Telegraph Dusts Off 1980s Right-Wing Newsletter to Attack Rowan Williams

At the weekend, the Daily Telegraph ran a lengthy non-story about Rowan Williams:

MI5 labelled the Archbishop of Canterbury a subversive over anti-Thatcher campaigns

When he launched a stinging attack on the Coalition government over policies “for which no one voted”, the Archbishop of Canterbury put himself squarely in the centre of a political storm.

Critics accused him of political bias, claiming it was a throwback to the days when his predecessors regularly clashed with past Conservative administrations.

But perhaps they should not be too surprised, as it can be revealed that the Archbishop has a long-standing left-wing political past.

The young Rowan Williams was once labelled ‘a subversive’ by a senior MI5 officer over his involvement with a group of Marxist, Trotskyite and socialist campaigners…

The group under discussion is the Jubilee Group; however, the Telegraph has hardly “revealed” the association – as the report goes to on acknowledge (much further down), Williams “edited a series of essays ‘Catholic and Radical’ for the group” with Kenneth Leech. The Jubilee Group is also discussed in sources such as Rupert Shortt’s biography of Williams.

Careful readers will also note the slight discrepancy between the headline “MI5 labelled” and the text’s “labeled… by a senior MI5 officer”. As the Telegraph goes on:

The Jubilee Group was identified as a “problem” neo-Marxist organisation in confidential intelligence documents drawn up by MI5 officer Charles Elwell.

…Mr Elwell, who died in 2008, spent much of his career investigating left of centre politicians, charity workers and trade unionists, first in MI5’s now defunct counter-subversion F branch and then privately for the shadowy Institute for the Study of Conflict, which was allegedly part funded by the CIA and MI6.

He delivered his warning warned about Dr Williams’ group in 1989 in the privately-funded British Briefing, a newsletter circulated to a secret list of politicians, including Baroness Thatcher, and selected journalists… Its contents were believed to have been approved at a high level in the Security Service.

However, according to Elwell’s obituary in the Times, that supposed “approval” did not in fact not come from MI5:

After his retirement from MI5 in 1979, he joined the Institute for the Study of Conflict, where he wrote and researched on subversion, producing regular briefing bulletins. In 1983 he published Tracts Beyond the Times – a Brief Guide to the Communist and Revolutionary Marxist Press. His former employers at MI5 regarded his views on the threat posed by subversion as exaggerated, which was a source of frustration for him.

The Guardian adds:

MI5 declined Elwell’s suggestion that it should be the custodian of British Briefing’s archive when it stopped in 1990.

The Telegraph explains that

Details of confidential briefing from Mr Elwell, nicknamed the ‘MI5’s Witchfinder General’, were uncovered by a Canadian PhD student researching Rowan williams and the Church’s left-wing traditions.

Given that this is the hook on which the whole story hangs, why not give the “Canadian PhD student” proper credit? Could it be, perhaps, that this is in fact old information which is only being used now for David Cameron’s benefit? Or that there’s some extra context that the Telegraph‘s hacks don’t want us looking into?

The Telegraph also notes that alongside the alleged CIA and MI6 links:

The Briefings were also funded by David Hart, an adviser to Baroness Thatcher and to National Coal Board boss Ian MacGregor during the miners’ strike in 1984. Hart, who died earlier this year, founded the Committee for a Free Britain, a right wing pressure group.

British Briefing wasn’t just “funded” by Hart; he actually oversaw its publication on Elwell’s behalf. Hart also ran a companion newsletter, World Briefing, which was overseen by an ex-CIA agent named Herb Mayer.

One person who worked on these titles for Hart in the late 1980s was was none other than Paul Staines, now better-known as the on-line smear-merchant “Guido Fawkes”. An interview with Staines in Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House by Matthew Collin and John Godfrey (page 105) has further details:

“…I used to think that World Briefing was a bit funny. The only scary thing about those publications was the mailing list – people like George Bush – and the fact that Hart would talk to the head of British Intelligence for an hour. I used to think it was us having a laugh, putting some loony right-wing stuff in, and that somebody somewhere was taking it seriously. You’ve got to understand that we had a sense of humour about this.

“…[Hart is] completely charming and can charm senior people like Thatcher and appear sane for a while. But any close proximity to him for a prolonged period of time, you know he’s completely off his fucking head.”

(Hat tip: Andrew Brown)