The Daily Mail, under the editorship of both David English and the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, has consistently held a number of left-wing politicians in contempt, and none more so than Tony Benn, who died this year. So it is no surprise at all to see an end of year hatchet job appearing in the Mail, partly lifted from the Telegraph, the conduit of choice for UK spooks.
“To his followers, he was a political giant who kept the red flag flying to the end. To his detractors, he was the most dangerous man in parliament, who sought to turn Britain into an outpost of the Eastern Bloc and in the process almost destroyed the Labour Party” tells Matthew Holehouse in the Tel, which has no relevance to the story that his paper is trying to tell.
The real story, such as it is, is that Soviet-era defector Oleg Gordievsky claims – on a personal basis, and without any backup from either the Russians, or security agencies in the UK – that Benn was “too ‘stupid’ to be recruited as an agent ... too left wing for the Soviet Union”. There is the usual smearing: Benn visited Soviet-era Moscow several times, and also visited the Russian embassy.
The Mail quotes Gordievsky as saying that “During a 1983 meeting with Soviet ambassador Viktor Popov, Mr Gordievsky was told to be aware of Benn who was considered 'not truthful'. Mr Gordievsky said: 'He was an unnecessary simpleton, who told left-wing fairytales and falsified stories’”. So, as Gordievsky is the only source for this hokum, it is only fair to examine his record for honesty.
Back in 1995, the Times, acting on Gordievsky’s information, alleged that former Labour leader Michael Foot had been a KGB agent. Foot sued for libel. He won substantial damages, mainly because the paper’s single source was unable to stand up his claims. Gordievsky met the Tel’s credulous Charles Moore after Foot’s death, and span him a tale about how the Soviets paid Foot.
Knowing the old adage that “dead men don’t sue”, Moore was suitably emboldened: “Why did the former Labour leader take money from Moscow for years, asks Charles Moore” trumpets the headline. He then goes on to smear other dead men, notably former union leader Jack Jones. And, by the most fortunate of coincidences, Gordievsky also reinforces one other right-wing prejudice.
He helpfully referred to the BBC, in a letter to the Telegraph, as “The Red Service”, claiming “Just listen with attention to the ideological nuances on Radio 4, BBC television, and the BBC World Service, and you will realise that communism is not a dying creed”. That is just what right-leaning papers want to hear. So is the smear of Tony Benn. And it comes from someone adept in attracting libel actions.
It’s only a pity that there is so little appetite for real news. No change there, then.