Am I an MI5 agent? An open letter in reply to Ken Livingstone (1998)

Submitted by Matthew on 11 December, 2010 - 7:48 Author: Sean Matgamna

Mr Livingstone,

Marx once rightly said:”To leave error uncorrected is to encourage intellectual immorality.”

But that has little to do with what I’m engaged in now! Dealing with an irresponsible old gobshite, unserious in everything political except self advancement, is no matter of an exchange of ideas and views with another socialist or of comradely “correction” and counter-correction. It is work akin to what sanitation workers do – unpleasant but necessary.

Three Workers’ Liberty people report that from the platform at a meeting of 30 or 40 students at Birkbeck College, London, last July you said of me that I am, “certainly mad and most probably an MI5 agent.”

I’d be inclined to treat the MI5 agent stuff as a joke were it not that in an Irish context this idiocy might one day cease to be funny. I assume that statements like this are not confined to public meetings or made only in the presence of Workers’ Liberty supporters. You say such things all the time, about many people on the left – about Arthur Scargill, for example – not only about me. This will surprise only those who don’t know you or your history. You are not quite what you seem, Mr Livingstone. Your easy way with such charges brands you as, at least, a bit of a nut.

Yet if I were new in politics, trying on impressions to separate the worthwhile political people from the career-mad power-suited citizens who swarm around Blair, I’d probably think there was a lot to be said in your favour. You seem to stand in marked contrast to the regiment of New Labour MP’s who, with slight gender variations, dress alike, think alike, talk alike, walk alike and sing identical hosannas to His Majesty Tony.

Where a mysterious Invasion of the Body Snatchers has turned most Labour MPs into political robots, connected electronically to a single will, brain and public relations-obsessed answering machine in the Whips’ Office, you appear to be that rarity in the Parliamentary Labour Party, a creature with the characteristics of a human being – a man with a mind of his own, who occasionally speaks it. If I didn’t know you and your past I’d think having you as Mayor of London was a pretty good idea.

But I do know you. I know your political record. I know your past political associates and benefactors: I know that the late Gerry Healy and the late Workers Revolutionary Party financed your 1980s weekly newspaper, Labour Herald. And I know that those habitual champions of civilisation, socialism, progress and enlightenment, Colonel Gadaffi, Saddam Hussein and various lesser oil-rich Middle East potentates financed Healy.

You know that I have long held the opinion that a Labour Left which accepts you as any sort of leader, or even as a member, is a Left that lacks purpose, standards, memory, self-definition and proper self-respect. Thus the slander. Yours is the record of a relentlessly self-serving careerist - albeit one with an eccentric streak - who will say and do anything that it is in his interest to say and do. Today you would - you have said it publicly - be a loyal member of the Government now, if only Blair would give you a job. Politically who and what are you? Let us look backwards for a moment.

You were elected left-wing Leader of the Greater London Council in 1981, before Mrs Thatcher had used the Falklands War to consolidate her grip on power. She was then still very unpopular. The labour movement had not yet been shackled by, “the most repressive labour laws in western Europe” (Blair). As Leader of the GLC you chose to duck out of confronting Thatcher when she and her anti-union legislation might still have been beaten.

These were the questions on which you initially fell out with what was then the paper of Labour’s broad left, Socialist Organiser, which you had helped found: should Labour councils try to avoid conflict with the government by passing on social service cuts as rate rises (to substitute for government funding) - or mobilise their supporters by way of defying the government, turning the councils towards confrontation with the government?

The GLC might have been a fortress of the class-struggle left. By dramatic, ringing defiance of a very unpopular government you might have given a lead to other Labour councils and made life very difficult for the anti-working class Thatcher government. Instead, you ran the GLC as business-as-usual Labour local government, with left frills and gesture politics. You made small donations out of public money to good causes and indulged in conventional middle class “leftist” talk. Neither the working class nor the class struggle had any central part in your scheme of “socialist” politics.

When Tory judges forbade you to bring in “low fares” on the Tubes, a policy the electors in London had voted for, you backed down. You put your career first - you “obeyed the law”.

You did – no: mainly you said – enough to provoke the Thatcherites and their press. And when they came after you to abolish the GLC you pioneered in life what the late neo-Stalinist journal Marxism Today only theorised about, “rainbow-coalition” politics able to reach right across the spectrum as far as ex-Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath.

By the time the miners were taking on the Tory government and their police (1984-85) you were too busy kissing the Queen’s hand as she opened the new Thames Barrier - at your invitation - and hobnobbing with Liberals and dissident Tories to pay much attention.

You described your approach to politics then, with disarming pseudo-candour, in Tribune: “I’m for manipulative politics,” you said, “the cynical soft-sell”. Your future career and personal interest came before anything else. Ken Livingstone uber alles!

“Red Ken” survived the abolition of the GLC without incurring legal penalties or disqualification. You broke with the left and became a maverick supporter of Neil Kinnock’s soft left Labour Establishment - those who blazed the trail for Blair. The “cynical soft-sell” got you into Parliament in 1987.

But Kinnock lost the ‘87 General Election and you tacked “left” again. In 1992 you went through the motions of standing for leader of the Labour Party and let the Tory Sun, which had for 6 years been boycotted by trade unions as a scab paper, endorse you - you wrote a weekly Sun column! - and run you, tongue-in-cheek, as its candidate for Labour leader. You, the rate riser of the GLC days, ran for “left” leader of the Labour Party on a Sun platform: you criticised Labour in the 1992 Election for proposing tax rises!

You used your column in Murdoch’s Sun to attack would-be revolutionary socialists, the SWP, for their style of anti-racist campaigning. This was shameless clowning and buffoonery.

That didn’t stop desperate and disoriented sections of the “gis-a-fix” left - Briefing, for example, and Socialist Outlook - backing you. Today you are the “left” candidate for Mayor of London.

But it is your recurrent tendency to find imaginary MI5 agents in the labour movement that has led me to write this letter. “Agent”-baiting left-wing political critics and opponents is a trick you picked up from your friend, mentor and financial benefactor, Gerry Healy.

Three years ago when the Socialist Labour Party stood in the Hemsworth by-election, you agent-baited Arthur Scargill, publicly commenting: “Stella Rimmington [Head of MI5] couldn’t have done it better, Arthur.” When Anne Murphy, representing a small socialist organisation, stood against you in Brent in the 1992 General Election you accused her - before the TV cameras at a public meeting - of being “MI5”.

Now I don’t mind being called “mad” by someone who himself sees “agents” everywhere and is prone to shouting “spy” and “agent” at anyone who disagrees with, threatens or challenges him; who seems to believe sincerely that what’s good for Ken Livingstone - the future Lord Redken Gobshite, as Socialist Organiser, with admirable restraint, used to call you - is ipso facto good for socialism. Socialism? “It is I”!

“Mad” is often a loose-mouthed, slobbish way of dismissing what one can’t quite fathom. Indeed, it would be a miracle of cultural and political empathy if you, with your solipsistic “socialism”, could comprehend what Socialist Organiser was and Workers Liberty is about. “Mad!” here is just abuse hurled across the political, social, moral, intellectual and, no doubt, psychological void that separates us. If, in socialist terms, you are sane, then - I insist on it - I am, indeed, mad!

The guff about MI5 is altogether more serious. Indirectly, it is a charge against everybody associated with Workers Liberty, and, before that Socialist Organiser.

One of two things - either: you are an irresponsible blatherskite making wild charges you cannot substantiate. Or: you can substantiate. Then why don’t you? Don’t you think it matters that someone you believe is “probably” an “MI5 agent” can wander around the left politically corrupting and confusing the innocent and unwary? I challenge you: put up or shut up! Prove your case, or suggest plausible reasons for thinking what you allege. If you don’t you thereby tacitly admit that you are a slanderer and a liar.

And how about you, yourself? Who gave you your “security clearance”? You were long associated with the late Gerry Healy and still associate with some of his political heirs. You wrote the introduction to their book about Healy.

Healy ran an organisation in Britain [the WRP] which, in return for large quantities of petro-dollars, contracted to report to Arab governments on the activities of dissident Arabs in Britain and of prominent British Jews. Until the WRP exploded, and Healy’s opponents made them known, you couldn’t know the details, but you’d have to have been an idiot not to know in general – and, socialist politics aside, you are no idiot – from the contents of Healy’s press.

In Socialist Organiser I said, repeatedly, that they were being paid and by whom, challenged Healy to sue me. In the person of Vanessa Redgrave - who, though splendid as an actress, is, in politics, at least 57 pages short of a full shooting script - they had sued me for saying they were thugs and for comparing them to the Moonies, but they let us go on saying with impunity that their organisation depended on Gaddafi’s, and Saddam Hussein’s, money! If they had sued, we would, under the “disclosure” rules, have had a right to see their books. It was almost as good as an admission.

And you? In 1981, Healy set you up with a weekly paper, Labour Herald. For the first 18 months at least the WRP subsidised, and not only by providing you with a full time editor - a member of the WRP Central Committee, Stephen Miller - free of charge. Let me underline it: people getting money from Arab governments financially subsidised you in politics! Conversely: you acted as front man for Healy’s Labour Party paper.

Your political association with them was open and visible. Sometimes you seemed to share or endorse their obsessions. You appeared in one issue of their daily paper Newsline, on the page opposite a clinically crazy anti-semitic editorial about a “Zionist”-imperialist conspiracy against them. It stretched they said, from the editorial offices of SO through Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet all the way to Ronald Reagan’s White House! This was only high-concentrate everyday Healyism.

Did you demur, or dissociate yourself from this criminal nonsense? Socialist Organiser invited you to. You refused. You continued to speak at their public meetings. In interviews you reassured them that, yes, they were through the “Zionist” BBC being hounded by “the Zionists”.

The whole political scene in which you were then pivotal is one to conjure work for a cartoonist! Holding hands with Ted Heath, former Tory Prime Minister – he was against Thatcher and against the abolition of the GLC – you bow and kiss the Queen’s hand at the opening of the Thames Barrier; your other hand, behind your back, is holding one end of a wad of notes while Gerry Healy, who is simultaneously kissing not Gaddafi’s hand but a different part of his anatomy, holds the other! It was not, I guess, done with wads of notes but by special book-keeping at their printshop.

Gerry Healy in his last phase does present the observer with a mystery. To those who knew him Healy was, underneath the tough-guy James Cagney talk and the W C Fields bluster, a timid, frightened little fellow whose mania for control came from a drive to compensate for his fears and insecurities. He was brave only in his own “corridors of power”, where he had mesmerised youngsters he could bully, and was surrounded by an initiate “adult” clique of guilt-freaks and masochists, who, telling themselves it was good “Bolshevik” politics, got their kicks out of being abused, and, vicariously, out of watching others being abused. The real Gerry Healy was to be found in the screams of panic-stricken and hysterical dissociation with which his press always greeted the – English – activities of the Provisional IRA.

Yet late in life, when he was well over 60, this guy enlisted in the service of Gadaffi, whose other employees were at that time shooting at the police in London. In 1983, from their embassy, they shot the policewoman Yvonne Fletcher dead. Psychologically, that just does not add up - unless you assume that little Gerry had reasons for thinking himself safe, unless he had “insurance”. Who could give him that assurance? I once met a student of the state who had a plausibly detailed explanation for Healy’s antics: always, Healy expressed the views of one of the warring MI5 factions. I am less than fascinated by the subterranean faction fights of the spooks, so I can’t recall the details. It sounded plausible. That is the problem. Concocting tales is easy; knowing hard facts and testing them are usually impossible.

In the eyes of any self-respecting agent-buff your ties to Gerry Healy, Mr Livingstone, render you yourself highly suspect. So, I repeat: who gave you your security clearance? Who decontaminated, de-loused and de-Healyised you?

And, while I’m at it: tell me, who do you work for, Ken? Who pays you to slander me? Is it a case of “stop thief”? One of the Tory candidates for Mayor, Jeffrey Archer, has had his character and his past subjected to a merciless public scrutiny and demolition. When Gadaffi was giving Gerry Healy money, Gerry Healy was giving you money for Labour Herald. No-one has used it against you. Why not? Are you being protected? By whom? Why? Are you being blackmailed? Are “they” holding it in reserve in case you ever stop being a political buffoon? Shall I go on? No? Are you sure? Why don’t you want me to go on?

In fact, of course, that way lies lunacy: speculation about things that are for now unknowable is fruitless, corrosive, poisonous and disruptive. Your great friend Gerry Healy, for whom speculative, cosmic spy hunting became a crazy religion, a mad, state-fixated search for a "First Cause", proved that.

Mr Livingstone, your political record, your political character, your past and present associations, and your mind – in which the nut jostles with the self-serving careerist for control – render you unworthy of the confidence of anyone who takes seriously politics, probity, truth, honesty, or plain political decency.

I repeat: if you have proof, or even plausible ground for suspecting, that I am anything other than an honest socialist, acting according to my understanding of what that involves, then make it public. I offer you space in Workers’ Liberty. If you don’t do that now, you thereby brand yourself a slanderer and a deliberate liar.

Sean Matgamna

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