCEO).The deputy secretary to the cabinet, Tom Jones, was not deceived by the poor impression created by Williams:

"Evan Williams is an insignificant Man. He is by this time quite able to make a clear and measured statement in quiet and reasonable tones, and one hardly realises the full gravity of the issue at stake"4.

The Mining Association's submission to a Royal Commission on the Coal Industry in 1925 had laid down the line followed by the owners during the strike:

"On every occasion the owners have deprecated this policy of concession to threats originating in the left wing of the Miners Federation ... The Mining Association reiterate their strong objection to doles from the Exchequer to bolster up uneconomic rates of wages and conditions of employment. Freedom from political interference in the economic sphere is a condition essential to the health of Industry, and the Association trust that the earliest opportunity will be sought for the removal of the subvention in aid of wages in the coal industry."5


Riverdale, not to be confused with Earl Balfour, was another of the League's founders who had been lobbying for a reduction in miners' wages. He was a Sheffield steelmaker and Chairman of the National Federation of Iron and Steel Trades Manufacturers. As such he submitted a memo to the Government Committee on Industry and Trade (of which he was also chairman!) which was investigating the iron and steel industry: "We have had pressed on us a good deal that the iron and steel industry is in a very difficult state, but when we come to look into the problem it comes back very much to the question of coal. Coal is fundamental. Therefore until the coal question is settled, you cannot, in my view come to any definite conclusions regarding the iron and steel industry. Coal is cumulative in every direction."


Smith was director of the Engineering Employers Federation, and played a more intriguing role in the strike. Ramsay MacDonald took Smith to see Baldwin in the hope of putting together a solution which might get the miners back to work. It was, as even Baldwin could see, a proposition which the miners would throw out. Smith's proposal was that the miners return to work with wages temporarily reduced by 10% until a tribunal could be set up to fix a permanent wage.6


Although Gainford is not named by the League as being present at Dean's Yard in 1919, he was by 1923 a member of the Central Council of the Economic Leagues, and after the strike became its president. Although he was a Liberal Peer, a former Liberal Minister and a Quaker, Gainford was also a coal owner in Durham and in 1927-8 President of the Federation of British Industry (FBI). From 1922 until late 1926 he was chairman of the B.B.C.. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, sought to broadcast an appeal for a settlement of the strike Gainford was drawn into the controversy.

Neither he nor Baldwin agreed with the Archbishop's appeal but neither were prepared to cancel the Broadcast. Gainford left the final decision with the B.B.C.'s managing director John (later Lord) Reith. To Baldwin and Gainford's relief Reith stopped the Broadcast.This remarkable episode does not seem to be the Archbishop's only encounter with Gainford during the strike. After the strike the Archbishop described Gainford as one of the owners "being most unhelpful throughout".7

SIR ADAM NIMMO and the other coalowners

Nimmo was, after Evan Williams, possibly the next most powerful coal owner in the country and one of the most aggressive in his attitude towards the strike. But Williams, Gainford and Nimmo were not the only mining employers who were active in the Economic League. A Labour Research Pamphlet dating from 19268 also noted the presence on the Central Council of the Lord Invernairn, Sir Clifford Cory MP and James Miles, who were coal owners, Philip Gee who ran the Mining Association's "Propaganda Department", and W. A. Lee who was the Mining Association's secretary. At least 8 of its 36 members were involved in the highest level with the Mining Association. Other coal owners representatives were involved in the League's District organisations:

In Leeds: A. W. Archer (South Kirby, Featherstone and Hemsworth Collieries)

In the North East Coast district: Clive Cookson (Mickley Coal Co and Cowpen Coal Co), J. H. B. Forster (Chislet Colliery, Easington Coal Co, South Hetton Coal Co), Francis Priestman (Priestman Collieries, Ashington Collieries), Reginald Pease

(Bearpark Coal and Coke), Sir Arthur N. L. Wood (New Ingleton Collieries and Harton Coal).

In Sheffield: A Blenkinsop and Sir William Ellis (Dalton Main Collieries), W. Newton Drew (Hoyland Silkstone Coal and Coke).

In South Wales: Trevor S. Jones (Lewis Myrthyr Collieries, Titdonkin Myrthyr Collieries), W. H. Newton (Locket Merthyr Collieries (1894) Ltd and Glyncorrwg Collieries), E. L. Hann (Powell Duffryn Coal Treatment).9


The Economic League's founders were men of power and influence within the organisations which represented the interests of industry in general and especially those most closely involved in The General Strike. One of those organisations was the Federation of British Industry (F.B.I.). In 1924 Sir Eric Geddes, brother of Sir Aukland, and a unionist M.P. and minister had been its president. In the year following the strike Gainford became its president, and Evan Williams would later become its Vice- President. Gainford was succeeded by fellow Central Council member Lieutenant Colonel the Hon F. V Willey as president. But during the General Strike the FBI's President was Sir Max Muspratt, a member of the League's Central Council and Chairman of the Liverpool Economic League. At the same time another Central Council member, Sir Edward Manville, was an F.B.I. vice president.According to the former Archivist of the C.B.I. (which was formed out of the F.B.I. in 1965) the F.B.I. and Economic League worked closely during the strike:

"The F.B.I. gave its headquarters and regional organisation to help the Government's supply and transport activities. The F.B.I. combined with the Economic League to provide information on coal stocks and shortages, the availability of lorries, the levels of employment, etc."10

The League does not, however, mention the F.B.I. in its official history "Fifty Fighting Years". We do know however that it featured strongly, though not at first directly,in the development of the League's parent group the British Commonwealth Union.


Both Blinker Hall and John Gretton also played prominent roles in the strike. Gretton was for a time Treasurer of the main strike breaking group "The Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies" and Hall was the general manager of the Government's strike breaking paper the "British Gazette" which was produced on the Morning Post press, then owned by Northumberland, and edited by Winston Churchill. An intriguing reference in Christopher Farman's book, "The General Strike, Britain's Aborted Revolution", suggests Hall had another role. Farman notes correspondence between J C C Davidson and Hall (whom he mistakenly refers to as the Conservative's Principal Agent, a post from which Hall had been dismissed in 1924) concerning the possibility of recruiting the dockers' leader Ben Tillett:

"(Tillett is) absolutely broke; is going to fight communism in the winter, and evidently wants financial help. The Prime Minister wondered whether you thought it might be worthwhile sending for Tillett. There is just a chance he might do business".11


The League might not mention the FBI in its official history "Fifty Fighting Years", nevertheless it does confirm that during the ten days of the General Strike it played an intelligence gathering role:

"During the General Strike the League made no attempt to hold meetings or distribute leaflets, but its staff were organised in a National Network to report daily to its Headquarters, then in Millbank House, on the position in their respective regions. This information was used to compile a daily report to the Prime Minister, for which the League received his warm thanks."

But the League's own "Seventh Annual Report" shows that its assertion that the League didn't hold meetings or distribute leaflets is nonsense. In Keighley, 20,000 "daily news bulletins were distributed" and "much "missionary" work was also carried out throughout this troubled period". In Liverpool, "over a quarter of a million leaflets were printed and distributed ... every endeavour was made to encourage the enrolment of volunteer workers". Lancashire and Cheshire also reported that "Every endeavour was made to encourage the enrolment of volunteer workers". In Leeds 65,000 copies of another "Daily Bulletin" were distributed, while in the Midlands a van and "Flying Squad" toured railway centres like Leamington attempting to persuade workers back to work.

"Fifty Fighting Years", which contains the Economic League's own revisionist history of its involvement in the General Strike is, to say the least, intriguing. Why should they deny holding meetings and distributing leaflets when their own contemporary reports state quite decisively that they did? Why make no reference to the recruitment of volunteer labour?

There are a number reasons why the League, more than forty years after the event, chose to be discrete. The General Strike was a disaster for the trade union movement, it was the most powerful weapon in its armoury and it had failed. Having tried and failed to make a General Strike work, the movement was left considerably weaker. The trade union membership was demoralised, the leadership, having discovered the limit of their movement's power and now also deprived of the ultimate sanction, were more inclined to compromise in negotiations. The Strike fundamentally changed the relationship between employer and employed in Britain by reinforcing the corporatist argument that the employees best interests were served by satisfying the interests of the employer. It was of course a line the Economic League and its forerunners had been putting forward since 1919, particularly through the National Alliance of Employers and Employed.

This was also an argument that the Economic League continued to use throughout its existence, and in order to do it effectively it could never have been honest about its anti-trades unionism. The League regularly pledged its support for "responsible" trades unionism, but that was trades unionism which operated only as a sort of sophisticated suggestion box not as a powerful economic force.

This argument was so crucial to the Economic League's own image of itself, and the image it always projected in the face of public criticism, that it is unlikely to have been happy to recount its full role in the General Strike or even its collaboration with the Federation of British Industries. For although the Strike had been a failure, it was regarded even by the right of the trades union movement as an heroic failure. But, of course, when "Fifty Fighting Years" was written it was far more a living memory than it is today, Indeed there was a substantial number of those who had participated in the Strike who were still working.

There were other reasons why the Economic League should have wanted to write this very important chapter of its history with an eraser rather than a pencil. A frank exposition of its role in the Strike would have perhaps alerted historians to its early, and embarrassing, links with the British Fascists. Perhaps even more damaging, it would alert them to some significant details about the Government's own strike breaking organisation the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies.


Once a call for a General Strike has been enacted there is only one way to defeat it. That is to mobilise a sufficiently competent workforce to do the key strikers' jobs. In 1926 enough key workers did come out to make the General Strike effective, and so without an effective strike breaking mechanism it would have been impossible for Stanley Baldwin's Conservative Government to crush it. That mechanism has generally been regarded as the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS).

It thus comes as a revelation to find that the OMS might well have been the brainchild of Sir George Makgill, leading light of the Central Council of the Economic League's satellite organisation the British Empire Union.

The establishment of a "Triple Alliance" between road transport and labouring , mining and rail unions at the end of the Great War had created an apparently, and potentially, invincible force. In anticipation of a concerted dispute with the "Triple Alliance", the government had established a special committee to prepare for just such a civil emergency and this had in turncreated an official strike breaking organisation known as the "Supply and Transport Organisation" (STO).12

The STO's began life in February 1919 when the Cabinet appointed an Industrial Unrest Committee (IUC). It performed disappointingly during the police strike of August 1919 and so when the railway workers went on strike the following month it was replaced by the confusingly named Strike Committee. This was given greater powers and put under the chairmanship of Sir Eric Geddes. The other members of the committee included Aukland Geddes (President of the Board of Trade and Sir Eric's brother), Walter Long (First Lord of the Admiralty), Winston Churchill (Minister of War), Edward Shortt (Home Secretary), George Roberts (the food controller), and Sir John Maclay (Minister of Shipping). As soon as the strike ended on 5th October, with the acceptance of the railwaymen's terms, it was decide to establish this committee as the Supply and Transport Committee, without the military representatives, who while enthusiastic members, had resisted suggestions that the armed forces should be used as strike breakers, thus risking mutiny, and had favoured using volunteers instead.13

By 1925 the guiding hand behind the Supply and Transport Committee was the diehard Home Secretary William Joyston-Hicks, known to most as "Jix". Although the committee was meeting infrequently much progress was being made at an inter-departmental level in establishing a Supply and Transport Organisation, built around the idea of regional emergency Civil Commissioners. Throughout this period, while a hastily agreed "coal subsidy" was postponing a show down with the miners, "Jix" was overseeing the building of the machine that might defeat the trade unions in the event of a general strike when the subsidy expired. In August 1925 he told the Special Constabulary to "quietly recruit". In October he told the Cabinet that, although no official arrangements had been made for recruiting volunteer strike breakers, a number of private groups had been established, including the British Fascists and the OMS.14

Although the British Fascists operated exclusively within the Conservative Party, they were too overtly "political" to receive much official encouragement. The relationship between the OMS and Joyston-Hicks, and thus the Government itself, was close and confusing. OMS had been established in the September as a "an association of loyal citizens", a neat formula that enabled it to maintain a non-political fiction. Its figureheads included Lord Hardinge, Admiral Jellicoe, Major-General Lord Scarborough and Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Lloyd.

On the October 1st 1925, Joyston-Hicks told readers of the Times that he had been consulted by the "promoters of OMS" prior to its formation and had encouraged it. Anyone who allied themselves with the OMS, or any similar body, formed for the "sole purpose of helping the public authorities" he claimed, would be "performing a patriotic act". Joyston-Hicks told the Supply and Transport Committee that he believed the OMS would only function while the government didn't have an official mechanism for recruiting volunteer blacklegs. Although official contact between the government and the OMS was broken off in 1925, in the months leading up to the General Strike they were allowed to continue to meet with civil servants.

Thus faced by what can only be described as the government's sponsorship of the OMS, the leadership of the British Fascists left the party and formed a "non-political" group called the "Loyalists" which was promptly incorporated into the OMS. "At the present moment" they argued "effective assistance to the state can best be given in seconding the efforts of the OMS". It has always been doubted that the OMS provided a particularly effective strike breaking force. Its members were largely the unskilled middle classes though it provided some training for some volunteers. Its ability to mobilise was also patchy. The list of OMS volunteers which was passed to the government when the strike began however did contain 100,000 names.

But while Westminster could muster 7,000 OMS strike breakers, Leeds could only offer 400 names and there were none whatsoever from either Manchester or Liverpool. The skilled people handed on by OMS included "1,322 lorry drivers, 250 Ford van drivers for the GPO trained in OMS "schools", 144 bus drivers, 1,345 car drivers, 640 railway operatives, 166 workers for inland waterways, 91 tramwaymen, and 351 mechanics". It also included more than 1,000 skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers for the electricity industry.15

Perhaps the importance of the OMS was summed up by a cartoon in the St Pancras Strike Bulletin, which showed a volunteer driving a bus with a policeman, truncheon at the ready, riding shotgun and a pedestrian being knocked down. "We don't seem to get many passengers", says the policeman. "But" replies the volunteer "we are making a good impression!".16


Within 10 days of its start the General Strike was over. Only then, claims "Fifty Fighting Years", did the League send its speakers into action on the coalfields of Nottinghamshire:

"At first the League's speakers, to often hostile audiences, counselled a return to work and negotiations, arguing, as the League always has, that strike action is harmful to the nation as a whole."

In April, a month before the Strike, the Economic League had appointed John Baker White as its full time director on £400 a year17. Although he was only twenty three when he was appointed, White had already established his credentials for the job. He had been working for Makgill, in the most secret section of the National Propaganda network, since he was twenty. Through both his mother and his step father, Gerald Hartley Atkinson who was a senior figure in Scotland Yard, he had been introduced to some of the most senior figures in the state's own secret underworld. Nesta Webster was a close family friend, and prominent anti-semitic figure on the radical right.

More immediately useful was the fact that, after a string of unusual temporary jobs, White had been working since 1923 for Philip Gee in the propaganda section of the mineowners' Mining Association. Gee himself was of course a member of the League's Central Council. It is unlikely that, as a brand new director, White would have been able to influence the League's response to the General Strike itself. However his experience at the Mining Association will have left him well placed to co-ordinate its activities against the continuing miners strike. For Gee had insisted that as a "prerequisite" he should work for six months in a pit, and the pit chosen was Newstead, in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.

There, while he worked "in the office, lamp room, on the winding engine and siding, and below ground", he lodged with a Tory coalface worker called Sam Middup. While by his own account he admits that he was at first given a rough ride and accused of being a "bosses' spy", he was eventually accepted by some of the younger miners with whom he would go out drinking on a Saturday night18. The Economic League chose to concentrate its activities in Nottinghamshire not because it was familiar with it but because that is where the strike began to crack. When a local miners leader called Spencer set up a breakaway union the League set up a "flying squad" whom they called "Constitutional Workers". Its aim was to "get the miners back to work". These flying squads consisted of both experienced League speakers and new recruits "equipped with vans and leaflets".19

The new recruits were mainly unemployed ex-officers and included for example two ex-Black and Tans - who were habitues of Rayners Bar in the Haymarket". Although it was "a rough and tough campaign" this didn't prevent the League from descending at times to school boy pranks. At one stage, in order to prevent the two miners' leaders A J Cook and Herbert Smith from picketing the early morning shift at Clipstone colliery in Nottingham, White claims that he and colleague called Jim Lasbery hid the two miners boots after they left them out to be cleaned. The boots weren't found, nor any replacements, until the shift had gone in. "They did not strike again" he noted "and other pits soon went back". But tough as they were, even in Nottinghamshire the League's "special cadre of speakers and leaflet distributors ... didn't go out at night alone", and were forced to replace the windscreens of their vans with chicken wire.20

"Fifty Fighting Years" claims that the League's intervention: "at any rate in this one coalfield accelerated the return to work and the eventual collapse of the strike, a fact admitted by the miner's national president, the late Herbert Smith". Successful or not it was followed by an abrupt, and for its members, controversial decision:

"The coal strike of 1926...became the last official strike in which the League took any part", in future, it claimed, it would only intervene in "unofficial disputes". But with this in mind the "Constitutional Workers" were retained; their vans were equipped with public address systems and they were renamed the "Economic League Flying Squads".

The League seems never to have been particularly bound to this decision to restrict its attentions to unofficial strikes. Indeed this just one of a number of glaring inaccuracies, and straightforward attempts to spread misinformation about the League's role in the general strike. It remains difficult to assess the true effect of their intervention in the Strike. OMS, for example, is regarded as having been largely ineffective as a strike breaking force, although this perhaps underestimates its critical propaganda value. After the strike the government, or at least the civil service, discouraged its continuation. In this they were successful, helped perhaps by the fact that in October it lost its founder. That is if White is not entirely fabricating the idea that OMS was Makgill's brainchild.

The League's involvement in the General Strike cannot be dismissed lightly. If, as many people believe, the Strike failed because the TUC leadership lost its nerve not because it was crushed by the government, then it is important to assess the degree to which propaganda, and especially the image of a potential civil war, contributed to that loss of nerve.

6. Chapter 5: Fellow Travellers of Fascism

For most people today British fascism before the Second World War only means one thing - Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. People are genuinely surprised to discover that there was a powerful and active fascist movement in Britain for the best part of a decade before the BUF was established. Even amongst some academics there is a stubborn resistance to the idea that the first British fascist groupings were anything more than fascist in name alone.

Certainly the British Fascists - the first of the groupings to adopt the word fascism in its title - do not look like an authentic fascist movement: they had no obvious, charismatic leader and they operated at first exclusively within the Conservative Party. But if fascism was developing and growing in Britain at the same time as it was growing in Italy and Germany then this poses a serious challenge to the commonly held belief the fascism was an inevitable consequence to the punitive post- War peace settlement exacted by the allies, particularly from Germany. When Mussolini seized power in Italy in 1923, fascism was less an ideology or movement, and more a right wing Italian political party. The 1920s saw its transformation into an ideology, with implications for countries throughout the World. This translation from nationalist party to supra-nationalist ideology was not accomplished by German and Italian intellectuals and political activists alone and discussions by British sympathisers played a part in this transformation.

But this trade in ideas occured prior to Mosley's transformation from maverick Labour Minister to fascist and the British Union of Fascists in reality contributed nothing to the development of fascism as an ideology. Mosley was an imitator, he took fascism as he found it and as it had already developed. If the fascist ideas propagated by him were significantly different from those of his continental mentors it was that they were less coherent than those of Mussolini and Hitler. While the superficial trappings - the language, the uniforms, the brutality and anti- semitism - were the same, Moseley failed to imbue the BUF with any particularly "British" identity and this was of course an odd omission for a nationalist movement. Not only was the unmistakable "foreignness" of the BUF a barrier to its expansion and acceptance by some key figures in the establishment, it strengthened the position of its opponents and aroused the opposition of many of those who for the previous decade had been arguing the case for a form of fascism which was appropriate in the context of British political and economic life.

Although there is little evidence to connect the development of the Economic League during the inter-war period with the British Union of Fascists, there is evidence to link it with the older, and in some ways more authentic, fascist tradition. Just how deeply ingrained this older tradition was within radical right wing Conservative thinking is demonstrated by a press release issued in Rome by Winston Churchill on a visit to Mussolini in 1927:

"If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been wholeheartedly with you [Mussolini] from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. But in England we have not had to fight this danger in the same deadly form. We have our way of doing things".


Churchill, who was by this stage at least a semi-detached Diehard, was not only talking about the niceties of the ballot box. Within the Conservative Party there was an organised, militantly anti-communist, lobby preaching the sort of economic and political gospel which had by 1927 become the byword of Italian fascism. At the heart of this gospel was the concept of the Corporate State.

After the Second World War it became expedient to redefine the fascist economic ideology of "corporatism", so that it seemed to embrace both the totalitarianism of Stalin, and eventually the social democratic policies of the Labour Party. This profoundly misrepresents the pre war concept of the corporate state, yet the "revisionism" has been so successful that "Thatcherism" has been able to adopt the policies advocated by pre-war supporters of the Corporate State while at the same time proclaiming to be its deadliest enemy.

"Fifty Fighting Years" takes just two pages to describe the Economic League's activities during the 1930's. One of the pages is devoted to its anti-Nazi work. Even by the normally unreliable standards of autobiography this makes it a lop-sided work. For the major part of the decade a number of the League's top officials and members seem to have been on good terms with the Italian and German fascist states. In this they did not differ from many others in the political and industrial circles in which the League operated. This attitude seems to have changed in 1938, when according to "Fifty Fighting Years" The Economic League

". . . . . conducted a searching enquiry into the Nazi fifth Column in Britain and the "cover" organisations connected with it such as The Link, the Anglo-German Fellowship and the Nordic League".

However, 1938 was the year in which British opinion spectacularly turned against Nazi Germany and in which Hitler's foreign policy was almost universally recognised as a serious threat to British interests. The Economic League does not deserve its self congratulations for becoming anti-Nazi then. Indeed its ability to conduct a "searching enquiry" into the pro-Nazi "covers" was considerably helped by its already well established connections with them. "Fifty Fighting Years" boasts that when the League published its "documented exposure" in 1939 "The German Embassy crossed the Economic League's Director of its guest list". There were a number of good reasons why the Director, John Baker White, had been on that guest list in the first place.


The first fascist organisation in Britain, or at least the first to use "fascism" in its name,was formed in 1923. Reflecting its Italian influences it was called the "British Fascisti" but the following year, anglicised itself as "British Fascists Ltd". They functioned entirely within the Conservative Party, one of their activities being to steward Conservative Party meetings. Arnold Leese, a fanatical anti-semite who would later lead his own fascist troop, the "Imperial Fascist League" was a member for some time. But later he left them in disgust. It was not, he later wrote "Fascism as I understood it" but "Conservatism with knobs on".

What seems to have really inspired the British Fascists was their anti-socialism, and fear of a socialist inspired civil emergency. Their enrolment form committed the British Fascist to "render every service in my power to the British Fascisti in their struggle against all treacherous and revolutionary movements now working for the destruction of Throne and Empire". The British Fascists continued to exist (alongside the British Union of Fascists and Imperial Fascist League) until the late thirties. The high spot of their chequered history was the General Strike. They offered their help to the government who refused it "unless they gave up calling themselves Fascists and dismantled their military organisation". There was a disagreement about how they should respond to this and some formed "The Loyalists" which joined the government approved "Organisation For the Maintenance of Supplies". Those who did not accept the government's terms were not prevented from playing a significant strike breaking role as "British Fascists". By the time of the General Strike the British Fascists were claiming a membership of one million and although this is an exaggeration even a cautious estimate would have to number them in tens of, or perhaps a couple of hundred, thousands. The Economic League's connections with the British Fascists was more than coincidental. Birmingham M. P. Patrick Hannon was director of the British Commonwealth Union (BCU) from 1918-1925, and involved in setting up the Economic Study Clubs. In 1925/6 he was also President of the Birmingham Branch of the British Fascists. Other leading British Fascists, from groups coordinated by the Central Council of the Economic Leagues included Major Pilcher (from the BCU), Sir J R Prettyman and Sir Burton Chadwick (from the National Citizens Union) and Basil Peto and the Reverend Gough (from the National Party which if not actually coordinated by the League was a very close ally). These links between the League and the British Fascists were not confined to London, in Leeds for example a leading light of the League there shared a platform with the head of the British Fascists, Major Blakeney. They spoke against a backdrop of a portrait of Mussolini. In Liverpool the maverick secretary of the British Empire Union there, James McGuirk Hughes, almost certainly had links with the British Fascists and himself, under the pseudonym P G Taylor, was later to become head of intelligence for the British Union of Fascists' "Department Z"1.

John Baker White was, and remained, sympathetic to these early British fascists. Nesta Webster, his mother's friend and collaborator, who had inspired his own personal anti-socialist crusade, was a member of the Council of the British Fascists. Maxwell Knight, who was recruited to MI5 from White's "Section D" in April 1925 and by the early thirties was head of its section B5b and thus its leading "agent runner", was also remarkably the British Fascists' Director of Intelligence from 1924 until 19272. Another leading light of the British Fascists was Rotha Linton-Orman who was a dedicated campaigner against the "communist" Sunday schools and must thus have been working closely with the League. Indeed White, writing in 1942 while he was a member of the Political Warfare Executive, recalled her and the British Fascists affectionately:

"The "BF'S" as their opponents naturally styled them, were formed to meet the Communists on their own ground and fight them with their own methods. It was essentially a fighting organisation, and fight it did, in many bloody and sometimes considerable battles at street corners and in public halls. Before it split on questions of internal policy and finally disintegrated it had achieved an end for which it has never been given credit. It forced the Communist Party to abandon much of its militant activity, such as breaking up constitutional meetings by force, denying its opponents free speech and intimidating trade unionists. Miss Linton Orman was one of the bravest people I have ever met in my life, and here bravery was by no means purely physical. Had she been gifted with greater political judgment, with the backing of funds, and had she been able to formulate a constructive policy, the movement might have become an important factor in the political life of Britain. "

If Rotha was not he same person as "Rose" whom White identifies as the dedicated and hard working member of section D who was an expert on the Communists Sunday Schools and who also died naturally in the 1930's then one can only conclude that "Rose" and Rotha must have been extraordinarily close collaborators.


It would be a mistake to suggest that the economic, political and social policy of Fascism was only attractive to those who joined the British Fascists or later the British Union of Fascists. Mussolini had seized power in Italy in 1922 and quickly adopted an economic ideology which is, along with a strong centralised state, a characteristic of fascism. This ideology was called "corporatism". It was, according to one of its leading British exponents, Francis Yeats-Brown, "a practical way of adjusting the interests of capital and labour so that both may benefit" (Yates- Brown, "Everyman" 6/10/33). In a corporate state, industry was to be run by an oligarchy of representatives of owners and workers working to produce as much as possible, as profitably as possible. There was no suggestion these "representatives" should be elected and its clear anti-socialist line meant that trade unions could in no way be a part of the oligarchy. Corporatism was also, and this might come as a surprise to those who only now the term in its revised form, rigidly anti-interventionist. Government could have no role in regulating industry. The Economic League was enthusiastically corporatist although they preferred to use the expression "simple economics" of the corporatism being preached by their employees. Hence they advocated non-intervention and supported worker participation, but as an alternative to, not an extension of, trade unionism. Interestingly they clearly remain faithful to corporatism which makes the Economic League, rather than the consensus politicians of the 1950's and 1960's, latter day corporatists. In Britain the Corporate State had a number of intellectual advocates, of which the most important were Francis Yates-Brown, Harold E. Goad and Muriel Currey.

For them Corporatism was not just good for Italy, but was a political and economic philosophy to be adopted in Britain. In 1932 Goad published "The Making of the Corporate State" and in the following year produced, with Muriel Currey,"The Working of the Corporate State". In September of 1933 Yates-Brown assumed, for less than two months, the editorship of the weekly magazine "Everyman" and his notes clearly show his intentions:

"We believe in a revision of our constitution on the lines of the Corporate State. Italian Fascism would not work in England but we must be governed by a small group of men or one man with dictatorial power, for a period of years. Our parliamentary System is out of date. It neither guards our liberties or protects our purse. "

This was more than ambitious tub thumping. Yates-Brown's editorship of "Everyman" was a key part of a manoeuvre to bring about a corporatist coup d'etat in Britain. This plot centred upon a group of writers and politicians associated with both "Everyman" and its sister weekly the "English Review". This coup was organised by Douglas Jerrold and had as its figurehead Lord Lloyd. Its immediate objective was to oust the Baldwin-Ramsay MacDonald coalition. According to Maurice Cowling, Lord Lloyd had attracted the interest of between 50 and 60 M. P. s.3. The coup reached its climax at a "English Review" dinner at the Savoy on the 21st of November 1933 which was chaired by Lord Carson. The dinner was a failure. Lloyd was a poor speaker and while willing to round up support for corporatism he was unwilling to put himself forward as a contender to replace Baldwin.

The support that Lloyd had attracted was defiantly anti-coalition and anti-Baldwin but little more than merely sympathetic to the "corporate state". Jerrold had gathered together an exclusively male audience of 350 to hear Lloyd launch what was intended to have been the first salvo in "a public campaign; there was even talk of a "programme". "There was a enough anti-political dynamite in that room to have unseated half a dozen leaders" Jerrold later recalled in his 1937 autobiography4. But although "It was a potentially partisan audience", Lord Lloyd "with characteristic courage chose to talk national politics". Unfortunately the diners, claimed Jerrold, were the sort of devoted subscribers to the English Review who never read it. The explanation for this was, he argued giving us a clear picture of the make up of the audience: "Conservative politicians never read. Business men never read. Writers never read."

Lloyd's speech was not effective, but nor had it been received completely disastrously. "After dinner" Jerrold recalls "I had a drink with three friends, none of them active politicians. Two had decided to become Fascists; the third was by ten o'clock, a convinced Communist".

"The audience had certainly been charged with potential dynamite," he went on "but it had only succeeded in disintegrating itself." Since April at least the ground had been prepared. but it had not been prepared thoroughly enough. On April 8th Sir Henry Fairfax-Lucy, a conservative county councillor and parliamentary candidate had set the tone in the "Saturday Review". He argued for "a dramatic reform in parliamentary government. . . (which had been) killed by universal suffrage" and called for support for an system that "eliminated the evils of universal suffrage. . . whether we call this system fascist or corporative". In June, Douglas Jerrold, as the editor of the "English Review" wrote:

"The Conservative Party must turn its back on the present parliamentary system in favour of a system which will restore the reality of self government in the appropriate spheres and enable a strong central government to speak for the nation, and not merely for a class, on national issues. This means the adoption of functional and not regional representation. Thus alone can Labour be given a proper political status and a true equality. Industry must regain its liberty with the added dignity of an autonomous responsibility. For the problem of capital and labour there is no other honourable solution. A resolution in favour of the corporate state has already been passed by the Conservative Party. The time has come for a serious effort to give effect in the party programme to what is to-day only a pious demand. Public opinion demands swift and vigorous movement towards new objectives. It see the task of the state as the creation of conditions for independence, the secure ownership of property, and the corporate direction of industry by those engaged in it."

Though in essence fascist, the writers who were paving the way for the attempted coup were particularly concerned to distance themselves from the British fascist parties. Their aim was, by stealth, to turn the Conservative Party into a Corporatist Party. It was a clever strategy which would have brought about the fascist state without recourse to the militaristic boot-boy tactics associated with the BUF or the Imperial Fascist League.

On October 6th Yates-Brown wrote:

". . . . we are not fascists. Fascism is a foreign culture. We are English. Italians, Russians and Germans have solved their problems their own way. The British way will be different. "

He went on to stress their independence from the BUF; "Our interpretation of the corporate state as applied to England may be different to Sir Oswald Moseley's". A week later Jerrold told "Everyman" readers "the corporate state has nothing necessarily to do with fascism, or the colour of men's shirts. " The corporate state offered, he went on to explain, "a planned economy without the intolerable evils of constant and ill- informed political interference with trade and industry".

The failure of the "English Review" dinner came eleven days after the directors of "Everyman" had sacked Yates-Brown. The weekly's directors had taken their decision for purely political reasons, Yates-Brown's politicking had been well received by the readership and had not had a noticeably detrimental effect on circulation. For its part the dinner's failure was put down to a number of causes, the poor quality of Lloyd's speech and the ignorance of the diners being favoured by its organisers. In retrospect their optimism and impatience was the most likely cause. They had not prepared their audience sufficiently and were simply not ready to make converts of their sympathizers. Walter Elliot, the Conservative MP, in an interview with Vienna Frei Press also reflected some of the success of the soft fascist tradition within the Conservative Party:

"If one wants to do a new thing in this country, one must do it as an old thing. For that reason it seems to be courting failure to tell people that they first have to dress themselves in black shirts and throw their opponents downstairs in order to get the corporative state. . . . This new economic order, i. e. , the corporative state has already developed further in England than is generally recognised".5


The Economic League was pro-fascist without being overtly so. It argued, and still argues, for a "corporatist" economic theory that is however more fundamental to fascism than the anti- semitism, jack boots and the trappings of state terrorism which were the hallmarks of fascist states. But for extremely practical reasons it avoided presenting its economic theory as a political ideology. Although leading members of the League were sympathetic to fascism they seem to have been drawn from that section of the conservative establishment which aimed to cajole the Conservative Party into fascism, rather than to set up a disturbingly revolutionary fascist movement independent of the existing right wing network. Like the Economic League itself, this fascist conspiracy within the Party was largely a manifestation of the far right's deep-seated mistrust of parliamentary democracy. At the root of this mistrust was the fear of "Bolshevism" shared by the Conservative far right, the League and fascism. It was a fear shared by many Liberals and right wingers within the Labour party. For these anti-"Bolshevists" the prospect of even moderate electoral success by the Communist Party was enough to call into question the whole of the British Parliamentary democratic system.

However at no time does it seem that this section of pre-war fascist opinion would have allowed their sympathy with continental fascist movements and states to jeopardise the British Empire or "National Interest". The Anglo German Fellowship and other pro-nazi groups were abandoned by all but the most fanatical Nazi supporters. When German foreign policy became an obvious threat to British national, commercial, industrial and imperial interests The Economic League finally prepared for War.

7. Chapter 6: The Economic League Goes to War

After the General Strike the League consolidated its organisation under the guidance of its youthful director, John Baker White. A pamphlet from 1933, outlining its "Aims and Methods and Achievements", shows that the League had continued to run its "open air meetings" and "study circles", produced a steady flow of leaflets and "Notes for Speakers", and had used the press to good effect. The League was, in this pamphlet, ahead of its time in recognising the role of public relations and news management:

"In its work the League has never failed to realise the great value of the press as a medium for public education. In consequence it contributes letters and articles on economic questions to daily and weekly newspapers throughout the country."

The early 1930s were a time of massive unemployment; of riots and hunger marches. The Jarrow Crusade was just one of these marches, but it was by no means the largest or longest and it was certainly notable for the way in which it avoided political controversy and thus escaped violent opposition from police forces. Few of the hunger marches organised by the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) were so fortunate. The Economic League ran a vigorous campaign against the NUWM. The League sent "Flying Squads" of "Propaganda Vans", speakers and leafleters to towns and villages ahead of the marchers with the aim of encouraging or inciting an unsympathetic reception. The League's leaflets claimed that the NUWM was nothing more than a communist front and although its leader, Wal Hannington, was a member of the Communist party, it would not have been accurate to describe it as an exclusively Communist movement any more than in 1978 the Anti-Nazi League was after its first few weeks, an exclusively Socialist Workers Party organisation, or more recently the Anti Poll Tax Campaign was an exclusively Militant organisation. The fact that NUWM had identified and plugged a gap in the market place of political ideas and activity, thus drawing together many who did not and would never support the CPGB's political programme, did not concern the Economic League or its paymasters. Economic League leaflets were distributed ahead of the hunger marches, from vans emblazoned with the slogan "The Economic League Tells The Truth about Industry". One leaflet described the NUWM as "a purely Communist body" and continued:
"Anybody who supports the "Hunger march" stunt, either by taking part in it, by attending the demonstrations arranged in connection with it, or by giving money to the March funds, is merely assisting a COMMUNIST PLOT to cause civil disorder...
N.U.W.M. stands for National Unemployed Workers Movement. It also stands for National Unemployed Workers Misguided and Misled. N.U.W.M. also stands for

Curiously, by the time the Economic League got round to writing its autobiography in 1969 it chose to forget about the depression, and its campaign against the unemployed. Just as it also had chosen to rewrite the history of its involvement with fascism.


There are three well documented episodes during the 1930s which illustrate the degree to which the Economic League and the British Intelligence services were cooperating.

The "Invergordon Mutiny"

In September 1931 as a result of a long running dispute over pay, naval ratings in the Atlantic Fleet, based at the naval dockyards in Invergordon, refused to put to sea. The Admiralty tried unsuccessfully to suppress news about this Naval strike, but information began to leak out in the foreign press. But as a result it was presumed abroad that the secrecy meant that the strike was more serious than, in fact, it was. It quickly became known as "The Invergordon Mutiny" and though the strike lasted just two days, it was long enough to severely rattle the Admiralty. Naval Intelligence was convinced that the "mutiny" was the work of "communist agitators" and the Naval establishment was eager to find a explanation that did not point the finger at their own mismanagement of both the pay issue and the strike itself.

The ratings had returned to work after the Admiralty promised there would be no victimisation of the "mutineers". But within weeks of the strike, following a joint investigation by Naval Intelligence and MI5, more than two dozen ratings were discharged from the service. At the time, however, there had been no more than a handful of Communist Party members in the whole navy. One of those discharged men was Fred Copeman, who though not a Communist Party member at the time, did join the party a few years later. His story is told by historian Anthony Carew:

"After being discharged he got a job as a rigger in London and became active in the National Unemployed Workers Movement. In May 1932 the right wing employers' organisation the Economic League wrote to the Admiralty pointing out their interest in countering subversive activities in Industry and asking for any information they could have about him. The Admiralty duly obliged with the information that he had been discharged, "services no longer required" and was understood to be acting as an agitator on behalf of the Communist Party. In fact at the time he was not a member of the Party, but lost his job on the suspicion. "1

It had taken the Admiralty just seven days to reply to the League's letter. This confirms two things: that Copeman was being watched after his discharge and that the League was known to be a safe and reliable recipient of intelligence, in breach of the Official Secrets Act.

Another "Honours Scandal"

If the League had needed to explain its aims and objectives to Naval Intelligence, and it must be said that this is implausible, this was not so in the case of MI5. In the late 1920's a number of senior Conservatives and intelligence officers became concerned with the activities of a colourful and influential figure called Maundy Gregory. Gregory was accepting money from ambitious social climbers, often industrialists, in return for using his influence to fix them up with honours. Most, if not all, the payments to Gregory were channelled through the "National Publicity Agency", the liquor trade lobby run by Richard Kelly, who had helped Hall to run the League in its very first years. Gregory ran an exclusive dinning-cum-night club called "The Ambassador". His list of influential friends included both General Horwood, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Basil Thompson, the former head of the Directorate of Intelligence which General Horwood had earlier and successfully lobbied Lloyd George to close down.

It also included the Earl of Birkenhead, a cabinet minister and the most useful of Gregory's contacts when it came to the sale of honours. John Baker White also often dined at The Ambassador, and much later he told Gregory's biographer, Tom Cullen, that "The Ambassador Club became a favourite lunchtime rendezvous for members of Parliament".2

MI5 only became involved when Vernon Kell's second in command, Colonel O. A. Harker, was invited to lunch at The Ambassador. He was already aware of Gregory's reputation as a potential security risk and was horrified to find him dining alone with Birkenhead, with whom he was obviously a close friend. Harker began compiling a dossier on Gregory. When he became aware of the case of a midlands industrialist who had bought an honour which had not been forthcoming, he decided to act. The industrialist asked for a refund, which Gregory had refused in such a way as to leave himself open to a charge of blackmail. But since MI5 had no official constitutional position it could not bring a prosecution itself, and needed to persuade the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to do it for them.

Harker arranged for a meeting with Horwood, and also arranged to take with him, to support his case, John Baker White. White, Cullen writes, ". . as director of the Economic League, had previously carried out his own investigation of Gregory at the request of some of the League members". Armed with his dossier, and with Baker White at his side, Harker was on his way to see Horwood when they met Gregory coming from the Commissioners office, looking pleased with himself. "That does it - there's no point in going up", White recalled him saying, and "with that he tore the dossier into small pieces which he deposited in a rubbish bin as he went out. That was the end of the matter". Strictly speaking it was not the end of the matter.

Gregory was eventually, and discretely, prosecuted. Until the end of his life he was kept under the close and obsessive supervision of Richard Kelly. Fascinating as it is however, the strange tale of Maundy Gregory as told by Tom Cullen simply does not ring true. Why should anyone in the League want Gregory investigated? Are we to seriously believe that White was playing the honest broker in all this? Surely this was another "big lie" - to throw a smokescreen in front of a particularly disreputable piece of what would be today called "damage limitation". Certainly that would appear to be suggested by Kelly's involvement in the affair. Without more information it is impossible to do more than question the account given by Cullen and to suggest that it is a strange story that in reality was even stranger. On the other hand it is further evidence of the close, but ambiguous, relationship between the Economic League and MI5.

The Economic League vs "The Daily Worker"

In 1937 the CPGB's newspaper "The Daily Worker" obtained and published letters from Baker White to its representative in Manchester, Robert Rawdon Hoare, a cousin of the Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare 3. The League took the paper and its editor to court for breach of copyright. During the case the Labour MP and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Stafford Cripps, represented the paper arguing that since the letters discussed illegal activities, in breach of the Official Secrets Act, the Economic League could not claim copyright.

Cripps ingenious defence failed because the court was not prepared to adjudicate on the legality of the League's contacts with the police, the most controversial of the revelations. One of these letters described a deal struck between Hoare and one Detective Eckersley who:

". . . promised to give me as long as I liked looking over the Communist industrial file in their office . . I am also in touch with the Salford Police; their Communist man having already called at this office".

Another indicated that the police were going to supply the League with a report of a private CPGB meeting in Brighton. Following this court case, which hinged on the authenticity of the letters since it would not have been possible to own the copyright of a forgery, the League denied that one of the letters, or at least a section had been genuine. It was a letter from White to Hoare describing the League's relationship with the general secretary of the TUC, Walter Citrine:

"In most areas the League is openly and avowedly anti-communist. fight against communism, and most particularly in the trade unions. It may interest you to know that co-operation between Sir Walter Citrine and myself on this question is far closer than people imagine. . . Through an intermediary the League is giving assistance to one very important trade union in fighting communists in its own ranks."

These three different cases all point to the fact that in respect of domestic "counter subversion" there was real, practical, and possibly day-by-day, contact and co-operation between Economic League and the British state's hard pressed secret servants in MI5 and Special Branch.


The Economic League's contact and co-operation with the secret services was not restricted to their domestic operations. Since 1924 the League, and its director John Baker White, had been playing a significant part in international anti-socialist politics and espionage, through the International Entente and through Section D. During the thirties British espionage activities in Europe were, at least nominally, the responsibility of MI6 (SIS)4. But the situation was further confused by the creation of two private international espionage networks - one answering to Sir Robert Vansittart (head of the civil service) the other to Sir Winston Churchill, whose increasingly orthodox Diehardism was to keep him on Parliament's backbenches for the whole of the decade.

The success of fascism in Italy and the emergence of Nazism in Germany was a profoundly destabilising influence on Western European politics. For the last three years of the 1930s Europe seemed to be teetering on the brink of another World War. The reaction of the British radical right, of which the Economic League was a significant part, was complicated. Few on the radical right disguised their admiration for fascism as a political ideology, particularly its adherence to corporatism, authoritarian government, militarism, militant anti-communism and nationalism, and many had themselves influenced and been influenced by fascism for over a decade.

The radical right in Britain also shared, perhaps even shaped, many of the fascists' anti-semitic ideas, though shying away from their most brutal manifestation. Yet on the other hand there was a powerful anti-German strain in the thinking of the British right and they were elitist and therefore disturbed by the potentially uncontrollable populism of continental fascism. They were nationalists and imperialists and so, despite their admiration for Hitler and Mussolini, they could recognise the growing threat posed by the fascist powers to the disintegrating British Empire.

These apparently conflicting attitudes were not irresolvable. The radical right adopted a political position that is best described as pro-fascist but anti-appeasement, a line adopted by Churchill himself. Where fascism did not pose a threat to British territorial concerns, in Spain and Portugal, they were supportive. They were divided and uncertain in their attitudes to Italy even after its invasion of Abyssinia. They were determined, despite their admiration for Hitler and the Nazis, that if German rearmament could not be halted then it should be more than matched. They were equally determined that there should be no suggestion of compromise with Hitler's ideas of German expansionism from its colonies or post-armistice borders. Since the end of the Second World War the distinction between being 1930s anti-fascism and opposition to appeasement has been blurred, almost certainly deliberately.

Yet there was a real sense in which the fascist tradition within the Conservative Party's radical and nationalist right wing was in fact more authentically fascist than Oswald Mosley's pedestrian impersonations of continental heroes.


By the early thirties Mussolini had established the respect of almost all the Tories and many Liberals, including Lloyd George, and not a few Labour politicians, including Ramsay MacDonald. What was regarded as his "social experiment" seemed to be working, and his ruthless suppression of "Bolshevism" was widely envied. Attitudes only began to change when in 1935 Italy adopted a more aggressive foreign policy which culminated in the conquest of Abyssinia. Nevertheless there were still many respectable politicians who continued to support the Italians enthusiastically.

Harry Brittain was one, and from 1936 to 1939 he was the honorary president of "Friends of Italy"5. But supporting Mussolini was different to supporting Hitler. There were many British supporters of the Italian regime, and fascist policies in general, who found Hitler's pagan version of fascism unacceptable; who turned away from its irreligious undercurrents or the brutality of its anti-semitism.


There were a number of influential British political figures prepared to act as homegrown ambassadors for the Nazis. The Anglo-German Fellowship was their flagship, and at least three of the Economic League's central council members were on the Fellowship's central council - Lord Walter Runciman, Sir Harry Brittain and Lord McGowan. The Fellowship had grown out of a trade delegation to Germany in 1934. The driving force behind its foundation was Ernest Tennant, a merchant banker and friend of the Nazis international PR man von Ribbentrop since 1932. Tennant claimed to have been impressed by the way in which delegates who had been "extremely hostile to Germany" had changed their opinions as a result of the trip, and as a consequence he had established the Fellowship at the end of 19356. This is simply not a credible explanation.

Ribbentrop was German Ambassador to London and it was his responsibility to sell Nazism to the European governments. As a part of the propaganda campaign he proposed a strategy of fraternal organisations which would "serve the cause of public relations". The Anglo German Fellowship was certainly a part of this public relations exercise and was mirrored in Germany itself by the "Deutsch-Englische Gesellschaft".

On January 22nd 1936 the AGF's secretary, E. Lewis Wright, explained its objectives to the "News Review":

". . . it isn't numbers that matter we want "Names", otherwise how can we have any influence with the government and Foreign Office. "

It was soon able to boast a membership of 50 members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, 3 Directors of the Bank of England and "many generals, admirals, bishops and bankers". It's first publicity material emphasised that the it was "non-political" and membership "did not imply approval of National Socialism". However it did "ask of its members co-operation in the work of establishing contacts and removing causes of misunderstanding". But the far from politically naive "names" who joined the Fellowship must have been fully aware of their importance to Ribbentrop's mission and Nazi foreign policy. The presence amongst them of enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis would have been reflected at its meetings.

In 1939 a book called "Tory MP" written under the pseudonym Simon Haxey described the Fellowship's meetings:

"At meetings of the Anglo German Fellowship leading Nazis advertise the merits of Germany's internal and foreign policy; the society recommends and advertises the writings of Nazi politicians; it shows Fascist films; it arranges a "German educationalist" to address teachers in this country; it arranges invitations for its members to attend the Nazi congress at Nuremberg. "

The president of the Fellowship was Lord Mount Temple (Louis Mountbatten's father-in-law). He held this position until he resigned in protest at "Kristalnacht" in November 1938. Philip Cornwell-Evans was to become its secretary although he too became disillusioned with Hitler, and by 1939 was feeding information to the opponents of appeasement. In addition to the three known Economic League council members the AGF's council included the Lords: Arnold, Eltisley, Hollenden, Brocket, Londonderry, Lothian, Mottisone, Nuffield, Sempill, the Earl of Glasgow, Duke of Wellington and Unity Mitford's rabidly pro-fascist father Lord Redesdale. Members of Parliament included Sir Thomas Moore, Sir Assheton Pownall, Norman J Hulbert, Sir Earnest Bennett, Sir Alfred Tennant's claim that it was this experience that lead him to form the AGF at the end of 1935 Knox, and Admiral Sir Murray Sueter. Admiral Barry Domville, who was a successor to Blinker Hall as Director of Naval Intelligence and was to later found the overtly pro Nazi group called the Link, was also on the Fellowship's central council.

"Tory MP"'s claim that the AGF acted as a British platform for German Nazis, and arranged visits to the Nuremberg rallies is indisputable. Guests of honour at its regular dinners included the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick (July 14 1936), Ribbentrop (December 15 1936), Baron Von der Rop - apologist for Hitler's persecution of the Confessional Church (February 1937) and Field Marshall von Blumberg (May 14 1937). In 1936 Harry Brittain, Admiral Domville, Mount Temple and Sir Frank and Lady Newnes were "Ehrengaste" (guests of honour) at the Nuremberg Rally. The day before the official opening a reception was held to enable them to meet Hitler and his chief officials. Oswald Mosley's sister- in-law, Lady Ravensdale, called them "Ribbentrop's Kindergarten"7. In 1938 the AGF contingent at Nuremberg include Lord McGowan and the Lords Stamp, Hollenden and Brocket, but shortly afterwards "Kristallnacht" stung Mount Temple and nineteen other members into resigning from the AGF. Eight hundred and eighty remained as members.

Runciman was, in 1939, sent to Czechoslovakia by Chamberlain as an "impartial" British observer.


Runciman, Brittain and McGowan were not the only Economic League members to be drawn into the Nazi propaganda machine. In 1937 John Baker White's "Dover-Nuremberg Return" was published. Although mildly critical of National Socialism, White was lavish in its praise of Hitler: "a great man" with "very great ability, courage and perseverance". He emphasised Hitler's achievement: ". of the depths and given it back its soul. He has done more, he has given it that precious thing, self confidence, and hope in the future. "

The main cause of White's ambivalence to National Socialism was its socialist aspects. He recognised "In Germany today full-blooded Socialism is in practice so far as the administration of Industry and labour is concerned" and he was careful to stress that Nazism was "very similar to the beliefs of the social democrat and even of the less extreme communist". This extraordinarily inept political analysis, was precisely the sort of message the Ribbentrop wanted delivering to the British people. It also reveals that Diehard opposition to Nazism was based on the idea that it made to many concessions to working people.

Interestingly the idea that Nazism in particular, and fascism in general, was a political ideology of the left or centre has continued to enjoy some currency in Diehard and authoritarian Conservative circles. It is not an argument that stands up to scrutiny. Nationalism, fanatical anti-socialism and anti-communism, suppression of trade unionism and its replacement by employer-led free-enterprise corporate statism, racial intolerance and authoritarian government can hardly be said to be defining features of the left's ideologies. The most that can be said is that although fascism shared all these ideas with Diehardism, the diehards were even more ruthless and right wing in their attitudes to the interests of working people.

But merely being less right wing than the diehards doesn't, as some academics have argued, make fascism an movement of the political centre.

The conciliatory and sympathetic treatment of Nazism in "Dover- Nuremberg Return" must have been well received by the Nazis. It certainly fitted in with Ribbentrop's international propaganda exercise, and would have been enough to have ensured White's place on the Germany Embassy's guest list. For all its half hearted criticisms of Nazism, Baker White's declared objective was exactly the same as the AGF's and Ribbentrop's, "to remove causes of misunderstanding":

". . . . false statement, especially when accompanied by malicious cartoons, only serves to prevent two great nations understanding one another a little better. . . . Be this said for the German People. They are making greater efforts to understand us than we are to understand them. "


In "Dover Nurenburg Return" White was at great pains to play down Nazi anti-semitism:

"[I] found no evidence of bitter anti-jewish feeling amongst the ordinary people and no support among the mass of the Nazi party for Streicher's campaign".

He even went so far as to suggest that anti-semitism was more pronounced in the British fascist parties. As a lifelong friend and associate of Nesta Webster, the most determined and effective of Britain's anti-semitic propagandists, White can hardly have been an impartial witness to Nazi anti-semitism. However his suggestion that anti-semitism was just as pronounced in Britain in the 1930s as it was in Germany is almost right.

Even before the Great War and the Russian Revolution anti-semitism was a deeply rooted characteristic of British society. With these two events however there emerged a much more aggressive type of anti-semitism. The large German jewish emigre communities in places like the East End of London and the textile cities of Leeds and Bradford in Yorkshire had become the focus of much of the "anti-alien" agitation of the Anti-German Union and British Empire Union8. The Diehards, and especially Hall, Gretton and Makgill were particularly associated with this fiercer brand of anti-semitism. In the early 1920's forged papers, with the title of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were published which purported to be concrete evidence supporting the theory that there was an international Jewish, world - domination, conspiracy.

The Duke of Northumberland and his battalion of Diehards (which also included Basil Thompson) were at the forefront of agitation about the faked "Protocols"9. In his book "Industry and Empire" Prof. Eric Hobsbawm dismisses as a "journalistic impression" the vision of the years preceding the Great War as "a stable belle epoque of ostrich-plumed ladies, country houses and musical hall stars"10. They were on the contrary, he suggests, years when the "stable and flexible mechanism of British political adjustment ceased to function". They were the years "when an extreme right, not merely ultra-conservative but nationalistic, vitriolic, demagogic and anti-semitic, looked like emerging into the open".

Hobsbawm suggestion that the Great War "came as a respite from crisis, a diversion, perhaps even as some sort of solution" may well be wide of the mark. For on the contrary the War, followed by the Russian Revolution detonated the anti-semitic explosion. Makgill's Anti-German Union, and the British empire Union were its most public manifestation. After the War, and even after the "Protocols" were exposed as a fake, the Duke of Northumberland and Nester Webster, whom he published, continued to promote them as genuine and argued fanatically for the idea of a jewish world conspiracy. The influence and effect of Northumberland and Webster's work on the emerging National Socialists in Germany, and Mussolini in Italy was incalculable.

Faced by growing anti-semitism in Britain, within the British Jewish community itself there was increasingly radical and enthusiastic support for Zionism - the idea of a Jewish nation in Palestine. Ironically inside Parliament, and outside it, the Zionists rapidly gained the support of key Diehards and fellow travellers like Churchill. Not for the last time in history, racist politicians seized on the idea of "separate development" and created an unholy political alliance with leading members of the very community they were persecuting.

In the 1930's this Zionist/Diehard alliance, with Churchill at its centre, was further strengthened by events in Germany.

Writing after the War John Baker White was to claim that he, the League and Section D played a part in the pre-war anti-Nazi movement, and that the League even published, on behalf of Section D, one of the first exposes of the Nazi fifth column in Britain. As with all White's writing he presents a frustratingly inaccurate cocktail of small truths and big lies.


According to White, following "McGill"'s death his own section the intelligence operation run by Makgill had determined to continue to function, on a self-financing basis. This he says it did until the outbreak of the Second World War, during which a number of its members became involved in resistance movements. In his accounts of the activities of the post-Makgill Section D, White concentrates on investigations into alleged sabotage, especially on marine shipping, and two cases in particular - fires on board the Phillipar and the L'Atlantique. Throughout his autobiographical accounts he also makes much of Section D's investigation of German rearmament and the growth of Nazism. There are strong reasons to question whether White was, before the end of appeasement, the dedicated anti-Nazi he tries to make out. The fullest account of White's, and Section D's, investigations into sabotage on shipping are to be found in his 1957 book "Sabotage is Suspected".

Piecing together these accounts it is possible to establish a sketchy battle order for the post-Makgill Section D:

YVES - a recent Sorbonne graduate working on Le Matin in Paris, and still working as a journalist in 1970

MAX - "who was a "wagon lit" conductor between Paris and Geneva", shot by the Gestapo.

JIM FINNEY - active around Portsmouth and south coast ports, he died in 1955. Finney worked with White on investigation into suspicious fire on the French Liner the "Georges Phillipar" in 1932 and then on L'Atlantique in 1933.

GEORGE(S) PICARD a member of White's Phillipar and L'Atlantique team, based in Paris. He was later shot by the Gestapo.

MICK - a member of White's L'Atlantique team who was arrested in France and then operated from Brussels, he was still alive in 1957, but by the time was writing "True Blue" White had lost contact with him.

F. W. MEMORY - Journalist with the Daily Mail, he helped on the L'Atlantique inquiry.

GEORGE MARTELLI - Morning Post correspondent in Paris, he helped with the L'Atlantique. He seems to have had some intelligence connections, later wrote "The Man Who Saved London", a account of the French resistance organisation run by Michel Hollard.

IRMGARD - A "good looking and highly attractive young [German] woman" who obtained details of German rearmament and troop strengths and movements by acting as a pen pal to soldiers.

TRUDI - As well as being pen pal, like Irmgard, she also obtained a job as a door-to-door saleswoman of sewing machines in garrison towns like Essen, in order to obtain details of troop strengths and deployment.

UNNAMED - Costing clerk in Krupps, the German engineering company and arms manufacturers.

UNNAMED - "One of the men who worked for him ["McGill"] died gallantly in Spain fighting in the International Brigade. He went there to get vital information on the participation of Soviet Russia and the working of OGPU in Republican territory".

D23 - "Died under torture in Gestapo headquarters in Dusseldorf"

D17 - "Killed in Essen by a British bomb"

[Of D23 and D17 White says . . . "Both were German patriots who loathed Nazism as an evil thing"]

D19 - British liaison officer with French Resistance, "died in a running battle with Darnand's milice in the Pays des Dombes.

Under his French alias he is remembered on resistance memorial at the side of the road from Lyon to Bourg en Bresse"

D8 - Still alive in 1955, married to Frenchmen, she was tortured by Gestapo and left with scars and a limp. She was 19 at the outbreak of war,and "to the outside world appeared to devote the whole of her time to enjoying herself in the world of society". Invited by Otto Abetz to join a party of French to meet Hitler.

D31 - Spent the war on an oil tanker, was in 1955 living in South America, "where he keeps an eye on the . . . members of the Abwehr and German General Staff now working on some of the huge German-owned estancias".

UNNAMED - A member of Section D was present at meetings of the Link.


John Baker White's accounts of Section D in the 1930s emphasise its investigations of German rearmament, and the growth of Nazism. The first, in "It's Gone For Good", was written after the outbreak of War, the rest were written after the war, and it is difficult not to believe that these accounts are an attempt to sanitise the group's activities.

White's interest in Nazism was first aroused, he claims, in the late Twenties. Whatever work he was doing with the Economic League, Section D and The International Entente had led him to make regular trips to Germany, not merely as a tourist but as a guest at the arms manufacturer Krupps. He was also a visitor to the SA headquarters in Munster and his visit to the Nuremberg rally had been at the instigation of General von Reicenau11.

According to White information obtained by himself and other Section D agents were fed to the British government. His reports were not taken particularly seriously:

". . . between 1935 and 1938, with the assistance of our anti-Nazi German contacts, we passed to the War Office, a wealth of technical information about armament plants, including complete specifications of weapons, catalogues and so on. "

When, on moving from the London Rifle Brigade to MI10 in the early years of the Second World War, White asked for these files he says that he was told that "it was all scrapped because it came from non-official sources". Writing in 1942 he says that his reports had been regarded as "of doubtful value". But the Government were not he only ones to receive his reports. Indeed they soon only got carbon copies, since the top copies went to Churchill.

According to White there had been, at the time the reports had been sent, a "lack of interest in official quarters" and "a member of our Embassy staff" in Berlin" had suggested White went to see Churchill:

"He's constantly studying German re-armament, and I know that at least two British journalists in Berlin are supplying him with information".

One of them, who White "knew quite well" gave him an introduction to Churchill. The likely candidates here are Euan Butler of "The Times" or Paul Bretherton of the "Daily Mail" and both of whom White talks of meeting in Germany. However according to White when Churchill first received him he was "frosty, almost suspicious until I happened to mention that I had worked for Sir George McGill". But then, he says;

". . . . from then until the outbreak of war we sent our reports to Churchill, with a carbon copy to the War Office or Foreign Office. It was some time after the war had broken out that I discovered that both departments had been to considerable pains to find out where the top copy was going. They never did"

Churchill insisted that reports on Germany were non-verbal, typed treble spaced on one side of paper and White says he last reported to Churchill on October 4th 1938. There no evidence to corroborate White's claims about his, and Section D's, relationship with Churchill, and our ability to judge the evidence is not helped by the rather fragmentary picture of the independent "anti-appeasement" intelligence services that we know were operating in the 1930s. Broadly speaking there were two these. One of them reported to Churchill, the other to Sir Robert Vansittart.

Vansittart was permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office from 1930 to 1937, and though one of the country's most senior civil servants he was vehemently anti-German. He was a friend of "C", that is Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair head of SIS (better known as MI6), but for all his power and influence Vansittart found himself unable to use his influence to extract additional resources for SIS. Thus he came to rely increasingly on his own intelligence sources, and a sort of quasi-official network run by the veteran British agent, Claude Dansey, then working for SIS in Rome12. Given the powerful industrial backing for the Economic League, of which John Baker White was Director General - particularly from the defence based industries - it would have been less surprising to find Section D linked with the Dansey/Vansittart "Z organisation" than with Churchill's. The "Z Organisation", for example, made use of a number of company's foreign representatives including Rex Pearson, of Unilever, and Basil Fenwick of Shell both operating in Zurich.

Churchill's anti appeasement intelligence network was more diverse than Vansittart's, and is little understood today. It was also, of course, reporting to someone far more publicly engaged in harrying the government over appeasement. Although these were Churchill's "Wilderness Years", that is the decade when he was kept out of public office, he was not entirely denied access to secret service reports. His main source of official, secret, information during these wilderness years was Desmond Morton. A friend and protege of Churchill's since the First World War, Morton was appointed head of the Foreign Office's Industrial Intelligence Centre (IIC), when it was founded in 193113. The IIC received secret intelligence reports and collated information from ministries. According to Christopher Andrew, Churchill was given official access to this information by three successive prime ministers during his so called "wilderness years": Ramsay Macdonald, Baldwin and Chamberlain.14

In addition to his access to official secret sources, Churchill operated his own intelligence service. The key question, as yet difficult to answer, is just how coordinated this service was. Volume three of the Companion to part V of Martin Gilbert's biography of Churchill contains a great many documents that point to how extensive his sources were not only for foreign intelligence but also on the state of British rearmament. Unfortunately none make mention of White or his organisation, nor do the documents give any indication of how Churchill maintained and organised his personal intelligence service. An extraordinary clue to this is given in an unusual place: "A Man Called Intrepid". This 1976 biography of William Stephenson, the head of British Security Co-ordination during the Second World War, was effectively sponsored by the intelligence services. Writing in an introduction to the book Charles Howard Ellis explained that the official decision to at last release so much information to the author, the confusingly named William Stevenson, had been inspired by learning that the Russians had learned enough to make it possible for them to use BSC "to bludgeon our friends, to distort history, and to hurt United States and Canadian relations with Britain". "Full disclosure" he wrote "was the answer to this threat and to the demands of history".15

This dubious pedigree must make us view "A Man Called Intrepid" as an thoroughly unreliable source. Nevertheless if it was a pack of lies there was no obvious advantage to be gained. According to "A Man Called Intrepid", by the early 1930s none other than Reginald "Blinker" Hall "was now Churchill's personal intelligence chief". The League's founder was now pulling together a number of "informal groups" which "consisted of men and women who saw war as inevitable , but whose views ran counter to British policy":

"Some came from the British Secret Intelligence Service itself, whose servants were bound to obey the government of the day. If that government chose to belittle the dangers of war, what was a loyal intelligence officer to do?".

This, not perhaps unfamiliar dilemma, was "partly solved" by Desmond Morton, who from 1935 - according to Stevenson - was assigned "to discover the plans for the manufacture of arms and war stores abroad". This is precisely what Baker White claims Section D was doing. Still more intriguing is the claim that "neither Churchill nor Morton had parliamentary authority" and "Their support came from the King, that higher authority whose intervention was permissible in times of crisis, although it could be challenged".

Stevenson's describes this as a "traditional arrangement":

". . . . . by which the monarchy and the funds set aside for royal functions could be used to protect those acting secretly to defend the national interests. . . ".

"It was", he says "to prove vital in the secret wars to come. . . Focus, Electra, and the XYZ committee". If Morton and Hall were, as "A Man Called Intrepid" suggests, the two lynchpins in Churchill's intelligence network then it is inconceivable that White's account of his introduction to Churchill is anything other than ingenuous: he simply did not need a contrived introduction involving the British embassy in Berlin.

According to "A Man Called Intrepid", the key group at the centre of the private intelligence network organised by Hall, acting for Churchill, was a group called "Focus". Although there has been no serious academic study of this group it is possible to say not only that it existed, but that it was a significant force in anti-appeasement politics in the 1930's. Unfortunately only the "A Man Called Intrepid" links it with Hall.

Focus was first launched at a luncheon in the Hotel Victoria on 19th May 1936. Churchill and Lady Violet Bonham Carter were at the top table. Sir Robert Mond, of ICI, was there too as was Sir Archibald Sinclair (later Viscount Thurso). A. H. Richards, publicity manager of the News Chronicle and organising secretary of the Anti-Nazi Council, was its secretary and a manifesto committee was established under the direction of Henry Wickham Steed which also included Robert Whalley Cohen and Violet Bonham Carter. By July the group had begun to draw into its circle a small number of Labour Party figures including, interestingly enough, Sir Walter Citrine. The financing of the group remains something of a mystery, although Eugene Spier, the emigre German politician and businessman, claimed to have funded it to the extent of £9,600 between 1936 and 1939 and Mond had given £500 in July 1936 to finance research under the supervision of Wickham Steed. The Nazi historian David Irving has since claimed that Focus was substantially funded by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and insists on portraying Focus as a Jewish conspiracy to purchase and particularly to direct Churchill's agitation for war with Hitler.

Irving, spectacularly, begs questions - Did Churchill's support need to be purchased? Would he really have taken direction? Did the Focus' agitation for re-armament amount to agitation for war? But if Irving's analysis of the situation is weak, and motivated by a disturbing underlying political motive, he was right about many of the facts. The Focus was a conspiracy, and Churchill remained conspiratorial about it until the end of his life - imploring Spiers not to publish a memoir of the group as late as 1963. It never held public meetings in its own name, always using the cover of the "New Commonwealth Society" or "League of Nations Union". Indeed in letters Churchill himself described it as "private and secret".

The Focus was an example of the singularly unholy alliance between anti-semites and Zionists. Indeed Blinker Hall had been one of the ring leaders of the anti-semitic propaganda about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the 1920s. But although superficially contradictory, it was not unbelievable for a thoroughgoing anti-semite to find the idea of an independent Jewish state attractive, especially as pre-War Zionism's main opponents were to be found on the ultra-left, led by anarchists and the followers of Trotsky.16


By the end of the thirties the trail for Section D becomes confused by the apparent creation, by the head of SIS, of another Section D. This Section D was a secret propagandist, and later sabotage, organisation which was in 1940 transformed into the Special Operations Executive. Writing in "The Black Game", Ellic Howe suggests that "it is unlikely that a detailed account of Section D's origins and early days will ever be written". Howe himself is critical of some accounts by Bickham Sweet-Escort, Julian Amery and Kim Philby, which place its creation around the time of the Munich Crisis, since it had been run by Major General Laurence Grand, a Royal Engineers officer, since the spring of 1938. This at least leaves open the tantalising possibility that the two organisations were not distinct. And that White had, in the run up to war relinquished control of Section D and seen it more or less absorbed into the intelligence establishment.17

As an intriguing footnote to this when Colonel Maurice Buckmaster died in 1992 the Economic League was represented at his memorial service by someone called Mark Philips. Buckmaster had been one of the SOE's main organisers of operations in France during the war. Buckmaster was not known to have had any connection with the League. However another important SOE figure, Colonel James R H Hutchison, was a central council member after the War.


The relationship between the post-Makgill Section D and the Economic League was more straightforward than it might at first seem. Section D was run by White, as was the League, although in respect of the latter, White answered to a central committee. But it was not just that information was shared by the two groups. When, in 1938, it was decided to publish a limited amount of information that White says Section D had gathered on the "Nazi fifth column" it was done by the Economic League. This pamphlet - "German Propaganda in Britain" - is quite eccentric, and certainly fails to live up to White's later description. It also omits what, even at the time, would have been obvious information about the Anglo German Fellowship.18

The "National Defence Campaign"

In 1937, while its leaders were still enjoying the hospitality of the Nazis, the League launched its "National Defence Campaign". According to "Fifty Fighting Years" this had "the dual purpose of arousing industrial workers to the growing danger and need for re-armament, also of countering subversion in defence industries".

There was nothing unusual or contradictory about the way in which the League combined advocacy of rearmament and sympathy for continental fascism. It was the classic Diehard position at the time.

Victor Gollanz published an famous series of wartime books on the prewar fascist sympathies of the Tories. It began with "The Guilty Men" by "Cato" which was followed by "The Trial of Mussolini" ("Cassius") and "Your MP" by "Gracchus". In "Your MP" the Diehard position is illustrated with a number of extracts from Tory speeches. As late as November 15th 1938, R A Butler MP was arguing: "If the Socialist Party is prepared to make friends with Russia, which is a dictatorship with which no Englishman can really agree, why can we not make friends with Italy and Germany? There are people saying Herr Hitler has broken his word. I tell you there is one bargain he has made - that is the German Navy should only be one-third of the British Navy - which he has kept loyally".

The Diehards were not actually advocating re-armament in preparation for war with Fascism. They steadfastly opposed the suggestion of, what another Tory MP, Roger Conant, called "The Liberal-Socialist proposal for an alliance with France and Russia against the Fascist powers"19. In 1937 especially, the Tory right hoped that if war was to come then Britain would be in alliance with the fascist powers.

Twelve weeks into the war another Tory MP, Cyril Tom Culverwell MP, was arguing in Parliament for a "Peace by negotiation" saying "I can even visualise our troops fighting side by side with the Germans to defeat the Bolshevist menace".20

However pressure on the Economic League to agitate for rearmament was not exclusively, or primarily, political. A massive rearmament programme would be a tremendous boost to its paymasters in the heavy and light engineering industries. In early 1939 the National Defence Campaign was extended to include a "National Service Campaign". According to "Fifty Fighting Years":

"Its purpose was to explain the problems of national defence to counter Communist and other efforts to impede production in the defence industries, and to encourage recruiting for the various branches of the voluntary national service".

This "National Service Campaign" harked back to a Diehard obsession during the Great War. The Diehards of 1912 had previously formed the National Service League to campaign for a conscript army. Its members included Lord Milner, who became its chairman in 1915. When, in May 1916, Conscription was introduced it had - like many Government Departments - its own Intelligence section. Its Director of Intelligence was Sir Harry Brittain, journalist, Tory MP, and one of the earliest members of the Economic League's council. From 1916 until the end of the War, ministerial responsibility for recruitment fell to Sir Aukland Geddes, another future leader of the League.

When war was declared with German on September 3rd 1939 the League had to rapidly re-adjust. The previous month the League had decided that in the event of war it would continue to function. The immediate problem it faced was that its director - John Baker White - was a Territorial Army officer in the London Rifle Brigade. Another of the League's most senior employees - Robert Rawdon Hoare - was a major in the Regular Army Reserves and also immediately called up (as a major in the Royal Horse Artillery). White was initially recruited to MI7 as head of Radio Propaganda, although he also spent some time in MI10, responsible for investigating enemy technical developments. The following year he joined the Ministry of Information. In 1941 he was transferred to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office and thence (in 1943) to the Political Warfare Executive working on black propaganda in the Middle East.

Throughout the War Baker White remained the Director of the Economic League, but the day-to-day running of the League was taken over by Major Tom Gribble. Eventually Gribble was also recruited to the Political Warfare Executive, but being stationed in London he combined the two jobs. Throughout this period, according to "Fifty Fighting Years":

"Sterling service was also rendered by Miss Mollie Calder and Major Hugh Gillespie, who wrote all the League's notes for speakers. . . for over 25 years".

Before the end of 1939 the League had issued five leaflets: "What you should do", "The Home Front", "Communism Unmasked", "The Citizen in War", "Prices, Wages and Inflation" and "Wages in War". In 1940 sixteen leaflets were produced and the following year thirteen leaflets. When P.A.Y.E. was introduced the League sprang to its defence.

Until the collapse of the Hitler-Stalin Pact the Economic League had concentrated on anti-communist propaganda, but later the leaflets echoed government propaganda efforts and concentrated on morale boosting on the home front. "Don't be Bored" was their rather weak rallying cry. Then as paper rationing began to bite the League increasingly concentrated on factory canteen meetings.

Just as during the General Strike the League had acted as a source of intelligence for the Government, once again it was not just preaching propaganda but gathering intelligence. Home Intelligence produced regular reports on the mood and morale of the public. According to Angus Calder, in "the Myth of the Blitz" (Cape, 1991, ISBN 0 224 02258 X), the Economic League was one of the many sources of information upon which these reports were based. Other included W H Smiths and Mass-Observation, as well as police and telephone and postal censorship.

In the last year of the war the League paid special attention to women workers and issues about food and even produced a special booklet: "Women at War - Their Future in Peace".


It is worth examining the PWE in a little detail since it throws light on the skills that White and Gribble were felt, by intelligence, to posses. The PWE was, according to Anthony Boyle's description in "Climate of Treason":

"The tripartite propaganda machine which (Hugh) Dalton, in Bracken's view, regarded as his own property".

The three ministries that exerted control of it were the Ministry of Information (under Brendan Bracken, a director of publishers Eyre and Spottiswoode, part owner of Financial Newspaper Proprietors company which owned the Financial News, Investors' Chronicle and half The Economist, who had also formerly been Churchill's parliamentary secretary), The Foreign Office (under Anthony Eden) and the Labour politician Hugh Dalton's Ministry of Economic Warfare. In July 1940 Churchill had given Dalton the responsibility for coordinating sabotage and propaganda; exhorting him to "Set Europe ablaze!". He immediately appointed Gladwyn Jebb, from the Foreign Office, as his aide with special responsibility for the new organisation - The Special Operations Executive (SOE).

SOE initially absorbed three intelligence organisations: Section D of SIS(MI6), which employed Kim Philby and Guy Burgess; Military Intelligence Research (MIR), which (under J C F Holland and Colin Gubbins) prepared a number of manuals on guerrilla warfare; Department EH (Electra House) of the Foreign Office, a "semi-secret propaganda department which was developing "black" propaganda".21

SOE was divided into two Branches SO1 (Subversion/Sabotage) and SO2 (undercover propaganda). A year after the formation of SOE the Foreign Office's contribution in Electra House was separated off as the Political Warfare Executive. As an organisation for "Black Propaganda" it used lies, or more politely "misinformation", as a political weapon. The BBC on the other hand, then controlled by the Ministry of Information, resisted using outright lies in its own propaganda. It was only in 1942, when Dalton was moved to the Board of Trade, that some of the confusion between the roles of the PWE and SOE was resolved. The PWE, headed by the secret service veteran Robert Bruce Lockhart, came completely under Bracken's control.


The coming of the Second World War brought to an end the first phase of the Economic League's development. Its influence on the British State and "high" politics, indirect and clandestine though it was, had reached their climax. In the years since that War it never quite recovered that influence. Whereas it had emerged and grown to plug some of the gaps left by the dismantling of the machinery of the wartime secret state after the Great War, the secret state never demobilised after the Second World War. The cold war, and its obsession with an "enemy within", meant that on both sides of the Atlantic fantastic resources were ploughed into the surveillance of the British labour movement, and the undercover support of anti-socialist movements.

In this atmosphere the Economic League inevitably thrived, but could not occupy such a central role as it did in the Twenties and Thirties. For during those decades the League was the most significant unofficial organisation involved in these activities, and was probably better equipped for such work than MI5 or the Special Branch.

Because of the sensitive nature of the secret services' operations against the domestic population, the League could never have expected proper recognition of its role in developing "counter subversion" and anti-socialist propaganda in the inter-war years. But it had undoubtedly providing a spring board for the CIA in America, and MI5 and the Information Research Department in Britain.

But as an organisation with its own Diehard Conservative political message the League faced even greater problems in the post war years. The success of the Attlee government's programme of nationalisation and introduction of the Welfare State shifted the political ground significantly away from the Diehards. So innocuous were these reforms to the Conservative governments which governed without a break between 1951 and 1964, that the idea of a "Mixed Economy" with thriving private and state-owned sectors became a part of mainstream Conservative Party ideology. The League's continuing advocacy of unregulated free enterprise, and the absence of an effective Conservative parliamentary support for its political position, left it isolated from "high politics" for the best part of twenty years.

However the way in which the Economic League perpetuated the Diehard's manifesto throughout these lean post war years was to be as remarkable as the way in which it had maintained the spirit, and machinery, of the Great War's draconian intelligence network during the Twenties and Thirties.

8. Chapter 7: Peace and Cold War

When the War ended the Economic League faced a major reorganisation. John Baker White did not return to his post of Director of the League, but entered Parliament as Conservative MP for Canterbury. His post was taken over by Robert Rawdon Hoare. According to "Fifty Fighting Years" there were "major changes of administrative staff" and "the retirement of those who had borne the burden in the war years". Its regional organisation was centralised to such a degree that by 1947 the "London and Southern Counties" organisation covered East Anglia, South Wales and the West Country. But it was certainly not a period of retrenchment for the League: "additional speakers and lecturers" were recruited and "cadres of leaflet distributors" were formed and the League also absorbed the Anti-Socialist Anti-Communist Union. At the heart of what it described later as the "complete realignment of many aspects of the League's work and the application of lessons learned in war" was the creation of a "training organisation".

The war had at last got the League past the factory gates and into the works canteens since in good faith, and in the wartime spirit of cooperation, the Unions had not barred their way. The League was quick to capitalise on this and as early as 1946 it started to run classes for apprentices.


By 1947 its annual report could record that:

"through the goodwill of various national youth organisations, our staff has conducted a large number of courses for training youth movement leaders in the technique of conducting group discussions in youth clubs. These courses have been followed up by the provision of factual data upon which the leaders could base current affairs discussions in their respective clubs. We have also provided staff lecturers to address a great many national and regional youth conferences and the members of individual youth clubs."

In Lancashire the Economic League established a "Youth Movement" to coordinate its youth training there. By 1949, 295 youth club leaders, 580 senior club members had attended courses. In that year, and in addition to 874 other meetings in youth clubs, the League's own Youth Movement held 310 meetings.

While the League was battling for the minds of the youth at play it expanded its apprentice training to include a class in "elementary economics and civics". This new, official, access to the shop floor provided the League with the opportunity to launch "Facts", a monthly news sheet for foremen and works supervisors. According to the League it eventually had a circulation of 20,000 per issue. But outside the factories the League could rely less and less on the large scale open air meeting to put its message across. These became "group discussions at works gates" and its propaganda machine depended increasingly on its leafleting. Instead of recruiting and training public speakers, it employed "a special corps of leaflet distributors" who did not need to be orators but only needed "to be able to answer questions and discuss intelligently the leaflets they were distributing, as well as having a pleasant and friendly manner".

The Economic League also tried to build on its wartime success in targeting women for its propaganda. They began "house-to-house leaflet distribution" and "door-step talks" to get their message through to "housewives".

This reorganisation happened against the backdrop of the first Labour Government to have a working majority but the League seems to have avoided being drawn into a central role in the campaign against its policies. Within the Radical Right, this up-front campaign seems to have fallen upon the fledgling "Aims of Industry" which had been founded in 1942 to campaign against wartime restrictions on capital, but in post-war years emerged as a right wing anti-nationalisation PR company.

A letter to members issued by the Federation of British Industries, in January 1948 , indicates the close relationship between the League, Aims and the Federation:

"The Federation has for some months had under consideration the steps that it should take to inform the public of the achievements and advantages to the country of Private Enterprise. At one stage we pursued the idea that we ourselves undertake this work by adding suitable experts to our own staff. Finally however, it was felt preferable to encourage such work through existing independent organisations. I am now writing to inform you that the Federation has examined the work carried out in the past by the Economic League and Aims of Industry Ltd. , and is satisfied that these non-party, educational organisations are doing good work and have effective plans for the future. It is also satisfied that each covers separate specialist fields and that their fields do not overlap. If private enterprise wishes to see these organisations conduct a thorough, nationwide campaign, they will have to be very liberally financed. The Federation invites its members to make their own approach with a view to giving them the strongest support".1

The letter's authors are quite obviously working hard to perpetuate the idea that League and Aims were "politically" independent. What is especially interesting however is the fact that there was a clear division of responsibilities between Aims of Industry and The Economic League. This division must have left the League to do the propaganda and spoiling work on the shop floor and in the executive dining rooms while Aims, which later that year described itself as "an industrial public relations organisation".2


This period of reorganisation and "realignment" marked a new phase in the League's intelligence gathering and blacklisting activities. The workplace discussions with apprentices and supervisors delivered a vast amount of low level and high level intelligence. Although the shop floor meetings introduced the League to potential informants, much of this information would more often than not be the result of indiscretion, rather than deliberate tale telling.

The Cold War, a central feature of the Labour government's foreign policy, gave the League the opportunity to pursue alleged Communists with a vengeance:

"With the opening of the Cold War the (Communist) Party resumed its familiar role as an instigator of industrial disruption, and the League found itself engaged in countering one of the most intensive campaigns ever launched by subversive elements in this country. One of its tasks was to expose the true nature of the insidious and now almost forgotten "Peace" campaign, which developed into the notorious "Germ Warfare" exercise, and to counter the Communist plot to sabotage Marshall Aid. The League can claim credit for turning the spotlight of truth onto the international wrecking operation of which the "Beaverbrae" strike in the Port of London was a part. "

The extent to which the League and Intelligence Services were working together can only be guessed at. In 1947 Christopher Mayhew, a Home Office minister, and Clement Attlee authorised the establishment of a new branch of the Secret Services. It was called the Information Research Department and was intended to act as a propaganda/disinformation channel for anti-communist intelligence, that is a peace time equivalent of SO2 and the PWE. Indeed SO2 had provided a model for, the practical experience, and some of the organisation that was needed by IRD. Its existence, and its Intelligence connections, remained secret for years. While there is little in the way of proof that the League and the IRD collaborated to any degree it is inconceivable that IRD did not communicate with an organisation that had been receiving and passing information to the Intelligence Services (on a formal and informal level) for thirty years. An organisation, moreover, that not only shared a common concern but also of which at least two of its officers had become members of the Intelligence community during the War, for after the War Tom Gribble was its secretary, and White though no longer its Director was its publicity advisor from 1945 -1976).

Attlee, for all his government's apparent radicalism, had ushered in the Cold War, and at home he initiated what has been called a "loyalty programme". While this avoided the sort of "loyalty oath" which was used in the USA, the programme's objectives were identical to those of the "Un-American Activities Committee". Attlee told parliament that the Labour Government intended a purge against communists in jobs vital to State Security, and over the next seven years 17,000 civil servants were vetted and 150 were suspended. However this "loyalty programme" was soon also extended to shop floor armaments workers and, by 1950, some local authorities were trying to apply it to teachers.

The government's own blacklisting programme naturally influenced the attitudes of private employers who were not already subscribers to the Economic League. In 1949 the John Lewis Partnership tried to bring in a Political Test as a condition of employment, although this particular, overt, attempt at blacklisting failed in the face of trade union and political pressure.


In 1951 the League became a Limited Company. It was an indication of the success that the League was experiencing in its "realigned" form. The list of individuals who formed the first board of directors of the Economic League Company reveals the presence of some very powerful people:

Sir WALTER BENYON JONES: Chairman and managing director of United Steel Companies, and Appleby-Frodingham Steel Co., a director of Westminster Bank, Stanton Iron Works, and the Mining Association of Great Britain.

The Rt Hon LORD ILIFFE: Edward Mauger Iliffe until 1933, Unionist M. P. for Tamworth 1923-29. Deputy chairman of Allied Newspapers and part-proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. A member of Lloyds and a director of London Assurance. Member of the Carlton Club.

The Rt Hon LORD MCGOWAN: Henry Duncan McGowan until 1937 Chairman of ICI, director of the Midland Bank and General Motors. Member of the Carlton Club.

The Rt Hon LORD RIVERDALE: Arthur Balfour until 1929, Sheffield industrialist in the steel industry and prominent South Yorkshire Tory and Freemason. One of the League's founders.

CLIVE COOKSON: League Treasurer during the 1937 court cases. Chairman of the Consett Iron Company, Vice President of the Federation of British Industry (FBI) which in 1965 became the CBI.

WILLIAM ALEXANDER LEE: Barrister and Director of the Mining Association of Great Britain. A member of the Carlton Club.

Sir HARRY BRITTAIN: Barrister, newspaperman and politician. Founding member of the Tariff Reform League and later the Economic League. During 1917-1919 he was Director of Intelligence at the National Service Department. Unionist M. P. for Acton 1918-1929. A member of the Carlton Club.

The Hon ANGUS DUDLEY CAMPBELL: President of Manchester Chamber of Commerce, director of Waring and Gillows and the Manchester Ship Canal.

Sir JOHN RICHARD HOBHOUSE: Partner in Alfred Holt & Co, Shipowners and director of the Royal Insurance Co.

HALFORD WALTER LUPTON REDDISH: Chairman and chief executive of The Rugby Portland Cement Co Ltd and subsidiaries from 1933 to 1976. Later a director of the Granada Group. A member of the Carlton Club.

The Rt Hon LORD ROCHDALE: George Kemp until 1913 and chairman of Kelsall and Kemp. Liberal Unionist MP for Heywood Lancs. 1895-1906. A member of the Carlton Club.

The Rt Hon The VISCOUNT RUNCIMAN: Walter Runciman until 1937, Shipowner and Liberal peer; at times MP for Oldham, Dewsbury, Swansea West and St Ives. Also Director of Westminster Bank.

Sir WALDRON SMITHERS: Unreconstructed Diehard Tory MP, sponsored by the British Commonwealth Union in 1919. In the words of a Labour Research Department pamphlet on the FBI published in 1950 he "annoys the Tories by saying what they think". Member of the London Stock Exchange and the Carlton Club

Colonel HUGH BAIRD SPENS: Solicitor (Maclay, Murray & Spens, Glasgow). Director of Union Bank of Scotland and Scottish Amicable Life Assurance.

JOSEPH LINCOLN S. STEEL: Director of I. C. I. 1945-1960, then at Triplex Holdings Ltd and Charterhouse Investment Trust. Chairman of the Overseas Committee of the FBI from 1950-1965 when it became the CBI and he joined the CBI Council. A member of the Carlton Club.

EDWARD REED: Managing Director of The Newcastle Breweries Ltd. and director of the Northern & London Investment trust.

Colonel JAMES R H HUTCHISON: Unionist M. P. for Glasgow Central 1945-50 then Gordonstoun, Glasgow 1950-1959. Director of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co and others. Member of the Carlton Club

GEOFFREY A N HIRST: Director of brewers Samuel Webster and of J Hey & Co. A member of the FBI Grand Council from 1932 to 1965 and of the Central Council of the Economic League from 1934 to 1967. Hirst is the only company founder to list his connections with the League in Who's Who. Conservative M. P. for Shipley from 1950 to 1970 he retired to Switzerland. Member of the Carlton Club.

The Company secretary was Major THOMAS GORDON GRIBBLE who had run the League from the Political warfare Executive during the War, but Baker White's successor as Director of the League was Colonel Robert Rawdon Hoare, who had been the League's representative in Manchester before the War and was, along with White, the author or recipient of the letters that had lead to the court case with the "Daily Worker".3


In 1951 Attlee's Labour Government was defeated in the general election. There followed thirteen unbroken years of Conservative Government, at first under Churchill, then Anthony Eden, then Harold Macmillan and finally under Sir Alec Douglas-Home. During this time the austerity of post-war rationing gave way to a boom economy, fuelled by reconstruction and the arms race. Wages rose rapidly and there was comparatively little unemployment. When Macmillan told people that they had never had it so good, few thought he was exaggerating.

By the mid-fifties it was evident to everyone that there had been a significant turn around in the thinking of the Conservative Party. The Tories had embraced the "welfare state", "the mixed economy" and government intervention in industry; there was not going to be wholesale denationalisation and the National Health Service was not going to be dismantled. It was this centrewards shift in Tory thinking that paved they way for "Consensus Politics". The Labour Party consolidated the political implosion by strengthening its social democratic tradition and trying to isolate its radical socialist tradition; enshrined in "Clause Four" of its constitution which called for the transfer of the ownership of the means of production and distribution to working people.

The Radical Right welcomed the Labour Party's retreat from class struggle and state control. But this was little consolation for them since The Conservative Party's acceptance of government intervention in industry was a tremendous body blow. Under Macmillan, Tory MPs from the diehard tradition were not allowed to exert influence on policy, and it was not long before their rigid anti-interventionist line was being widely, and prematurely, dismissed as a historical curiosity. Throughout this period, however, the Economic League remained faithful to the apparently archaic aims of its founders. It continued its "crusade for capitalism" on the shopfloor and outside the factory gates. It also continued to operate its blacklist.

But increasingly the League found itself arguing the case for unregulated free enterprise not merely with shopfloor workers, but also with managers and employers. The two chief architects of the consensus were Hugh Gaitskell (who became Labour leader in 1955) and Harold Macmillan (who became Tory leader and Prime Minister in 1956). These two men did not of course invent consensus politics, but they did much to consolidate it. Writing in 1966, in his autobiography "Winds of Change", Macmillan describes the change in Tory ideology:

"It is very difficult for those whose memories do not go back to the twenties and thirties to have any conception of the virulence with which the role of the State in a modern economy was contested . . . Any form of State intervention was believed to be necessarily incompetent, and the prelude to some form of dictatorship. Some of the most intelligent and responsible leaders in many fields of national life had supported laissez- faire on these grounds . . . . Nevertheless, much of what I was advocating in those years has come about; a National Economic Development Council; a government which controls the Central Bank, and assumes responsibility for the general level of economic activity through the Bank rate and the Budget; extensions of the public utility principle in transport and fuel; even some welfare distribution of essential foods, such as the expanded school meals service and the orange juice and cod-liver oil and milk for mothers and babies. The era of strict laissez- faire has passed into history, together with the derelict towns, the boarded up shops, and the barefooted children and - above all - the long rows of men and women outside the Labour Exchanges. "

- From "Winds of Change" Macmillan's memoirs, published in 1966.


Neither Labour nor Tories could claim to have carried all their supporters with them. But both tried to keep their dissidents on a tight leash. On the left the Labour Party's commitment to consensus led to a significant growth, throughout the sixties, in the membership of Trotskyist and other radical groups which argued that socialism could not be brought about by Parliamentary politics. It also helped to establish a massive "unaligned" socialist and libertarian movement, opposed to the Labour Party's support for Nuclear Weapons, military expansion and later their apparent support for American involvement in Vietnam.

Conservative dissent was also concentrated in extra-parliamentary activity - particularly in industry and in the City, where the social democratic version of Conservatism and departure from unreconstructed market economics was seen as running counter to commercial interests. But the Economic League was more than just a mouthpiece for right wing dissent and a means for lobbying against further extension of state intervention and attempts to involve Trade Unions into government policy-making. With the political centre apparently moving leftwards the Diehards in industry realised that it was vitally important to prevent, or slow down, any similar leftwards shift amongst middle managers and supervisory staff. Thus the League's role in providing training, or more accurately political education, for these groups of workers became extremely important.

Company sponsorship of League training sessions was a simple way of sending a clear political line to its managerial staff and creating a tension between parliamentary "consensus" and blue and white collar attitudes on the factory floor. The League was an important means of nurturing the image of a beleaguered manufacturing sector - struggling against government "interference" on the one hand and militant and revolutionary trades unionism on the other. This became such a widespread and common managerial attitude during the years of political "consensus" it was then, and is now, hard to think of it as other than spontaneous. But that it was not entirely spontaneous, and needed to be massaged and maintained is indicated by the sheer scale of the League's "training" operations.

This new role in targeting the white collar, as well as shopfloor, workers enabled it to survive consensus politics relatively successfully. It also survived because it was not regarded as significant by the Labour Movement, but was regarded as cost effective by Industry. Although its operations were, for example, both widespread and overt within the engineering industry it was rarely confronted by unions representing engineering workers. Many trades unionists and Labour politicians dismissed it as the last refuge of "Colonel Blimp" or a lobby for an outmoded economic idea. Others saw it as a useful, if unsavoury, ally in their own battle against the Communist Party, and the radical left in general, in the Labour movement.

Ironically the attitude of the revolutionary left themselves to the League was ambivalent since it did at least seem to take them as seriously as they took themselves.

The Economic League has repeatedly suggested that it had friends in the Trades Unions. There is no reason to doubt them, although none of these friends have ever felt that they could openly endorse or support the League and (with the exceptions of Walter Citrine in the past and Sid Weighell and Eric Hammond more recently) they have not been named.

For employers the Economic League had the distinct advantage of being inexpensive. For a modest sum a company would have access to politically useful propaganda, regular leaflets and magazines, social studies training for apprentices which would undermine the dangerously liberal ideas that they might pick up in technical colleges, and a secret employment blacklist. Although the blacklist might not prevent the trade union movement yielding a new generation of activists, it could at least restrict the activities of some experienced activists and discourage others.

On the other hand while the League's leaflets and courses were not going to subdue all the workforce, they would encourage the dissenting voices to speak up. Thus for only a few shillings, at most, per worker per year it was regarded by rightwing employers as a useful service. In 1940, for instance, its subscription rate was "not less than 5 guineas, the basis being 6d per cent on the annual pay roll".4


"Fifty Fighting Years" called the two decades after the war as "The Training Era". Although, as we shall see, the League was not completely preoccupied with its educational programme it was central to all its activities - overt and covert.

APPRENTICE TRAINING: began in 1946. The following year these training sessions were transformed into "elementary economics and civics" classes. By 1949 it was holding 493 of these classes. By 1951 this had risen to 611, and in 1952 - following its transformation into a limited company - this doubled to 1,234. By 1959 this had risen to 5,750 apprentice classes.

SUPERVISOR TRAINING: began in 1953. In 1954 the League conducted 331 training sessions for some 6,000 supervisors and junior managers. These training classes took various forms according to the importance placed upon them by the sponsoring management: "training was given on a daily or weekly basis on the company's premises, or at one day conferences, or at a weekend residential courses". The aims of these courses were summed up in the League's 1959 annual report:

"Among the apprentices of today are shop stewards, trades union officials, supervisors and managers of tomorrow. Now, they are rapidly forming heir own views for better or for worse. While some companies employ staff to guide apprentices, listen to their questions, and tell them the facts and reasons of the world of industry, many do not. The young men often make their own guesses to account for the ways of management, or acquire the attitudes of the more talkative cynics on the shop-floor. Objective thought and constructive attitudes are best learned early. For two reasons economic education for the shop-floor requires that special attention be given to supervisors. First the supervisor is often in a position to correct economic errors if he knows the relevant facts, and normally he does not know the facts unless steps have been taken to inform him. Secondly, the effectiveness of economic education at works gates is highly dependent on the mood in which men come out of the gates. The League, therefore, is as closely concerned with the management of the supervisors as with his economic knowledge. "

The League's first "residential courses" were started in 1953. After I published a short report about the Economic League, in 1988, I was told by an old acquaintance that he had been on one of these courses in the 1950's. I persuaded him to write an account of what he remembered of the course. Although he worked in the Trades Union movement he asked me to withhold his name. His account is valuable because first hand accounts of the League's activities are rare. But it also illustrates some of the obvious difficulties the League experienced in trying to achieve its objectives.


It would be the winter of 1956/7. I had been accepted as a drawing office apprentice in the London office of Babcock & Wilcox Ltd (boilermakers), during the summer of 1956. Babcock & Wilcox were then the world market leaders in heavy duty industrial and marine boiler making. Becoming one of their apprentices was quite a "rite of passage". It involved three interviews. For the first two I found myself on my own at the end of the glowing mahogany table in the London boardroom, with some dozen dark suited, grey haired guys at the other end. The last interview was with the Company Secretary in his office, which my father had to attend. Reflecting now, the interview was actually with my father and I was merely the object under discussion. The Company Secretary, wearing the equivalent of my wage for the whole of the apprenticeship by way of a suit, made much of what a privilege it was to be a London Drawing Office Apprentice. He reminded my father how recently it had been the case that parents had to pay the company for the opportunity to put their sons through the apprenticeship. This was Paternalism, literally and metaphorically, with a capital "P". Some time later in the summer, a thick document was delivered to the house. This was the indenture document - the first legal document I had ever seen and the nearest thing to an illuminated manuscript I had ever touched. I still have my copy. Both my father and I signed me up for five years sound mechanical engineering training at a starting wage of £2 7s 6d a week. Twelve confused and rowdy adolescent boys from all round the London suburban ring into the Drawing School for the first six months of "induction training". Under the tutelage of an embittered chain-smoking trainer we learned to detail the intricacies of boilers and pipework, drums and vessels in three projections, cross section and isometric views. Much unsupervised we also continued to develop our social skills: smoking, group bets on horses, trading luncheon vouchers and such. Through the social apprenticeship of myth, lies and masculine masks, we crudely explored the one obsessive common denominator - the nature of the opposite sex and our real, fantasised or putative relations with them. Sometime during that winter, the tutor (whose name has long gone) informed us we were going on a weekend school at Tring, Berkhamstead. We would be picked up by a coach on Friday afternoon. It was a mystery trip in every sense. For this "south-of-the-river" boy, Tring was unheard of. I have some vague notion of being told it was about "the Company". The coach must have been collecting apprentices from all over London. It went out and came back full. Disorientated, we rolled up a sweeping drive to a horror movie mansion deep in the home counties. We were soon augmented by other boys. Fewer than us, they were either delivered in cars (!) or unbelievably, arrived in cars they were driving (!!). There were up to 35-40 of us there in all. The content of the sessions - five over the weekend - is long forgotten. I have some memory of illuminated maps and charts (OHPs I would now say) and of being lectured to. As ideological work it was either sublimely inefficient or subliminal. The real memory is that predictable schoolboy dive for the seats at the back and a particular memory of capturing a deep leather armchair one time and luxuriating in the voluptuousness of it. What did stick were amazing practical lessons in social class. First the sheer size of the mansion, with its maze of passages, stairs and rooms and wood panelled everywhere. I soon after discovered it was owned by Dorian Williams and date my antipathy to all things "horsey" from this period. Second we ate in a large dining room at long, solid tables with what must have been a parody of an Oxbridge "High Table" at the end. Third it was bloody cold. In the dining hall we had to stand for "grace". We were waited on by not-much-older-than-us Scandinavian girls! For us lads, obsession and fantasy collided. Most of our energies were divided between planning elaborate possibilities of potent sexual encounter on the one hand and scavenging for heat sources on the other. There were no utopian sexual encounters but we did find electric fires. With the aid of matchsticks we succeeded in stuffing the plugless wires into Dorian Williams' wall sockets and loading his electricity bill: practical market economics for power station boilermakers. Among the assembled youth, the class divide rapidly turned into fairly open class war. "They" affected, or possessed, an ease in the surroundings, a confidence in handling cutlery, alcohol and discourse that filled us with inchoate rage. And, yes, they did throw bread buns around at the table! Minor frictions spilled into skirmishes. The clearest memory of all is leaving on the Sunday. Our parting gift was to thoroughly immobilise the Land Rover of a particularly patronising youth. This rudimentary lesson in auto-engineering taught me what - and where - the distributor is and how easily it came off; the effects of sugar on petroleum and the ease with which a suitable sized potato can be inserted far up an exhaust pipe. we crowded to the back of the coach as it turned down the drive, the better to enjoy our last glimpse of the upper classes trying to start up the motor. Perhaps they are there still. We must have been an effective rabble for we were not invited again. In retrospect I owe the Economic League a small debt for that lesson on class politics. Their class arrogance and ignorant presumption as to what was "normal" in the way of comfort, manners and service and provisioning was most educational. Intended propaganda was quite lost under the impact of more powerful lessons."

First hand accounts of the League's activities are rare, and this one nicely illustrates the insuperable problems the League faced in attempting to abolish class conflict by turning coach-loads of impressionable apprentices into enthusiastic capitalists.

But of course this was not the yardstick by which the League's training was to be measured. There was an immediate return from courses such as this one both in terms of "low level intelligence" gleaned from the talkative apprentices and the disruptive potential of the rudimentary, anti-socialist, ideas put across to the trainees. If the quality of the League's training was less than impressive, its scale was not. When the League published "Fifty Fighting Years" in 1969 it employed a staff of 22 trainers and were providing training for apprentices and supervisors in "something like 700 firms" and - perhaps the most impressive statistic -

"Over 500 apprentices and supervisors are attending Economic League training courses every working day throughout the year".

Although it is still difficult to gauge the impact that the League's training had on skilled and supervisory workers, it is harder to still to dismiss such a concerted, deliberate, calculated and unrelenting propaganda exercise as completely ineffective. Whether the trainees were convinced by the League's arguments was less important than the clear signal that they represented the sort of attitudes that would enable an employee to get on in the firm sponsoring the training. In this sense it was another element in the complicated interpersonal dynamics of the shopfloor. Anyone who has worked there can bear witness to the familiar tableaux in which, when cornered, a shopfloor worker tells a manager what he wants or expects to hear. In which, when confronted by managers or for that matter their families, employees dump the blame for industrial action on the trades union or "politically motivated" shop stewards, portraying themselves to the management as innocent flotsam swept along on a tide of politically motivated industrial action, while at the same time in reality encouraging and welcoming it. This is not of course to deny the existence of any intimidation within trades unions but merely to question its extent or its real impact. The sort of management-led political propaganda put out by the Economic League reinforced management and conservative claims about the extent of intimidation, and encouraged rank and file trade unionists to disclaim responsibility for their own unforced actions.


Supervisors and apprentices were a soft target for the League. Both groups were hostages to the whims of their employers, and the principle of providing them with some sort of political, economic and social training was already well established. It was a very different matter when it came to the ordinary shopfloor workers. Much as they might have welcomed it, they were not offered expenses-paid weekend visits to Dorian Williams' country mansion. Nor did the League provide much in the way of on site training for the ordinary shop floor employees of its subscribing companies. The League had to rely on leaflets and magazines to put their message across to most workers.

Leafleting was, of course, not a new technique for them, but in the years immediately after the War, under the guidance of John Baker White who was now acting as their "publicity advisor", they applied some of the techniques developed by the PWE and SOE. This new scientific approach was recalled in "Fifty Fighting Years":

"The leaflet was becoming of ever greater importance, but it had to be not only interesting and informative in content, but also short and attractive in appearance. The League became one of the largest consumers of coloured papers, using them in rotation, and a great deal of thought had to be put into titles and tailpieces."

While the League's "special corps of leafleters" set about distributing its propaganda outside the factory gates the League began to produce broadsheets and magazines for distribution inside factories.

In 1947 "FACTS" was launched. It was a monthly broadsheet "designed particularly for foremen and works supervisors". Its circulation was in the order of 20,000 per month.

In 1954 a similar broadsheet called "New Future" was introduced,aimed at "young workers". It had a circulation of over 20,000. "New Future" continued to be produced into the 1970's.

"POINTS OF VIEW" was a management orientated monthly magazine while "Two Minute News Review" was a monthly management bulletin which was first published in 1945. According to the League's 26th Annual Report, it was launched when "subversive activity - mainly emanating from Trotskyites increased". It aimed to give a quick account of current "subversive activities" achieving by 1977 a circulation of 113,750. It was produced until the very end.

"NOTES AND COMMENTS" was a general monthly which, in 1969, absorbed "Facts". By 1977 it was however described as being aimed at "members, management, speakers, writers and students of public affairs".

"NEWS AND VIEWS" was a quarterly magazine designed, like "New Future" for "young Workers". In 1977 it had a circulation of 38,710.

"SUPER NEWS" was like "Facts" targeted at supervisors. In 1977 its circulation was 60,305 copies.


In assessing the influence and effectiveness of League's propaganda efforts throughout its existence, but particularly during the "Training Era", it is important not to be confused by their superficial similarity to the propaganda efforts of the radical and revolutionary left. The left's aims and objectives were not at all the same; they were in the business of creating popular mass movements and greater participation in political activities. The League's was a spoiling operation aimed at creating and encouraging dissent amongst the enemy - whether it be the trade unions or a liberal Conservative Party leadership which was "letting socialism in through the back door".

It therefore hardly mattered to the League, or its paymasters, whether all or even most of those who were on the receiving end of its propaganda were actually convinced or converted. The League only needed a sufficiently positive response to fracture the organised resolve of employees - thus in the short term improving employers bargaining power, and in the long term to helping to support the case for legislation aimed at permanently undermining trade unions' influence in the labour market place.

Viewed in these terms the League's "training era" was effective. It was certainly perhaps the largest and most durable programme of rightwing political education ever directed by employers at their employees.

9. Chapter 8: The Wilson Years

Harold Wilson led the Labour Party to a slender victory in the 1964 General Election, and established a healthier majority after another election two years later. For the previous eighteen years, first under Clement Atlee's Labour governments and then under subsequent Tory administrations, the Economic League had been operating in a political climate which was sympathetic to its own rabid anti-communism and anti-socialism but increasingly unsympathetic to its Diehard politics. Indeed Atlee's successor as Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell was responsible for a concerted attempt to rid the Labour Party not only of its handful of generally ineffective secret Communist Party members, but also of a much greater number of genuine Labour Party members who had remained faithful to the Party's original constitution, in particular "clause four" which advocated the socialist principle of common ownership of the means of production and distribution. When he died in 1963 Gaitskell had still not accomplished this. He had managed to split the Party thoroughly, yet failed to project any clear convincing vision of what the Party stood for under his leadership. Not surprisingly he was the only Labour leader to be genuinely popular with Conservative interests in the City and industry. He was in fact the only Labour Party leader that the British Establishment could really regard as "one of us". As Hugh Dalton's secretary during the Second World War he had been a familiar and important figure in the intelligence community, and had been particularly close to the Political Warfare Executive during the time when it was a part of Dalton's responsibilities1. He had also been a pupil at one of the country's leading public schools, Winchester, where he had been a classmate of another future Labour minister, Dick Crossman. Crossman himself was head of the Political Warfare Executive's German section from the Executive's formation in 1941 until May 1943 when he was transferred to Anglo-American political warfare work in North Africa. Before he became leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson had gained a reputation for being "left of centre". A grammar school boy from Huddersfield, his natural intelligence and hard work earned him a place at Oxford where, in the thirties, he was a Young Liberal. When he entered Parliament in 1945 he was quickly recognised as one of the ablest and cleverest new Labour MPs and soon became a junior minister. By 1947 he was President of the Board of Trade but in 1951 Wilson and the Health Minister, Aneurin Bevan, resigned from the cabinet, disgusted at the introduction of prescription charges by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell. Bevan quickly gathered around him a group of left wing Labour MPs who became known as the "Bevanites" and acted as the main focus for those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who opposed Gaitskell's attempts to de-socialise the Party after he became its leader. Wilson was frequently associated with the Bevanites, but was not in fact one of them. He was far too committed to the idea of a mixed economy and the need for a thriving and adventurous private sector, and frequently argued that as President of the Board of Trade he had to force "free enterprise" to be free and enterprising. During the fifties the rift between Gaitskell and Wilson had largely healed, but the scars and disagreements, sometimes public, remained. When Gaitskell unexpectedly died in 1963, Wilson was one of the few candidates for the Party leadership who could command support on both sides of the riven party. He was an undeniably able politician, with a clearly worked out and articulate democratic socialist vision. Though he berated and railed against privilege and the idea of, and uninspired actions of, an hereditary ruling class, his administrations were firmly in the mould of the mixed-economy consensus politics associated with Hugh Gaitskell. But whereas his economic ideas were not so far removed from Gaitskell's, just more robust and more intelligent, his ideas on foreign policy were far more radical. His 1953 book "The War on World Poverty - An appeal to the Conscience of Mankind" was a genuinely radical anti-imperialist manifesto and blueprint for first world aid to developing countries. "The days of imperialism are over" he declared:

"The gunboat has given place to the tractor, the pro-consul to the irrigation engineer. This does not mean the end of Britain's influence in world affairs: rather it means that influence will be used, as never before, for the welfare of the human race, and in partnership with it - not in overlordship over it. "2

This was more than mere anti-imperialist tub-thumping. The closely and brilliant argued thesis of the "War on World Poverty" laid out the moral and political case for world development and a practical strategy for its achievement. Central to this was the idea of drawing Russia back into the international financial community:

"For co-operation between East and West in world development, supplemented by the expansion of trade between East and West, would not only lead to an immeasurably higher standard of living for hundreds of millions over wide areas of the earth's surface; it would more than any other single factor, help to create the confidence needed, on both sides, to convert "peaceful co-existence" into peace. "3

Wilson was convinced that Britain had to break away from its growing economic and political dependence on the United States, and saw the unfreezing of economic relations with the East as the most effective way of doing this. It was an attitude that ran contrary to Gaitskell's slavish pro-Americanism and roused the utmost suspicion of the British secret state, and naturally enough their American colleagues.

Wilson had made it perfectly clear that not only did he intend to cajole, bribe and if necessary force private enterprise in the direction he wanted it to take, but he also intended to break down political and trade barriers with the Eastern Bloc and end the "special relationship" with the USA. When, therefore, in 1964 the Labour government took office it did so under the leadership of a man who, though committed to capitalism, had made an enemy of the British industrial and financial establishment and the British and American secret services. From the outset these powerful influences within the British establishment and civil service began an unprecedented subversive campaign against a democratically elected government. The aim of this campaign was to make it impossible for Wilson and his governments to achieve what they had been elected to do, not merely to make life difficult for Wilson and his governments or fight a rearguard action slowing down the pace of political, social and economic change. Over the course of the six years of Wilson's first two administrations there emerged an increasingly a complicated web of variously inter-linked and independent anti-Wilson conspiracies. Each had a common theme - Wilson's continuance in power was a threat to the national interest and that if he couldn't be unseated by democratic means he must be unseated by extra-parliamentary activity. The conspirators must have realised that they were making preparations or laying the ground work for a coup d'etat or more properly a "pronunciamento". Their tactics and strategy were almost straight from "Coup d'Etat", the 1967 textbook by Edward Luttwak which was issued as a Penguin paperback the following year. According to Luttwak's useful catalogue of different forms of coup, a Pronunciamento was "an originally Spanish/South American version of the military coup in which the military intervene in Government in the name of the "National Will".

Influential figures from Industry, the military and Intelligence were recruited to the cause. A central, and vital figure, would be the proprietor of a popular newspaper. The overall strategy was to destabilise the Wilson government, then with military support, (undercover of a manufactured or exaggerated crisis) to impose on Britain a government of "national unity". This imposed government - led by Mountbatten - would adopt the sort of policies which could not be hoped for from either a Labour or Tory government, which under the leadership of Edward Heath was felt to have moved too far from traditional Conservative thinking.


The existence of a conspiracy was confirmed by Sir Martin Furnival Jones (by then head of MI5) who told the Sunday Times in 1981 (29th March) that an:

". . . alleged plot to remove the Wilson government was the subject of a secret service investigation".

Furnival Jones described the conspirators as "a pretty loony crew" but admitted that it had involved a Major General and "civil servants and military". In the absence of answers to many of the questions raised by what we know about the Coup of '68 it is tempting to speculate about who might have been involved.

The Economic League, which since its inception seems to have borne the seeds of just such a plot, must fall under suspicion. But it is not, however, simply conjecture. In 1968 The Times carried a short piece by a staff reporter in which the Economic League claimed that a copy of their bulletin had been forged. This "forgery" suggested that the Armed Forces might "have to step in to unseat the present government". It is not clear from the article how many of the "forgeries" were printed or whether they were distributed through the League's usual channels. One person I spoke to claims to remember just such a leaflet being handed out by the usual League leafleter. The extracts reprinted in the Times also convincingly capture the League's style of writing and approach to issues an they themselves admitted at the time that "The forgers. . . . have gone to great lengths to make the bulletin look convincing". Of course it might be just an uncanny coincidence that this "very left-wing" practical joke coincided with a real right-wing plot to overthrow the government. However the League's denial of the authenticity of the leaflet is practically worthless. For years they had been lying to the press about their blacklisting operation.

Serious or not, the plot of '68 came to nothing after Wilson's government published its White Paper on trade union reform "In Place of Strife". Ironically Wilson had also had to deal with increasingly powerful opposition from within the trade union movement and the radical left. By the time he had come into office the post-war economic boom was over, but his plans to regenerate the manufacturing economy would take time to take effect, that is if they did take effect. Throughout his years in government Wilson needed a period of economic stability, and since he couldn't expect co-operation from the City or industry this meant wage restraint. He did not get it. He offered nothing concrete immediately, and while most trade union leaders at the top were prepared to play ball with Wilson many of their members were not. The result was an increase in unofficial strikes. Wilson, and the trade unions, were trapped. Neither the Labour leader nor the union hierarchy could transform the short sighted materialism of the unions' rank and file. Brilliant and innovative politician that he was, Wilson had nothing to offer other than what looked and sounded like the "jam tomorrow" formula that had been offered by Conservative politicians and managements from time immemorial. Trade union leaders' attempts to support him had merely exposed the fragile nature of their power and influence over the membership.

In the end Wilson tried to reinforce the influence of the trade union hierarchy through union legislation. The White Paper "In Place of Strife" led to a damaging show down with the trade unions. The Trade Union movement mobilised its full weight against the White Paper. The cabinet split with James Callaghan, its most right wing, uninspired and ambitious member leading the rebellion. "In Place of Strife" was dropped and the trade union movement had won a great victory. But it was an entirely pyhrric victory, the battle that lost the war. For while "In Place of Strife" had attempted to trade off traditional union rights in return for new ones, it would also have secured negotiating rights at all levels of industry. It would also have forestalled the Tory legislation which ultimately left the trade union movement isolated and considerably weaker.

In terms of the anti-Wilson conspiracies however the attempted introduction of "In Place of Strife" and the consequent confrontation with the Trade unions had undermined one of their key lines of argument - that Wilson could not or would not restrict "union power". While the debate about the White Paper raged, there was no chance of portraying Wilson as the willing partner of, and front man for, militant trade unionism. The coup of '68 was postponed.

Soon afterwards the military men themselves were given something to do when the RUC & B Specials went on the rampage against civil rights campaigners and catholic communities in Northern Ireland. By May 1969 the British Army were beginning to replace the civilian authorities on northern Irish streets. But although the conspiracy may have been put on ice, a taboo had now been broken, and a network of powerful contacts remained. A whispering campaign against Wilson and Heath and other enemies of the radical right continued, often at the hands of British Intelligence officers.


In 1969, on the eve of the Economic League's fiftieth birthday, the "Labour Research Department" published a pamphlet about it called "A Subversive Guide to the Economic League". Labour Research had been keeping track of the Economic League for most of its life, without being able to convince the Trade Union Movement to mount a serious challenge to its activities. The 1969 pamphlet presents a comprehensive picture of the League operations towards the end of its "Training Era", and at the beginning of a period of intense political activity which would result in not only a remarkable reverse in the fortunes of the Diehard Tories but also another thoroughgoing overhaul of the Economic League's structure, priorities and activities.

The League's income in 1968 was £266,000. Labour Research managed to identify 154 firms contributing £61,000 of this income. Of these, 47 were engineering companies. But their sample shows that by 1968 the League was receiving support from across the spectrum of manufacturing and financial interests. Although prior to the Second World War the League's support came predominantly from the manufacturing sector, as early as 1935 Barclays and the Westminster Bank had subscribed to the League. By 1968 the 21 banks, discount houses, investment Trusts and insurance companies identified in the 1968 survey together contributed as much as the 47 engineering companies named as subscribers.

In addition to covering administrative overheads, the League spent this money on 22 million leaflets and the wages of 71 leaflet distributors, 39 speakers/trainers and 9 part-time lecturers. In 1968 this corps of speakers, trainers and lecturers organised 24,250 Group talks and outdoor meetings, 6,340 courses for apprentices and 3,750 for supervisors.


The Seventies were as turbulent a decade for British domestic politics as either the Twenties or Thirties. Growing disillusion with Wilson and the Labour Party's performance in the sixties had led to a rapid growth in the "revolutionary left" (the International Socialists were so excited by their success they decided to become a political party calling themselves the "Socialist Workers Party"), while shopfloor disillusion with Trade Union leaders (who seemed to be giving away more than they got from the consensus politics) led to a measurable increase in unofficial or "wildcat" strikes. But disillusion was not confined to the left. Latterday Tory diehards were gaining support for their opposition to Ted Heath and Conservative consensus politics. Diehardism was still a more vital force in the board room than in Parliament, but a growing number of MPs were drawn into the self-consciously Diehard Monday Club, which had been founded in 1963 as a reaction to Macmillan's "Winds of Change" speech which had signalled the Tory leaderships' final retreat from imperialism.4

Although it is possible to exaggerate the similarity, the domestic political situation in 1973/4 was not unlike that which prevailed in the early twenties and the early thirties. The informal, but increasingly rigid, consensus acting as a coalition which excluded the diehard, radical right, as well as the Labour Party's socialists from power. But, whereas in the late fifties and early sixties Macmillan had given Tory diehards some token positions to keep them quiet, Heath was ruthless in his determination to keep the Tory radical right out of power. In their political isolation, and in an atmosphere of economic gloom and increasingly independent trade union militancy, the radical right continued to lay plans for some form of a military coup d'etat.

In the end that military coup never happened because in 1973 two figures from Heath's cabinet emerged as leaders of an anti-Consensus movement that was, against all odds, successful in wresting the Tory Party Leadership from Heath and then converting the Party to the Diehard cause. They were Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. In his influential book "Coup d'Etat", Edward Luttwak defines a coup as consisting "of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder". In his preface he explains:

"The coup d'etat . . . uses . . . the armed forces, the police and the security agencies. The technique of the coup is the technique of judo: the planners of the coup infiltrate and subvert a small but critical part of the security apparatus, which they then use with surgical precision to displace the political leadership from its control of the state bureaucracy".

Two of the essential characteristics of a coup are that it is insidious, and that it originates and is executed within the state5. Thatcher, Joseph and their allies on the Radical Right accomplished an almost textbook bloodless coup. But as with all victorious conspiracies their success was the result of much good luck, and extremely serious misjudgments by their opponents.


Support from within the Army was crucial to the credibility of any plot to overthrow the government. The earlier 1968 conspiracy had already attracted the support of some senior and junior officers. There was now, however, a more fundamental constitutional problem regarding the Army as a whole, rather than a few officers with dangerous ideas getting mixed up with "a fairly loony crew". In the late 1960's and early 1970's the Army began a process of political and sociological education and re-adjustment from which it had emerged a much more dangerously political force. One of its tutors was the Economic League. Between 1945 and 1969 the British Army had been involved in no less than 53 separate areas of active service, generally policing the fragments of the Empire while politicians negotiated the terms of independence. But as the Empire contracted so too did the excuse for a large standing army. Unlike the RAF or the Royal Navy, the infantry and "conventional" artillery had only a peripheral part to play in a nuclear-based defence strategy. This made the Army the armed force most vulnerable to the defence cuts, which as the economic recession deepened, became inevitable.

The British Army had to act quickly to redefine its role in an empireless peacetime. A large and well equipped standing army needed an enemy. Civil unrest and insurrection were, by the late sixties, the Army's speciality. Although their anti-insurrectionary expertise had been acquired overseas, the British Army had a historically and regularly been deployed against demonstrators and strikers in the British Isles. At some stages of the Napoleonic Wars there were more troops stationed in the north of England, to discourage rebellion, than there were fighting the French. Throughout the nineteenth century the Army and militia was used against civil unrest. In the twentieth century even Labour Governments had used it as a strike breaking force. There was a considerable debate in the early days of the of the Supply and Transport Committee about the role of the Army in any civil or industrial emergency with the Army resisting pressure, from civilians like Eric Geddes, for it to become more closely involved. The Army's role was finally laid down in a War Office memorandum, circulated to members of the Army Council immediately after Baldwin replaced MacDonald as Prime Minister in 1925. The Army was to have a frontline role in intelligence gathering of two sorts; Intelligence (A) from service sources, and Intelligence (B) from "well informed civilians of all classes". The Army would only in the event of violence, and "only as a second line to the police". 6

This has remained the official position ever since. However by the Seventies, with a diminishing number of actual and potential enemies, the Army discovered a renewed interest in "the enemy within". Wilson's decision to use troops in Northern Ireland to protect Catholic communities from marauding loyalists, presented the Army with a liferaft in which to survive drastic cuts in manpower and resources. It also gave it an immediate bridgehead to its new role; since, at least constitutionally if not culturally, Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom. It hardly mattered that Army failed miserably to achieve its original mission; that it had so quickly alienated the communities it was supposed to protect and transformed significant numbers of civil rights protesters into urban guerrillas or apologists for armed struggle. Once again the Army had something to do. It was some time before it became clear the Army's role in Ireland would be quite different that it had played in other colonial conflicts, it was an immediate chance to demonstrate, and to practice, its counter-revolutionary role within the United Kingdom.

At first the British Government sought to formulate a "political solution" that might eventually mean British military withdrawal, with honour, from Ireland. But the Army itself had little reason to encourage the sort of political solution it had supervised in Malaya or Aden and by the mid-1970's was prepared to help strangle the "Sunningdale" power-sharing agreement at birth.

At exactly the same time as troops were being sent to northern Ireland the Army was beginning the wide ranging process of self-education in political and social theory. If Governments were to be persuaded that an army was needed to keep the revolutionary wolf from their door then the Army urgently had to do two things: formulate a plausible argument that insurrection was a real danger, and then to demonstrate that a large and well equipped and trained standing Army was crucial to preventing the impending revolution's success.


Thus the Army set about constructing a plausible "model" of a revolution in Britain, and more specifically in the heart of the Union - England. Although it had first hand experience of colonial insurrection, and had added in 1969 a new section to Army Land Operations Manual describing tactics for dealing with insurrection, the Army realised it lacked the political or sociological knowledge to adapt the model persuasively to Britain.7

In order to overcome these limitations, the Army dispatched a senior officer, Major General Frank Kitson, to Oxford University. Kitson was one of the Army's most experienced counter-insurrectionary experts who had served with distinction in Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus. At Oxford he research and tried to produce a coherent counter-subversive theory. While ALOM volume III remained a classified as a "restricted" document, at least some of Kitson's research was published, in 1971, as "Low Intensity Operations". Its publication was itself a very successful low intensity counter-subversive operation itself. Kitson's work helped to make talk of "revolution" respectable, and no longer the preserve of left or right-wing eccentrics.

While on one level it was a powerful warning of the degree military sophistication that any left wing revolutionary activities might expect to meet, it also gave boost to a new and growing academic specialism: Counter-subversion. ALOM volume III was rewritten in the light of both Kitson's work and the Army's recent experiences in Ireland. After Oxford, Kitson himself was given the opportunity to test his theories by taking command of the 39th Infantry Brigade in Belfast.


The CIA were as keen as the British Army to see counter-subversion given academic respectability. While Kitson was still at Oxford the CIA, through its main British front - Forum World Features (FWF) - established the Institute for the Study of Conflict (ISC). Brian Crozier, the British CIA agent running FWF, enlisted the help of Sir Peter Wilkinson who was, at the time, the administrative head of the Foreign Office and a former chief of the Information Research Department and would later become coordinator of intelligence and security in the cabinet office. Wilkinson, because of his position in the Civil Service, did not join the board of the ISC. He did, however, recommend to Crozier the man who would become the ISC's fundraiser - a retired Major General called Fergus Ling. The ISC began publishing pamphlets and a series of "Conflict Studies". But like the Economic League it did not restrict its activities to publishing and was more than willing to run training sessions and courses. By the early 1970's the Army were bringing in outside experts in "subversion" to extend their programme of political education. The ISC was one, the Economic League another. In 1973 the Economic League reported to its members that:

". . . the greater demand for detailed knowledge about subversion received by the League's director of information and research to speak at formal and informal meetings and courses held at Ministry of Defence establishments. "

The following year the ISC ran sessions at the National Defence College, the Royal Military College of Science, the Army Staff College and for the 23rd SAS Battalion.

The Labour Party and the Trade Unions played an important part in the model of an English revolution devised by the Army (with the help of its friends on the Radical Right). Of course there were plenty on the radical left who also believed that the Labour Party would be the midwife to a revolution. But it was more disturbing to find it being made a cornerstone of the British Army's forward planning. It undermined the loyalty that a constitutional Labour government ought to have been able to expect to command from all ranks in the services.

The Army emerged from its process of self-education thoroughly suspicious of the Labour Party. It was the most damaging, dangerous and massive subversion of the British democratic process this century.


Ted Heath became Prime Minister with a comfortable 31 seat majority, after the 1970 election. It was an administration notable for its industrial conflicts and slow but real progress on reaching a solution to the crisis in Ireland. When Heath called an election, a year early, hoping to demonstrate public support for his firm line against the Trade Unions he failed to get either a working majority or the support of the Liberal Party. Consequently, in February 1974, Wilson returned to power although at the head of a minority Labour government but after another election in October of the same year Wilson obtained a tiny overall majority of just 5.

The Labour Government had inherited Heath's northern Irish policy in the form of the "Sunningdale" power-sharing agreement. It was a complicated agreement concluded between the London and Dublin governments the main points of which had been negotiated at Sunningdale, in England, in December 1973. The Irish republican historian, Michael Farrell, said of it:

"Sunningdale was the high point of British Strategy in Ireland. It was a masterpiece of balance and ambiguity. "8

It was a compromise which the hard line loyalists in Ireland refused to accept and troubled the diehard "Unionists" on Heath's own backbenches, especially those associated with the Monday Club which admitted Ulster Unionist as members. On 14th May 1974 the loyalist Ulster Workers Council (UWC) called a general strike against the agreement. Loyalist paramilitaries were sent into action to make sure the strike was effective. At its height the UWC declared their intention to pull out the (almost exclusively Protestants) power workers, bringing the province to a halt. Merlyn Rees, Northern Ireland Secretary, announced that the government would stand firm and Troops would be sent in to keep the power supplies going. When on May 24th Rees instructed the army to go in, it refused.

Later that summer a British Officer writing in the Monday Club's magazine "Monday World" explained what had happened:

"For the first time, the Army decided that it was right and that it knew best and the politicians had better toe the line. "


This autonomous attitude was not confined to the Army's activities in Ireland. Kitson and other counter-subversive writers emphasised that the Army needed to establish close links with the civil authorities, industry and especially the police. With this in mind, in 1971 the Royal United Services Institute was organised a series of "joint seminars" attracting participants from each of these areas. Also invited to the meetings were representatives of the ISC and Economic League. One of the fruits of this new collaboration was a series of joint police/army exercises at Heathrow Airport in 1974. The first of these was held in January, while Heath was still in power but the remaining three were held in June, July and September. The initiative for these unprecedented exercises did not come from either Heath's or Wilson's government. The responsibility for them lay with the metropolitan Commissioner of Police, then Sir Robert Mark. For the first two exercises spurious "anti- terrorist" excuses were given. For the last two none were even offered. Unable to stop the exercises, Harold Wilson, who was an obsessive constitutionalist, understood better than anyone the significance of the police/military collaboration. Particularly as he was after still smarting from both the mutiny in Ireland, and MI5's veto of able colleagues he had wanted to promote into the cabinet. It is hardly surprising that he must have felt that things were getting out of hand and out of control particularly as, when one of the exercises began, he had finally found out about the 1968 coup plot. His personal assistant, Marcia Williams, told the Sunday Times in March 1981:

". . . . . Harold was worried about the business when troops did an anti-terrorist exercise at London Airport. He said to me: "Have you ever thought that they could be used in a different way? They could turn that lot against the government totally. ""

Wilson's apparent paranoia was well founded. In 1974 there were widely circulating rumours that once again Army Officers were discussing the possibility of a military coup. The rumours were, of course, deniable and there were few people prepared to treat them seriously. Perhaps the only tangible evidence was the creation of a handful of "private armies" by military men such as Major General Walter Walker (former commander of the Rhine Army) or David Stirling (founder of the SAS) and figures from the far right such as the Ross and Norris MacWhirter and Michael Ivens. The first admission that the rumours were true came eventually from Field Marshall Lord Carver, six years later, during a Cambridge Union debate on pacifism. When questioned, he denied that either he or "senior" officers had been involved:

". . It was exactly the opposite in that a certain interview took place by a young journalist at the Army HQ near Salisbury, Wiltshire, in which not very senior, but fairly senior, officers were ill advised enough to make suggestions that perhaps if things got terribly bad, the Army would have to do something about it. " 9


The British Army's own changing role was echoed in British Intelligence. It was a change recalled by Peter Wright in "Spycatcher":

"The Irish situation was only part of a decisive shift inside MI5 towards domestic concerns. The growth of student militancy in the sixties gave way to industrial militancy in the early 1970's. The miners' strike of 1972, and a succession of stoppages in the motor industry had a profound effect on the thinking of the Heath government. Intelligence on domestic subversion became the overriding priority. "10

One of the immediate effects was the concentration of MI5's attentions on some of the fringe groups such as the Workers Revolutionary Party and the International Socialists, then about to become the Socialist Workers Party. The old guard in MI5, like Wright, felt that groups like IS or the WRP were not as great a threat to "national security" as some figures in the Labour Party or Trade Unions. Certainly the Trotskyists' contempt for Stalin and Stalinism excluded their groups from any direct contact with the Russians. They also, with the exception of Militant, stood apart from the Labour Party and had few supporters at the top of the trades union hierarchies. But whereas membership of the CPGB was in a rapid decline membership of the Trotskyist groups was growing rapidly. MI5's "F Branch" (Domestic Surveillance) had for decades been largely concerned with the tracking the Communist Party. This had made it subordinate to the cold warriors of "D Branch" (counter-espionage), which until the seventies had been MI5's elite. Although it should have been contracting, "E Branch" (the colonial branch of the service), which had masterminded counter-insurgency in Malaya and Kenya also began to eclipse counter-espionage.

This change of emphasis in MI5 must have cemented its relationship with the Economic League which had a well developed intelligence gathering mechanism including friends in the Trades Unions, and at least one agent (Ned Walsh) working exclusively undercover in the unions. Ted Heath had appointed an Intelligence mandarin - Lord Victor Rothschild - as head of his prime ministerial "think tank" in 1971. Rothschild wasted little time in using his Intelligence contacts. In 1972 he approached Wright, who was an old friend, and asked for some "no punches pulled" intelligence on the Trade Unions and Labour Party. Wright cleared the request with his boss Furnival Jones and delivered the goods. Wright is coy about what information was passed on, through Rothschild, to Heath. But it created such a storm among those Whitehall chiefs who found out about it that we may assume it included some of the highly dubious American material long held in a file codenamed "Oatsheaf". Rothschild, in addition to his government job, ran the family firm of N. M. Rothschild in the city. He was also on the boards of other companies including Shell (whose chairman Sir David Barran was president of the Economic League) and Slater Walker (a speculation company run by financial wizard Jim Slater and the Tory M. P. Peter Walker). In 1975 it was the fourth largest, known, donor to the Economic League. Only Natwest, Rank Hovis McDougall and Shell gave more while Barclays gave the same amount - £5,400.


In 1972 Wright discovered that he would not be receiving a full pension from MI5. He therefore considered setting up some "security" work to supplement his £2,000 a year pension. With this in mind he approached his old patron Rothschild to see if he could help. Rothschild offered Wright a "security job" with N. M. Rothschild but Sir Michael Hanley, who had taken over from Furnival Jones, for some reason vetoed this. Rothschild then put Wright in contact with an un-named businessman looking for someone to do security work. Wright claims to have taken an instant dislike to this man but still agreed to meet his colleagues:

"His colleagues were a ramshackle bunch. They were retired people from various branches of intelligence and security organisations whose best years were behind them. There were others too, mainly businessmen. . . . "

Rothschild's contact came straight to the point:

""We represent a group of people who are worried about the future of the country," he intoned. He had something of the look of Angleton on a bad night about him. He said they were interested in working to prevent the return of a Labour government to power."11

It was made clear to Wright that what was wanted was any information that could be used against the Labour Party, and its leaders in particular. Wright claims to have been unimpressed by the set up, and to have reported the meeting to Hanley and offered to continue monitoring it for MI5. Hanley's response was a strange one, coming from the head of an organisation that was putting considerable effort into monitoring, bugging, tapping and infiltrating even the most obscure left-wing, one horse shows:

"Hanley thought discretion was the better policy. "Leave it alone Peter" he said "it's a dirty game and you're well out of it. ""

Wright's account of the meeting with the conspirators is brief, incomplete and unreliable (as David Leigh points out in his book "The Wilson Plot"). In an earlier unpublished version of "Spycatcher", the businessman is identified as James Goldsmith and the group is identified as the Unison Committee. Unison, previously "Civil Assistance", was a private army organised by General Walter Walker, George Kennedy Young, Colonel Robert Butler, Michael Ivens, the MacWhirters and MI6 man, Anthony Cavendish. Unison was funded for three years by a £25,000 donation from Lord (Nicholas) Cayzer, the head of British and Commonwealth shipping and a vice president of the Economic League. Ironically Goldsmith was knighted by Wilson, it has been alleged because of his one man campaign against "Private Eye" which Wilson also despised. Goldsmith's connections with the League and intelligence were more tenuous than Cayzer's, though he helped his nephew, Antonio von Marx, set up a security company called Zeus Security. Zeus recruited mainly from the security services and was in turn employed by them. According to Gary Murray, a former private detective who worked freelance for MI5, there were close connections between Zeus and the League.12


But yet again the anti-Wilson conspiracy was stillborn. Heath called a General Election a year early to seek a mandate for his "tough line" with the unions. The conspirators had no time to act. By the February following the meeting between Wright and "Unison", Wilson was back in Downing Street. American concern at the continuing electoral success of the Labour Party led James Angleton, at the CIA, to successfully put pressure on Michael Hanley to reopen the "Oatsheaf" file on Wilson. Sir Michael Hanley put Wright in charge of it. Soon afterwards, Wright claims, he was approached by five MI5 colleagues who had found out that the file had been reopened. They wanted to use it as the basis for an anti-Wilson campaign:

""Wilson's a bloody menace," said one of the younger officers, "and it's about time the public knew the truth". "

Wright admits being tempted by their proposal and claims to have only been persuaded out of it by Victor Rothschild. Rothschild's concern however was not that it was dangerously unconstitutional, but that it would endanger Wright's pension.

But this time Wright held his counsel and did not alert Hanley to what was going on. David Leigh, in "The Wilson Plot", convincingly suggests that Wright was in fact the prime mover behind the anti-Wilson campaign in MI5. With Wright's help some of this plot seems to have been enacted:

Confidential files were leaked to sympathetic journalists, including of course Chapman Pincher

A smear campaign, including a forged Swiss Bank account, was launched against Ted Short, the Labour Party's deputy leader. Short was one of the politicians implicated in the Poulson/T. Dan Smith Scandal.13


Fortunately Wright's is not the only first hand inside account of MI5's covert activities during 1973-4. Colin Wallace, an Army Information Officer in Northern Ireland, then working for the psychological operations unit "Information Policy" has revealed details of an anti-government operation codenamed "Clockwork Orange 2". Shortly after the first election of 1974 Wallace was asked to produce a faked Republican document implicating a number of named Labour M. P. s. He was given access to MI5's files on the M. P. s and a thorough briefing on the reasons for and objectives of the inquiry. The notes which Wallace made at the time included a extraordinarily unlikely list of M. P. s to be "targeted":

Harold Wilson, Anthony Benn, Ian Mikado, David Owen, Eric Heffer, Judith Hart, Tom Driberg, Barbara Castle, Michael Foot, and John Stonehouse were claimed to be "secret communist party members" although the only one for whom the claim has been shown to hold any water is Tom Driberg, who was at least also acting as a double agent for MI5.

Brian Walden, Reg Prentice, Bob Mellish, John Cunningham, Frank Allaun, Stan Orme and Fenner Brockway were named as "Labour's New Left in Northern Ireland".

The evidence given to Wallace about Wilson comes from "Oatsheaf", but his notes also show that Edward Heath was to be the target of Intelligence's operations. Heath, claimed MI5, "can be shown to be under Soviet control through Lord Rothschild". The key words here are "can be shown". In this kind of "psychological operation" truth takes a back seat, and so does loyalty. The only evidence against Rothschild was his friendship with Burgess, Maclean and Blunt. He had been convincingly cleared of any suspicion. But there was enough circumstantial evidence to use the connection to smear Heath if necessary.

Heath was certainly discussed, as Wallace's notes show:

"The key issue is, therefore whether there should be cosmetic surgery to help elect a weak government under Heath, or Major Surgery to bring about a change of leadership before the next election".14

When Wilson called a second election barely six months after the first it hardly left MI5 any time for any kind of "surgery" whatsoever. The specific object of Wallace's contribution to MI5's psychological operations was however to undermine the Ulster Worker's Strike. Soon after he began work on "Clockwork Orange 2" the operation was closed down. He was told that "London had had a change of mind and now wanted the strike to succeed".


Increasingly unpopular within the Party, and having lost two unnecessary elections in the same year, Ted Heath's days as Tory leader were drawing to an end. Covert operations by MI5 were hardly needed to now accomplish his downfall. The Radical Right won control of the Conservative Party on Tuesday, February 11th 1975. Margaret Thatcher had romped home in the second ballot for the leadership with 146 votes. Willie Whitelaw had managed to get just 79 votes. Geoffrey Howe and James Prior obtained 19 votes each and someone called John Petryl had got eleven.

It was a stunning victory for the diehard tradition, which had been carefully isolated by the Tory leadership since Macmillan's day. The social democrats in the Party had been brilliantly out-manoeuvred.

The first stage in what John Nott called an "elaborate scheme, a bloodless coup" had been to force Heath out15. Although as we have seen this was being discussed in British Intelligence in early 1974 the Party then had no constitutional means of ditching a leader who didn't want to go.

Heath's dismal performance in a series of confrontations with Trade Unions had dismayed industry's diehards. The Economic League had been one of the most organised elements of Conservative diehard opposition to Heath. Their propaganda and monthly newsheets distributed to middle managers argued that the government had to stand firm and to mobilise the state and volunteers to undermine the strikers in a replay of 1926. Heath's decision to seek a mandate from the electorate, before seeing the job out, was regarded as weak and potentially disastrous.

The unexpected breakthrough for the long-beleaguered diehards came with the recruitment of Keith Joseph to their cause. Immediately after the Conservative's first electoral defeat of 1974 Joseph, a senior shadow cabinet minister, had broken ranks and started to openly criticise the social democratic consensus. Over the following year Joseph and Margaret Thatcher, a junior shadow cabinet colleague, became increasingly vocal supporters of the Economic League's old fashioned, and radical, brand of unrepentant laissez-faire capitalism. For Joseph it was a political gamble of enormous proportions; in the leadership race he had broken early and was setting a hell-for-leather pace. For Thatcher, a junior spokesperson with no prospect of the party leadership, there was less to lose.

For the radical right it was instant rehabilitation. Their supposedly obsolete economic theories were once again at the top of the political agenda. When Heath lost the October 1974 election it was inevitable that Joseph should become a main focus for those who wanted a new leader. But while Joseph's growing caucus represented the chief threat to Heath there was no way for Joseph to actually challenge him, if he didn't want to go.


In the end it was the "1922 Committee", the mouthpiece of Conservative backbench MPs that was the key to deposing Heath. Its chairperson was Edward du Cann, an old enemy of Heath's. Under du Cann the 1922 committee began to exert increasing pressure on Heath, if not to stand down to at least stand for re-election. Even his supporters began to realise that Heath needed a vote of confidence to re-establish control of the mutinous party and undermine Joseph and Thatcher. The press were aware of the pressure being put on the Tory leader was being find no one prepared to talk about it openly. The 1922 Committee had taken to meeting in secret to discuss the leadership issue. Its meeting place - du Cann's merchant bank, Keyser Ullman in Milk Street - was eventually leaked to the press who turned up in force to greet, what was dubbed, the "Milk Street Mafia" leaving a meeting. With everything out in the open Heath finally felt more or less forced to stand for re-election. The rules for the contest were to be laid down by Heath's predecessor and ally Alec Douglas Home: there would be two ballots; a 15% majority on the first ballot would secure victory and new Candidates would be able to stand in the second ballot. The whole point of this rigmarole was to allow Heath to stand down if he didn't win the first ballot and to allow another moderate candidate to replace him in the second ballot and hopefully win back some of the anti-Heath rather than pro-Joseph votes. The right had two serious candidates lined up for the contest. Joseph was, obviously, one. The other was du Cann himself. But both men had made enemies in the house and it was that a "stalking horse" was needed. That is a candidate who would attract the anti-Heath-but-anti-du Cann/Joseph vote without being in danger of winning the ballot. But before the candidates were declared both Joseph and du Cann had backed out. Joseph had marital problems and had made an extremely intemperate "keynote speech" advocating a birth control programme for social classes C and D, after which even friends realised that Joseph would be a gigantic electoral liability. Edward du Cann was under pressure from his family to not stand, and there were unproven suggestions of financial problems at Keyser Ullman. Margaret Thatcher, Joseph's closest political ally, and the likeliest candidate for stalking horse, suddenly became the Radical Right's only runner.

Airey Neave found himself masterminding Thatcher's campaign. In the first ballot Thatcher beat Heath by 130 votes to 119. Hugh Fraser, the only other candidate, was moved to tears by the fact that he had helped depose Heath. It is said that even Lord Hailsham cried. In the second ballot the bumbling, jovial and hopeless Tory patriarch, Willie Whitelaw carried the colours of Tory social democracy. They were taken to the cleaners. Writing seven years later two journalists from "The Times", Nicholas Whapshot and George Brock, summed up Thatcher's remarkable victory:

"Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party through a succession of accidents. . . Her success in the election against Edward Heath was a surprise to her supporters, even to herself. Many of those that voted for her did not want her to become leader and discovered that their tactical votes, designed merely to dislodge an isolated and electorally unattractive leader were part of an elaborate scheme to do something more. The rightwards shift which her election as leader announced was supported by neither the large majority of Conservative MPs, the Conservative Party nor the Conservative Party Workers. "16

Perhaps like all successful conspiracies the Joseph/Thatcher campaign had more than its fair share of good luck. For the Diehards it was only the beginning. Heath and Whitelaw had lost the leadership contest but Thatcher had made few converts to Diehardism in winning it. Over the course of four years of opposition politics a host of radical right wing "think tanks" and intellectuals emerged into prominence. Circumventing the Conservative's traditional organisation they mapped out a radical diehard manifesto for the eighties and mobilised the sort of support for Thatcher for which Ted Heath must have fruitlessly prayed every night of his Party leadership.

Though much later Thatcher's personal control of the direction of party policy was more or less absolute, during the vital four years before her first election victory she was more a willing and enthusiastic figurehead. She was, that is to say, not so much the architect as the site manager for the construction of the economic and political ideology that would come to be called "Thatcherism". By 1979 the manifesto was complete, and neatly laid out in a volume of essays by its designers called "The Case for Private Enterprise".17

Its contributors were:

Chris Tame, head of research at the National Association for Freedom (NAFF) until 1977, and by 1979 running a Conservative bookshop in Covent Garden and on the executive of the Libertarian Alliance. He is still today involved with the Libertarian Alliance but also Director of the tobacco industry funded pro-Smoking lobby, Forrest.

Lord De L'isle: Founder member and Chairman of NAFF

Michael Ivens: Director of Aims of Industry and a Council Member of NAFF amongst other things.

Lord Harris of High Cross: General Director of the Institute for Economic Affairs

Harry Welton: The recently retired Director of Information and Research, for the Economic League, retained by them in a "consultative capacity".

In his foreword Sir Keith Joseph reinforced the revolutionary nature of the change in thinking at the top of the Party by criticising it for its inability to mount a robust defence of free enterprise either because "Conservatives went on behaving very much as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries" or "because of the comfortable backgrounds of many, though not all, Conservative MPs, there were considerable feelings of guilt which led the Party to accept and even champion measures which appeared beneficial but which proved destructive and which, perhaps, should not have been accepted at all". Every Conservative leader this century had got it wrong, in fact were traitors to Conservatism:

"We did not recognise that between pluralists and collectivists there can be no middle ground in ideas and no possibility of stealing one's opponents' electoral clothes without betraying the principles of a pluralistic society and our own intellectual tradition".


The Conservative Party coup d'etat spearheaded by Keith Joseph, was the turning point in a broader, and ultimately successful, struggle by the rightwing establishment to effect a major redirection of British political life. The pressure for that realignment had not come Joseph and his allies in the party, but from a constellation of self appointed committees in and on the fringes of the establishment, operating outside democratic institutions. The comparatively late recruitment of Joseph and Thatcher, and their subsequent victory over Ted Heath enabled the hotch potch of conspirators and fellow travellers to make the transition from the essentially negative role of destabilising government and democratic institutions, to the more positive one of influencing directly political policy making.

Throughout this period the Economic League was ever present. But it would not seem to have been prime mover in any of the conspiracies. Its importance lay with its role as one of a very few guardians of the dissident Conservative Diehard tradition, and as a intelligence gathering organisation also capable of reinforcing the propaganda efforts - with a direct line to supervisory, middle and senior shopfloor management. Ironically, however, the very success of those who had come to share its political ideas and prejudices brought major problems for League. It had thrived on opposition - to trade union activism, to the Labour Party (except when it was haranguing the Communist Party) and to social democratic ideas in the Conservative Party. But it could not compete with the Conservative Party leadership's, and eventually government institutions', own work in these areas.

Just as problematic was the fact that although it received substantial support from the financial sector, the bulk of its activity was directed towards the manufacturing sector and as soon as Thatcher became Prime Minister the manufacturing sector, and with it industrial trades union militancy, collapsed spectacularly.

If the Economic League was to thrive under Thatcherism, it would need to radically reorganise and to try to carve out a new role for itself.

10. Chapter 9: Spies at Work

Wilson's relationship with the secret services, particularly F Branch of MI5 which was responsible for surveillance of the British left and trade unions, began badly and ended dreadfully. But there was a period during 1966 when he seemed to be working closely with them, much to the surprise and disgust of many in the Party, even some of his more right wing colleagues. Immediately after the election victory of 1966 Wilson attempted to introduce a prices and incomes policy, pegging prices rises and wage increases to around 3.5%. The unions' lack of enthusiasm for the idea meant that sooner rather than later there would be some sort of confrontation with a major trade union. In early 1966 it emerged that union would be the National Union of Seamen (NUS). The NUS was a strategically important union but not traditionally militant, and had not organised a major strike since 1911. However when, despite the 3.5% "pay norm", they sought a 17% rise and the shipowners indicated that they were willing to pay it, Wilson intervened to prevent the prices and incomes policy collapsing. The Seamen's Strike began in May 1966 and posed an immediate threat not only to the government's pay policy but to the British economy. Wilson handled the strike badly, and lost the trust and faith of many rank and file trade unionists without gaining anything in return - from the right in industry, the press, the intelligence community or those in the Labour Party who had egged him on. It was the major turning point in Wilson's career, and it created enduring problems that he never effectively resolved. One of the most extraordinary features of his handling of the strike were his statements to the House of Commons in which he alleged the strike was being manipulated by:

" . . . a tightly knit group of politically motivated men who, as the last General Election showed, utterly failed to secure acceptance of their views by the British electorate . . . Some of them are now saying very blatantly that they are more concerned with harming the nation than with getting the justice we all want to see".

The following Sunday the "Observer" published an article, under the headline "The Men Behind The Plot" which named five Communist Party members said to be orchestrating the seamen's strike for their own political ends. In a debate in Parliament the following Wednesday Wilson provided more details of the alleged conspiracy. The two sources for the "Observer" article were the Economic League, named by the paper, and George Wigg, the Paymaster General whose confused portfolio of responsibilities included both acting as a link between Wilson and MI5, and being the major conduit of officially sanctioned "leaks" to the press. In an unsuccessful attempt to get Tory backing for his red scare tactics Wilson arranged for Ted Heath to be briefed by the director of F Branch, Dick Thistlethwaite, and the F Branch officer in charge of the bugging of NUS headquarters. But rather than backing off, after this, Heath increased the pressure on Wilson in the House of Commons by demanding even more information about the plot. The Economic League's part in this affair would however seem to have been as important as that of MI5. They were so pleased with their role that they celebrated it in an article in one of their monthly newsletters:


Countering subversive activities in industry

"On the eve of the Prime Ministers statement about the influence of a "tightly-knit group of politically motivated men" on the progress of the seamen's strike in June 1966, the Economic League was invited by the BBC to provide factual background to a Panorama programme dealing with the subject.

"The League's contribution, which was undertaken by the Publicity Director, Mr H. R. Welton, occupied the opening ten minutes of the programme and was used as the foundation to material brought out in ensuing interviews and news reports. "

Later on the article recalls some interesting features cut from the interview with Welton:

"The interview actually recorded covered approximately fifteen minutes and it was inevitable and understood that this would be cut and edited. This editing was carried out quite fairly and the programme as transmitted very well represented the interview as a whole. "Nevertheless in such editing many points of some importance are bound to be lost. For instance, in the early stages of the recording the Publicity Director dealt fully with the operations of Bert Ramelson, the Head of the Communist Party's Industrial Department . . . One of the most interesting points dealt with by the Publicity Director, but omitted from the transmitted programme, was that appeals for funds for the strike were being made on a national basis but were to be sent to the Victoria and Albert Branch of the NUS which was dominated by two Communists, Gordon Norris and Jack Coward. "

The point that the Economic League was trying to make here was that before Wilson's statements to the Commons, the League had given three of the names of the "tightly - knit group of politically motivated men" to "Panorama". During the making of the programme researchers had warned John Prescott, now one of the Labour Party's leading front benchers but then a National Union of Seamen activist studying at Hull University, that Wilson was about to name him too.1

Wilson's statements in Parliament did not therefore come out of the blue, but merely reinforced a message that the Economic League had already publicised both through the "Observer" and one of the most popular programmes on television. In assessing the League's role in this affair the two key questions are: Were MI5 and the League were working together, and would MI5 have been able, via Wigg, to persuade Wilson to make the claims about communist manipulation of the strike without the League's intervention? Unfortunately it is simply not possible to answer either conclusively, it is however possible to say that the balance of probability lies in favour of collusion between MI5 and the League. There were historical connections, the League was a free source of useful intelligence that would have been valuable the MI5 and at the same time it was an eminently deniable vehicle for any smears that it wanted to generate about the strike.

In respect of the League's impact on Wilson's decision to allege that the strike was politically motivated it is only possible to say that the prior publicity must have encouraged him. And without at least one quotable source, in the form of the League, to make the allegations then it is unlikely either the Panorama programme would have been made, or that the allegations would have merited a major article in the "Observer". This however was not the Economic League's only successful and well publicised intervention in the Seamen's strike. On the 21st June, Helen Bailey a glamorous Economic League speaker had attracted a great deal of newspaper coverage by preventing the docker's leader Jack Dash from holding a meeting to canvass support for the seamen. The Daily Sketch, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Scotsman, and Evening News all carried the story of how she had turned up before Dash and held her own meeting, in which, according to the Evening News, she:

". . . . spoke for about 45 minutes to 300 dockers on Communists in British Industry. She said: "There is evidence in the seamen's union that there have been extremists who have tried to take the union over. Communists try by subversion to undermine the country. By finding out where their members work and what union they belong to then they [sic, I suspect this should read "we"] know precisely where their troops are deployed. ""2

The "Daily Express" ran a chatty feature on Helen Bailey by Mary Kenny:

"Little Nell - she silenced the dockers":"Wearing a figure-hugging print dress and bright red shoes. Helen Bailey went on: "I feel I achieve more by being feminine. I like to be provocative" A serious minded girl, Helen Bailey has been talking at meetings in the docks for the last 15 years. "This is because I hate communism".

Elsewhere in Kenny's article we learn that Helen Bailey lives in a basement flat near Marble Arch, "drives a green mini and carries her own little wooden platform with her", always takes her black poodle Susie to meetings, and "has just one golden rule - and makes no secret of it - "I never speak to a communist".

The following day The Daily Mail ran a feature "Presenting the men of industry behind The girl who dished Jack Dash". Helen Bailey was, Charles Greville told readers, an Economics Graduate from Sheffield, and was one of fifty League lecturers out of a total staff of 100. Greville also interviewed Mr John Dettmer, "a former Army officer who became director general in 1959. Dettmer told him:

"I shouldn't believe we were doing our job if extremists of any kind admired us".

But, he claimed, the League was non-political and its staff were forbidden to take part in election campaigns "so that they cannot be accused of taking sides". "What annoys the Left most, I fancy, is the League's habit of collecting minute details about political activists, and working them up into newsletters and briefings for member and speakers. "

The League was getting all this additional press coverage for its allegations that the Seamens' strike was communist controlled while Wilson was trying to decide how much he should say about Communists in the NUS. Reviewing the affair now, the claim that the traditionally unmilitant seamen were being secretly manipulated by a handful of overt members of the Communist Party is to say the least unconvincing. Indeed insofar as there is any evidence of the machinations of "a tightly-knit group of politically motivated men", it would seem to point to those who were manipulating Harold Wilson, not the seamen.


The League's claims to be politically independent and its professed support for "legitimate" trade unionism was of course disingenuous. It was clear that by this it meant trade unions who did not take industrial action, a perfectly legitimate trades union activity. But beyond this blatantly dishonest politicking it is hard to be scandalised by the League's overt propaganda work. Superficially at least it would seem to have been just another part of the rough and tumble of factory gate politics. But the distinction between its overt work and its secret activities was never entirely clear cut.

The press coverage for Harry Welton and Helen Bailey during June 1966 suggested an insidious collaboration with MI5. The Daily Mail's discussion of the way in which alleged subversives were named in League publications might seem to legitimise the maintenance of an employment blacklist, since the allegations were published they were at least in theory challengeable. But in fact there is a fundamental difference between a published blacklist of leading activists, and one that was operated in secrecy and could not be challenged by anyone. The secret blacklist was especially immune from a challenge by anyone who had no good reason to suspect that they might be blacklisted. In the "spytalk" glossary of Christopher Dobson and Ronald Payne's "Dictionary of Espionage" a "covert operation" is described as a "Concealed and deceptive activity"3. But in espionage all actions are, at least intended to be, concealed and/or deceptive. A covert action by an intelligence agency is distinguished from its routine operations by the fact that intelligence (that is observation and the collection of information) is subordinate to intervention, and indeed a "covert" operation might well be a very public one in which the only "covert" feature is the fact of an intelligence agency's involvement.

Improvements in the quantity or quality of information are generally not the purpose of "covert action". The point of a covert operation is to change things and/or manipulate public opinion, without the intelligence agency ever having to admit involvement. Classic examples of covert action were MI6's scheme to assassinate Nasser at the time of the Suez crisis; the Information Research Department's establishment of its own apparently independent press agencies in the 1940s; the intelligence services repeated use of judicious leaks, generally to trusted journalists and authors, of secret information with a view to manipulating domestic public opinion.

There are two obvious senses in which the Economic League has been, for seventy years, involved in "covert action". Firstly its public, overt, activities have always been complemented by secret, fundamentally anti-democratic, activities and in at least some of these it had the support of MI5 or Special Branch. Secondly the League has always been a safe and unofficial means by which domestic intelligence can be obtained, and/or can be fed back to those can make use of it.


There is now no shortage of evidence about the Economic League's blacklist. In 1925 the League's 5th Annual Report records that under Sir Aukland Geddes lists and diagrams of the "interlocking directorates" of "socialist and subversive organisations". We also know from the Public Records Office that the League sought, and received, information from the Admiralty on at least one of the Invergordon Mutineers. The worker in question was subsequently dismissed from his job as a rigger. We also know that in 1937, when "The Daily Worker" obtained correspondence between John Baker White and Robert Rawdon Hoare that the League's had valuable, and illegal contacts with the police. These letters described the deal struck between Hoare and Detective Eckersley who ". . . promised to give me [Hoare] as long as I like looking over the Communist industrial file in their office. . . I am also in touch with the Salford Police; their Communist man having already called at this office". Another memo indicated that the police were going to supply a report of a private Communist Party meeting in Brighton to the League.

During the 1960's several newspapers ran stories about the League's blacklist: In 1961 the "Daily Express" ran a piece about the League in which readers were told that firms

"can apply to the League's headquarters opposite Buckingham Palace to check if a prospective employee is listed as a Communist sympathiser".4

In January 1964 "The Guardian" exposed the Economic League:

"In a circular to its workers in its 10 regional offices the League says that when an approach is made to a potential industrial subscriber the firm should be told that much of its work is secret. . . the director must not be told straight away what the League does: this information is vouchsafed at personal interviews. "If a director asks for details of our work, he should be told that some of it is highly confidential and therefore cannot be put in writing. ""5

"The Observer" obtained confirmation of the blacklist from a subscriber in 1969:

"One very large company which makes a very large donation says flatly that the League "does a hell of a lot of vetting for us on political grounds, this is their sole use to us and for x pounds a year, it's good value for money"6. In 1970 "Building Design" explained that contractors could ring Major Newman of the Economic League ". . . and be told whether an prospective employee is a troublemaker".7

In April 1974 "The Sunday Times" investigated a story about workers at Strachan in Eastleigh, Hampshire, who occupied their factory which made van bodies for Fords. The parent company Giltspur Investments were trying to close the factory down. Strachan managers admitted to the newspaper that they had been using the Economic League to vet employees, that they had "a number of meetings with detectives to pass on details of what particular individuals had been doing" and that Special Branch had been watching the Strachan factory workers since the previous August. "Time Out", the following month, reported that workers had rung the Leagues secret number (686-9841) and given the Strachan management's secret code (520). They asked for information on one of the shop stewards and were told - incorrectly - that he was a Communist Party member who had once stood for the Party in a local election. The "Guardian" followed the same procedure and identified the number as definitely belonging to the "Economic League".8

In October 1974 the "Aberdeen People's Press" reported that the League had opened an office in Aberdeen to service the oil companies. It was manned by a failed St Andrews businessman called Brown.

In April 1977 "The Guardian" revealed that it was not only private industry that used the League's blacklist. When workers at the State owned "Reinforcement Steel Services" occupied their Greenwich factory in 1977. They discovered that RSS were using the Economic League and that following alleged sabotage the Greenwich management had called in both Special Branch and the League.9

The following year "The Guardian" revealed that it was not only manufacturing companies who used the black list. Crematorium workers with the Great Southern Cemetery and Crematorium Group discovered a confidential memo:

"Before engaging staff in future, a call should be made to 01-681-7346, code number 555, and they will require the full names, the area of living, date of birth and National Insurance number of the proposed employee. You give him the code number, you do not give the company's name or mention it. If there is the slightest suggestion of any information held against the proposed employee from this source you do not engage same. "

Again the "Guardian" followed this procedure checking out several names and the following day a number of corporate subscribers were reported as denying any knowledge of the blacklisting. However Peter Linklater, Shell's personnel director told the newspaper:

"They give us pretty good value. . . . . We are interested in identifying overt opponents of the system to which we are committed. The last thing we want to do is have political subversives on our payroll or on sites in which we have an interest".

The same edition the paper spoke to a former employee in the League's Glasgow office who explained that the Economic League also collected, and recommended against employment on the basis of, criminal records.10


Until 1969 the League denied all suggestions by journalists that it operated a blacklist. But in October of that year the League's "Publicly Director", Harry Welton, changed his tack and told the "Observer":

"There's no secret about it. We say we're going to oppose subversion and by God we do. It frequently happens that trades unionists who feel as strongly as we do about the activities of subversives in their unions will give us information. "

However when the "Guardian" questioned the League in 1977 about its involvement with Reinforcement Steels in Greenwich a spokesman replied: "We don't keep a blacklist. It's all a complete mystery".

After the discovery of the Southern Crematorium connection the following year the Guardian tried again. This time Jack Winder, the League's "Director of Information and Research" told the paper: "We don't keep files on anybody on behalf of anybody else". But when presented with the evidence he finally admitted

"It is our business to have this information and we will give it to people".

Growing, adverse, publicity about the blacklist lead to a change in policy which Saxon Tate, the League chairman, explained in the 1978 Annual Report:

"The League puts considerable effort into monitoring the activities of subversive groups and individuals - those people who are known for certain to be actively striving to undermine not only free enterprise, but state controlled industry and public services too. . . The Central Council's policy has been to shun publicity. . . it has been decided that this policy should be changed in favour of a more aggressive one. The League. . . has amassed a substantial store of information about the activities of subversive groups and the individuals prominent in them. The League answers enquiries from the media as well as its own members and we see no necessity to continue to be reticent about the fact that we have such information or that it is available".


The League's blacklist was compiled from a wide variety of sources. Some of them are legal, some illegal. Even when strictly speaking legal, some of these sources were scarcely legitimate - involving fraud, dishonesty and breach of professional ethics and the rights of individuals. This diversity of sources was reflected in the quality of the information. I have a copy of the index to the North West Region's blacklist in use in 1986, but some entries had been made thirty years earlier. It contains nearly 6,000 names and runs to 167 pages. Some entries are very detailed; providing full names, addresses, national insurance numbers and details of party political, campaign or trades union membership and Office. These entries certainly identify individuals and details could be checked. But most entries do not; addresses are not listed, national insurance numbers not available, full names are not given. In some cases occupations and areas of work are not given. The chaotic and dilettante nature of the files was underlined by the fact that, for example, a prominent Labour politician like Eric Heffer was entered twice; or that Roger Lyons (now general secretary of MSF) was listed under his long defunct Merseyside address; or more mundanely that the list included a "P. Smith of Manchester" with no indication that it was Peter, Paul or Paula.

In 1985 an internal League document called "The Need for a Change of Direction" was leaked to the Labour Research Department. It was written by employees of the League who were unhappy with some of the policy and organisational changes made to deal with life under Thatcherism. This document together with the League's own publicity, information from a small number of defectors from the League, and an undercover report by Granada TV's "World in Action" enable us to build up a clear picture of the sources used to compile the blacklist:

1 THE PRESS: Names extracted from the radical left and the fascist's own papers. Names extracted from Trades Union Journals and local and national newspapers.

Considering the severity of the consequences of being branded a subversive by the Economic League - long-term or permanent unemployment - it is remarkable that little of its evidence would bear scrutiny in any court of law. The League's sources generally provided circumstantial or hearsay evidence, open to personal or political manipulation and incapable of being confirmed even if the League had had the resources to do it. The blacklist index of which I have a copy frequently fails to identify a specific individual and information is out of date, sometimes by decades. Even where the source of the original information, such as personnel officers, could have provided information that positively identify just one person it was not updated.

Although it has been alleged that the League's blacklist contained as many as 250,000 names it seems that was an exageration and it was most likely to have been around 45,000. Speaking to MPs, trades unionists and journalists in the Houses of Parliament (in 1989) the former North West Regional Director, Mr Richard Brett, suggested that 35,000 of the 45,000 files would have to be weeded out because they were either hopelessly inadequate or uselessly out of date. It was a charge with which the League more or less agreed. Speaking on the Channel Four television programme "After Dark", in 198811, Michael Noar, then Director of the League, refused to answer questions about the size of the blacklist because it was being overhauled. It was a far cry from Saxon Tate's claim in the 1980 Annual Report that:

"Members can have complete confidence that the League's work in both economic education and counter-subversion is characterised by strict adherence to provable facts".

As we have seen, even when Tate's statement was made the "Guardian", for example, had already checked and challenged the League's information. Most subsequent checks by journalists - most notably the "World in Action" teams - have unearthed a catalogue of mistakes and misidentification by the League. But the mammoth difficulty that journalists have had in tracing a great many of the people on the North West's blacklist only went to underline its poor quality and the scale of the task facing the League's weeders. In the first of three television programmes about the Economic League produced by Granada TV's "World in Action" teams12 Alan Harvey, an official of the North East Region, was secretly filmed describing the range of services available to businesses. Harvey described a recent case where he had recommended that a company not employ someone because he had the same surname as someone on the blacklist:

"We said, well look, you know, erm, by all means take the guy on if you want, but if it was me I would be a little worried about it because you are risking other people's jobs. But who do you risk? Do you risk ninety people, or a hundred people or even thousands of people, or one job?"

It presented a revealing insight into the way in which, at least some, League officials used the flawed collation of information, supposition, assumption and malicious gossip that made up the blacklist. Merely having the same surname as an alleged local subversive might prevent you getting a job with a Economic League subscriber. This attitude must have turned the recruitment procedure into a lottery in a large company which, like Fords until 1990, routinely submitted all potential employee's names to the League for processing.

In the face of the evidence, the League's claims for the accuracy of its vetting procedure are worthless. Neither a blacklisted individual nor the subscribing company could check the accuracy of League's information or assessment.

There was also substantially greater pressure on the League to avoid making the mistake of letting a trades union or political activist through the net than branding a few political inactive individuals as "trouble makers". There was also a simple market force on the League to encourage an employer to maintain its subscription by reinforcing the idea that there was a queue of "subversives" trying to obtain work with it. Harvey's safety first approach was likely to be shared by client companies, especially when with unemployment rising there might be very many suitable applicants for a post.

It was also an approach which the League felt had been endorsed by the declared "industrial strategy" of a number of Trotskyist and neo-Trotskyist groups during the 1970's, and by the example of the so-called "Cowley Moles". This was a clique of revolutionary socialists who all obtained work, at the same time, in British Leyland's Cowley plant in Oxford. Their aim was to establish a factory branch and act as a strong and militant force within the union there. The Economic League subsequently used the example of the "Cowley Moles" to promote, for example in its 1986 pamphlet "Companies Under Attack", the general need for political vetting of job applicants, and its own services especially. It was after all the League, working closely with the company, who had identified the "Cowley Moles" in the first place - although only after they had been given jobs at the plant.


The Economic League's blacklisting overlapped with the state's domestic intelligence services. The most clear cut example of this common ground would be in MI5, the secret service with primary responsibility for spying on British territory on British citizens and particularly "C" division of MI5 which until recent reorganisations handled security clearance for private firms with defence contracts. We know, definitely that in the years before the Second World War the League supplied and received information from Special Branch and Naval Intelligence and that during the General Strike it was reporting to the Prime Minister. At a time when MI5 had barely two dozen agents it was a willing and vital source of intelligence. When Walter Citrine, first head of the nationalised British Electricity Authority, demanded a purge of communists in London Power Stations the investigation was carried out by Roger Hollis, the head of "C" division, and his junior, P. A. Osborne. Another graduate of this area of work was Martin Furnival Jones. Like Hollis he would also become head of MI5, but in 1942 he was "handling security at defence contractors". The Cold War saw the state, under the Labour leader Clement Attlee maintain its own blacklist aimed at preventing members of the CPGB from entering public service, and restricting or even dismissing communists already in employment. The League was there to show them how it was done, though to be fair under this "loyalty programme" the state at least challenged people to their face and allowed a formal appeal against its decisions. There is a persuasive body of circumstantial evidence of a continuing connection between British Intelligence and the Economic League after the Second World War: an already established relationship, a common cause (anti-bolshevism), a common tactic (the blacklist) and the League's employment of individuals with a Intelligence background. It would be truly incredible if MI5 had not sought and received information from the Economic League and its nationwide network of contacts in personnel departments. But there are other even more interesting questions raised by the relationship between MI5 and the Economic League: Did the League get financial assistance from the "Secret Service Vote" in Parliament, or did it, in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, receive information the Secret Services? An unnamed informant in Duncan Campbell's book "On the Record" and a former officer in Army Intelligence (Major Colin Wallace) suggest that the League had office space in MI5 headquarters and did receive money from the "secret vote". Gary Murray, a former private detective who worked freelance for MI5, has also suggested that there was a two-way relationship between the League and MI5.

In the interwar period the scale of the League's operations had more than rivalled MI5's. But the Cold War enabled the Military and Intelligence establishments to remain on a war footing, and the League operations ceased to compare with the breadth or scale of state's own domestic surveillance. But the League did have facilities that the state's intelligence services could not easily match: routine contact with personnel departments and managers, regular and continuous "low level" intelligence from its "upfront" activities like leafleting and training, an eminently deniable mechanism for disseminating propaganda and if necessary disinformation, and a safe and deniable direct line to a small number of sympathetic trades unionists.

It also had one other facility that the Secret Services would have been happy to encourage. We know for certain that early in the 1960's the League had at least one of its employees working on a more or less full time basis inside the trades union movement. In 1988 "World in Action" revealed that a League employee called Ned Walsh had been working undercover in the trades union ASTMS, now MSF, for more than twenty years. While undercover agents did not account for a major part of the Economic League's budget, Walsh was not the only one operating and Regional Directors also cultivated their own small groups of paid informers.


The circumstantial evidence confirms the suggestions of men like Wallace and Murray and Duncan Campbell's un-named informant that there was some sort of special relationship between MI5 and the Economic League. But just how special was it? Did, for example, MI5 simply encourage the League to pass information on and then assess it cautiously and diligently because it originated from a politically motivated and interested party? The answer to this last question, at least in the 1970's, would seem to be a categorical "no". For in 1972, a man called Charles Elwell became head of F Branch of MI5. By the 1970s MI5 had evolved a structure involving six branches: A, B, C, D, S and F. Of these D and F Branches were the key Branches, with the others providing the operational and administrative support for their activities:

F BRANCH was the section of MI5 responsible for domestic intelligence.

D BRANCH (later renamed K Branch) which was responsible for monitoring the activities of the Soviet Union's intelligence operations in Britain and in British Territories.

A BRANCH was responsible for its operational field work (telephone tapping, surveillance, etc).

B BRANCH was the personnel and legal department.

C BRANCH was responsible for "security", of documents and buildings vetting employees in sensitive areas of work and investigating leaks.

S BRANCH provided general back-up services, runs the registry of files and a joint computer database with MI6.

Although information from the Economic League would eventually end up in the hands of S Branch, and there was an overlap - in respect of defence companies - with the work C Branch perhaps the League's main point of contact with MI5 would have been through F Branch13. F "Division" had been created as part of the wholesale reorganisation of MI5 during the early years of the Second World War. At first surveillance of the CPGB and the left had been the responsibility of Roger Hollis, while Graham Mitchell took responsibility for surveillance of fascists. In 1945 Hollis became its Director, but moved to C Division in 1946 when he was succeeded by Graham Mitchell. In the years immediately after the Second World War there were at least two important MI5 figures we know to have been close to the Economic League since the 1920s: Guy Liddell, who had given National Propaganda a good reference in the 1920s, and Maxwell Knight, who continued to run agents in the CPGB until he retired in the 1950s. Although his activities are generally associated with B Division, then the counter-espionage section, he was also probably the first head of F4, F Division's agent running section, and his second in command, John Bingham (later Lord Clanmorris), certainly took up this position after Knight left the service.

In 1953 MI5 was again reorganised with Hollis now becoming its Deputy Director General, Mitchell, Director of "D Branch" (counter espionage) and Alex Kellar becoming Director of F Branch. Kellar, a Scot who had a background in international law, remained Director of F Branch until his retirement in 1965 when he was succeeded by Dick Thistlethwaite, who was almost immediately drawn into the events surrounding the seamens' strike. Thistlethwaite retired in 1972 and was replaced by Charles Elwell.

For most of the duration of the Cold War F Branch failed to enjoy the same status as the spycatchers in D Branch. However (according to, for example, Peter Wright) there was a significant change of direction in 1972 with the appointment of a new Director General - Sir Michael Hanley. Under Hanley senior officers, including Elwell, were drafted across from counter-espionage to lead the work of the expanded F Branch, which now had seven sub sections:

F1 - CPGB; F2 - Trades Unions; F3 - Anti terrorism (non Irish); F5 - Irish Terrorism; F7 - Left wing groups, right wing extremists, MPs, Teachers, lawyers and journalists .

F4 and F6 were essentially agent running sections, together known as, or run by, "FX"14. F4 concentrated on the CPGB while F6 worked with in the Trades Union movement.

Elwell's extreme right wing political views were to cause MI5 profound problems. An accomplished career officer who in his thirties had interrogated Russian spies like Vassal and Gordon Lonsdale, he had also been responsible for debriefing the Czech defector Josef Frolik in 1968. When Frolik named the Labour government's Postmaster General, John Stonehouse, as a Czech agent Wilson insisted that Elwell confront Stonehouse with the allegation personally and in front of himself. Stonehouse, a particularly right wing Labour man, passed the interview with flying colours and in his autobiography remembered Elwell as a "precisely dressed, clean cut sharp edged man in his early forties". "He had" he continued "the manner of an ex-military man and was quietly confident and not at all overawed by the occasion or the situation".

Under Elwell F Branch had some notable early successes. Not least of these was the resolution, in its favour, of a long running dispute between MI5 and MI6 about who should be running operations in Northern Ireland. The scale of, and resources available for, operations against trade union activists also increased significantly. But the overtly political nature of F Branch's operations against the trade unions began to worry some officers. Michael Bettaney, was a young F Branch officer from a working class background. His first posting, for two years, to Northern Ireland was particularly difficult. Early on he was injured in a car bomb attack and later had to hide in one room while his informant was knee-capped in another. He returned, disillusioned, to work in F3 until 1982 when he was transferred to the counter espionage section, K Branch. Not long after his transfer he tried to make contact with the KGB with the aim of passing on secret information, which he had been amassing since his transfer. The KGB couldn't believe their luck, and did not take him seriously. In September 1983 he was arrested before he had chance to pass on any information at all. At his trial, during which he claimed to have been ideologically motivated, he was given a 23 years sentence with the stipulation that he remain isolated from other prisoners. A rather sad and pathetic figure had been transformed into a latterday "man in the iron mask". Without endorsing his actions two former colleague's were so outraged that they felt they had to go public. His former secretary, Miranda Ingram, wrote an article in his defence in "New Society". There she claimed:

"In the prevailing right wing atmosphere an officer who dissents from the official line does not feel encouraged to voice his concern".15

Two weeks later Cathy Massiter, a former F Branch officer, wrote a letter to "New Society" in Bettaney's defence:

"Michael Bettaney is not some kind of anomaly . . . . but is to a large extent a product of the security service itself. Though his reactions were extreme, the conflicts and dissatisfactions which provoked them were far from rare".

Within a year Massiter went on to become the focus of a now famous television programme - "MI5's Official Secrets" - which raised a storm of controversy by revealing the extent of F Branch's surveillance of trades unions and pressure groups like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The state's brutal treatment of Bettaney continues today, exacerbated by the completely implausible suggestion by the double agent Andrei Golytsin that he himself had to defect hurriedly because the supposedly isolated Bettaney had blown his cover to "Irish friends" in prison.

But the Bettaney case had started a train of events which did the British Intelligence community no good at all. Although Bettaney today still languishes forgotten in prison, neither Miranda Ingram nor Cathy Massiter were prosecuted and the state's failure to act against Massiter in particular is widely believed to have prompted Peter Wright to publish "Spycatcher".

The expansion of F Branch under the Directorship of Elwell, had resulted in a disturbing increase in activities against trades unions and non-subversive pressure groups in Britain. In the early years of his Directorship it had been an F6 officer who had given the "Clockwork Orange" briefing to Colin Wallace in Northern Ireland.

It ought not to be surprising to find therefore that after his retirement at the end of the decade Elwell put his services at the disposal of the Radical Right. In 1983 he wrote a pamphlet for the "Social Affairs Unit" called "Tracts beyond the Times - a brief guide to the communist or revolutionary marxist press". The Social Affairs Unit was a subsidiary of the "Institute of Economic Affairs", a Conservative think tank which had been founded in the 1950s and specialised in the promotion unregulated free enterprise. At the time that Elwell was involved with it was being run by Lord Harris of High Cross and Nigel Vinson, who together with Thatcher and Joseph had founded the Centre for Policy Studies.

"Tracts beyond the Times" is perhaps the best evidence of the political obsessions of F Branch under Elwell. In addition to the self-proclaimed marxist press, like "News Line" and "Socialist Worker", it contains entries on "Anti-Apartheid News", "Sanity", "Tribune", "Labour Herald" and "Searchlight" and bulletins produced by the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. At the same time Elwell became a regular contributor to another organ of the Radical Right, the "Common Cause Bulletin". Common Cause was a relatively small and strange gathering point for the fanatical anti-Communists, which had enjoyed some connection with the ultra right of the Labour movement and advocates of racial purity like Lady Jane Birdwood. A spokesman for Common Cause later told the journalist Mark Hollingsworth that Elwell was never formally a member of their group and had been introduced to them by Brian Crozier; who was an important element in their strategic intervention in British politics. Using money from the CIA he had helped to set up the Institute for the Study of Conflict and ran a number of its front companies like the publishing firm Forum World Features.

Elwell's last known political venture was as editor of an extremely secret right wing monthly journal known as "British Briefing". Copies were distributed to a strictly limited number of reliable recipients who were asked, if they made use of the information it contained, not to name it as the source. Although its existence eventually became known, and the source of finance behind it, copies are still almost impossible to obtain with probably no more than two, of which I have copies, in non- rightwing hands.

"BB", as it was called by its recipients, was funded by the millionaire "libertarian" conservative David Hart. A flamboyant figure, whose belligerent preaching of fundamentalist conservative individualism probably terrifies more Conservatives than it has inspired, Hart is a close adviser and friend to Margaret Thatcher. During the miners strike he was given the role of Thatcherite minder and fixer for the dangerously liberal minded Peter Walker, the energy secretary and the last true "wet" in a Thatcher Cabinet. One of his roles had been to organise the financing of the working miners' groups which were a key part in Thatcher's objective of crushing the National Union of Mineworkers. On the eve of the 1987 General Election, Hart formed his own organisation "The Committee for a Free Britain" which ran a series of powerful and outrageous anti Labour newspaper adverts, for which the expression "scaremongering" seems somehow inadequate.16

Before Hart took it over, British Briefing had been called "Background Briefing on Subversion" and the implication I was given by Hart himself was that he inherited Elwell with the title. The name was said to have been changed to tie in with another of Hart's publications - "World Briefing" which was also distributed to key opinion formers on the right. Hart was not the only source of money, he raised some from Rupert Murdoch, but Hart controlled it. Articles in the two issues I have, refer back to previous issues and suggest that they are fairly representative in containing numerous allegations against Labour MPs for their "communist sympathies" and national and international charities for their "communist affiliations". In the issue for December 1986 it highlighted particularly War on Want, Shelter - "which have frequently been mentioned in BB" - and "Child Poverty Action" - "the subject of a major article in BB 6/86". It also carried an article heavily critical of the anti racist work of the British Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, and less surprisingly about the "Anti-Economic League Campaign". The only Conservative MP to receive a critical mention was Richard Shepherd, who had just opposed the new official secrets act but was actually criticised for talking to a journalist from the "Morning Star".

"British Briefing" is thus another revealing insight into the thinking of the Head of F Branch of MI5 during the 1970's, a key period which saw it increasingly in conflict with and operating against the leadership of all the main democratic political parties. It was not the sort of atmosphere in which this particular branch of the secret state was going to hold the Economic League at arms length, or view with healthy scepticism any of its alarmist reports. Ironically David Hart, the man who had financed British Briefing, could not even bring himself to wholeheartedly endorse Elwell's line in "British Briefing" and told me that his involvement had been primarily motivated by his regard and liking of Elwell personally. Hart told me that he thought that the Economic League were "Wankers".


The Economic League did not invent the employment blacklist, nor the idea of what Dickens had one of his characters call "the mischeevous strangers", deliberately whipping the otherwise loyal and honest working man and woman into a political frenzy. But, for all its amateurishness and shoddiness, the League's blacklist was the most concerted and practical effort to organise one throughout British industry and commerce. The concept of a political motivated radical socialist or communist insinuating themselves into a company with the sole aim of bringing it to its knees was the key selling point for the blacklist. And by the early eighties the blacklist was the key to the Economic League's continuing existence. That there were these sorts of ultra leftist conspiracies is not in doubt. However the crucial question is whether they ever posed a serious threat, and whether they justified the sort of draconian response adopted by the League or MI5.

It was however never in the Economic League's, or for that matter MI5's, interest to query the party-building propaganda and self-delusions of the radical left. They were far to good an excuse for operating against the mainstream of the Labour movement. Nor was it particularly helpful for an employer, or for that matter Labour Prime Minister, to challenge the notion that the root cause of their industrial relations problems was a tightly-knit group of "mischeevous strangers".

Perhaps Stephen Blackpool, Dickens' honest-but-doomed working man in "Hard Times", realised this too. Having refused to join a union and thus being sent to Coventry by his workmates, Stephen is summoned before his employer, Josiah Bounderby, to be cross examined about the events in the hope of uncovering the ring leaders. Stephen resists Bounderby's attempts to extract information from him, and is consequently treated to a diatribe about the outsiders who had been allegedly inciting industrial action and organisation in the Mill. Eventually Stephen's patience breaks, with eventually disastrous consequences:

"Mischeevous strangers!" said Stephen, with an anxious smile; "when ha we not heern, I am sure, sin ever we can call to mind, o' th'mischeevous strangers! `Tis not by them the trouble's made, sir. `Tis not with them't commences. I ha no favor for `em - I ha no reason to favor `em - but `tis hopeless and useless to dream o' takin them fro their trade, `stead o'takin their trade fro' them!"

Of course the Economic League was all about keeping that "hopeless and useless" dream alive.

11. Chapter 10: The Need for a Change of Direction

Any threat of the British military establishment taking action against elected governments receded in the wake of the defeat of Ted Heath in the Conservative Party leadership election, and the resignation of Harold Wilson and his replacement by Jim Callaghan.

But at first the Tory "Revolution" had more leaders than troops. Over the next four years these latterday diehards, or the "New Right" as they liked to be known, had to make sure their old fashioned anti-interventionist politics were secured at the centre of the manifesto upon which the next election would be fought. The business of consolidating their infant revolution had been made easier by the right wing Labour government of James Callaghan, who took over from Wilson when he surprisingly resigned in April 1976.

Callaghan's insecure and beleaguered Government ended its days clinging to power with political help from the Liberals and Northern Irish Unionists, and substantial loans from the International Monetary Fund to which strict monetarist conditions were attached. During the four year run up to the 1979 election the Economic League gave up its pretence to political independence and was actively canvassing for the new-look Tories.

But there were also the first signals that a sympathetic Conservative Party leadership might pose problems for pressure groups like the Economic League, which relied for most of its support on Conservatives who were unhappy with the direction of the Conservative Party leadership. In 1978 Labour Research recorded a 63% increase in corporate donations to the Party, although this increase was not experienced by the Radical Right in general. Aims, Common Cause, and the Economic League only recorded modest increases, barely if at all in line with inflation. This, of course did not prevent the League pulling out the stops for the Tories.

At a time when more and more companies were refusing to disclose their donations to the League to avoid the bad publicity, spuriously claiming such donations were "non-political", the pre-election presidential speech to the League's Annual General Meeting, by merchant banker H I Matthey, was a shameless address from the hustings:

"It cannot be denied that a change for better is coming over this country with people in ever-increasing numbers realising where the post-war drift and in the last few years, the rush to bureaucratic socialism is landing us. A healthy discontent is spreading fast which I devoutly hope will be reflected during 1979 in a change of government and a very positive shift away from Whitehall domination of our lives. Should we be blessed by such a change and should its success become so obvious, as I hope it will, that we finally throw of the shackles of socialism the necessity for the League's continued existence will abate not one jot; for the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and the league will need to be ever watchful that the soil is never again made fertile for the corrupting creed of socialism. "

For the League and its subscribers the scent of victory was to be sweeter than its taste. H I Matthey's electioneering speech had already anticipated the problem that the League would have in maintaining its Industrial support with a sympathetic government in power. What it did not anticipate was the number of its own members who were - in the popular phrase of the day - "lame ducks".

In a controversial interview with the "Morning Star" in 19871 the League's Director, Michael Noar, described the two major problems that the League had faced under "Thatcherism". The first was that "between 1980 and 1982... many of our members went out of business". The other was British Industry's complacency ".... thinking that Maggie has solved all their problems with her anti-union laws, this is dangerous. As I'm sure your readers will agree, when the economy picks up, then so will militant trades unionism. The League is busy warning employers of this."

The person responsible for steering the League through the difficult days of the first Thatcher administration was Noar's predecessor as Director General - Peter Savill. On the one hand Savill had to convince the League's surviving members that it still had some thing to offer them, while on the other hand he had to rationalise the organisation to survive the economic depression. His attempts at turning the Economic League into a leaner, fitter, fighting machine were supported throughout by its Matthey's successor, Gerald Thorley. Thorley had a considerable reputation within the City and Industry for his ability to get companies "into shape", but Savill and Thorley gained little support from the League's staff. Unable, for pretty obvious reasons, to take industrial action, the leading dissidents among the Economic League's staff produced in 1984 a highly critical report which they circulated to "past and present Central Council members" and regional elected officials. This report, called "The Need for a Change in Direction", came into the possession of the Labour Research Department soon afterwards, and its authenticity was confirmed by Thorley.

Its highly personalised criticisms of Savill present a revealing picture of the nature and scope of the League's operations before and after the rationalisation. Its authors claimed that the League's factory gate leafleting and its "training and management advisory services" had "disintegrated"; that the League's regional organisation was collapsing; and that "far more staff and money are engaged on administration and subscription raising" than on "services for member companies". In a particularly vitriolic attack on Savill, it claimed that "senior executives" had "no confidence" in him and that the feeling was "shared by elected representatives on Regional Councils and the Central Council".

Amongst the information to be found in the document is the following:

The number of leaflets distributed by the League fell from just over 18 million in 1978 to barely 1 million in 1983. But leaflets were no longer the most sophisticated way of getting information across, and by 1979 the League increasingly relied on its ability to plant stories in the press. Their 1979 Annual Report had announced that "Several papers ran whole articles or series of articles based on information provided by the League". Unfortunately for them the League encountered serious problems with its "news management" programme when Venessa Redgrave successfully sued papers that had taken up one of their stories. The Need For a Change of Direction also criticises the winding up of the leaflet distribution because of its disastrous effect on the League's intelligence gathering capabilities:

"The League is no longer able to counter extremists at the works gate. It is no longer able to inform companies of the attitude of shopfloor employees to the current issues. It is unable to pass back information to the Research Department about local extremists".

The loss of more than seventy leaflet distributors also meant the some of their other information gathering duties were cut back:

"For example, the Leaflet distributors used to be responsible for obtaining information on extremist candidates standing in all local elections. As each candidate had ten supporters this provided an enormous input about extremists throughout the country. "


The League's other main direct point of contact with the shopfloor was also, more or less, shut down. In 1978 11,500 apprentices and 1,574 supervisors had been on League training courses. In 1983 barely 1,000 and almost no supervisors were trained. The apprentice magazine "News and Views" and its supervisory cousin "Supernews" had ceased publication. The number of managers attending courses had fallen from 3,578 to "very few", and the circulation of the management aimed publication "2-Minute News Review" had fallen by a quarter to 75,000.


At the end of 1983 the League closed down its London based team of eight senior managers and ex-trade union officials who acted as advisors on "industrial relations and personnel matters".


In 1980 Savill had told subscribers that the League was to "concentrate on our two main activities - mass communication and research". But, according to the dissident authors of the "Need for a Change of Direction", research had also been profoundly damaged by Savill's rationalisation.

Before 1980 research had been coordinated by the London Region. In 1980 Savill personally took control of it and moved it to special offices in Thornton Heath and instructed regional offices that all regionally held files were to be moved there. The four men working in the Research Department in London "who had professional security or police background" refused to make the move and left its service.

Savill also lost another valuable intelligence asset when a "former Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence", who had become director of the London Region in 1979, resigned nine months later following three months of argument.


The Economic League was clearly in a lot of trouble during Thatcher's first term of office. By 1985 it had stopped completely its factory gate leaflets, and in October 1985 Savill resigned after a number of important companies (GEC, Midland Bank and H & J Heinz) withdrew their subscriptions. During Savill's reign of terror only the "labour screening" service had survived reasonably unscathed. But that too had its problems. Not only had the so called "Cowley Moles" initially slipped through their blacklist, but the number of enquiries they had been handling had fallen, chiefly as a consequence of the downturn in the Labour market and the recession in the construction industry. In 1978, for example, the names of 400,000 job applicants had been checked by the League. In 1983 it was less than a third of that.

Although Peter Savill had a rough ride as Director General, and was probably hounded into resignation, there has been no attempt to undo his reorganisation. In fact under his successor, Michael Noar, the centralisation of the League's operation continued. Furthermore, although the loss of substantial subscribers may have precipitated Savill's resignation it did not prevent him from immediately joining the Central Council of the Economic League.


There is a delicious irony in the internal strife experienced by the League during Thatcher's first term of office. After sixty years of campaigning for an unregulated industrial sector the Economic League was staring success in the face, and finding it extremely hard to cope with it both economically and politically. Internally a significant group of staff were on the verge of open rebellion. And its two fields of operations which could lay some claim to legitimacy - training and propaganda - were in disarray as nationally only the most urgently needed vocational industrial training survived the tidal wave of monetarist recession. The League was also finding itself increasingly marginalised as the Government transformed key sections of the Civil Service into a powerful radical right wing propaganda machine, to reinforce the message of its own think tanks.

While Savill and the League's Central Council could reshape and rationalise the organisation quite easily, it was much harder to find a credible new role for the League. The only obvious role was as policy advisors. But this was already filled, since Thatcher and her closest political allies had surrounded themselves with a new and rejuvenated set of think tanks and ginger groups to put flesh on the bones of their revolution, and create the illusion of spontaneous support for their ideas.

By the end of Savill's rationalisation almost all that was left of the League's operations was the blacklist. And if subscribers didn't yet know it, Savill himself certainly knew that the blacklist was in a complete mess.

The Economic League's final years degenerated into a catalogue of disasters and irreversible decline. All attempts to carve out new areas of work failed, leaving the League unable to compete with services already offered efficiently by commercial companies and consultancies, and unable to identify any lucrative gaps in the market. To make matters worse, with so many discontented former employee's let loose, the League's own security was blown open, and the shambolic nature of its vetting became public and more newsworthy than ever before. If corporate subscribers were not particularly moved by the arguments of civil libertarians about the principle of the Economic League's political vetting, they were influenced by the exposure of its incompetence. In an age in which companies were spending millions on image, and promoting themselves as professional, efficient, effective, friendly and caring, the danger of being publicly associated with the Economic League just was not worth the risk. But, for all its problems, the Economic League survived for many years praying, one would imagine, for a combination of a Labour victory, a rapid resurgence in industrial conflict and a marked shift towards the democratic centre by the Conservative Party.


When in October 1985 Peter Savill resigned as director general of the Economic League, the anonymous source who had leaked "The Need for a Change of Direction" to Labour Research wrote to them to explain that while this was

". . . ostensibly. . . to enable him to spend more time with his wife, who had been ill for some while, but in reality, his resignation was the result of his inability to provide the League with any real leadership, or attract companies into membership".

A number of retired military officers were, it claimed, interviewed to replace Savill. If this is the case than they were unsuccessful since the job was given to Michael Noar who was recruited from the Federation of Civil Engineering Employers Contractors (FCEC), for whom he had worked for 23 years. His only industrial experience since leaving public school four years earlier had been as a technical writer for Elliot Automation.

Noar, in fact, spoke and looked every bit like a real manager, with a good solid military background. But though he was a former pupil of Rugby School, he came to the League after working for many years at the FCEC where he had a reputation as a good "committee man" with little in the way of personnel or industrial management skills. At the FCEC Noar had at first been Assistant Secretary (Industrial Relations) and was, he claimed in the CV he submitted for the job with the League, "particularly concerned with political disruption of major sites". "I thus" he went on to say "developed some understanding of the Unions and also the very helpful role which the League plays". In 1965 he took charge of training at the FCEC, and in 1968 also became secretary to its general section adding secretary of the Future Planning Committee to his job description in 1973. Soon afterwards he was also given responsibility for developing "a formal press and parliamentary effort". Of this role he said:

"I think it is fair to claim that we now have a reputation within Parliament as a responsible and effective organisation and that we have become a lobbying force to be reckoned with. I have also built up personal relationships with many M.P.s and more importantly perhaps with others with influential positions within the political system. "

But if there remained any doubt about the nature of Noar's influential political connections these are then dispelled:

"I am a member and secretary of a small group which seeks to bring together people from different industries with members of the Prime Minister's private staff. The group was formed at the time of the steel strike to maintain employer solidarity. Subsequently it played a useful role in circumventing some of the industrial opposition to reform of industrial relations law and encouraging the Government to pursue a more robust line. It played a small part in the coal dispute and now generally seeks to encourage sometimes disappointingly reluctant industry to support, or at least not to undermine the Government's efforts."

Having known the Economic League for more than twenty years, Noar clearly believed that the League was seeking a radical right wing Conservative political operator, for certainly that is how he pitched his successful Curriculum Vitae2. But to make a success of his new job Michael Noar needed more than friends in high places, he needed what he modestly described as his ability to "perform well on both radio and television". For the new Director General had inherited an organisation which had lost important subscribers and undergone a demoralising restructuring, and yet still had no clear place in Thatcherism's community of think tanks and lobbyists. When, therefore, he took up the appointment, Noar had three priorities: to increase the number of companies subscribing to the League, to sort out the chaotic blacklist, and to develop new areas of operations. Within months, however, each of these would have to take a back seat to "crisis management" and "damage limitation", as the League became the object of a damaging, prolonged attention from the media.

As we have seen the business of tidying up the League's files had already been initiated by Peter Savill with his centralisation of all its records in Thornton Heath. Isolating the records from the less rigorous and more maverick of the regional officers, had been the important first stage in this process. The obvious next stage would have been to create a computer database while the files were being "weeded". This logical development was ruled out because the Data Protection Act would have given the blacklist's victims access to their files and a right to have them amended where they contained inaccuracies3. The League were unprepared, or unwilling, to handle even modest numbers of inquiries from people who believed they were on its files, and an orchestrated campaign of inquiries to which they would have by law to respond, would probably have brought the League's administration to a halt. This was especially the case as so much of the information that the League held on individuals was based on opinion, and not provable. Consequently, though both the Economic League Company and its pension fund registered with the Data Registrar, the blacklist was, or was at least claimed to be, maintained exclusively on manual files - which were not covered by the Act.

Throughout his time as Director General Noar repeatedly claimed that the files were being "weeded". He refused to answer specific questions about the leaked list, claiming that it had been "withdrawn". This of course raised the question about what the League was using while the list was being cleaned up. The former Regional Director of the North West Region later said that the list was not withdrawn while it was being checked. This much was obvious, for without a blacklist the League could not have continued to offer the "labour screening" service. However right up until 1990 it was still, for example, screening each of Ford's new employees. The process of weeding such a chaotic and amateurish manual database was a massive and difficult project which would take years to complete and would probably have left little of value. Speaking on "After Dark" in 1988, two years after he had taken up post, Noar suggested that this weeding had still not yet been completed.

Peter Savill had singularly failed to retain the support of existing subscribers, never mind attracting new ones. Michael Noar was be even less successful.

Since the 1920s the League had been subjected to periodic investigations by the Labour Research Department, and had to fend off embarrassing investigations by the press several times. But the sustained media onslaught which began in 1987, and which was fed by leaks from disgruntled ex-employees, made Noar's job of attracting new business very difficult and made the task of raising the League's income from additional subscription hopelessly unrealistic.


A series of three half hour television programmes about the Economic League, made by Granada TV's "World In Action", were transmitted between January 1987 and February 1988. Each programme was followed up by stories in newspapers like the "Guardian", the "Independent" and "Observer". In Parliament a group of Labour MPs, led by Glasgow MP Maria Fyfe, responded by pressing for the Data Protection Act to be extended to manually held files on individuals, a move which would severely hamper the League's blacklist. In June 1988 Richard Norton-Taylor and Mark Hollingsworth's book "Blacklist" examined the practice in general and devoted a whole chapter to the Economic League. At the same time MP's like Maria Fyfe and Max Madden and trades union leaders like Roger Lyons (then assistant general secretary of MSF) were interrogating companies about their connections with the League.

Without question however it was the first "World In Action" programme, "The Boys on the Blacklist", which did the greatest single damage to the League, exposing not only the existence of its blacklist, but also highly damaging revelations about its inaccuracy. And in a secretly filmed interview Alan Harvey, a League officer, made damaging claims about connections with the local police. Harvey was subsequently sacked by the League, and his claims were investigated by the local police and pronounced unfounded4. The League were aware that "The Boys on the Blacklist" was about to be transmitted and it carefully prepared its response. This adopted what was to become a familiar line. Admitting that it had compiled and maintained an "archive of current political material", and that "the League's information is naturally available to its supporters on request", it stressed that:

"The League does not ever advise any firm for or against employing anyone. It is for them to make up their own mind in relation to the particular job and on the basis of all the facts, including any supplied by the League".

It is clear that the Economic League were not anticipating the extent of the programme's damaging attack on their credibility. For the programme included secretly filmed footage of Harvey recommending to two under cover reporters, posing as businessmen that they should not employ a man called Ken Mullier, a former personnel officer with the construction company John Mowlem. At John Mowlem's Mullier had been responsible for liaison with Alan Harvey and his colleagues in the League's Skipton office. He was approached by a concrete ganger in the trade, who was a good worker with impeccable reference who had suddenly founded it impossible to get work. Mullier agreed to try to find out if the man was blacklisted, and to his surprise discovered that the League thought he was politically unsuitable.

Mullier challenge the League's verdict on the man, but they remained unmoved. Eventually they told Mullier that his own boss had passed on the ganger's name to them but agreed to remove it if he himself could supply them with six other names.

It was no secret in the construction industry that employers operated a particularly ruthless blacklist. The earlier leaked document "The Need for a Change of Direction" had already revealed the crucial role which the League's "Services Group" played in maintaining the industry's blacklisting activities.

When, following the broadcast of these programmes, the police investigated the allegations one subscribing group of companies, which in its own words "relies very heavily indeed on the League's research department", produced its own interpretation of the possible legal consequences of the Police investigation. Marked "STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL", the report highlighted potential legal problems for the companies which subscribed to the Services Group. It admitted that it was "certainly true" that the Research Department's records on individuals were based on information obtained illegally from special branch officers. It also admitted that it was also "probably true" that "Police officers have been induced, by payments in kind or cash, to divulge classified information illegally to the League". If the official inquiry into the League's sources in the police were to find this out, the strictly confidential briefing paper argued, then companies subscribing to the League's Service Group, and their representatives on Regional Services Groups might be themselves open to legal action.

As it happened it was a groundless worry, since the police investigation did not find any evidence of what this subscriber nevertheless believed to be "certainly true".


Noar's attempts to steer the League through its troubles was next undermined by his handling of a damaging dispute with Richard Brett, director of the North West Region. It brought him into conflict with Brett's Regional Council, and in the end destroyed the Central Council's confidence in him.

After twenty five years in the Army, mostly in the "political side" of Military Intelligence, Richard Brett had retired from the services. His first job after the Army was with the Association of Works Managers, he subsequently became financial director of the Distributive and Allied Trades Industrial Training Board. In 1983 he went to work for the North West Region of the Economic League, becoming its Regional Director in 1985.

He had therefore been with the League for three years before Noar was appointed as the national Director General. During this time Brett claims to have done as much as he could, given his resources, to "clean up" the North West's operations. The poor quality of the index to his region's blacklist, of which I have a copy and which was in use throughout Brett's time with the League, suggests this "clean up" was very limited in its effect. As Noar continued the centralisation of the League, Brett and members of his Regional Council clearly resented the interference in the North West's work.

Increasingly Brett felt that his attempts to inject a degree of professionalism into its activities were being undermined by Michael Noar's inexperience in intelligence and security fields. The conflict between the two men exposed a political difference between them. Brett was by no means a liberally minded Conservative. He believed in blacklisting; he had been approached - but refused - to join Unison (Major General Walter Walker's private army) in 1974; he acted as one of Eddie Shah's chief advisors during the Warrington print dispute, and he briefed senior police officers during the miners' strike. He believed that the Militant Tendency, an extraordinarily puritanical political organisation, had a bizarre and implausible scheme for importing illicit drugs through the Port of Liverpool in order to turn the drug addicted youth into Trotskyists. Yet even by Brett's own standards Michael Noar was a man of the "extreme right".

The conflict between the two men came to a head in the middle of 1987. In December three members of the North West Regional Council submitted a motion to the Central Council, expressing concern at the "mismanagement of the industrial dispute and its North Western Regional Director Mr Richard Brett which has arisen over his terms and conditions of service"5. The resolution was accompanied by a catalogue of examples of Noar's mismanagement: In June he had threatened Brett with instant dismissal if he "did not sign an undertaking which gave (Brett) grounds for constructive dismissal and defamation of character", and which Noar had been forced to withdraw in October; subsequently Noar had suspended Brett without notifying the North West Regional Chairman, then South Manchester businessman Bob Willan, or observing the League's disciplinary procedure. Willan had then reinstated Brett, but Noar had refused to recognise him and threatened not to pay him.

Michael Noar eventually received the backing of the Central Council and succeeded in sacking Brett. But Brett by this stage was not prepared to go quietly, and took the League to an Industrial Tribunal for "unfair dismissal". What was more he threatened to call every Central Council member as a witness. As a result Brett had the media-bruised League over a barrel and it was forced to make a generous out of court settlement, with which the former Military Intelligence officer purchased a holiday home in France.

When the League then went back on part of the out of court deal Richard Brett resolved to keep up his fight against his old adversary. In his continuing struggle to undermine Noar and what even he saw as "dangerous" aspects of the Economic League he became a ready source of information for journalists keeping the League in the newspapers and on television, and for the MPs taking on the League in Parliament. In February 1988, World in Action broadcast two further programmes about the Economic League, that highlighted more errors and inaccuracies in the list, and exposed the undercover role of Ned Walsh. The BBC's consumer affairs programme "Watchdog" was also onto the story and by now in contact with Brett. Unusually, almost the whole programme on November 28th 1988 was given over to Mike Emberley's report about the League and an interview with Brett. It was the first time that a former employee had gone on the record, and Brett was careful to make sure his remarks and revelations hit the right target:

"I feel that the League as it is presently constituted is a danger to the democratic way of life in this country. You have got the case of the job prospects of thousands of people in the hands of one man. It is a situation unparalleled in this country in peacetime. "

The programme unearthed yet more inaccuracies on the League's lists and challenged Brett about the surveillance operations carried out in his region. "I had "friends" who were available for that operation" he told the BBC's reporter Mike Emberley. In addition to attending public meetings, the friends also worked "in various factories or operational units passing information back". Of the meetings attended by Brett's "friends" he admitted that "it had been known" for them to hide in broom cupboards to gather their information.


By the time that "Watchdog" was broadcast the League was in crisis. It was only later however that the full effect of the crisis which had hit the League emerged. In just over eighteen months the Economic League had been the subject of three primetime TV exposes and a number of critical articles in National newspapers. In November 1988 a trade union organised Anti-Economic League Conference in Leeds brought some of the growing number of campaigners together. Out of this conference grew the idea of a more permanent and investigative opposition - League Watch was launched in June 1989. In the House of Commons Labour and Liberal MPs, including the then Shadow Chancellor John Smith, signed up for the Anti-Blacklisting Campaign.

Two weeks after the Launch of League Watch "The Guardian" discovered that Noar had been sacked. It also emerged that the director of Information and Research and company secretary, Thom Robinson, who was then a ubiquitous figure on the Thatcherite think tank circuit and a number of the League's researchers had also already resigned. Days later the League held its sixty ninth annual general meeting in secrecy. League Watch turned up to it, photographed delegates and delivered a somewhat disparaging message by courier to the twenty or so delegates. In the Balaclava Room of the Cavalry and Guards Club what should have been the League's celebration of seventy years of clandestine political activity was not even attended by its new president, Scottish tycoon Sir Maxwell Harper Gow. League Watch could not, and did not claim responsibility for Noar's dismissal.

There had been a growing tension between the Director General and the Central Council and his personal vendetta against Brett had helped to keep the crisis on the boil. While subscribers wanted the League to keep a low profile in the hope that the press would go away, Noar was bullish and wanted to respond to criticism, to win the argument for blacklisting or at least recruit some more subscribers. The dispute about the League's high profile was an interesting one, and suggests that Brett was less than frank about the reasons why he was dismissed.

I have a copy of the League's own record of "The Director General's Advisory Committee" on August 25th 1987. It was attended by J Lawrence Mills, the League's Chairman, Thom Robinson, Noar, the Regional Directors, P Thackery, (National Coordinator of the Services Group) and J O Udal, (described as Liaison Director). The minutes of the meeting make it clear that Brett was one of a small number of Regional Directors arguing against the "League's high profile". Lawrence-Mills however made it clear to Brett and his supporters that the Central Council supported the new high profile. Noar argued strongly that refusing to respond to attacks would only make matters worse. But Brett seems to have maintained the support of the Research Director, Jack Winder. In his own region, said Brett, "subscribers were only concerned with the checking service and were worried by the profile".

On the evidence of this document it is clear that the centralisation of the blacklist was not the only cause of disagreement between Brett and Noar, Brett would seem to have been trying to protect the secrecy surrounding the League's vetting operations.


By the time of the Leeds conference in November 1988 the League and its Director General were in serious trouble. It was already aware that it was likely to be called before the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment the following year. Noar's determination to draw regionally held files into the central research department was partly driven by his desire to assure the Select Committee that "grey files", which were not properly authenticated and were allegedly only used for research, were not also actually being used for employment vetting. Throughout these particularly difficult times Michael Noar was pressing on with attempts to find a new direction for the League. In a brutally frank memorandum for the Policy and Finance Committee (26/1/88) Noar summed up the problem:

"The League has suffered a surfeit of enquiries and reports for over the last ten years. What it badly need is either to settle on a role for itself and get on with it or to agree that it no longer has a useful function and to wind itself up. Continuing uncertainty is the worst of all possible worlds"

The particular problem for the League, Noar pointed out, was that:

"It is an anti-extremist/subversive organisation or it is nothing. While there are no doubt other roles which could be found there is no shortage of other organisations fulfilling them. "

He argued strongly against using the League's reserves to expand its areas of activities, and argued strongly for making the Regions less independent, as a part of the rationalisation to preserve "the core business". Five days after the Policy and Finance Committee met to discuss Noar's memorandum "World in Action" broadcast the first of a further two-part programme. This time even the Royal Bank of Scotland felt it had to withdraw its support for the League, even though one of its senior directors, Sir Maxwell Harper Gow, was on the Economic League Central Council and likely to become the League's new president when Sir Gerald Thorley retired at the 1988 Annual General Meeting.

I have been unable to track down the League's response to Noar's memo, but in a sense it no longer mattered. Neither Noar, or the central Council of the Economic League, were in control of events and over the course of 1988 Noar's case for the League's high profile began to look increasingly shaky. His public defence of the League was competent, but he was not winning arguments, converts or new subscribers. On the contrary the "we-make-the-ammunition-but-don't-fire-the-gun" argument was putting subscribers under a great deal of embarrassing pressure, and inevitably they were leaving. Tactically it looked increasingly like Brett and Winder had been right about the high profile.

On November 24th 1988, Sir Maxwell Harper Gow and the president of the South Wales Region, Eddie Rea, both resigned from the League, plunging it deeper into crisis. In a letter to League Watch, Harper Gow later explained, intriguingly, that he had resigned for "reasons of his own". The Economic League company articles of association required there to be at least thirty members of the Central Council. After the Gow and Rea resignations a number of other Central Council members expressed their intention to resign and if this happened the League would not have been able to muster a full Central Council.

Thus, on 13th December, the League held an extraordinary general meeting to consider a resolution to reduce the minimum number of Central Council members from thirty to twenty. It was passed, and twenty seven businessmen were confirmed as Central Council members. Of these twenty seven members, seven had been recruited in the previous three months. Four more, long serving Central Council members, resigned within two weeks of the extraordinary general meeting.

Then in January 1989, with the Central Council in disarray, Thom Robinson resigned as Director of Information and Company Secretary and a number of researchers, including Derrick Knight Dewell - head of the Central Research Department - left the League. The final calamity for Noar's fragile relationship with the League occurred a few weeks later. Noar's dismissal was probably precipitated when, a month before the Economic League's 1989 AGM, the "Guardian" published details of an internal meeting which had discussed possible developments of the blacklisting service. The meeting at which these ideas had been discussed was in fact the first meeting of its The Research Group, coordinated by its chairman the Director of Research Max Telling, with representatives from the regions and Jack Bramwell from the Central Research Department and Russell Walters from the Information Research Department.

Two possible developments of the service had been considered. Firstly, that the League might cash-in on the spread of HIV/AIDS by selling the names of gays and lesbians to insurance companies. Secondly that it might sell the names of hooligans to football clubs. Neither of these suggestions could be justified on the basis of "counter-subversion" or "national interest". They were money-making propositions, intended to either bring in more subscribers or else increase the range of services to existing subscribers. When the proposals were published this strategy completely disintegrated. Most of the solid core of the League's subscribers were not remotely interested in the suggestions, and those that might have been remotely interested must have been horrified by the blundering ignorance, impracticality, and, what must have seemed like, the gratuitous controversy of the line being pursued by the League.

Worse still, for an organisation obsessed with industry's need for "security" it was clear that its own was practically none existent. If the register of gays and lesbians was suggested as a means of providing a more substantial service to an important group of subscribers then it was chronically misjudged. Life insurance companies know that as a group lesbians run the smallest risk of contracting the HIV infection. There was no reason for them to be remotely interested in the League's proposal. Nevertheless Max Telling had told the meeting that:

"Gays, lesbians and racial extremism were all preserves of the extreme left and right. Elementary monitoring should yield some useful connections in terms of determining individuals or left-wing groups. It might be that homosexual or gay groups would be useful information for insurance companies. "

Russell Walters, perhaps unsure of the League's ability to take on this additional work immediately told the meeting that "hopefully, in the long run the League would have the resources to monitor gays, lesbians and extremist racial groups from a subversive viewpoint". Tom Wilson, from the Scottish Region later pointed out the usefulness of help lines in compiling information, but admitted that he "found the Lesbian Help line response a bit peculiar". It may not have been particularly surprising to find the Economic League indulging in gay bashing, but the idea of selling the names of football hooligans to football clubs was pure idiocy. There was simply nothing that the League could offer the clubs that they could not get openly from the police, or from the aborted identity card system itself.

By the middle of 1989 the Economic League was a shambles. Its strategy for dealing with its crisis had failed. It had no new role; its well connected and influential Director General Secretary and Company secretary had gone, Derek Knight Dewell had been recruited by the channel tunnel, and Russell Walters had been given a senior and controversial position in the Scottish Conservative Party headquarters by Michael Forsyth; it could not find anyone with the same status in the business community to replace Maxwell Harper Gow as president; its income, which had fallen significantly in respect of inflation since 1979, was now falling in terms of hard cash.

To political and organisational crisis was added a financial crisis that gave the League little room to manoeuvre. The House of Commons Select Committee inquiry into political vetting, which had not materialised in 1989, was now confirmed to take place in 1990. The new team in charge of the League were faced with the herculean task of rebuilding the confidence of its remaining workers and subscribers, and putting together a convincing case for the Select Committee on Employment. On the face of it was not the sort of team that would inspire much confidence in anyone. Jack Winder, a longstanding employee who had been overlooked in the promotion stakes before and had backed Brett's opposition to the "high profile" was given responsibility for both "information" and "research" and M F J Barnes was brought out of retirement to become Company Secretary again.

While these two old hands together replaced Robinson, Noar was replaced by someone called Frank Biles. Biles had only recently become Director of the League's Northern Region which had been created by merging the old North West and North East regions. As a political operator he had neither the confidence, experience or contacts that Noar had. This was brought out at the "gays and football hooligans" research Group Meeting which he also had attended. During a discussion of the way in which the various regions managed their paid informers:

"Frank Biles told the group that as a man from a selling background he had no contacts that he could build on when he joined the League. Only one informant had come to light because the man virtually offered his services through the post. Gordon Baker was now handling that informant known as L5A. Frank Biles said that he was looking for guidelines and hints on how to get people into meetings. "

At an absolutely critical moment in its history the League was having to field its second eleven. Fortunately for the League's continuing existence it now had to rely less on their performance, and more on the support of the Conservative Party and the hard core of subscribers who could not care less about their public reputations or the accuracy of the claims made about it.

12. Chapter 11: The Fall


The League's worries about being called to give an account of their work to a Parliamentary Select Committee were realised in 1990. In June, the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment took evidence from the Economic League about its blacklist1. The League faced searching questions from most of the committee members, and made a poor submission. They were forced to agree to submit additional information to the committee, including the information they kept on file about the Committee's members. However when this information was finally delivered, late, it seems their files contained a number of embarrassing inaccuracies. Shortly afterwards the London listings magazine "City Limits" revealed that an example of a supposedly ultra left wing anti-Economic League leaflet, put forward as evidence by the League, was a crude forgery published by a non-existent left wing group. The clear implication of this was that either they were taken in by the crude forgery, or a party to its production. The Select Committee then asked the League to reappear in October, after the summer recess, in order to answer supplementary questions. Shortly afterwards Ford was due to give evidence to the committee. It was not only one of the League's largest subscribers but one of the few who had publicly supported the League. While the League were about to go to the Select Committee Ford told the press that they had withdrawn their subscription.

The poor quality of the League's evidence and their failure to provide the Committee with the supplementary evidence they had promised led to a decision to have them recalled to answer more questions. But just as it seemed that the League were on the ropes, Conservative members of the Committee then moved to overturn the Committee's earlier decision to recall them. Not all the Conservative members had been present at the previous meeting and when it was reconvened the recall decision was successfully rescinded. However, in an intriguing move, the decision to call Ford was not rescinded, suggesting that some of the Conservatives on the committee were not inclined to let the League of the hook too easily.

The League had told the Select Committee that just 16% of its resources were taken up in providing its "labour vetting service" which, it claimed, involved maintaining 10,000 files (until the previous year the number had been 50,000) on alleged "subversives" and responding to 100,000 - 200,000 name checks a year. Details of the League's apprentice and trainee managers course at Bristol University that April were presented to the Committee as evidence of what it did with the remaining 86% of their money and employees' time.

However, when the Bristol magazine "Venue" investigated the Autumn course at the University they found just eight, rather uninspired students2. The small scale of the course supported claims by the League's opponents that its figures didn't make sense. The League, they said, couldn't possibly be spending £600,000 on running a handful of training courses, producing a two-page, typewritten monthly newsletter and making cups of coffee in its remaining regional offices and its research department.

An important part of the League's defence in the Select Committee had been its suggestion that it operated a "code of practice" which recommended to any employers using their vetting services that any allegations be placed before interviewees. When Ford, who had been the blacklist's largest client, gave evidence to the Committee they had no knowledge of any such code. Jack Winder and Stan Hardy, giving evidence for the League, also tried to put across the impression that the League operated a comprehensive training and security advice service. This was reinforced by the bundle of written evidence which included publicity for their "services" and cuttings from left-wing papers including the one which was a crude forgery. They also offered to provide the committee with names of other organisations carrying out the same sort of employee vetting as they themselves were. They eventually provided the name of C.I.U.K. Ltd. , but closer inspection reveals this to be an off-the-peg company, with two unknown directors and no evidence in its company records of ever having traded.

The League's response to the Select Committee's investigation was badly handled, and dangerously contemptuous - they had lied, played shoddy verbal games and tried to deceive the Committee. But in the end they got away with it. They had offered one apparent concession in the form of support for the idea of registration for employment vetting agencies, which of course would have had the effect of legitimising its activities. The Select Committee, with its government manipulated Conservative majority, recommended some form of registration. The Government however decided that the time and expense of registration was not justified. Nothing would therefore be done.3


In 1988, following Richard Brett's dismissal the League had appointed two "Regional Directors"; one covering the North and one the South. The Northern Regional Director was based at the League's Skipton office making its North West regional office, in Warrington, a sub-branch run from Skipton.

These two appointments replaced existing members of staff - Stan Hardy, the Northern Director, for example replaced Jimmy Bromley when he retired as North East Regional Director - and were a logical extension of the centralisation of the League's operations. Stan Hardy subsequently became Director General after Michael Noar's dismissal.

Where the money came from

At the back of this book there is a list of slightly more than 600 companies known to be connected with the Economic League in the last fifteen years. Of these about 400 have paid a subscription to the League. The remainder, and some of the subscribers, have a director who is or has been, in the past ten years, on the Central Council of the Economic League. Before its demise a number of companies claimed to have broken their links with the League in some way or another, or qualified their support for the League. These claims were usually worded cautiously, suggesting that they were a public relations exercise. More indirect methods of funding, and using, the League's services were being adopted. A very brief comparison of this list with the "Times 1000" of 1986 reveals that, of the top 100 UK companies, this list contains:

6 of the top ten companies

20 of the top fifty companies

37 of the top one hundred companies

Together these 37 companies employed over 2.1 million people.

The list for that year also includes:

9 of the top 50 investment trusts

10 of the top 50 life insurance companies

10 of the top 50 non-life insurance companies.

It is not known, exactly how many companies were subscribing to the League at the end. The figures that have been claimed, or quoted, vary between 700 and 2000. The list of companies given here therefore contains somewhere between a fifth and a half of the total subscribers. Accurate figures were not available for the subscription rates but it is possible to make some estimates on the basis of what we do know.

Subscription rates were roughly calculated on the basis of a fee per hundred employees. In 1986, the top of the range was represented by a company like Rush and Tompkins at more than £40 per one hundred workers. R&T were members of the League's "Service Group" of construction companies which paid an enhanced subscription to employ League workers to look after their interests. A more average subscription was that paid by Vickers, one of the companies involved in the establishment of the League, which was about £26 per one hundred workers.

In 1986 the League's income from subscriptions was about £1,000,000. On the basis of these per capita rates subscribers would have employed between 2.5 and 4 million workers. If the top 37 companies employ more than 2 million people we can presume that the figure was nearer 4 million than 2 million. That represents somewhere between 10% and 15% of the total working population. If we exclude from the working population those who work in public services or are in the armed forces these figures would be closer to 15% and 20%.

Declaring and laundering

Without the help of internal documents it would have been difficult to even begin to determine which companies subscribed to the League. Until the late 1970's many subscribers declared their subscriptions to the League as a political donation. The law was not however particularly clear and a judgment in favour of a bank's undeclared donation to AIMS of Industry, which was never fully tested, suggested that Company Law only regarded as "political" donations directly to or from political parties. Subsequently AIMS and the League encouraged companies to take advantage of this loophole, even though for several years in the late 1980's the Conservatives main clandestine fund raising body - British United Industrialists actually operated from the League's Wine Office Court Headquarters and made payments to it over and above its rent.

In the face of growing hostility to the League from the media, many corporate subscribers took up the chance to hide donations to the League.

Where the money went

In 1987 the Economic League's own, confidential, projections for the 1988 financial year anticipated a continuing income of £1m. Speaking in the Houses of Parliament in June 1989, Richard Brett reliably suggested that, as a result of bad publicity, there had been a significant shortfall on the projections. Instead of an income from subscriptions of more than £1m the actual figure was closer to £800,000. In fact the figure presented in the annual report was £804,348. The following year it fell even further to £663,331, perhaps half as much as it might reasonably have projected a couple of years earlier.

But in 1990 a slight increase in subscriptions was recorded - taking its income to £732,437. If campaigners were anticipating an early end to the League's operations they were mistaken. It seemed that a solid and unshamable core of support had been reached, and a small number of new subscribers had even been attracted by its disreputable reputation.



The Radical Right had grown and changed dramatically after Thatcher's election as Tory leader. But the League's place in this network of commie-bashers and deregulators was never clear. Prior to 1974, and the appearance of the Centre for Policy Studies, the Economic League had been a major component of the Radical Right. Indeed apart from the League, the Radical Right only consisted of:

Two other fringe academic groups - The Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs.

A politically motivated PR company - Aims of Industry.

Two apparently more liberal versions of the League - Common Cause and "Industrial Research & Information Services".

A jumble of anti-communist groupings with links to emigre groups associated with "The Captive Nations".

Lurking in the background was a clandestine organisation called British United Industrialists, which raised funds for the Conservative Party and some of the radical right wing groups. British United Industrialists was formed in 1962 by the merger of two earlier groups called United Industrialists Association (UIA) and the British Industrialist Association (BIA).

The UIA and BIA were part of a secret mechanism for channelling money discretely into the Conservative Party. It also involved a number of other secret companies named after rivers. However the BUI, and the UIA and the BIA previously, were also responsible for funding the Economic League; in 1949 the League received more than £18,000 from the UIA and BIA and this quickly rose to a regular donation of more than £25,000. The funding continued at this level after the formation of the British United Industrialists. BUI was also a major source of finance for AIMS of industry, making donations of £15,000 in 1986 and 1987. Following changes to the Companies Act in 1967 the BUI relinquished its status as a Limited Company so as to avoid having to declare more details of its finances. In the late seventies and early eighties the BUI operated from its own office in Park Lane. However in 1985 it moved into the Economic League's premises in Wine Office Court. It was not a move welcomed by all concerned and some League officers felt it compromised the League's pretence to political independence.

In 1988 however the BUI moved out again, perhaps worried by the increasing and unsympathetic publicity that the League was receiving. It moved in with AIMS of Industry.

In the early 1970s there was an expansion and consolidation of the Radical Right. Amongst its new members was the Freedom Association, which had grown out of the "Private Army" movement associated with the conspiracies of the early seventies. Originally it seems to have been a demobilised version of Major General Walter Walker's army - "Unison". NAFF's subsequent activities have been well documented; it specialises in maverick private prosecutions, and encouraging and funding legal actions.

The key figure linking these groups, and the Thatcher/Joseph Centre for Policy Studies, together was Lord Nicholas Cayzer. Cayzer was "British and Commonwealth Shipping", a veteran sanctions buster and owner of the blue collar mercenary operation "Airwork" (virtually a privatised subsidiary of MI6). Although a far from well known tycoon he remained to the end a key member of Thatcher's "kitchen cabinet". He was, until 1989, a longstanding member of the Economic League's Central Council who was eventually made one of its vice presidents. He was the principal source of money for Unison, through British & Commonwealth he was a generous contributor to NAFF, and he was one of the first central council members of the Centre for Policy Studies.

The natural alliance between the Economic League and the NAFF (now called the Freedom Association) continued until the end. This was reflected in the League's appointment of Thom Robinson (the Freedom Association's head of research) to head its own Information and Research Department.

Since 1979 this network has been augmented by a host of Radical Right groups with more restricted purposes and sometimes acting as trailblazers for the more controversial Tory proposals.

Amongst the better known of these groups are:

PULSE (Public and Local Service Efficiency).

The Campaign Against Council Corruption

The Media Monitoring Unit.

Although thoroughly enmeshed in this Radical right wing network of interlinked personnel and sources of funding, the League's role within it became increasingly more restricted. More and more of its various interests and activities were taken over by more specialist organisations.

The result of this was that for all its attempts to maintain its own positive political programme, the League had no real role when its own political programme became Tory Party policy. The league was a movement of resistance not of reform or revolution, and it had quickly become clear that its lightweight economic simplification was practically useless to Thatcherism.

By 1989 the future of the League already seemed extremely uncertain. It was loosing support and staff, and the sustained bad publicity which was responsible for this showed no sign of abating. The League was, however, a resilient organisation with a hardcore of support and a proven market for its services. Thus although predictions of its ultimate collapse were entirely plausible it was impossible to predict precisely when, or if at all, it would actually cease to trade. When the end came it caught everyone by surprise, and received comparatively little press coverage.


On April 24th 1993 Richard Norton-Taylor reported, in the Guardian, the League was being disbanded. The story was later confirmed by the League itself, in more sympathetic Conservative newspapers. They also claimed that the blacklist had been destroyed, by Securicor.

The League had not merely been disbanded but had gone into voluntary liquidation with debts of £300,067. Amongst its creditors were Jack Winder (£24,804) and Stan Hardy (£9,951). Peter Shipley, a Conservative Party worker who specialises in smearing Labour candidates was owed £1,679.

After seventy three years of campaigning against socialists and trade unionists working in industry, the League had finally succumbed to the one great idea that it has always advocated - the unfettered free market. The most fervent apostles of free enterprise had become its victims.

Although the League itself had ceased to exist, blacklisting was set to continue.

Within weeks of the announcement of the League's demise the "Sunday Times" revealed that the Nat West Bank was keeping political information on its clients. Although there was no immediate evidence that this amounted to a "blacklist", since it wasn't clear what the Nat West did with the information, it revealed the degree to which the monitoring of the political opinions of British citizens was almost becoming routine, and was being done by organisations with far better resources than the League.

Though heavily in debt and the palest shadow of its former self, it was not a completely humiliating end for the Economic League. Although there was no gap in the market for its intelligence gathering or political propaganda, the League could have stumbled along had it not become the focus of a great deal of media interest, and a concerted campaign.

For the last six years I was closely involved in the campaign against the League, and was a founder member of "League Watch" which was set up to inform and support the wider and more loosely organised campaign.

The League collapsed because fewer and fewer employers and bankers could see the value in using its services or supporting its activities. But this did not happen just like that. Since Granada TV's "World in Action" broadcast the first of its three exposes, there has been a steady stream of attacks - the BBC's "Watchdog" devoted a whole programme to damaging revelations by Richard Brett a former regional director, the NCCL published a pamphlet "the Silent Macarthyism". Finally, the last concerted media assault was led by Paul Foot who got hold of a copy of the whole of the League's blacklist and ran a series of damaging articles in the "Daily Mirror". "The Mirror" even took the list to the Labour Party Conference to raise funds for the Party. For a modest fee Party members could check if they were on the lists - this service earned more than a thousand pounds for campaign funds4.

The blacklist had been an important part of the League's operations since the early 1920s, but not its only activity. By the early 1980's it had to abandon its other main area of work - pro-free enterprise propaganda - when this was in effect nationalised by the Thatcher Government and its politicisation of the Civil Service. The League was now either a blacklister or it was nothing, and try as it could to find a wider role for its self amongst the constellation of Conservative satellite groups it failed. As the media had closed in on the League there were a growing number of case studies of people blacklisted by the League on the basis of wholly incorrect allegations.

Of course many people felt uncomfortable with an approach which seemed to suggest there were "innocent" and "guilty" victims of the League's vetting. Surely, they argued, in a liberal democracy it is not right to sentence someone to years of unemployment for being a shop steward, taking part in a strike, being a member of a socialist, communist or Trotskyist party, no matter how briefly?

But in the end it was this approach that played a critical role in undermining the League, because it revealed the blacklist to be incompetent - out of date, based on unjustifiable assumptions, sometimes straightforwardly malicious.

Looking back it seems that the campaigning approach of "League Watch" was a sensible one. But the policy of feeding information to journalists and letting them go after the story had been a decision dictated by necessity rather than design. There were just too many massive companies and conglomerates who backed the League. A campaign of boycotts would not have been practical.

Naturally the use of the media as a campaigning tool did not always work. A journalist on one of United Newspapers titles was pulled off the story by an editor who thought it would be hypocritical to run an expose of the Economic League's activities locally, since they subscribed to it.

League Watch also adopted other approaches to the campaign against the League. Following a meeting between League Watch and the Labour Leader of Leeds City Council, for example, the council took the lead in writing to all its suppliers to ask if they supported or used the League. Although in the end the council lacked the organisational will and political power to follow the correspondence up, nevertheless it probably rattled a few suppliers and certainly made it harder for the League to recruit new members from companies which regularly won contracts from the council. When Wakefield City Council challenged the construction giant Amec, with whom it had just signed a massive contract, there was a short lived panic resolved only when Amec disclaimed any support for the League itself, claiming only to support the Services Group. The "Services Group", was of course a part of the League specialising in blacklisting construction workers. So it was not a victory in itself, but it was things like this that began to drive home to employers just how potentially damaging their support of the League might become. Tens of thousands of pounds of costly corporate advertising could be wasted with one well timed association of the company with the League as a politically motivated, macarthyite and shambolic organisation.

The disbanding of the League was not the end of the story. The principle of discriminating in employment on the basis of actual or supposed political opinions has not been nailed. While the League was being wound up the "Services Group" was thought to have survived, yet again underlining lack of professionalism in personnel and operational management in the construction industry.

Former employees of the League were also rumoured to have taken their card indexes with them and to have set themselves up as employment consultants. This rumour was confirmed in April 1994 when "Tribune" anonymously received copies of a newsletter called "Caprim Monitor". The newsletter was published by a company called "Caprim", and advertised its services to companies:

"Caprim helps its clients by checking the bona fides of anyone a company is concerned about, whether external or members of staff. A simple CV check is often sufficient and economical".

The new company was, like the Economic League, also concerned with organisations which monitored ethics in business, like Ethical Investment Research and Investment Service [EIRIS]. EIRIS had been a well established League target. It thus came as no surprise to "Tribune" to discover from Companies House that two people behind Caprim were none other than Jack Winder and Stan Hardy, the two most senior League employees who had presented the League's Evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee.

"Tribune" rang Caprim, which operates from a P.O. Box in Redditch not far from Winder's home in Alcester. They pretended to be a PR firm with South African connections which was being written about by a certain journalist. Could Caprim, they asked, check the journalist out? Jack Winder offered to check their files and contact "researchers" based all over the country for a fee of £60. If the journalist was a member of the NUJ, Winder said he could check him out there since:

"We have very good connections in the unions, very good contacts in the NUJ in a senior position".

Caprim is clearly a radical rightwing, political, business venture. But it is not a political group in the way the Economic League was. It does not, for example, have an central council of members elected by participating organisations and is therefore not so much the League reincarnated, as its malevolent ghost.

On the other hand Caprim does represent what in the end was the core-business of Economic League and it is run by those that had run the League in its final days. The confirmation that the League's blacklist has survived only serves to emphasise the need to legislate against employment vetting on the basis of an individual's - actual or presumed - political beliefs. But that legislation would not be easy to enforce. Legislation would need to be policed, and any whistleblowers would need to be protected.

The history of League demonstrates the critical role of the campaigning media in bringing about its eventual collapse. But for all their commitment those journalists could not have achieved anything without the diligent work of trade union campaigners, the willingness of victims to speak out, and of former employees to break cover.

But perhaps the most important of the various elements of the lethal cocktail that led to the demise of the League was the widely felt outrage at the League's blacklist. It was that outrage which meant that the story of the League's blacklist ran and ran.

The price of democracy, as ironically the League itself frequently reminded us, is eternal vigilance. Responsibility for that vigilance today seems to lie largely with the hard-pressed and, unfortunately, increasingly rare investigative journalist. So vigilance too has its price: it must sell papers and keep viewers tuned in to a TV station. No matter how cynical we become about the activities of politicians, political activists or the powerful we must never allow that cynicism to degenerate into complacency. We must continue to expect the highest degree of integrity and commitment to democratic principles from those in power, whether in politics with a big "P" or in industry or the financial institutions, even when in fact it doesn't surprise us when they fail to meet our expectations.

13. Appendix 1: Companies Supporting the League

Companies Making Donations or Subscribing to the Economic League and/or with a Director on the League's Central Council 1975-1989:

This is a list of slightly more than 600 companies known to have been connected with the Economic League in the last twenty years. Of these about 400 paid a subscription or made a donation to the League while the remainder are known to have had a director who has been on the Central Council of the Economic League.

The list has been compiled from reliable sources including "Labour Research" and "State Research", which obtained their information from the annual reports of the companies making donations. Some were published by "World in Action" and the "Observer". Others were taken from internal documents in the author's possession.

The details of directorships are taken from the company records of The Economic League Co. Ltd.

After 1988 a number of companies claimed to have broken their links with the League in some way or another and others qualified their support for the League. Such claims were usually worded cautiously, and sometimes in a downright misleading way. Amec, for example told one council with whom it was entering a _20m contract, that it did not subscribe to the Economic League but did use the services of The Services Group.

This is not to suggest that all such claims are merely public relations exercises. It does however suggest that some companies were less than frank in their response to straight questions.

It is also known that some companies employed indirect methods of making payments to the League: Boots for example used the British United Industrialists, others have made payments via a solicitor's and at least one, British Leyland, handled its contacts with the League through a small and little-known subsidiary.

A very brief comparison of this list with the "Times 1000" for 1986 reveals some interesting facts: Six of the top ten, twenty of the top fifty and thirty seven of the top one hundred UK companies occur in this list. Together in 1986 these companies alone employed more than 2.1 million people. The list also includes: 9 of the top 50 Investment trusts, 10 of the top fifty Life Insurance Companies and 10 of the top fifty non-life insurance companies.

Companies marked with a "+" are those which have a director in common with the Economic League.

600 Group

A Anderson & Sons

A Longworth & Sons +

A E Symes

A. Monk & Co

A. P. C. M. +

Acme Signs and Displays

Acrian (UK) +

Addle Shaw & Latham

AEGT Pension Trust +

Air UK +

Air Holdings +

Airwork +

Akroyd and Smithers +

Alcan Enfield Alloys

Alder & Mackay

Alexanders Discount +

Alldee Nominees +

Allied Lyons +

Allmay & Layfield

Alpine Double Glazing

AMEC Construction Services

Amey Roadstone

Anchor Chemical Co +

Anthony Gibbs Holdings

Arbuthnot & Savory Mills +

Ardon Contractors

Ashton Court (Sale) +

Associated Engineering

Associated Fisheries

Augustus Barnett

Automotive Products

Avenfield (Pty) Limited - South Africa +


Babcock Power Engineering

Babcock & Wilcox +

Baker Perkins Holdings

Balfour Beatty Construction

Bankers I T +

Barclays Bank

Barfab Reinforcement

Barrow Hepburn Group

Bass Charington

BAT Industries

Battle Farm Lands +

Baxter Bros (1920) +

Baxter Fell International

Beagle Nominees +


Beecham Products

Benson Turner

Berkley Hambro Property

Bernard Sunley


Biggs Wall

Birmid Qualcast

Blue Circle Group +


Bomag (GB)

Border & Southern Stockholders IT +

Bovis Construction

Bowater +

BPB Industries

Bradford & District Newspapers

Braithewaite Engineering


Brewers Society

Bricomin Farms +

Bricomin Investments +


Bridon +


Britannic Finance Trust +

British Telecom

British Manufacture & Research

British Engine

British Commonwealth Investment Co +

British Ropes

British Leyland

British & Commonwealth (Group Management) +

British & Commonwealth Shipping Co (Hotel & Travel Enterprise) +

British & Commonwealth Shipping Co PLC +

British Air Transport (Holdings) +

British & Commonwealth Shipping Co (Aviation) +

British And South American Steam Navigation +

British and Commonwealth

British Vita Co

British United Industrialists +

British Aluminium

British Investment Trust Bullock Construction

Brocklehurst Mews Maintenance +

Brooke Bond Leibig

Brooklands House +

Bryant Construction

Brymo Steel

Building Joinery Components +

Building Employers Federation

Burmah Oil

C T Bowring

C.B.I. Management Education Committee +

Caledonia Investments +

Cambrian Soft Drinks +

Cape Industrial Products

Cape Boards

Capital and Countries Property

Carlton Mansions +

Carpets International Clayton Dewandre

Cawoods Holdings

Cayzer Irvine Shipping +

Cayzer Ltd +

Cayzer Gartmore Investments +

Cayzer Irvine (Investments) +

Cayzer Irvine (Property Management) +

Cayzer Irvine (Group Finance) +

Cayzer Irvine (Insurance Management) +

Cayzer Irvine & Co +

Cayzer Trust - The +

Cedar IT


Cementmakers Federation

Centre for Policy Studies - The +

Chanton Engineering

Chapel Court (Ashton) +

Charles Stephenson Funeral Directors

Charlton Leslie Construction

Chartered Trust Agency +

Chevron Foods +

Chloride Industrial Batteries

Christian Coull Consultants +

Chritian Salvessen PLC +

Chrysler UK

Ciba Geigy

City National Investment Trust +

Clan Line Investments +

Clan Line Steamers - The +

Clanair +

Clos-o-mat (Great Britain) +

Clothing & Allied Products Industrial Training Board

Clyde Nominees +


Coates Bros & Co


Commercial Union +

Commercial Street Nominees +

Compair Broomwade

Compaq Computer Corporation


Consolidated Goldfields +

Consumer & Video Holdings +

Continental Union Agricultural Holdings +

Continental Union Finance Co +

Cookson Group

Corals Racing

Costain (UK)

Courage +


Coutts & Co

Crabtree Vickers

Crane Fruehauf Trailers

Crewkerne Investments +


Daniel Thwaites

Davidsons Ltd

De La Rue

Dean Craft Fahey +

Delta Enfield Cables

DFM Holdings +

Dickinson Robinson Group


Dock & Airport Services +

Dominion General Trust

Doncasters Shefield(Inco Europe)

Donkin & Co +

Dow Scandia

Dowsett Engineering Construction

Dowty Communications

Drake & Skull Holdings

Drayton Japan Trust +

Drummonds Branch Nominees +

Dundee Office Royal Bank Of Scotland Nominees +


Dupont Plastic Gas Pipes

Duritas Trustees +

E C Stenson

Eagle Star

East Lancashire Papers Group

Eastman Kitchens

Edbro (Holdings)

Edgar Allen Balfour

Edifice Trustees +

Edinburgh West End Nominees +

Edmund Nutall

Electra IT +

Engineering Employers Federation +

English and New York Trust

English Electric

English China Clays

Equity Capital Trustees +

Evans Medical

Ever Ready Holdings +

Everards Breweries +

Faber Prest Holdings

Fairclough Construction

Fairey Co

Fairey Group

Fairport Engineering


Federated Employers' Press +

Field Tanksteamship Co +

Field Industries Ltd - Zimbabwe +

Field Industries Africa Ltd - South Africa +

Field Aviation Co Ltd - Canada +

Fitch Lovell

Flemming Technology IT +

Flemming Far East Trust +


Ford Motor Company

Foreign And Colonial IT +


Forthaven +

Forward Chemicals +

Fraser House commercial Developments +

Frederick Robinson +

Freemantle & Co +

French Kier

Friends Provident Life Office +

Frobisher Gardens Maintenance +

Fry Construction

Furness Withy & Co

G Percy Trentham

G.K.N +


Galliford Sears

Gartmore Investment Management +

Gartmore Securities +


Geest Holdings

General Combustion

Geoffrey Osborne

George Wimpey

Gerrard & National Discount


Gibson Crude Oil Purchasing Co Ltd - Canada +

Gillinghm Woodcraft

Glasgow Stockholders

Glass Bulbs


Goldsmiths Research Foundation +

Gordon Street Nominees +

Grand Metropolitan Contract Services

Greater Manchester Economic Development Corporation +

Greater Manchester Residuary Body +

Green's Economiser +

Greenall Whitley +

Greene King

Greene King +

Greenhalls +

Group 4 Total Security

Guardian IT

Guardian Royal Exchange

H & J Quick

H J Heinz

Hall Engineering (Holdings) +

Halmatic +

Hampton's Wholefoods +

Hanley Economic Building Society +

Hanson Engineering

Hanson Trust

Hardys & Hanson

Harlands of Hull Hambros

Harry Neal

Harrytown Hall Maintenance +

Hartwells of Oxford

Hawker Siddeley +

Hazleton UK

Head Office Nominees +

Hector Whaling +


Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Henry Barratt

Herbert Ferryman

Hereford English Wine

Hewden Stuart Crane

Hiram Walker & Sons (Sctl)

Hogg Robinson +

Homfray & Co +


Houlder Bros

Howard Doris Construction

Howson Algraphy

Huntaven Properties Ltd +

Hunters Foods

Huntfield Trust Ltd +

Hunting & Son +

Hunting Firecracker +

Hunting Associated Survey Holdings +

Hunting Associated Industries +

Hunting Group +

Hunting (Eden) Tankers +

Hunting Petroleum (America) +

Hunting Survey & Photographic +

Hunting Painting Contractors +

Hunting International (Holdings) +

Hunting Gibson +

Hunting Investments +

Hunting Surveys and Consultants +

Hunting Steamship Co +

Hunting Aviation Management +

Hunting Engineering Management +

Hunting Associates Limited - Canada +

Hunting Composites +

Hunting Oil & Gas +

Hunting Holdings +

Huntley & Sparks (Lands) +

Huntley Cook & Co +


Hyphen Fitted Furniture



Imperial Group

Inner Guard

Institute of Personnel Management +

Institutional Fund Managers +

Insulated Buildings Ltd Interiors

Intercosmetics +

International Shipping Information Services +

International Westminster Bank +

Iron Trades Insurance +

J H Fenner & Co

J Bibby & Sons +

J R Govett

James Longley

James Galt & Co

James Neill Holdings +

James Walker

Jenks & Cattell +

John Jones Excavations

John E Wiltshire

John Mowlem

John I Jacobs

John Laing Construction

John Wilmott Group

Johnson Matthey

Jonas Woodhead & Sons

Jones Laing Wootton

K Wool Products

Keeton & Sons

King Line +

King Investigation Bureau

Kingsway Nominees +

Kleinwort Overseas IT +

Kleinwort Charter IT +

Kleinwort Benson Lonsdale +

Komatsu UK

Kyle Stewart

L.D.C. Trust Management +

Lake View IT +

Lamson Industries

Law Debenture Overseas +

Law Debenture Trust Corporation PLC +

Law Debenture Intermediary Corporation +

Law Debenture Corporation PLC +

Laycock Engineering Lloyds Bank +

Lead Industries Group

Legal and General

Lincoln Woodworking

Lindsay Oil Refinery


Lister Peter


Lombard Street Nominees +

London & Southhampton Stevedoring Co. +

London-American Maritime Trading +

London Brick Co

London Prudential IT

Low & Bonar

Lyon & Lyon

M & G

M & G Group +

M J Gleeson

Magnet Joinery

Magnet Metals

Main Gas Appliances

Maintenance Chemicals +

Management Search International +

Manchester Chamber of Commerce +

Manor House Hotel (Castle Combe) - The +

Markham Systems

Marlar International +

Marley Group

Marples International Holdings

Massey Ferguson

Matthew Hall Engineering

Matthew Clark & Son +

Maxwell UK

McCarthy & Stone

McGlauchlin & Harvey

McKenhie Bros

Meldrum Investment Trust PLC +


Metal Box +

Midland Bank +

Miller Buckley

Miller Construction

Mineral Drilling International +

Missouri Maintenance +

MJN Newcastle

Mono Pumps

Morgan Crucible +

Morgan Grenfell +

Mount Nelson Hotel +

National & Commercial +

National Westminster Bank +



Nestle & Co

Nicholas Lane Nominees +

Nico Construction

North British Hire Purchase +

Northern Petroleum and Bulk Freight +

Northern Engineering Estates

Norwest Holst

Norwich Union Insurance

Norwood Estates (Stretford) +

Ocean Transport & Trading +

Ondawel (GB) +

Oxford University Appointments Committee +

P C Harrington Contracts

P Hassall

Parkfield Jersey +

Pauline Hyde & Associates +


Penrith Door Co

Pentland IT

Phoenix Steel Tube

Phoenix Assurance +

Picadilly Nominees +


Plaxtons (Scarboro)

Plessey Group +

Plessey Group


Portland Group Factors +


Powell Duffryn

Power Steels

Powers Samas

Precision Cast Parts Corporation

Press Offshore

Project Direction Ltd +

Provincial Insurance

Ptarmigan (Nove Leather)

R & M Fabrications

R R & J Willan +

R W Willan (Estates) +

R M Douglas Construction

R.B. Property Nominees +

Racal Guardall (Sctl)

Radio Forth +

Rank Hovis McDougall Royal Insurance

Ransome Sims & Jefferies

RCO Contract Services

Readicut International +

Reckitt & Colman

Record Ridgeway +

Redhill Aerodrome +

Redhill Flying Club +

Redland Engineering

Regent Street Nominees +

Reliance Security ServicesRuberoid

Rexodan +

Rexshire Ltd +

Richard Costain

Rockware Group +

Rockwell (UK) +

Roland Long Associates +

Ross Foods

Rosser & Russell Building Services

Royal Bank of Scotland & Prosper Nominees +

Royal Insurance

Royal Bank of Scotland - The +

Royal Bank of Scotland Group - The +

Royal Bank of Scotland (Aberdeen) Nominees - The +

Royal Bank of Scotland (Central Branch, Glasgow) Nominees - The +

Rudolf Wolff & Co +

Rush & Tomkins Group +

Samuel Webster Breweries

Samuel Jones

Sanderson Walker & Sons (Sctl)

Sanderson Kayser

Sankey Sugar +

SBAC (Farnborough) +



Scotcom Nominees +

Scottan Investments +

Scottish Council for Development and Industry - The +

Scottish Lion Insurance Co - The +

Scottish Lion Investments +

Scottish National Trust +

Scottish and Newcastle Breweries

Scottish United Investors +

Scottish Shire Line - The +

Scottish lion Holdings +

Scottish Tanker Co. - The +

Sea Lion Investments +

Seabridge Shipping +

Seapool +

Secdee Nominees +

Second Industrial Trust +

Securites Limited +

Senior Engineering

Sheffield Testing Works +

Shell Petrol +


Shephard Hill

Shepherd Neame +

Sinclair & Collis

Singer & Friedlander +

Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons

Sir Alfred McAlpine



Slough Estates

Slough Newspaper Printers

Smiths Warehousing Group +

Smiths Industries

Society of British Aerospace Companies - The +

South Wales Electricity Board +

Spath Holme +

Spear & Jackson

Spirax-Sarco +

St Vincent Street Nominees +

St Mary Axe Holdings +

Stag Line +

Standard Broadcasting Corporation of Canada +

Standard Continuous

Staveley Industries +

Sterling Industries +

Stockbridge Engineering Steels

Stockholders IT

Stone Platt Industries

Storreys of Lancaster

Streed Ltd

Sulzer (UK)

Sun Alliance +

Swan Hunter Group

Symbol Biscuits

Symmonds English Wine +

Syntex Pharmaceuticals

T C Harrison

T S Overy

Tabuchi Electrical UK

Tanganika Concessions

Tanks Consolidated IT +

Tarmac Construction

Taskman Security Services

Tate & Lyle +

Taylor Woodrow

Thermal Syndicate

Thirsk Racecourse Ltd +

Thomas Borthwick & Sons

Thomas Grice & Co Tallent Engineering

TI Domestic Appliances

Tilbury Contracting

Total Oil Marine

Touche, Remnant & Co +

Touche, Remnant Holdings +

TR Industrial & General Trust PLC +

TR North American Investment Trust PLC +

TR Technology Investment Trust PLC+

TR City of London Trust +

TR Pacific Basin IT +

TR Holdings (1974) +

TR Natural Resources +

TR Trustees Corporation +

TR Australia Investment Trust PLC +

Trafalgar House +

Tragen Finance +

Trans Oceanic Trust +

Transmanche Link

Transport Development Group

Travel Savings (I) +

Travel Savings +

Travel Savings (XII) +

Trico Folberth

Tube Investments +

Tube Investments

Turner & Newall

Turner & Newall +

Turriff Corporation


Tysons (Contractors)

Tytherington Court +

Union Castle Mail Steamship Co - The +

Union Street Nominees +

Union castle Line +

Union Discount Co of London

Uniroyal Englebert Tyres

United Kingdom Temperance and General Provident Institution +

United Molasses

Urquhart Engineering +

Valour Heating

Varian TEM

Vaux Breweries

Venesta International Components

Vickers Instrument Co


Victor International Plastics

W & T Avery

W H Smith Electrical Engineers Group


Wagon Industrial Holdings +

Walsall Conduits

Walter Lawrence

Walter Llewelyn & Sons

Wandel & Halterman & Co

Wardle Court +

Wardley Group

Weir Group

West George Street Nominees +

Western Royal Bank of Scotland Nominees +

Westments +

Westminster Contractors

Westminster Bank +

Westminster Press

Wests Group International


Whalley House +

Whinney Murray & Co +

Whitbread +

Wilkinson Match

Willan Home Improvements +

Willan Bros (Sale) +

Willan Properties +

Willans of Macclesfield +

William H Herbert +

William Baird & Co

William Latimer & Co +

William Boulton Group +

William Jackson

Williams and Glyns +

Wilmot Breeden +

Wilsons Breweries

Wm Teacher Ltd +

Woodhunt Property +

Woolsey house +

Worthington Simpson

Y J Lovell Construction

Yorkshire Bank PLC +

Yorkshire Post Newspapers +

14. Appendix 2: The Services Group


This was a group of construction companies within the Economic League. These companies paid a higher subscription to subsidise League employees who specifically look after the construction Industry. The personnel officers of these companies notified the League of any employees, or sub-contractors, who are regarded as "troublemakers".

A Monk & Co

Alfred McAlpine

AMEC Amey Roadstone

Balfour Beatty

Costain UK

D T Bullock

Edmund Nutall

Flour (GB)

French Kier (Const)

G Percy Trentham

Geoffrey Osborne

George Wimpey

Harry Neal

James Longley & Co

John Laing

John Wittshier Group

John Wilmott Group

Kyle Stewart

M J Gleeson Group

Marples International Holdings

Matthew Hall Electrical & Mechanical

McCarthy & Stone

Miller Construction

Nico Construction

Norwest Holst

RM Douglas

Rush & Tomkins Group

Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons

Tarmac Tellings

Taylor Woodrow

Tilbury Contracting Group

Trafalgar House

Turriff Corp.

Tyson (Contractors)

Walter Lawrence

Walter Llewellyn & Sons

Y J Lovell Holdings

15. Appendix 3: A Short Who's Who of the Economic League


In the course of its seventy years of operations the Economic League has attracted onto its central and regional councils a remarkable number of powerful and influential men. It has simply not been practical to provide even a modest curriculum vitae for each entry and if you would like to know more about those on the lists I can do no more than refer you to the standard reference sources: "Who's Who", "The Times Index", "Dictionary of Business Biography", "Dictionary of National Biography", professional and business registers, your local history library, and of course, in a number of cases, standard history texts.

The following list takes two historical snapshots of the membership of the Economic League's main governing bodies: in the mid 1920's and at the time of the formation of the Limited Company in 1951. "1925", "1926" or "1927" after a name indicates the first known date of appointment, in some cases it might be earlier. "1951" indicates that the person was a founding member of the Economic League Co Ltd. In between these dates a few names of possible interest have been added. "(MP)" indicates that a person served as a Member of Parliament at some stage of their career, although I am afraid it is possible I have overlooked a few of these.

To these names of, primarily historical, interest I have added the names of Central Council members from over fifteen years or so. The composition of the Central Council over its last five years is given in a separate list.



ALLEN, H. G. Central Council 1925

ALLEN, JOHN SANDEMAN (MP) Liverpool 1925

ANDREWES, E. D. E. Central Council 1972-1976 res 1977

ANDREWS, ARTHUR Central Council 1925

ANDREWS-JONES, D. Central Council 1984

APPLEBY, Capt WILLIAM Hon Treasurer, North East Coast 1933 1951

ARCHER, A. W. Leeds 1926

ARMSTRONG, Col. O. C.Central Council 1925

ASHWORTH, PETER E. Central Council 1982

ASTBURY, Commander A. W. (MP) Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

BAIN, F.W. Liverpool 1925

BAKER, J. ELLIS Central Council 1925

BALFOUR, SIR ARTHUR (LORD RIVERDALE) Founder, Sheffield executive 1926

BALLANTYNE, H. Liverpool & District Organiser, 1933

BARDSLEY, J. B. Sheffield 1926

BARKER, T. B. Lancashire & Cheshire 1925


BARNET, WALTER Midlands 1925

BARRAN, Sir DAVID Central Council 1972-79 (resigned). President 1972/3

BATEMAN, Lieut. Col. C. M. Central Council 1925 Keighley 1926

BECKETT, Hon RUPERT Central Council 1925 Leeds (President) 1926

BENSON, E. R. Central Council 1925 Huddersfield (President) 1926

BEST, P. A. London exec ??????

BIDDER, Lieut. Col M. M. Central Council 1925 Leeds 1926 1927

BINNS, J. SPENCER Keighley 1926

BLAND, G. H. Hull executive 1925

BLENKINSOP, A. Sheffield 1926

BOOT, CHARLES Sheffield 1926

BRIDGE, Maj W. J. Central Council 1984


BROCKLEHURST, E. S. Hull executive, 1925

BRODIE, Maj. THOMAS Central Council 1984 (Vice president)

BROOKES, Lord Raymond Brookes until 1975 Central Council 1972-77 resigned 1978

BROOKSBANK, W. Huddersfield & District Organiser, 1933.

BROWN, F.E. Huddersfield executive 1926

BROWN, PETER, BOSWELL Sheffield 1926


BURRELL, F. H. Hull executive 1925

CAILLARD, VINCENT Central Council 1925


CANBY, Alderman THOMAS Huddersfield executive 1926

CAPRO, A. J. Sheffield 1926

CAREY, W. H. Nottinghamshire Committee 1927

CARLILE Central Council 1972-83 resigned 1984

CARTER, E. G. Central Council North East Area 1971-1978 died

CAYZER, Lord NICHOLAS Central Council 1972

CHADWICK, F. T. Leeds 1926

CHALLEN, Maj J. Lancashire & Cheshire 1927

CHAMBERLAIN Central Council 1976, 1977

CHAPPELL, E. P. Central Council 1977-79, resigned 1980

CHARLESWORTH, R. Sheffield 1926

CHEVERTON-BROWN, Alderman M. Hull 1925

CHILD, ALWYN Leeds 1925

CHORLEY, I. J. South Wales 1925


CLARK, Lieut. Col. EDWIN KITSON Leeds 1927

CLARK, HENRY North East Coast 1925

CLARK, W. Sheffield 1926


CLIVE, ROBERT Sheffield 1926

CLOUGH, HENRY S. Keighley President 1926

COATES, WILLIAM HENRY Central Council 1927

COGGAN, CHARLES Nottingham Treasurer 1927

COOKSON, CLIVE North East Coast 1925 1951

CORDINGLEY H. B. Keighley 1926

CORY, Sir CLIFFORD (MP) Central Council 1925, MP

COULL, JAMES Central Council 1987

CRAIG G. Leeds. Hudersfield 1926

CRAWFORD, ARCHIBALD National Director of Policy and Propaganda 1925/1926

CROWTHER, LAWRENCE Huddersfield 1926

DAWES, C. A. W. Central Council 1971-1982 died

DENISON, W. B.Leeds 1926

DENNISS, A. J. London 1925

DETTMER, JOHN STANLEY Central Council 1977-78, Vice President,

Director General

DIXON, EDWARD Sheffield, President. 1926 Central Council 1925

DOBSON, Col B. PAULIN Lancashire & Cheshire 1927

DOBSON, E. London 1925

DOCKER, FRANK DUDLEY Central Council 1925

DORMAN, ARTHUR North East Coast 1926

DOWDING, Lord Central Council 1984

DREW, W. NEWTON Sheffield 1926

DUNLOP, R. J. Central Council 1976-79 resigned 1980

EAGLESOME, Sir JOHN Leeds 1926

EARLE, S. G. T. Midlands 1926

EDWARDS, P. G. Central Council North East 1977 - President?

ELLIOTT Sheffield 1926

ELLIS, G. A. Huddersfield 1926

ELLIS, Sir WILLIAM HENRY Sheffield 1926

ELSE, H. C. Sheffield 1926

ERROLL, Lord Central Council 1977-83, resigned 1984

EVANS, J. ORMUND Midlands 1925

EVETTS, Lieut. Gen. Sir JOHN Central Council 1972-1976

FAHEY, D. Central Council 1983

FAIRER, Maj WALTER C. Lancashire & Cheshire 1927

FILDES, Sir HENRY (MP) Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

FINNEY, VICTOR HAROLD (MP) Area Officer Lancashire & Cheshire 1933


FIRTH, Sir ALGERNON F. Central Council 1925

FIRTH, C. Central Council 1976-84 resigned 1985, died 1985

FLATHER, D. Sheffield 1926

FORD, Alderman H. GLOVER Nottingham General Committee

FORSTER, J. H. B. North East Coast 1925

FORSTER, WILLIAM Nottingham 1927

FORSTER, Maj W. Leeds. Midlands 1925

FOWLER, N. Central Council resigned 1976

FRASER, J. D. Central Council 1972-1974 resigned 1975

FREMANTLE, R. Central Council 1983

FRITH, HENRY Keighley 1927

GAINFORD, LORD President Central Council 1925, 1926 BBC, Mineowner, FBI etc

GAINSFORD, Maj A. J. Sheffield 1926

GARDNER, D. Central Council 1972-77

GEDDES, Sir AUKLAND C. Chairman 1925-26

GEE, PHILIP Central Council 1925

GIBB, MAURICE S. North East Coast 1925

GIBSON, FINALY A. Central Council 1925 South Wales 1925

GLADSTONE, ROBERT Liverpool 1925

GLYNN, J. P. R. Central Council 1973-78 resigned 1979

GOSLING, W. Hull 1925

GOULD P. Leeds. South Wales 1925,1926

GOULD J. C. Central Council 1925 James Childs? (MP)

GOW, MAXWELL HARPER Central Council 1984

GOWAN A. B. North East Coast 1925

GRAHAM, Sir WILLIAM South Wales 1925

GRAY, H. A. BENNIE Huddersfield 1926

GREENAWAY, P. D. C. Central Council 1983


GRIEVE,,T.aR.rCentral Council11974-79

GRIMTHORPE, Lord Central Council 1972-8

GROVES, Col. JOHN EDWARD GRIMBLE Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

GWYNNE, NEVILE GWYN Central Council 1925

HADDON-GRANT, M. Central Council 1980-1983, 1984

HADFIELD, Sir ROBERT A. Central Council 1925

HALE, GRAHAM Central Council 1987

HAMILTON, C. A. C. Central Council 1976-1979 resigned 1980

HAMPTON, A. B. Central Council 1976, 1977- ?


HARDIE, H. D. S. Central Council 1980-1983, 1984

HARDING Central Council 1986

HARDISTY, A. H. Huddersfield 1926

HARPER, R. South Wales 1925

HARRISON, JOSEPH Lancashire & Cheshire 1925, 1926

HARTLEY, A. D. Keighley 1926

HEARD, ARTHUR W.South Wales 1925

HENDERSON-TATE, R. Chair, North Midlands 1965-71 Central Council 1965-71, died 1972

HENRY, Sir JOHN Central Council 1925

HEWLETT, Lord NW Region 1976-79 Central Council 1978/79

HEY, Col W. L. Central Council 1972-75


HIDE, W. S. Vice Pres Hull 1925

HILL, E. J. London 1925

HIND, J. W. Nottingham

HINDE, W. E. South Wales 1925

HIRST, GEOFFREY A. N. (MP) Central Council 1934 to 1967

HITCH, W. P. Leeds 1927

HOARE, Col R. R. Joined early 1930's as regional director Lancs and Cheshire, DG 1945-1959 Central Council 1959-75


HODGKIN, C. E. London 1925, 1926

HOLDEN-BROWN, Sir DERRICK Central Council 1975-82,

HOLLINGWORTH, H. Hudders 1926

HOPE, H. A. L. Central Council 1973-1976

HOULT, E. Sheffield 1926



HUDSON, R. Keighley 1926

HUGHES, Dr J. E. Central Council 1977

HULTON, Sir EDWARD Central Council 1925

HUNTER, E. C. C. Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

HUNTING, LINDSAY CLIVE Central Council 1975-1977

HURST, A. E. Midlands 1925

HURST, C. F. Central Council 1972-1977

HUTCHISON, Colonel JAMES R. H. (MP) 1951

IBBERSON, WILLIAM G. Central Council 1972-1977


INVERNAIRN, Lord Central CouncilI1925e (MP) until 1933) 1951

JACKSON, C. F. Midlands 1926

JAKEMAN, H. F. 1986

JENKINS, EDGAR J. Sheffield 1926

JOEL, HENRY F. London 1925

JOHNSON, J. A. Leeds 1927

JONES, J. A. Leeds 1927

JONES, TREVOR S.South Wales 1925


KELLY, R. C. Central Council 1925

KEYS, D. Central Council 1980-84


KING, NEWMAN Keighley 1926

KING, THOMAS London 1926

KITSON, H. H. Leeds 1927

KITSON, LIONEL Central Council 1927

LAMBERT, E. C. Vice Pres Hull 1925


LEAN, G. ALISTAIR Central Council 1982


LEDBURY, R. E. Midlands 1925, 1926

LEE, Lieut Col A. N. Sheffield 1926

LEE, A. S. Sheffield 1926

LEE, W(ILLIAM) A(LEXANDER) Central Council 1925, 1951


LEWIS, HUGH Liverpool 1926

LILLIE, C. W. Leeds 1927

LINEHAM, S. Leeds 1927

LINTON, C. E. Sheffield 1926

LITTLE, DAVID Leeds 1926

LLOYD, M. C.Central Council 1972

LONGBOTTOM, Sir Benjamin Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

LOW, A. P. Central Council 1972

MABBOTT, H. E. D. Central Council 1927, Chair in late 30's Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

MACASKIE, T. S. Leeds 1927

MacDONAL, A. R. Secretary of West of Scotland (?)

MACHIN, Sir STANLEY London 1925

MacKAY, J. Sheffield

MacKENZIE, Dr A. Central Council 1927 Leeds 1926

MACLEAN, Sir ROBERT Central Council 1973-1983, Vice President 1977-83

MACLEOD, D. Central Council 1974-1983

MacPHERSON, Maj W. W. Leeds 1927

MALCOLM, Sir MICHAEL Central Council 1952-75 (died) Scotland, Later Central Council

MANDER, Capt. H. VIVIAN Midland Counties 1926

MANNION Maj F. O. Organiser Nottingham 1933

MANVILLE, Sir EDWARD Central Council 1925 FBI etc

MARJORIBANKS, D. S. North East Coast 1925

MARSHAL-ANDREW, DUCAN P. Central Council 1982

MARTIN, D. S. Central Council 1976-1978

MATTHEWS, VICTOR C. Central Council 1975-80 Enobled 1980(1981?)

MATTHEY, HAY INGHAM Central Council 1972-1981, President 1980


MAY, JAMES Leeds 1927

McCASKIE, N. Huddersfield 1926

McGOWAN, Sir HARRY (Later Lord) Central Council 1925

McCRAITH, Sir DOUGLAS Nottingham 1927

McMURTRIE, R. P. L. Central Council 1977-1980

MEWTON, W. H. South Wales 1925

MILES, JAMES Central Council 1925 South Wales 1925

MILLS, JOHN L. Central Council (Co-opted) 1983, Central Council 1984

MINNS, ANTHONY E. Central Council 1952-74 (died) member of the EL Executive FinanceCommittee (est. 1956), later called the Policy-Finance Committee.

MOIR, N. R. M. Central Council 1972-73

MONGOMERRY, Maj Gen Sir R. A. Kerr North East Coast 1925

MORGAN, Sir HERBERT Central Council 1925

MOULD, A. N. Central Council 1972-1975

MOWAT, M. J. Sheffield 1926

MULLER, P. MAXWELL London 1925

MURRAY, Sir ALAISTER Central Council 1958-1973 (died) Chair Scotland 1958-1969, Pres Scotland 1969-1973

MUSPRATT, SIR MAX Central Council 1925 Chair Liverpool 1925

NALL, SIR MICHAEL Central Council 1983-

NEAL, Sir LEONARD Central Council 1977-1980

NELSON, G(EORGE) H(ORATIO) Sheffield 1926

NEWSHOLME, N. R. Keighley 1926

NICHOLSON, FRANK North East Coast 1925

NICHOLSON, J. L. London 1925

NICHOLSON, S. T. Hull 1925

NIMMO, Sir ADAM Central Council 1925

NOBLE, Sir SAXTON WILLIAM Central Council 1925

OLDHAM, Sir ERNEST FITZJOHN London 1925, 1926

OLIPHANT, M. D. Central Council 1972-1973

ORCHARD, LAWRENCE W. Central Council 1975-77

ORMEROYD, JOHN Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

OSBORN, S. Sheffield 1926

PALMER, W. Leeds + District Organiser 1933

PARKES, J. J. Central Council 1972-76

PARSONS, JIMSON Central Council 1975-

PEARCE, H. Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

PEARSON, PETER L. H. Central Council 1985

PEASE, REGINALD North East Coast 1925

PEPPER, SYDNEY L. Midland Counties Counties Organiser 1933

PORTWAY, J. H. Leeds 1927

PRAIN, J. MURRAY Central Council 1972-74

PRENTICE, G. Liverpool 1926

PRICE, N. G. Central Council 1977-79

PRIESTMAN, FRANCIS North East Coast 1925

PRITCHARD, F. E. Liverpool 1925

PUTNAM, Sir THOMAS North East Coast 1925

RAWORTH, R. B. Central Council 1974-83

REA, EDWARD Central Council 1985- President South Wales

REDDISH, HALFORD WALTER LUPTON 1951, Central Council 19??-1976, Vice President, Died 1977


REE, Dr ALFRED Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

REES, D. MORGAN South Wales 1925

REYNOLDS, Sir JAMES P. Central Council 1926 Liverpool 1925

REYNOLDS, R. C. Lancashire & Cheshire 1927

RHODES, D. Keighley 1926

RHODES, R. E. Hull 1925

RIMMER, Lieut. Col. EDWARD Liverpool 1925

RITSON, Lieut. Col. W. H. North East Coast 1925

ROBERTSON, Dr A. Central Council (co-opted) 1983, Central Council 1984-

ROBINSON, G. FOX Central Council 1925 Hull 1925

ROBINSON, THOM Central Council 1987-1989

ROBSON, Maj P. Hull 1925

ROCHDALE, The Rt Hon Lord (George Kemp until 1913) 1951, Central Council ?-1977, Vice President

ROGER, R. North East Coast 1925

ROGERS, Sir HALLEWELL Central Council 1925

ROGERS, T. G. PARRY Central Council 1982

ROPNER, Col. LEONARD (MP) North East Coast (Tees/Hartlepool) 1925

ROSE, Group Capt A. D. Central Council 1972-1974

ROSS, MORTON Central Council 1980-1983

ROSS, P. Hull 1925

ROWLES, RONALD R. Central Council 1983

RUDOLF, J. P. Liverpool 1926

RUNCIMAN, The Rt Hon The Viscount (Walter Runciman until 1937) 1951, Central Council ?-1977,(Vice President until 1937)

RUNDGE, C. D. Central Council 1986

RUSHTON, Sir ARNOLD Liverpool 1925

RUSHWORTH, A. E. Huddersfield 1926

RUST, H. L. Sheffield 1926

SADLER, STANLEY North East Coast 1925

SANDERS, A. W. Midland Counties

SANDERSON, Col OSWALD Vice pres. Hull 1925, 1926

SANDFORD, LEONARD R. London & District organiser & General

Secretary 1933 Joint Orgn (With J. B. White) of South of England

SARGEANT, W. H. Secretary of Sheffield & District 1933

SAVILL, PETER Director General -1985, Central Council 1986 -

SENIOR, A. Sheffield 1926

SHERMAN, FRANK Central Council 1925 Chair of South Wales 1925

SIMPSON, J. F. Central Council 1972-1983

SKELTON, W. S. Sheffield 1926

SMITH, CLARENCE, D. North East Coast 1925

SMITH, LAUNCELOT E(USTACE) Central Council 1925 Chair North East Coast 1925


SOUTHERN, FRANK Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

SPEIR, Sir RUPERT Central Council 1972-1976

SPENS, Colonel HUGH BAIRD 1951


STACEY, Capt. Liverpool 1925



STOCKWELL Leeds 1926


SUMMERS, HUNTER North East Coast 1925

SWAN, E. Liverpool 1925

SYKES, Lieut. Col. Sir ALAN J. (MP) Central Council 1925

Lancashire & Cheshire 1925(president)

SYKES, CHARLES D. Midland Counties 1925

TATE, H. SAXON Central Council 1973-83, Chairman (?) 76-82

TERRY, Alderman CHARLES 1951

THOMPSON, Capt. J. D. Lancashire & Cheshire 1925

THOMPSTONE, W. G. Central Council 1973-1975

THORLEY, Sir GERALD Central Council 1973-198?, 1980-? President

TILLING, R. M. London 1925

TOOSEY, Sir PHILIP J. Central Council 1960-1976 (died).

Liverpool& District

TOUCHE, Sir ANTHONY G. Central Council 1975-?

TURNER, ERIC Central Council 1965-1980 (died), Chair Policy & Finance Committee 1967-1972, Chair of Investment Sub-committee formed in 1977

UNDERWOOD, Alderman EDUMUND G. Nottingham 1927 1951

UNWIN, M. E. Sheffield 1926

VINE, NORMAN D. Leeds 1927

VINES, ADOLPH London 1925 1951

VINES, M. Central Council 1972-1975

VOGEL, JULIUS, L. F. Liverpool 1925

VYLE, GILBERT C. Central Council 1925 Chair Midland Counties 1925

WAGSTAFFE, F. F. Keighley 1926

WARHAM, RIDLEY North East Coast 1925

WARNER, J. B. Nottingham 1927

WEBBER, ROBERT J. South Wales 1925

WEDGEWOOD, A. Lancashire & Cheshire 1925


WHITEHOUSE, B. J. Central Council 1985-

WHITEHOUSE, W. H. London 1925

WHITFIELD, F. Huddersfield 1926

WILKINS, R. H. Central Council 1972-78, Vice Pres 1975?

WILLAN, ROBERT M. Central Council 1982-??, North West

WILLANS, G. C. H.Huddersfield 1926

WILLEY, Lieut. Col the hon FRANCIS VERNON (MP) (Baron Barnby from 1929) Central Council 1925

WILLIAMS, LLEWELLYN Lancashire & Cheshire 1927

WILLIAMS, D. R. H. Huddersfield 1926

WILLIAMSON Col R. S. Midland counties 1926

WILSON, E. London 1925, 1926 1927(chair)

WOOD, Sir ARTHUR N. L. North East Coast 1925

WOODHOUSE, Sir PERCY Lancashire & Cheshire 1927

WRATHALL, J. Keighley 1927

16. Appendix 4: Central Council Members of the League 1988-90

Central Council in 1990 (with date joined):


Peter Edward ASHWORTH 1982

Hon Mark R BALFOUR 1988


Maj-General Thomas BRODIE 1984

John Stanley DETTMER 1977

Lord DOWDING 1984



Dennis FAHEY 1983



Anthony Barmore HAMPTON 1976


Richard Ian HUGHES

Richard H. HUNTING

Sir Peter HUTHCHISON 1989


Sir William MATHER 1990

Sir Michael NALL 1983


Jimson PARSONS 1975


Ronald Robert ROWLES 1983

Peter SAVILL 1986





Maj. W J BRIDGE 1984-1988

Lord (William Nicholas) CAYZER 1972 - 4/7/89

James COULL 1987


Sir Maxwell Harper GOW 1984-17/1/89



Graham HALE 1987

Lindsay Clive HUNTING

John LAWRENCE-MILLS 1983-4/7/89

G Alister LEAN 1982


Lawrence William ORCHARD 1975 - 4/7/89

Peter L. H. PEARSON 1985

H PRICE -1990

Edward REA 1985-17/1/89


T. G. Parry ROGERS 1982

C D RUNGE 1986

Gerald Bowers THORLEY

Sir Anthony TOUCHE 1975

Robert M. WILLAN 1982-17/1/89

17. Appendix 5: Economic League Directors & Workers



John Baker-White, 1926-1945

Robert Rawdon Hoare, 1945-1959

John S Dettmer, 1959-1977

Michael Noar, 1986-1989

Stan Hardy, 1989 - 1993


Michael Noar, Director General

Thom Robinson, Company Secretary & Director of Information

John O Udal, Liaison Director

P Thackery, National Co-ordinator of the Services Group

Jack Winder, Research
Regional Directors:

North West Region: Richard T Brett

North Eastern Region: J S Bromley,

(Assistant Director Alan Harvey was said to have been sacked following the first "World in Action" programme in which he had been covertly filmed boasting of contacts within the police)

Western Region: E Dover

Eastern Region: Peter Leach

Scotland: Hamish Macgregor

Midland Region: Jack Winder

South Eastern Region: A L P Weeks

By 1989 Thom Robinson had been replaced by M James. F Barnes and P Thackery had been replaced by Ian Caerr. The supervisor of the Information and Research Department was Joanne Wood. Richard Brett had been sacked, alleging unfair dismissal.

18: Select Bibliography


Economic League Documents


In fact very few Economic League Documents, including the annual reports, were publicly available to non-subscribers or their employees, there is however a distinction to be drawn between these documents and the internal "leaked" documents I have had access to. This is by no means a complete list of all the published documents of which I have copies.

"Annual Reports", various years. Not available through libraries, but Labour Research, the Labour History Museum and TUC Library have many copies.


"The Facts about Industry", Economic League, early 1930's

"The Economic League - Aims, Methods and Achievements", Economic League, 1933

"National Hunger March - Why they are marching", Economic League 1934

"German Propaganda in Britain", Economic League, July 1939

"Fifty Fighting Years", Economic League, 1967

"Companies Under Attack-Political Disruption in Industry", Economic League, 1986

"Revolutionaries Today", Economic League, a nine part series commencing in 1986

"The Revolution Lives - a guide to Marxist Organisations in Britain", Economic League, 1991


"The Facts of the case", The Economic Study Club, 1921


"Two Minute News Review", Monthly

"Analysis - A Review of Current Issues" monthly from November 1990


I had access to a very large number of unpublished internal documents including:

North West Economic League blacklist, 1985

Minutes of the Research Group of the Economic League, 7th December 1988.

Lists of subscribers and companies using the solicitors Barnes & Co to hide donations

Numerous lists of Regional Council members

Minutes of the Director General's Advisory Committee, 25th August 1987

Assorted minutes of Central Council and Policy and Finance Committee

Letters circulated to subscribers following exposes of the blacklist in the media

Articles and Pamphlets Specifically about the League

This list does not include the numerous newspaper and magazine articles about the League.

Mark Hollingsworth

Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, "Blacklist: The Inside Story of Political Vetting", Hogarth, 1988

Mark Hollingsworth and Charles Tremayne, "The Economic League", The Silent Macarthyism, Liberty, 1989

Labour Research Department

"What is the Economic League?", 1937

"A subversive Guide to the Economic League", 1969

Independent Labour Party Information Committee

"The Economic League at Work - Capitalist Propaganda Exposed", September 1926

State Research Bulletin

"Bulletin No. 7", September 1978

Arthur McIvor

"'A Crusade for Capitalism': The Economic League 1919-39", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 23, 1988

"The Economic League 1919-39" Research Working Paper, Polytechnic of Central London, 1983

"Combating the Left: Victimisation and Anti-Labour Activities on Clydeside, 1900-1939", Arthur McIvor and Hugh Patterson - in R. Duncan and A McIvor (eds), Militant Workers, John Donald

John Baker White

"Red Russia Arms", Burrup Mathieson, 1932

"The Innocents' Clubs" (pamphlet), John Baker White, 1935

"Dover Nurenberg Return", Burrup Mathieson, 1937

"The Red Network", International Anti-Communist Entente, 1939

"Its gone for Good", Vacher & Sons, 1941

"A Soldier Dares to Think", Vacher, 1942

"Nationalisation: Chaos or Cure?", Forum Books, 1946

"The Soviet Spy System", Falcon Press, 1948

"The Big Lie", Evans Bros, 1955

"Pattern for Conquest [On Russian intrigue and espionage in Europe since 1945]", Robert Hale, 1956

"Sabotage is Suspected", Evans Bros, 1957

"True Blue", Frederick Muller, 1970


Julian Amery "Approach March", 1973

Christopher Andrew, "Secret Service", Heinemann, 1985

Patrick Beesley, "Room 40", OUP, 1982

Ron Bean, "Liverpool Shipping Employers and the Anti-Bolshevik Activities of J.M.Hughs", Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, No 34, Spring 1977.

A B Carew, "The Lower Decks of the Royal Navy 1900-39", Manchester University Press, 1981

Maurice Cowling, "The Impact of Labour", Cambridge University Press, 1975; "The impact of Hitler", Cambridge University Press, 1975

Tom Cullen, "Maundy Gregory - Purveyor of Honours", Bodley Head

Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, "Smear", Harper Collins, 1991

Barbara Lee Farr, Unpublished PhD Thesis, "The Development and Impact of Right-wing Politics in England 1903-32", University of Illinois, 1976

Paul Foot, "Who Framed Colin Wallace", Macmillan, 1989

Martin Gilbert's Companion Volume V to his biography of Churchill.

Richard Griffiths "Fellow Travellers of the Far Right", Constable, 1980

Robert Graves & Alan Hodge "The Long Weekend - a Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939", first published 1940, reprinted by Hutchison, 1985

Simon Haxey, "Tory MP",

Eric Hobsbawm, Volume 3 of the Pelican History of Britain, 1969

John Hope, "Fascism, the Security Service and the Curious Careers of Maxwell Knight and James McGuirk Hughes", Lobster #22; "British Fascism and the State 1917-1927: a re-examination of the documentary evidence", Labour History Review, Vol 57, No3, Winter 1992

Ellic Howe, "The Black Game", Michael Joseph, 1982

Mike Hughes, "Churchill and The Focus", Lobster 25, June 1993, Profiles of Blinker Hall, Lobster 26 and George Makgill, Lobster 28, [Original Dorril's],

H. Montgomery Hyde "The trial of Roger Casement", 1960

David Irving's "Churchill's War"

Admiral Sir William James, "The Eyes of the Navy", Methuen 1955, "The Sky Was Always Blue", Methuen 1951

Keith Jeffrey and Peter Hennessey, "States of Emergency", Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983

Douglas Jerrold, "Georgian Adventures", reprinted the following year by the Right Book Club

Tom Jones, "Whitehall Diary" ed K. Middlemas, London 1969

Tony Kushner and Kenneth Lunn (editors) ,"The Politics of Marginality", Frank Cass, 1990

David Leigh, "The Wilson Plot", Heineman, 1988

Lobster #11, #12, #22, #26,#28. Lobster was, until issue #26, Robin Ramsay and Stephen Dorril. Confusingly there are now two Lobsters produced each bearing the same number! Dorril Lobsters are available from Stephen Dorril at 135 School Street, Holmfirth West Yorkshire, HD7 2YB, Telephone 0484 681388. Ramsay Lobsters are available from Robin Ramsay at 214 Westbourne Avenue, Hull HU5 3JB, Telephone 0482 447558. I have contributed to the Dorril Lobster which means that Robin Ramsay no longer talks to me. However he was exceptionally supportive during the writing of this book, and read an earlier draft for me and made invaluable suggestions. I would therefore like to record my sincere thanks for his support. Both Steve and Robin can supply back copies of the jointly produced issues.

Labour Research Department, "The Federation of British Industries", 1950

Edward Luttwak, "Coup D'Etat, Penguin, 1968

Wilfred MacCartney, "Walls Have Mouths", Left Book Club, 1936

Margaret Morris, "The General Strike", Penguin 1976

Panikos Panayi, "The British Empire Union in the First World War" in "The Politics of marginality", edited by Tony Kushner and Kenneth Lunn, Frank Cass, 1990

Kim Philby "My Secret War", 1968

Bernard Porter, "Plots and Paranoia"

Anthony Read and David Fisher, "Colonel Z", Hodder and Stoughton, 1984

G.R.Searle "Corruption in British Politics", OUP, 1987

William Stevenson "A Man Called Intrepid", Macmillan, 1976

Eugene Spiers "Focus" (1963)

John Stubbs, "The Impact of the Great War on the Conservatives" in "The Politics of Reappraisal 1918-1939"

Bickham Sweet-Escort "Baker Street Irregular", 1971

Julian Symmonds, "The Great Beast", Granada, 1973

Sir Basil Thomson, "Queer People", Hodder & Stoughton, 1922 and "The Scene Changes", Collins 1939

Richard Thurlow, "Fascism in Britain - a History 1918-1985", Basil Blackwell 1987

Cecil Turner (editor), "The Case for Free Enterprise", Bachman & Turner, 1979

J A Turner, "The British Commonwealth Union and the General Election of 1918", English Historical Review, July 1978

G C Webber, "Ideology of the British Right 1918-19", Groom Helm, 1986

Nesta Webster, "The Socialist Network"

Peter Wright, "Spycatcher", Hienneman Australia, 1987.

W. J. West "Truth Betrayed", Duckworth, 1987

Nigel West, "A matter of Trust", Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982

Nicholas Whapshot and George Brock, "Thatcher", Macdonald, 1983

Harold Wilson, "The War on World Poverty - An appeal to the Conscience of Mankind", Gollanz, 1953¸