Czech Spies and Other Fantasists

Bernard Porter

The right-wing press – Telegraph, Times, Mail, Express, Sun – is peddling the old accusation of ‘communist subversion’ against the Labour Party, specifically against Jeremy Corbyn. One leading Conservative MP, Ben Bradley, was forced, under threat of legal action, to withdraw a tweet in which he claimed that Corbyn had ‘sold British secrets to communist spies’. I hope they charge Bradley nonetheless. He’s the man who suggested that the unemployed could be vasectomised to stop them breeding.

The smear apparently derives from documents in the old Czech security service archive in which secret agents placed in Britain claimed to have ‘recruited’ left-wing Brits or, in Corbyn’s case, to have regarded him as a potential source – no more.

As anyone who has studied these murky historical matters is fully aware, this is par for the course for spies of all nationalities and stripes, and at all times. Urged to seek out useful sources of information, and paid by results, they invariably exaggerate their successes. An innocent cup of tea at a cafe with the young Corbyn – to talk about Czechoslovakia, perhaps, or politics generally, or even football – is inflated into a Smiley-style assignation, at which microfilms of nuclear weapons and troop movements are covertly passed across the table, to find their way eventually to Moscow Centre. Except that in Corbyn’s case there were no microfilms – as if an insignificant backbencher in the 1980s would know anything worth passing over to the Russians.

In any case, Corbyn's ‘contact’ was apparently well known as a fantasist. MI5, more knowledgeable about such matters than the Daily Telegraph, will have been aware of this. And by that time they had probably also come to realise – tardily, and despite their class prejudices – that traitors were more likely to come from among the 'upper' classes – the Cambridge Five, for example – than from the Labour left. (Which didn’t stop MI5 plotting against the Labour left, but that’s another story.)

It's surprising to see this old smear being recycled by the Tory press, and so blatantly. Is it a sign of desperation? Can it possibly have any purchase on opinion? It seems not to have done so during the last general election. Its great drawback, from their point of view, is that as well as being a smear, it looks like one.


  • 21 February 2018 at 4:56pm
    Simon Wood says:
    Yet again the Tory press has put out more lies for us to have a proper gander at.

    And yet.

    This news that Corbyn was a Czech spy adds some lustre to 'is cluster. He may yet be played by Michael Caine in the movie of his life, Ipcress style. And not by himself as usual.

    Hence why we should get the Committee to embellish some more bits on.

  • 22 February 2018 at 1:25pm
    holografLRB says:
    'The Guardian' – which gets more and more like its sister paper 'El Mundo' by the week – let D'Ancona gnaw the bone, too.