MI5's Watchdog, the Art School Anarchist; SECRET TARGET: Kim Howells, Circled, and Fellow Students during the Sit-In at Hornsey in 1968, and the Revelatory Tickner Book. Left: In a More Relaxed Mood Today

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 9, 2008 | Go to article overview

MI5's Watchdog, the Art School Anarchist; SECRET TARGET: Kim Howells, Circled, and Fellow Students during the Sit-In at Hornsey in 1968, and the Revelatory Tickner Book. Left: In a More Relaxed Mood Today


Byline: Jason Lewis, Peter Day

AS THE man who is running the secretive Government committee that oversees MI5, Kim Howells must keep the Spooks' every move under close scrutiny.

How different from 40 years ago when he was a revolutionary student - and it was he who was being watched by them.

Back then, as a self-styled anarchist revolutionary, fine art student Kim Howells led a group of students who took over his art college. But now, as chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, the former Foreign Office Minister's brief is to watch the Security Services do not step out of line.

A new book tells how Howells - an 'agitator with a Welsh accent' - led demonstrations and a sit-in at Hornsey College of Art, in North London, at the height of the protests over the Vietnam War.

It claims he was a leading light in the Revolutionary Socialist Student

Federation, which was under surveillance by MI5 and Special Branch, and delivered firebrand speeches to fellow students who occupied the college for six weeks in 1968.

The takeover began after Howells and other organisers handed the college authorities a list of grievances including: 'lack of union or sports facilities', 'lack of a common room' and 'poor catering facilities'. At the height of the protest, an impassioned 21-year-old Howells told his fellow students: 'I say s*** on their art world. I want nothing to do with it.' He added: 'Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, their thing is a phoney product of a phoney conditioned mind. It exists as a luxury of the bourgeois elite.' The book, Hornsey 1968 The Art School Revolution, which was published earlier this year, says Howells drew up plans for the sit-in at his flat at 2 Crescent Road, opposite the college, which was owned by a Mrs Kafka, a relative of the writer Franz.

Written by Professor Lisa Tickner, art historian at the Courtauld Institute, the book describes Howells as leader of the sit-in's Student Action Committee with the official role of running the 'Front Office and Stewards'. He also helped arrange the visit of several Leftwing speakers.

Among those who attended was Joan

Littlewood, theatre director and wife of folk singer Ewan MacColl. Recently released MI5 files reveal the couple were banned from the BBC during the Second World War because the Corporation thought they were communist sympathisers and they were under long-term Security Service surveillance.

A report to the college's board of governors at the time complained of intimidation of staff and students, picketing of annexes, the tearing down of the canteen partition, and haranguing by an 'agitator with a Welsh accent (i.e. Kim Howells)' who told fashion and textile staff and students they were 'bloody fools' for selling themselves down the river.

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MI5's Watchdog, the Art School Anarchist; SECRET TARGET: Kim Howells, Circled, and Fellow Students during the Sit-In at Hornsey in 1968, and the Revelatory Tickner Book. Left: In a More Relaxed Mood Today
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