I STILL don’t believe he was a Russian spy
IT IS true that he was on the far-Left, and that he consorted with people who were suspected agents of the Russians. But I don’t believe Michael Foot was ever a paid agent of the Soviet Union. The Tribune newspaper, of which Foot was editor, and the MPs who took its name had many slavish admirers of Stalin and his murderous crew. But Foot was a patriot.
When the Falklands War broke out and Margaret Thatcher sent a task force to expel the Argentine invaders, Foot led the Labour Party in support of her, despite the fact that many on the Left disagreed with him.
The odds were against her succeeding. The safer political bet would have been to oppose her. But Foot didn’t.
The only plausible reason that he would ever have taken money from the Soviets would have been to support the perennially hard-up Tribune, but if he did I doubt he gave anything in return.
The KGB files on which Russian double agent Oleg Gordievsky based his allegations have to be treated with caution. Soviet spies were in the business of forging relationships with key figures on the Left. It was in their professional interest to inflate their influence in their written reports.
I am equally sure others were on the Kremlin payroll. I have no doubt that Jack Jones – the most honoured trade union leader in history – was a Soviet informant and accepted cash from them.
Morgan Phillips, Labour’s general-secretary in the 1940s and 1950s, kept a list of MPs suspected of communist sympathies and called it the ‘Lost Sheep’. Four on the list were expelled from the party.
As Harold Wilson’s press secretary, I was aware there were Soviet suspects who served in the Government. Stephen Swingler was made Transport Minister by Wilson even after former Labour leader Clement Attlee said outright he was a communist.
Indeed, his name was on a list of 16 Labour MPs that Hugh Gaitskell believed were covert communists or sympathisers that was sent to Sir Roger Hollis, the head of MI5. The fact is post-war Labour was riddled with them.
On the Gaitskell list were well-known names such as the Left-wing Welsh MP Will Owen, who was charged under the Official Secrets Act with supplying information to Czech intelligence, but found not guilty at the Old Bailey.
Leo Abse, Frank Allaun, the Silverman brothers, Sydney and Julius, Tom Driberg and Judith Hart were others. Her husband was a communist, but I believed her protestations that she was not. She was rejected as a Minister because of MI5’s advice which turned out to be mistaken.
And MI5 itself was hardly infallible. After all, it employed ‘Cambridge spy’ Kim Philby to a senior executive role.