2 Aug 2017

Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within

I have just finished reading Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within, originally published in 1994, the fourth edition is from 2014.  It examines the media campaign against National Union of Miners leader Arthur Scargill during the 1980s

Its quite a read!  Highly recommended. And lets not forget Milne in 2017 is one of Jeremy Corbyn's closest political associates, an important mover and shaper...

1984-85 saw the bitter strike that pitted Britain's most disciplined and effective trade union against right wing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  After the end of the strike when the NUM was defeated, the television programme The Cook Report and the Daily Mirror newspaper, ran a campaign accusing Scargill of corruption, initially suggesting that he had used money meant for the trade union to pay off his mortgage.

When it was revealed that Scargill did not have a mortgage the campaign eventually collapsed!  Before collapsing the script was rewritten with new accusations against the NUM leader being proposed, revised and falling apart.

The complex story is discussed over 445 pages of lucid prose by Milne and is not easily summarized.

What it shows is a case study in how a right wing British media,  the Labour Party, a Conservative government and the security services, worked to discredit a trade union defending its members jobs.

I think anyone who wants to understand how Britain works and how the media is often part of active campaigns to discredit opposition voices should read The Enemy Within with care.

Seumas Milne is currently Labour Party's Executive Director of Strategy and Communication, very much Jeremy Corbyn's key advisor.  Milne is routinely attacked by the media and most Labour MPs, it is astonishing that such a key critic of Britain's media and security services is at the centre of Corbyn's campaigning.

It certainly shows that the Corbyn network has a shrewd understanding of the realities of power in Britain.  A key insight is that media attacks from the supposed left, in Scargill's case from the Labour Party supporting Daily Mirror, are more effective than those from right wing sources.

It is also clear that while conspiracies can exist, they often fail and events are the product of over lapping forces.  Thatcher wanted to get Scargill but from personal grudges to shifting Labour Party politics a variety of influences were at worked.  Events might be seen as 'over-determined'.

Milne notes ironically that in recent years evidence of secret state infiltration of environmentalists critical of coal has also come to light. This is covered by The Independent here http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/were-police-spies-behind-mass-arrest-of-activists-1668252.html

I am not uncritical of Scargill and I am happy to see a shift away from coal (but not at the cost of brutal closure without the construction of a workers plan for alternative production) nonetheless while a coal dispute is discussed, this is a case study in how power is exercise in modern Britain.

I bought my copy from the wonderful Peoples Bookshop in Durham and its published by Verso.

A review in Red Pepper noted:

It’s an account that is both persuasive and disturbing. It provided the framework for David Peace’s GB84, bringing together the two worlds of the strike. Central players in Milne’s account are the prime minister, head of MI5 Stella Rimington and the owner of the Mirror Group, Robert Maxwell. Those who opposed the miners were ably abetted by spies within the union and Labour Party.

As Milne puts it, ‘The government unleashed the full force of the state: a militarised police occupation of the coalfields, a commandeered and manipulated criminal justice system, mass sackings and jailings – and the use of MI5, GCHQ, the NSA and Special Branch to bug, infiltrate, smear, manipulate the media and stage dirty tricks against the union and its leaders.’

Milne is routinely vilified in the media but lurid accounts often ignore his authorship of The Enemy Within, Milne's role in the Labour Party shows that Corbyn is providing a radical break from Labour past.  Whether like me you see hope in this or like the mainstream express anxiety, if you want to understand Milne a starting point is The Enemy Within.  Well researched, beautifully written, nobody on the left in Britain in 2017 can ignore it.

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