Because neither of these important articles by David Rose in 1990 are available easily online I’m posting now for research purposes
December 9 1990
Murdoch secretly funds ‘smear’ group: Observer investigation reveals payment
of pounds 150,000 to Downing Street confidant behind ultra-right campaign
BYLINE: DAVID ROSE, Home Affairs Correspondent
RUPERT MURDOCH, the world’s most powerful media baron, is secretly funding an extreme right-wing pressure group run by a close aide to the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. An investigation by The Observer has revealed six- figure payments by Mr Murdoch to David Hart, the founder and organiser of the Committee for a Free Britain. Mr Hart played a key role in theConservative Party’s General Election campaigns of 1983 and 1987, and during the 1984 miners’ strike. He enjoys a close relationship with members of John Major’s new Cabinet, including Chancellor Norman Lamont and Transport Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
Investigations by The Observer have established that in 1989 Mr Murdoch made a lump-sum payment to Mr Hart of pounds 150,000, with the promise of further donations of pounds 40,000 over three years. When Mr Murdoch agreed to fund him, Mr Hart was publishing British Briefing, a monthly journal with a secret distribution list smearing Labour MPs, writers and others with alleged ‘Communist’ sympathies. It was edited by Charles Elwell, ex-head of MI5’s domestic subversion or ‘F’ branch.
Last month the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times attempted to discredit a Granada TV World in Action programme about Mr Hart, due to be broadcast tomorrow. It quoted a memorandum purporting to have come from Granada; unknown to the Sunday Times, the document was a forgery. The article made no mention of Mr Murdoch’s support for Mr Hart and his activities.
Last night Mr Murdoch said the payments were ‘for consultation and research,’ and he took the view that they did not therefore require declaration in his company accounts. He said he was aware of Mr Hart’s involvement with British Briefing and had received copies, but ‘knew nothing’ of Mr Hart’s relationship with Mrs Thatcher. Mr Hart refused to comment. David Hart is a property millionaire who survived a bankruptcy in 1977 when his brother, Tim, paid off many of his debts. He lives on a Suffolk estate. A fierce anti-Communist, he paid for a visit to Britain in 1988 by Adolfo Calero, the Nicaraguan Contra leader.
Documents in the possession of The Observer show that Mr Hart began to figure in the counsels of the Thatcher Government early in its life. His first contacts, in the spring of 1981, were with Sir John Hoskyns, then head of the No. 10 policy unit, and with the late Ian Gow, Mrs Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary.
On 2 July 1981, Mr Gow wrote to Mr Hart thanking him for lunch the previous day. He added: ‘If you were able to let me have some thoughts about the text of the Prime Minister’s solo party political broadcast, which she will give on Wednesday 8 July, she (and I) would be most grateful.’
In the spring of 1982 the Hart-Thatcher friendship was struck. On 15 September, she wrote to him personally, thanking him for four books she had read on holiday in Switzerland. In her own hand she added to the typescript: ‘Thank you for guiding me to the chapters which were compulsory reading.’
In the 1983 election campaign, David Hart was a constant advisory presence, with ideas about speeches, broadcasts and advertising. it was not until the coal strike of 1984-85 that Mr Hart’s shadowy role as an unofficial adviser received publicity. Mr Hart acted as a foil to the ‘wet’ Energy Secretary, Peter Walker, and as a channel of communication between the Coal Board and Downing Street.
Mr Hart formed the Committee for a Free Britain (CFB) shortly before the 1987 election, when he again supplied personal advice to Mrs Thatcher. But this time, through the CFB, he played an even more direct role. The committee organised and paid for a series of virulent full-page anti- Labour advertisements in the national press. They purported to represent the views of the working class and what they would lose in the event of a Labour victory.
After her third electoral triumph, Mrs Thatcher again wrote to thank Mr Hart. By now she signed herself simply ‘Margaret’. The text of her letter read: ‘Thank you for all your contributions which you sent me during the campaign for speeches. As you know from the newspaper headlines, these contributions were used to very good effect.’
The CFB went on to publish a series of pamphlets in which Mr Hart’s extreme political beliefs became apparent. Tax Cuts, What Tax Cuts? called for huge reductions in public health care and education.
Mr Hart had been a friend of the late CIA director, William Casey, and was generally feted in Washington. One dinner in his honour was attended by Dick Cheney, now the US Defence Secretary.
His activities were expanding on several fronts, but Mr Hart was running short of money. In an attempt to raise cash, in July 1988 he sent Mr Murdoch a copy of World Briefing, an ultra right-wing monthly digest of international events published by Mr Hart and Herb Meyer a top CIA official under Casey.
On 1 August, Mr Murdoch wrote: ‘Thank you very much for your World Briefing analysis, which I read with great interest. Are you sending it to any of our other editors or should I circulate it?’
That autumn Mr Murdoch began funding Mr Hart. On 8 February 1989, he wrote to him: ‘I have today authorised Peter Stehrenberger, our group finance director, of the new arrangement pounds 40,000 per year for three years, in addition to the pounds 150,000 previously agreed.’ No mention of the payments appears in the accounts of News Corporation or News International.
Two weeks before the letter from Mr Murdoch, Mr Hart stated where this vast sum was going in an unsuccessful begging letter to Sir Gordon White of Hanson Trust.
‘The enemies of freedom are found both at home and abroad,’ he began. ‘The Prime Minister has helpfully described the enemies of freedom at home as the enemy within.’ He described various activities, including World Briefing, and financial support for right-wing youth groups, giving their costs.
Finally, on an annual budget of pounds 40,000, there was British Briefing, the work of the former MI5 officer Charles Elwell. Mr Hart said this ‘monthly intelligence analysis of the extreme left’ was circulated privately to ‘political leaders, MPs, journalists and others’.
Among those smeared as ‘Communists’ in an edition of the journal from February 1989 are: Bryan Gould, the shadow environment secretary; Chris Mullin, Labour MP for Sunderland South; and the World Council of Churches. Roy Hattersley, the Labour deputy leader, said the disclosure that Mr Murdoch had covertly made available funds ‘for Conservative Party propaganda’ had grave implications for the democratic process. He called on Mr Major to investigate the extent of Mr Murdoch’s media holdings.
December 23 1990
Murdoch funded Kinnock smears
BYLINE: DAVID ROSE, Home Affairs Correspondent
RUPERT MURDOCH, the world’s most powerful media baron, funded the publisher of McCarthyite smears against Labour candidates by a former MI5 officer during the last general election campaign. The targets of the attacks, which were circulated in secret to right-wing journalists, businessmen and Conservative MPs, included Neil Kinnock, shadow health secretary Robin Cook,social services spokesman Michael Meacher and other front-bench MPs. The attacks were written by Charles Elwell, former head of MI5’s ‘F’ branch, which deals with so-called domestic subversion.
Last week Mr Murdoch, owner of five national news- papers and half of BSkyB Television, was refused a knighthood in Mrs Thatcher’s resignation honours. The refusal, by the honours scrutiny committee, followed the disclosure by The Observer that he funded British Briefing, a monthly magazine vehicle for Mr Elwell’s attacks published by David Hart, a close aide to Mrs Thatcher.
Further inquiries have established that Mr Hart took over British Briefing in 1988. Earlier, its publisher was Brian Crozier, an old friend of Mr Murdoch, who supported the journal under the slightly different title of Background Briefing on Subversion. The election attacks on Labour candidates appeared in two special supplements to the magazine in the spring of 1987.
The February 1987 issue set out the aims of the magazine: ‘The march of communism through the trade unions, the Labour Party, local government, religion, education, charity, the media under the leadership of communists who may or may not be members of the Communist Party, is what BB is all about. BB seeks to provide those who have the means to expose the communist threat with clear evidence of its existence.’
The article said that not only members of extreme left-wing groups ought to be regarded as communists, but also ‘a great many others who share their aims and methods’. It said revolutionaries nowadays tended not to be explicit about their intentions. ‘Consequently, recognising communists outside the Communist Party is not easy.’
However, they could be identified by their statements about the class struggle, their attitude to Eastern Europe and, crucially, their associations with ‘communist fronts and communist front publications’. Fear of the libel laws was stopping anti-communists making forthright statements, while propaganda by communists had succeeded in equating anti-communism with McCarthyism, so that ‘only a few bold spirits dare to denounce the evil of communism’.
According to BB, these fears could be illustrated by ‘the absence in the national press of any reference to some of Neil Kinnock’s pronouncements and affiliations to which BB has drawn attention’. A note on the cover, however, warned ‘those on the receiving list’ to treat the magazine as confidential and to refrain from mentioning or quoting it.
The same issue of BB carried an article about the dispute at Mr Murdoch’s Wapping newspaper plant, saying: ‘Ever since industrial action was taken by the printers against News International, its inspiration and organisation came from the Communist Campaign Group .the organisation of the Wapping pickets, and the campaign to boycott News International publications were unquestionably controlled by communists of the Stalinist variety.’
The March 1987 issue of BB was less than a third the usual length of 35 pages to allow the publication of the first supplement on Labour candidates in the coming election, which was by this time widely anticipated. The 29-page supplement contained attacks on nearly 50 candidates. Its characteristic technique was to establish ‘communist’ guilt by association, using quotations by or about candidates from the myriad of extreme left-wing newspapers. For example, David Blunkett (Sheffield Brightside) was noted for speaking at a conference organised by the Communist Party in 1987, and attacked with quotations drawn from Socialist Action, the Morning Star and Labour Herald.
Some of those named in the supplement might well have been tempted to sue for libel if the document had been published openly. Harry Cohen, MP for Leyton, was described as a ‘contributor to Militant fund’. Harriet Harman (Peckham) was named as chairman of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee ‘a front for the Communist Party’. Her campaign at the previous election was said to have been given ‘enthusiastic coverage’ by the Morning Star.
In the second supplement, published in April, an attack on Mr Kinnock occupied four pages. Like other attacks in BB and the election supplements, its contents smeared him as a communist through the exercise of tenuous logic and guilt by association. He had, for example, spoken at a fringe meeting at the 1983 Labour conference, where the Morning Star described him giving ‘an enthusiastic introduction’ to the first speaker, Professor Eric
Hobsbawm, ‘a leading communist’
According to Mr Elwell, Mr Kinnock had made a speech in 1984 in which he said Mrs Thatcher was heading for dictatorship and despotism. Mr Crozier defended BB yesterday, claiming ‘the actual content was always accurate’. Asked why it had not been generally available, he said: ‘For years no one was aware of it. There was no charge for it. If Mr Elwell and I judged people ought to get it, they did.’ They had discussed publishing extracts as a book but were warned they might be sued for libel. He declined to comment on funding from Mr Murdoch.
The Observer asked Mr Murdoch why he began funding Mr Crozier, and whether he had informed members of the Government or Tory Party. He refused to add further comments to a statement made two weeks ago about his support for Mr Hart. He said then: ‘You are seeing conspiracies where there are none. Any payments that were made were for consultation and research.’
Among Mr Crozier’s other activities, in 1987 he chaired the Sherwood Press, a publisher of extreme right-wing books by authors including himself. At the beginning of the year it faced large losses and an accumulated deficit of pounds 67,000. He was asked by his three fellow directors to seek support.
News International took a half stake in the firm and agreed to meet all losses, debts and liabilities, which to date have totalled more than pounds 90,000.