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6 November 2020
Nearly six years after it was set up the Undercover Policing Inquiry has finally begun, albeit in an extremely limited and inadequate way. The Inquiry has not released the names of the big majority of the organisations spied on, nor has it given us the real - or even the cover - names of the majority of spies. The 'non-state core participants' - those who were spied on - have in almost all cases still received none of the police files relevant to them.
Even so, some things are clear. In his opening statement to the Inquiry, James Scobie QC, representing five core participants including Socialist Party members Dave Nellist, Lois Austin and Hannah Sell, lambasted the "political policing" of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) which saw as many as "over a thousand" organisations infiltrated of which "only the tiniest fraction, perhaps only three were from the right wing".
Those spied on included Dave Nellist, a Labour MP for Coventry South East and supporter of the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party). Scobie explained that, "whilst he was a serving MP, M15 contacted the West Midlands Police Force and having being tasked to infiltrate Militant they targeted Dave Nellist."
Scobie also pointed out that, "This is not the only example of M15 operating covert surveillance of organisations within which Militant supporters had won elected positions. When cabinet papers from 1984 were released under the thirty year rule they revealed that Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong, at the behest of M15, presented a paper expressing concerns about the election of Militant supporters in the civil servants' trade union CPSA."
"The result was the establishment of the Orwellian-sounding 'Interdepartmental Group on Subversives in Public Life', with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recorded as stating that the civil service should be 'very ready to sack subversive trouble makers...' This was government-sanctioned victimisation of democratically-elected trade unionists."
At the previous day of the Inquiry Oliver Sanders QC, representing the majority of Undercover Officers whose victims are the subject of the Inquiry, made clear that the SDS were acting under the direction of MI5 and reported to them.
Scobie concluded by calling for, "an end to all political policing. For a police force which is democratically accountable to the communities that they should be serving."
These are not just historical issues. At the same time as the Inquiry meets, the government is proposing a bill which protects the next generation of undercover policing infiltrating the workers' and socialist movement. The 'Spycops' Bill would give state agents immunity from prosecution if they commit crimes while undercover. They will be allowed to do so, for example, against trade unionists in order to maintain 'economic well-being'. What does that mean but protecting the 'economic well-being' of employers who feel their profits are threatened by workers' strike action?
The Mitting Inquiry provides an opportunity to campaign for answers about the extent of the spying, the consequences, and who was responsible for it. Most importantly, it gives an opportunity to publicise the role of state agencies during the last 50 years in acting to defend the existing capitalist order and the measures they were prepared to take in order to do so.
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Article dated 6 November 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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