Subversion in Public Life: Government papers on the size of the left in 1988

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2018 by kmflett

Margaret Thatcher 1988

The National Archives at Kew have released some papers on ‘Subversion in Public Life’ relating to a group of senior civil servants who met occasionally to review such matters during the Thatcher years.

The document is free to download at the National Archives site, reference CAB 301-486

Why such information should be collected is of course of concern. There is no evidence that any of the left groups investigated was doing anything illegal or even having, in most cases, any undue influence in industrial unrest that took place from time to time.

It is nevertheless, even if of questionable accuracy (how the information was collected is unclear though some was in the public domain and pre interweb would simply have required a reading of the papers of the groups concerned) of interest to historians. Let’s hope austerity has not stopped the snooping..

Why they were snooping is not particularly clear. The papers do not suggest a systematic attempt to blacklist. Indeed they make it clear that they felt they could not simply get rid of the supposed subversives they did employ or make a systematic attempt not to employ more.

If there was a distinction it seems to have been between those who were or were thought to be members of left-wing political parties (subversives) and those who while they might be disruptive (troublemakers) were not. The latter it appears had to be lived with. With the former the concern was to keep people in relatively junior grades (although why a subversive would be seeking promotion to senior management is not clear) and not to allow them to view security related material.

Even then it will be noted that they were not sure whether it was really worth going to the bother of investigating subversives.

If anyone thinks I’m painting a picture of a sort of Civil Service Dad’s Army I’m not. The attitude was dictated by the fact that they didnt think subversives, while they may have sometimes been annoying, were a threat. When they did- see the 1984/5 miners strike-the iron fist was revealed soon enough

August 1988

The Threat

The Communist Party of Great Britain continues to decline and its membership in 1987 fell from 11,000 to 10,400. It continues to be the largest subversive group in the UK; it is riven by internal dispute. A major split in the party occurred in April 1988.

The Militant Tendency (MT) the largest Trotskyist organisation, has achieved a slight increase in membership to 8,300. The second largest Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has maintained a membership of about 4,300. The Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) continues to fragment. The total membership of all soi-disant Trotskyist organisations is a little over 17,000.

The Civil Service

Reflecting the continuing internal troubles of the CPGB and the ageing of its membership there was a fall in the number of those with Communist records in the civil service from just over 600 to about 340. Figures for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) fell very slightly to about 280 compared with 317 in 1984. The Trotskyist Militant Tendency (MT) has predictably become the largest subversive grouping in the Civil Service with a total of perhaps 450 members and significant sympathisers in Government Departments. It is estimated that about 300 of these actually participated in MT activities in 1984, 1985 or 1986


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