Radical who lost his way

Keith Joseph launched Thatcherism but couldn't carry the fight, writes Alfred Sherman
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Richard Gott, who resigned on Thursday as literary editor of the Guardian, appears to have been caught in a web of words. In Friday's Guardian, he denied unequivocally having received money from the KGB, but admitted receiving travel and hotel exp enses on three foreign trips. "So I have to admit," he wrote in a letter to Peter Preston, editor of the paper, "that I took red gold, even if it was only in the form of expenses."

`red gold' from Soviet agents".

This was not the worst unnecessary mistake in his resignation letter. Many people were put off by Mr Gott's repeated assertions that, in his irregular clandestine contacts with the Russians, he was like a way of insinuating that we are really all guilty.

What struck me as least satisfactory in the account was the simple admission, late in the story, that Mr Gott had been pressed to take money but had refused: "I had no need of it, and I was enjoying myself, not seeking to make money on the side."

From the Sixties through to the Eighties, Mr Gott was having secret meetings with the Russians. Was he often pressed to take money? And if so, what did he think was going on? What was he telling them that was worth money?

Yesterday, the Sunday Times printed allegations from the former Soviet agent Oleg Gordievsky that the "red gold" had indeed been more than the three foreign trips Mr Gott admitted to: £10,000 in special, untraceable notes. And it fleshed out what had been done to earn this money - helpful hints on who to watch in the Labour Party, predictions, analysis of foreign policy, assessments of potential recruits.

But the Spectator, which broke the story, was quite wrong on one point. It said Mr Gott never made any secret of his sympathies. If it is correct in claiming that he was a KGB agent, he kept his sympathies very secret indeed.

how he had returned to London in the early Seventies only to find the New Statesman manned by people like Christopher Hitchens and myself, who did nothing but sneer at the revolutionary movements of the Third World.

I was impressed, reading the letter, to see how his resentment and anger at us could still flare up, two decades later. And I thought afterwards that, yes, we did sneer, although a large part of what we were sneering at was this bearded gentleman in sandals and a poncho, with his silly tittering laugh.

in all its forms, including Russian imperialism, and aid in general, and Western aid in particular.

When the second Indochina war ended in 1975, the Russian forces had won in Viet- nam and the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge had taken over Cambodia. Those of us who had supported the wars of liberation in these countries were forced to face up to what the liberating troops did with their victories. If you had a perfectly well have said that the Khmer Rouge had committed a crime, made a mistake, shown their inexperience - whatever degree of condemnation seemed appropriate.

But Mr Gott was not like that. He approved tremendously of what the Khmer Rouge had done. The evacuation of cities was appropriate for a peasant economy. The utter rejection of all aid (I mean, even emergency supplies which were waiting to go in) was thecorrect political line. This is what the countries of the Third World should do to secure their independence, to secure socialism.

So when you argued with Agent Ron (if such he was), he didn't gradually reveal a mind programmed by Moscow. On the contrary. He had worked all this out for himself years before, and - unlike Moscow - he welcomed what was being done in Phnom Penh. And in this he was an extremely rare figure to come across.

Phnom Penh - having been invited as one of the first Westerners to see what was going on.

in any sense - even if, as the Sunday Times says, he was supplying what amounted to political intelligence.

But when I read Mr Gott's resignation letter and see that it was precisely cloak-and-dagger stuff that amused him, and that he was offered money for what he was doing, then I can't see how he wouldn't have thought of himself as a sort of agent.

The psychology of it is puzzling, as if the inner Gott had managed to go its own separate way from the outer Gott. He claims to have been transparent, politically. But this is a strange kind of transparency - adamant Maoism wiggling its hips in the direction of Mos-cow. I don't understand it, but I don't suppose we yet know half the truth.