Labour: government must say if blacklists are still in place

Labour has called on the government to clarify whether secret blacklists are still in place monitoring the political views of civil servants, trade unionists, councillors and others.

Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said both former and current civil servants deserved to know how long the blacklist, established during the Thatcher era, was maintained, and whether one exists today.

The civil service union is to write to the Cabinet Office asking if such an operation is ongoing and whether any of its members have been caught up.

Papers released by the National Archives this week showed the Thatcher government, working with MI5, identified 1,420 civil servants, mainly left-wingers who were viewed as potentially subversive. Lists were also compiled of trade unionists and local councillors regarded as potential threats.

Trade unionists joined Labour in calling for the Cabinet Office to be transparent. They expressed surprise that, though the operation was supposedly stopped in the 1990s, the government appeared unable to rule out such activity today.

Trickett said: “How many civil servants were denied career progression because of a paranoia that ran to the top of the Thatcher government? Former and current civil servants must be deeply unsettled. The Cabinet Office must provide immediate and full transparency on whether spying on civil servants, in any form, continues to this day.”

He added: “Our civil servants have a right to know whether they are being monitored for their political beliefs, which they have an inalienable right to hold.”

Intelligence agencies throughout most of the 20th century were consumed by fear of a Russian-style revolution in the UK and worried that communists would infiltrate the civil service and other key posts. Job applications to the BBC were for decades subjected to political vetting by MI5, a process that continued up until at least the 1990s.

The Observer reported as recently as 2012 that thousands of workers were kept out of employment in the building trade because they were regarded as too left-wing or troublesome. The files were collected by a clandestine organisation funded by the construction industry.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said the records could only have come from the police or MI5. In March this year Scotland Yard admitted that police officers were likely to have passed on workers’ details.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union Public and Commercial Services, said: “It is truly shocking that the government cannot confirm whether our members remain under surveillance to this day. The Guardian story on blacklisting reveals the shocking depths the Thatcher government and subsequent Tory administrations went to suppress legitimate trade union activity by ruining the lives of thousands of workers.

“We will be urgently writing to the Cabinet Office to seek information on whether a blacklist continues to operate. We will take up the cases of any of our members that are caught up in this appalling form of state surveillance.”

The Unite unon, which has campaigned against such blacklisting of workers, particularly in the construction trade, joined the calls for Cabinet Office transparency.

Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “The fact that the Conservative government remains worryingly tight-lipped when asked to confirm or deny whether this appalling practice lives on today makes us suspicious that it may well do. But unions like Unite will not give up. We will pursue every attempt to covertly surveil our members or to deny people the right to earn a living because of their trade union beliefs.

“Working people pursuing fair treatment at work are enemies of injustice, not enemies of the state. The persecution of construction workers by state forces because they were trade union members has been one of the scandals of our times.”

The Cabinet Office told the Guardian that it regarded it as a historical matter. A spokesperson later said: “The inter-departmental group on Subversion in Public Life (SPL) is no longer in operation and there is no other unit conducting similar work.”


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