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Tebbit lifts lid on government involvement in spying on trade unionists

by Bethany Rielly

CAMPAIGNERS have been left “gobsmacked” by Tory peer Norman Tebbit’s admission that he received regular briefs from special branch on the activities of trade unionists while he was a minister.

The former employment secretary, a senior figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said the information was so detailed that he knew where trade unionists had gone on holiday. 

He was speaking during a parliamentary Zoom meeting on Tuesday, hosted by Labour MP Richard Burgon to discuss the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry. 

The probe, which is investigating abuses by officers in two secret police units, is also seeking to determine the extent to which spycops targeted and infiltrated trade unions and what was done with the intelligence gathered, including whether it was used for blacklisting.   

All MPs and peers are free to attend such Zoom meetings, but Lord Tebbit’s presence surprised many.

Replying to a contribution by Blacklist Support Group’s Dave Smith, the Tory peer also revealed that he had held private talks with a former general secretary of the now-defunct electricians’ union EETPU about how to tackle left-wing trade unionists in the movement. 

The EETPU, which is now part of Unite, was expelled from the TUC following its role in undermining the print unions in the Wapping dispute of 1986. 

“Tebbit revealed what many of us had suspected for years: that senior officials in [the EETPU] had been colluding with the Tories and the British state security services to effectively spy on other trade unionists,” Labour MP John McDonnell, who attended the meeting, told the Morning Star. 

“It was disgraceful treachery and betrayal of our movement, but not unexpected given the way in which the leaders of this union had done all they could to undermine working-class struggle in our country.”

Unite has called for Lord Tebbit’s admissions to be fully investigated, claiming they reveal the “first definite link” between undercover police officers and the government. 

“This is why we are so gobsmacked over it,” Mr Smith told the Star. “For the last 10 years we’ve been doing this campaign, one of our key questions is, if the police were doing this … how high up the chain did it go?

“And clearly [Mr Tebbit] has been the first who has broken ranks and said: ‘Yes I was a member of the Cabinet and I was getting information supplied to me about union members’.”

Responding to the revelations, Unite said Lord Tebbit’s comments also raise further questions as to whether other secretary’s of state received similar briefings.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “In the first instance the Mitting's Inquiry into undercover policing has a clear duty to investigate exactly what information was passed to the government, about whom and for how long.

“Former ministers including Norman Tebbit need to account for their actions and explain why they approved of spying on entirely lawful organisations.”

Mr Beckett described the alleged collusion between the EEPTU and Lord Tebbit as “equally disturbing” and said that any official found to have colluded with blacklisters would be “subject to the union’s disciplinary process.”

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