Reginald Ernest Prentice, eventually Baron Prentice, like his fellow Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies (IEDSS) member George Brown, fed what purported to be inside information on subversion into right-wing propaganda operations, as a high-level Labour ‘defector’ much troubled by the existence of the Left and somewhat swayed by conspiracy theories concerning a Communist take-over.
In 1976, he was de-selected by his Constituency Labour Party and the following year, in protest over its drift to the left, and the manner of his rejection, he joined the Conservative Party, serving in Margaret Thatcher’s government between 1979 and 1981. He joined the Advisory Council of the IEDSS in 1985, possibly the height of its anti-communist activity and Heritage Foundation funding. Like Brown he was a supporter of the Social Democratic Alliance run by the IEDSS’ Stephen Haseler and Douglas Eden with input from Brian Crozier.
According to several sources drawn on below, including Prentice’s obituary in the Guardian, Julian Lewis, was one of those who decided to fight on the Prentice’s behalf — helped by secret funding from the Freedom Association according to The Guardian, February 20, 1992. In the early 1980s, Lewis would go on to run The Coalition for Peace Through Security which worked with the Heritage Foundation and the IEDSS to smear and undermine CND. While the revelations of Duncan Campbell’s Secret Society programme were hushed up, once Brian Crozier’s Free Agent appeared in the early 1990s, The Coalition’s pretence to be an independent pressure group, was compromised and it was revealed as a ‘front organisation’ for Crozier’s private intelligence agency — codenamed ‘The 61′”— which was secretly financed by the CIA. Although a multiplicity of right-wing subversion-obsessed organisations and committees seem to have been involved here, they are better decribed as a small overlapping nexus. One difficult to answer question is to what extent they were part of the formal intelligence world of MI5, MI6 and the CIA or to what extent they represented an interface with the more rogue, dissaffected elements which surround and are used by these agencies. The orientation of the membership of these groups have been surprisingly disparate — with an adherance to the political right and loathing of the left being a common denominator, together with the aim of influence on the leadership of Thatcher.
Drawing on Stephen Dorril, and Robin Ramsay’s (1992) Smear! Wilson and the Secret State. We have a definition of the shape of the “secret state” in Britain whichincludes MI5 and MI6, the secret intelligence services, but also includes agents of influence in the media, former security services personnel, private security firms that may be fronting for the security services to provide “deniability,” and think tanks where elites set policy. Leftists and Labour Party activists have long been the object of close attention from these groupings. Particularly from the time that Harold Wilson became the leader of the Labour Party in 1964 and again in 1974. Wilson became increasingly conscious that his leadership was being secretly undermined by somewhat shadowey elements, even within his own cabinet, and the networks engaged in this ‘plot’ can now be identified quite clearly. They seem to overlap with those surrounding the The Information Research Department and the Congress for Cultural Freedom and groupings like the IEDSS.
Peter de la Billière‘s (very short) foreward to Alan Hoe’s (1992) biography of David Stirling, which described Stirling as the ‘Robin Hood of the twentieth century’, mentions Reg Prentice as some sort of cause célèbre, after the brief chapters on GB75 and TRUEMID (The Movement for True Industrial Democracy). Stirling’s “battles with the trades unions” maintains that moderate Labour Party MPs such as Reg Prentice, Frank Chapple were victims of invisible extremists. Here (page 453) Stirling advised ‘the moderates’to ‘get a newspaper going’:
“A newspaper is not only a propaganda vehicle […] the discipline of producing a paper once a month […] gives a reason for the organisation to continue.”
This propaganda aspect, involved several high-placed members of the freelance intelligence intelligence field, such as Lord Chalfont, who would also join the IEDSS and whose propaganda media work is described in Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay’s (1991) Smear, p. 281:
The Antisubversive lobby’s Brian Crozier was among those who appeared in Chalfont’s television psy-war programme, It Must Not Happen Here. Broadcast in January 1976, it ‘purported to show that the Communist Manifesto was being implemented bit by bit in Britain. Bert Ramelson, Stuart Holland, Ken Gill and others were named and then Frank Chapple, Reg Prentice, Lord Hailsham, Brian Crozier of the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Woodrow Wyatt and Chalfont himself all spoke in support of this view.”
Ramsay and Dorril suggest that the huge sums of money offered by the programme-makers for dubious purposes may indicate intelligence funding. Prentice’s other supporter in his fight against the left was Neville Sandelson president of the Radical Society, which he founded with Stephen Haseler with money from James Goldsmith. Robin Ramsay, writing in the (1996) Clandestine Caucus adds:
In December 1976 Prentice was discussing how to bring down the Callaghan government with, inter alia, Tory MPs Julian Amery and Maurice Macmillan, and Gaitskellite Labour MP’s [Brian] Walden and the late John McIntosh. Haseler, whose information on this comes from Prentice’s diaries, tells us that, ‘For some years past the arguments for a realignment had been taken seriously by a section of the Conservative Party who had been close to Macmillan.’ Prentice may have thought he was discussing bringing down the government with Parliamentary colleagues, but in this context they had other, more interesting, connections. Amery was a former SIS officer and a friend of the former Deputy Chief of SIS, the late George Kennedy Young, who was then machinating against the Labour government with his Unison Committee for Action. Maurice Macmillan had been a director of one of the IRD front companies and had also been involved in the attempt in the mid 1974 to launch a government of national unity to prevent the reelection of Harold Wilson. Prentice proposed that Jenkins form a coalition with Margaret Thatcher as leader but, on Prentice’s account, haunted by memories of 1931 and the fate of Ramsay MacDonald, not surprisingly, once again Jenkins declined.
Ramsay also notes that Prentice had in the early 1960s been with the Campaign for Democratic Socialism connected to the Congress for Cultural Freedom‘s moves to sway the Labour party. Some of this information is drawn from from the IEDSS’ Stephen Haseler‘s (1989) The Battle for Britain: Thatcher and the New Liberals, p. 60, (others in the group are stated as: Robert Carr, Nicholas Scott and Patrick Cormack, Maurice MacMillan, John Mackintosh).
Haseler states that Prentice had come straight from a meeting with Callaghan to the Amery meeting and from there went (secretly) to meet Thatcher. Haseler thanks Prentice for the use of unpublished memoirs, which Prentice had been gathering to illustrate a type of conspiracy theory of ubiquitous crypto-Communist subversion which was also a recurrant theme of organisations such as the Freedom Association, David Stirling’s organisations and many others. For these groups this apparent all-pervading subversion justified them using the same methods as they imagined their adversaries were using, which in many cases meant a return to the counter-subversion methods developed during the war and in the UK’s colonial exploits — perhaps best (openly) summarised by Frank Kitson’s (1971) Low-Intensity Operations.
The anti-Labour Party material which was deployed by Prentice, along with figures such as Ray Gunter, Roy Jenkins and George Brown (who also joined the IEDSS) was used after each had used the Labour party to promote their careers, and then not only ditched it but tried to destroy it. In 1978, eight former left-wingers: Kingsley Amis, Max Beloff, Paul Johnson, Graham Hough, Edward Pierce, Hugh Thomas and Alun (later Lord) Chalfont ‘anthologised their apostasy’ (as David Edger put it) in a book called Right Turn:Eight Men who Changed their Minds, which included a contribution by Prentice. This was edited by Patrick Cormack — in much the same style as The God That Failed — who was mentioned above in the context of the Julian Amery meeting. Cormack remarks that the book was conceived in the Reform Club. The collective stance of the eight was that they had not so much left Labour: as Labour had left them. Yet, to prove their loyalty to their social democratic values, they swore allegiance to Margaret Thatcher and in some cases the Heritage Foundation’s money.
The Guardian‘s 1992 report, again by Norton-Taylor, that the Freedom Association, and possibly Aims of Industry had funded the legal expenses of Julian Lewis’s support for Prentice also noted how it had planned to extend this into other Labour held areas, and that:
Lewis’s association with some of the most virulent cold-war warriors of the eighties has placed him as a central figure in that network of Anglo-American pressure groups and think tanks— formerly seen as the lunatic fringe of the right and with strong intelligence connections — which informed much of the Reagan-Thatcher political agenda. Linking the network were a handful of right wing politicians, academics and businessmen. A lot of the finance came covertly from America. Many of the footsoldiers came from the Federation of Conservative Students, whose libertarian rantings forced an embarrassed Tory Party to disband it in 1986. […] In the mid-eighties […] Lewis expanded his activities by setting up the Media Monitoring Unit and Policy Research Associates. Lord Chalfont, whose name has been associated with a number of right wing pressure groups in the past two decades, was a close collaborator. Purporting to be independent, they soon demonstrated they were little more than arms-length adjuncts of Conservative Central Office.
This also notes that the London-based Soviet Labour Review, an anti-communist magazine, received a secret subvention of $129,000 from President Reagan’s National Endowment for Democracy in the mid-eighties. The Review was instrumental in spurious complaints about Arthur Scargill and connected to the wider covert political strategies of David Hart’s, Committee for a Free Britain (supported by Lord Chalfont). Policy Research Associates, which described itself as a political consultancy, was also used to fabricate smears, and as Lewis admitted, commissioned to do so in consultation with the Conservative Research Department and it shared the same address in London as the Freedom Association.
According to The Enemy Within By Seumas Milne, “The [Soviet Labour Review]’s editor, a bearded ‘translator’ named George Miller, doubled up as the British representative of an extreme anti-Soviet clandestine organization, NTS — the ‘People’s Labour Alliance.'” Miller appears as a research officer for the IEDSS in 1982. According to Milne, the NTS collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, and were “a playground for Western Intelligence organisations”. He also states it was handed over to the CIA by Kim Philby in the 1950s and was recommended by Brian Crozier as a useful organisation — with Miller organising fraudulent Russian miners (NTS members) to smear Scargill. Miller had previously worked with Crozier organising stunts funded by the CIA’s William Casey. Milne also adds that some of Miller’s “undercover schemes” were funded by the CIA during the 1980s, and that he moved to the Soviet Union in 1992 to advise Boris Yeltsin.
The Libertarian Alliance site states that Miller was Senior Vice-Chairman of the Young Liberals, and Secretary of the East European Sub-Committee of the Foreign Affairs Panel of the Liberal Party. It also adds that He has contributed to The Guarian [sic], The Daily Telegraph, Soviet Analyst and Conflict Studies Journal, He recently wrote Refugees From Afghanistan for the International Society of Human Rights. He now heads the Russian Research Consultancy and recently negotiated the first joint trade relationship between Russia and Chile.
In 1985, the MP David Atkinson, promoted Miller’s book along with Vladimir Bukovsky‘s book, “The Peace Movement and the Soviet Union.” Atkinson is Life Vice President of the IEDSS’ Caroline Cox’s Christian Solidarity Worldwide according to their Annual Report for 2007.
As mentioned, Haseler founded the Social Democratic Alliance with the IEDSS’ Dougalas Eden, David Carlton, Roger Fox (a GLC counsellor) and Peter Stephenson of Socialist Commentary, in 1975, in the wake of Lord Underhill’s report on Marxist infiltration of the Labour party. According to Paul McCormack’s Prentice and the Newham North-East Constituency: The Making of Historical Myths, Political Studies, Volume 29, Issue 1 (p. 73-90)
The Prentice-Newham saga became central to a major and heated internal debate within the Labour Party and also became a significant issue between the Labour and Conservative parties.
McCormack’s (1979) Enemies of Democracy also details his involvement in the affair. The Political Studies essay is said to explore:
…the making of historical myths in relation to the Prentice-Newham saga. Myth-making is facilitated by the nature of the sources of information available. The academic researcher can easily be misled. Many of the participants have a continuing and substantial interest in promoting versions of their involvement at variance with the facts because their current political activities are affected. This is widely, but not universally, appreciated by academics. What is much less widely realized is that insidious forms of bias arise from two of the main channels of communication by which academics have learned of the saga.
This also states that Prentice, when still a Labour MP, spoke in Blackpool to a meeting of the Social Democratic Alliance:
…and ended by saying ‘Join the Social Democratic Alliance. It can and must be built up into one of the really powerful forces in British politics.’
But the account makes no mention of Brian Crozier’s involvement in the SDA and nothing on the Freedom Association’s involvement in the dispute. The Economist (which wrote extensively on the Prentice affair in the context of re-inforcing the reds-under-the-beds mythology) October 4, 1975, noted that:
At this meeting, and without the prior knowledge of Mr Prentice, SDA officials released to the press a document alleging that a number of members of Labour’s national executive committee had shown themselves, in various ways, to be sympathetic to communism.
This was the line pushed by all the main anti-subversion groups. The names mentioned included Edward Short, who was the subject of a smear campaign, and the report added that the SDA’s Stephenson wanted Haseler’s resignation as a result.
According to his LSE archive in 1986, Prentice had planned to write a biography the “The Rubicon” and, earlier in 1981, “Recollections of a trade unionist”, on his time as a member of the staff of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and his later experiences of dealing with the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The archive includes correspondence with the Conservative Research Department (CRD) and notes that Prentice’s memoirs were co-written with Robin Harris, the director of the CRD (1985-1989). Harris was also a member of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit from 1989 to 1990, and, with the IEDSS’ John O’Sullivan, helped draft the Conservative Party manifesto for the 1987 general election. Harris also wrote Thatcher’s memoir The Downing Street Years and (1997) The collected speeches of Margaret Thatcher, and is now with the Heritage Foundation (also with the Margaret Thatcher Center For Freedom) and a consultant director of Politeia. This acts as a UK venue for Heritage gatherings, and was started by right-wing eccentric, Maurice Cowling of the Salisbury Group and Encounter, and also involves Policy Exchange’s Richard Ehrman. When Prentice joined the IEDSS Harris was a special adviser at the Home Office (1983-1985) and then director of the CRD.
Harris’ position on the CRD was taken by Julian Lewis — who as mentioned above had worked with the Freedom Association to turn Prentice’s de-selection into an anti-Communist crusade. This included masquarading as a Labour supporter. Lewis founded the Coalition for Peace Through Security, with Heritage Foundation money. Lewis and Prentice are both mentioned in Richard Norton-Taylor’s (1985) Where detente is a dirty word / The Heritage Foundation in Britain, The Guardian, November 26, in the context of Haseler and Eden’s similar venture, the Committee for the Free World (CFW), a neo-Conservative organisation whose UK end they founded, CFW’s members strongly overlapped with the IEDSS’, indeed Norton-Taylor noted that:
Another founder of the CFW is Melvin Lasky, editor of the Encounter magazine, which shares offices with Survey. Lasky is also a member of the [IEDSS]’s advisory council. The membership includes Reg Prentice, the former Labour, now Tory. MP. The CFW shares a Whitehall office block with Julian Lewis, of the anti-CND Coalition for Peace through Security. Lewis joined the Labour Party in the mid 70s to try to prevent Prentice from being deselected in Newham North East.
It was probably Prentice’s membership of CFW which led to him joining the IEDSS. Haseler also worked for the US National Strategy Information Center which funded Brian Crozier.
Prentice was also part of the Fabian Society, and Labour Friends of Israel.