Michael Mason writes about the debate in London University on whether Anthony Blunt should keep his emeritus chair

Why has the Blunt affair generated so much callous humbug? Two highly regarded spy novels of recent years – The Human Factor and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – are based on the idea of a ‘mole’ in the British Intelligence services. In neither book does any particular opprobrium attach to treachery. The emphasis is on personal ties rather than national ones (which are implied by both authors to be something of a fake). In Greene’s novel especially, the pains of being a spy, and above all the wretchedness of the separation from home and love which follows exposure, are memorably evoked. These books have been read by many people, and they are additionally famous in televised and filmed versions. Their reputation is certainly due in part to the sensible, convincing stand they take on treachery. But the British public has more humanity at its command for the phantoms of Greene’s and Le Carré’s imaginations than for the flesh-and-blood Anthony Blunt. In these days his name seems scarcely to be perceived as denoting a fellow human being. The letters BLUNT in the headlines have become a kind of mantra of hatred.

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