Diary: MP who spooked the Russians

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WITH historians and spook writers at odds over whether the late Labour MP Tom Driberg was a British agent, a Soviet spy, or just a gossipy homosexual who loved being the centre of attention, a Cambridge historian has unearthed evidence which suggests that the Russians were certain he was working for MI5.

Jonathan Haslam, a historian of Soviet foreign policy and fellow of Corpus Christi, told a Foreign Office seminar on historical archives this week that the KGB had warned the Comintern, which controlled the world's Communist parties, against Driberg, who later became a Wilson peer. In a note in Haslam's possession, the KGB advises the Comintern to tell the Communist Party of Great Britain that Driberg was working for MI5 and was not to be trusted.

Francis Wheen, the author of Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions, told the Diary yesterday that Driberg, who was William Hickey on the Daily Express, used to lunch regularly with Maxwell Hunt, head of MI5's counter-subversion unit. It was therefore quite conceivable that the KGB would have jumped to this conclusion. But he does not think Driberg was a spy - he was 'the most indiscreet person imaginable'. Others disagree. Chapman Pincher thinks he was a double agent, and Nigel West thinks he was MI5. The mystery lives on.

THERE are those who choose to live away from Britain who have little affection for the country they have left behind. But one former resident of Bognor Regis, Rodney Parr, who emigrated to Australia in 1982, is not one of them. Hence the following apology in the Bognor Observer over its inadvertent reference to Parr 'as an ex-patriot in our edition of June 3. We should, of course, have referred to Mr Parr as an expatriate'.

BACKBENCH SECRETS

Of the myriad Tory backbench groups agitating against the Government at the moment, the 92 Group (which passed a vote of confidence in John Major at its meeting on Monday) is probably the most powerful after the 1922 Committee, and possibly the most male.

Between 1965 - when the group was formed by a handful of MPs who met at 92 Cheyne Walk, the home of their colleague Sir Patrick Wall - and 1982, women MPs who might have joined were unable to do so because of the influence exerted by Sir Ronald Bell. Exercising the right to blackball a nomination - in his day only one dissenter was needed, now you need two - he consistently vetoed applications for membership from women, and it was only after his death in 1982 that this discrimination ended.

I write this with reservation, having no evidence that any women MPs belong today. The group's chairman, Sir George Gardiner, keeps the membership list under lock and key and would not divulge any of its secrets when I met him yesterday. Nor would Tony Marlow, the MP who called for Mr Major's resignation in a newspaper article on Tuesday. When I asked him whether he was a member of the group and therefore the sole MP who spoke out against Mr Major at Monday's meeting, he was unable to help. 'George is the only man who speaks on behalf of the group. It's a hard-and-fast rule.'

Gardiner himself does not discriminate against anyone (except perhaps Kenneth Clarke, who beat his preferred candidate, Michael Howard, to the chancellorship, and even Clarke has been invited to address the group); not even whips, who, he insists, should be allowed to attend meetings despite the wishes of 'one or two' of the membership. Whips are not invited to the policy meetings, however. So those MPs who railed against the 'dead wood' still left in the Government after the reshuffle are safe for a while.

WITH THE second Test starting at Lords today, I trust the newspaper writings of Imran Khan are forbidden reading matter for the England team. Yesterday, the former Sussex player recalled a match at Hove when a green wicket had been prepared for a crucial game: '. . . before a ball had been bowled, three or four of the opposition's front-line batsmen said to Garth le Roux (like Imran, a hostile, fast bowler) and me that they did not want to be heroes, and as long as we pitched it up and did not bowl any bouncers we could have their wickets.' Any timidity from Gatting & Co, and we'll know who to blame.

A DAY LIKE THIS

17 June 1925 Conrad Russell writes to Katherine Asquith, who had asked for advice on her son's education: 'I think Oxford very important. But if I was a Catholic I should think it simply insane to send him to an English university. Especially if he was clever. To take a Catholic boy at the most impressionable age, 18-23, and put him to read classics and pagan philosophy under free-thinking tuition or pagan anti-Catholics is a risk I couldn't take. I think I would avoid it by sending him to a South German university with enlightened Jesuit professors. Cardinal Manning was no fool. He was head and shoulders above any Catholic bishop of our day and he was an English gentleman educated at Harrow and Balliol and he lived with men of the world. He never made the smallest objection to Catholics going to public schools but he spent his whole life fighting like a tiger to stop them going to Oxford.'

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