Healey was conduit for anti-Soviet propaganda

Cold War papers: Secret Foreign Office unit used private sources to disguise government role in winning hearts and minds


The 1948 papers of the Information Research Department, a top secret section of the Foreign Office, confirm the department's mission was to win "hearts and minds", both in the free world and behind the Iron Curtain, at the onset of the Cold War.

This was done through private sources who had spread the IRD's message without referring to the government.

They included a young Labour Party official named Denis Healey, later to become Foreign Secretary. In June 1948, a junior officer of the IRD noted: "A meeting should be held with Mr Healey of Transport House to discuss the possibility of the British Labour Party opening direct contact with the Socialist Party and Trade Unions in Burma."

This was the start of a relationship in which Mr Healey, then International Secretary of the Labour Party, became one of the most important "private" propagandists for the IRD. Papers released at the Public Records Office yesterday confirm that Mr Healey, now Lord Healey, helped spread the anti- Communist message to socialists in Europe and Asia.

The IRD initiated the relationship with Mr Healey. Christopher Mayhew, the junior minister in charge of the IRD, wrote to Mr Healey about the Burma situation and arranged a meeting between IRD representatives and the Labour Party official.

Soon, however, Mr Healey was volunteering names and projects to the IRD. In November, he passed on the names of prominent emigres, including former high-level officials in the Hungarian, Polish and Czech governments. Adam Watson of the IRD noted that it could notify the BBC of the emigres and ask "Mr Healey to act as an intermediary and to suggest articles that they might write" for publication.

A month later Mr Healey, after attending an international conference of socialists, provided Mr Watson with a list of the key figures in the Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, French and Italian Socialist parties. The IRD immediately added the names to its distribution list for anti-Communist briefings.

Mr Healey was instrumental in providing Labour Party material for the IRD to spread abroad as examples of the united British stand against the Soviet Union. One pamphlet, Talking Points, defended increases in British defence spending while warning that "the only class of Russian manhood exempt from military service is the male ballet dancer".

In June 1948, Mr Mayhew proposed that Freedom First, a TUC pamphlet that relied on IRD material, begin an edition for trade unionists abroad. The department would provide information and funding.

But the IRD was concerned about the standard of writing; articles like "Take the lid off the Communist cesspool" were too strident. Mr Healey passed on the concerns to the pamphlet's editors. To preserve the covert relationship between the government and the TUC, he offered the suggestions as his own. Lord Healey said yesterday: "I had no qualms about passing on the information I acquired [to the IRD] because the Soviets regarded Social Democrats as their number one enemy." He said that his link between the Labour Party and the Eastern European emigres "was quite independent of the IRD".

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