Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

How things work and why

If you are the Home Secretary - and given the absolute shower who have been Home Secretary over the last two decades it would hardly surprise me if someone from LJ turned up in the job before I die migod they could hardly be worse - if you are Home Secretary, you tend to dismiss the hostile comments of the likes of me as airyfairy liberal nonsense and assume that objections made to something like the new anti-terror legislation are based on abstract principles and nothing else.

And actually the abstract principles are very important and I stand by them - free speech and freedom of association are good things and it is generally a bad thing to have people locked up without a fair trial on the say so of the security services who are not probably accountable.

I believe this in the abstract, but as it happens, I also believe in it for purely pragmatic experiential reasons. The trouble with the security services is that a lot of the time the information on the basis of which they act is nothing of the kind, but instead mere tittle-tattle by people settling idiotic scores and acting out bizarre personal agendas.

When I was a young graduate student, I applied for a fellowship at my college to fund my research and got turned down, in large part, because one of the dons on the selection committee was a Polish exile who hated Communists. Now, at university as later, I was a dogmatically anti-Leninist libertarian socialist with a long record of even handedly opposing the oppressions of the Soviet state and its allies as much as those of the USA and its allies. I was actually seriously despised and disliked by the Oxford hard left of my time for my habit of talking about e.g. Ho Chi Minh's suppression of Trotskyism, Cuba's state sponsored homophobia and so on, as well as for my occasional sarcastic remarks when groups of activists failed to check the address of the building they had voted to occupy. 'Excuse me comrades, but you're storming the wrong building' is never a remark that goes down well, especially if you are a known troublemaker. But I digress.

So, anyway, Dr. P. did not make subtle distinctions and I was on His List. It didn't help that my graduate work was on William Morris who was a Marxist Revolutionary as well as a High Victorian poet and wallpaper designer. True, I was working on his pre-Revolutionary career, but it is true that one of the things I was interested in was the extent to which the Utopian views of 'News From Nowhere' could be seen as foreshadowed in the work of twenty years earlier.

'Don't you think,' he said in my fellowship interview ' that anyone who sets out to reform popular taste is profoundly anti-democratic in spirit?'

'Well,' I said, 'actually no.' And went on to make an argument about all artists to some extent doing this if they are worth a damn. But that 'No' got me a deathray glare and is probably part of why the fellowship went to my very talented rival.

So, move along a couple of years, and I join the civil service. I can see all sorts of problems if I want to join the Foreign Office, because though I was still a boy at the time, I pretty much already knew that down the line this would probably stop being the case and I could see problems looming. The only reason I didn't transition in my early twenties was that my friends in GLF and the women's movement had begged me to consider that being TS was a really reactionary choice and I was still thinking my position through. Ah, the seventies, how much I don't miss all that priggishness we took for granted!

So, anyway, I get told at the final interview that I am being interviewed for the Foreign Office whether I like it or not - I did something like coming third in the civil service entrance exam, how embarrassing - and the interview goes really worryingly well. Except that, in the event, they see sense without my having to have That Conversation and I get to be in the Department of Health instead.

Down the track, things are not going so well through a mixture of bad migraines, serious unhappiness and getting involved with principled rows about the official doctrine on research commissioning policy on which history says I was premature but right. It is clear I need to leave, but they are trying to persuade me to stay in some sort of tolerated underachieving capacity. I spend a lot of time in personnel offices having reports read to me or being told how a civil service psychiatrist has announced after reading my file that I am an obvious cocaine addict. Dashed clever these shrinks who could tell addiction not just by looking at someone but without even - and put memos of criminal charges on their files.

However, at one point, my establishments officer got called away, and I managed five minutes with My File, discovering just which former bosses had stuck the knife in and also finding out how it came to be the case that I failed Positive Vetting and was rejected from the Foreign Office at the last moment.

I was, of course, a letter on college notepaper from Dr. P. who argued that the fact I always opposed Leninist groups while promoting a liberal Marxisant agenda meant that I was really really sinister. Obviously I was really some sort of Stalinist deliberately disguising my real views, and a danger to the state even if I was not consciously an agent of a foreign power. The fact that I was passionately disliked and distrusted by actual revolutionaries was something about which he neither knew or cared.

In the event, he probably did me a favour. I didn't get drafted into the diplomatic and the question marks he raised made the civil service less inclined to resist my leaving it. It is worrying though that I have a file out there in Security land, which says that I am a dangerous subversive.

The fact that I subsequently became Deputy Chair of Liberty and promoted a bunch of policies which included abolishing all security services that do not have proper Parliamentary oversight probably didn't help the view of me held by the agencies of the state. Ironically, Fi McTaggart, who was Chair, is now a Minister at the Home Office and presumably someone to whom the security services report. Trala. How secure I feel knowing that the security services chat to an old comrade who knifed me ruthlessly in the back when it served her term.

And of course presumably Dr. P's stock in such quarters eventually fell when someone he must have recommended, or at least not dobbed in for imaginary ultra-Leftism, went down for a twenty year stretch for trying to be a Russian spy.

Bettany was an obnoxious chap the year below me who hung out with a crowd of rich kids who used to get drunk, play Hitler's speeches on LP and goosestep around Pembroke Main Quad. They never got the chance to be especially vile because I had brokered a peace treaty between the college Left and the Boat Club hearties by pointing out to the Boat Club that the Left had sources of good dope and to the Left that the Boat Club had few politics and many muscles, but could be persuaded to keep the college rightwing loonies out of power. The Boat Club felt that the college rightwing loons gave irresponsible drunken mayhem a bad name...

Bettany and his set were jolly pleased when I failed to get a First as they had been unhappy when I won a major University prize a little earlier.

In due course, he was recruited by the Agencies of the State and found a niche there. Until, one day, he decided in a moment of drunken Damascus revelation, that he wasn't a Fascist at all and wanted international proletarian revolution as soon as possible. So he dropped a note to the KGB attache at the London embassy and asked to be recruited as a matter of urgency, including a number of secrets in his note and more where they came from.

The Soviets did not believe their luck. No, they really didn't believe it. They assumed this was a scam, and responded by laying an information against Bettany with his employers. Imagine the red faces of the KGB when Bettany went down for life for trying to spy for them.

I was very ill in hospital when all of this hit the news and my friend Abi came in and said she had great news, but maybe she shouldn't tell me, lest I break stitches. She told me, I broke stitches laughing and the pain was worth it. I was not always a nice person. </lj>
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