DIDN'T YOU feel sorry for Stella Rimington, that selfless public servant, who has been ostracised by the British establishment for telling us about her struggle to preserve freedom and democracy against the forces of darkness? The Guardian last week tried to hook us on its serialisation of Rimington's MI5 memoirs of how she 'tracked, trailed, bugged and burgled some of the most ruthless spies, drug-runners, subversives and terrorists of her generation'. Rimington was the first woman to head MI5 and the first security service chief to be named in public.
Her appointment, we were told, was a symbol that the secret services were being transformed. The days of recruiting drunken neo-Nazis from Oxbridge were over. In the new, democratic MI5 any talented upper middle class housewife could rise to the top. The Guardian tried to present Rimington as some kind of feminist icon.
But Rimington only got the top job because for most of the 1980s she was in charge of 'counter-subversion'. That meant spying on CND and, most importantly, on the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its supporters during the great 1984-5 strike. The miners' strike was engineered by the Tory government. As the miners stood firm Margaret Thatcher mobilised the full resources of the state. The police meted out unprecedented violence on picket lines and in raids on mining communities.
Thousands were jailed. Thousands more were effectively put under house arrest or banned from travelling. Phones were tapped, smears and lies about the NUM leaders were spread in the media, and civil liberties were systematically shredded.
Rimington would have us believe MI5 played little or no part. The former spook claimed MI5 had no informers in the miners' union or in what she disparagingly called 'the miners' wives whatsits'. In page after page Rimington fobbed us off with half-truths and evasions. However, her memoirs carry the 'not me, guv' nonsense to one of the biggest smear campaigns of the 20th century, the 1990 corruption allegations against the miners' leaders.
The Daily Mirror published a series of articles claiming that miners' leaders Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield had used Libyan money to pay their mortgages while their members were going hungry on the picket lines. The accusations, made by Roger Windsor, the union's former chief executive, had hallmarks of secret service dirty tricks.
But all Rimington would say was, 'Roger Windsor was never an agent in any sense of the word that you can possibly imagine... MI5 did not run agents in the NUM'. In the end it wasn't Rimington, MI5, the police or the endless media lies that beat the miners. It was the failure of the trade union leaders to deliver the solidarity they had promised-both in 1984-5 and again in 1992 when the Tories came back to finish off the job.
Next time the Guardian goes searching for feminist icons it should retell the tale of Rimington's 'miners' wives whatsits'. While Rimington, aided by battalions of nannies, was protecting Thatcher from subversion, the miners' wives prevented the Tories starving the miners back to work.
I know which story those heading to Brighton next Sunday to take on Thatcher's heir would rather read.