History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

16
THE CIVIL SERVICE PURGE

On 15 March 1948, Prime Minister Attlee announced that the government had decided ‘to ensure that no one who is known to be a member of the Communist Party, or to be associated with it in such a way as to raise legitimate doubts about his or her reliability, is employed in connection with work, the nature of which is vital to the security of the state.’ He added, almost as an afterthought, that the same rule would apply to those associated with fascist organisations, thus indulging in the right-wing’s favourite ploy of lumping fascists and communists together.

The announcement heralded a quite new stage in the attack on the left. For the first time, government employees were to be victimised, not for anything they had done, but for their alleged political beliefs or those of their friends or relations. They did not have to be engaged in leaking classified information or revealing confidential matters to outside bodies; they did not even have to be accused of such conduct. All that was required was an allegation of friendship or association with a member of a perfectly lawful political party. As the Daily Worker remarked the following day: ‘The Labour Government is now daring to do what no Tory Government has ever attempted, namely to begin a witch-hunt in the civil service.’ However, as could be expected, the proposed purge was approved of by the Tories and was to be built on by succeeding Tory governments, resulting in an enormous expansion of the political activities of MI5 and the secret police. The background to the purge was, of course, pressure from the United States – already conducting its own anti-Communist witch-hunt on a massive scale – and the desire to establish the idea in the minds of all that the Soviet Union was now the enemy.

Encouragement to Attlee to take such action had been delivered ten days earlier by W.J. Brown, former general secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association (CSCA) which, with 150,000 members, was much the largest union in the civil service. W.J. Brown was by this

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