Leading article: No need to play the spycatcher

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
MANY ASSUMPTIONS about the Labour Party that had built up in the opposition years were forcefully cast aside by its new leader in the three years before the last election. But one thing we took for granted: a Labour Government would brook no nonsense from the security services. After Harold Wilson's paranoia about MI5 turned out to be entirely justified, how could any non-Conservative administration tolerate the culture of secrecy and self-regulation that has reigned among our spies since the beginnings of the British state?

Opposition politicians of all stripes were united in their condemnation of Margaret Thatcher's attempts to suppress Peter Wright's revelations of security service misbehaviour in the book Spycatcher.

Yet here we are, condemned to repeat history, this time as farce. Tony Blair's first reaction to David Shayler's tales of MI5 incompetence was not to find out whether they were true but to demand to know how such an unreliable agent had been recruited in the first place. And now the Government, having allowed Mr Shayler to portray himself as some kind of Len Deighton character on the run on the Continent, is wasting taxpayers' money on arresting him and attempting to bring him back from Paris. The arguments seem remarkably similar to those about Mr Wright, except that the Spycatcher author was higher-ranking in MI5, and his charges were more serious.

In neither the Shayler nor the Wright case does it appear that national security has been, or would be, endangered by their revelations. Both cases were all about embarrassment to the government of the day, rather than people's lives being at risk. We feel like the animals at the end of Animal Farm, watching the Labour pigs behaving exactly like the Conservative humans they replaced.