Independent – 6 May 2000
In January 1998, I recall headlines proclaiming "MI5 decides that democracy is safe", reporting that the security service was closing down its counter-subversion section.
We learnt that the once-thriving F Branch, which investigated the extreme Left and extreme Right, was now reduced to 'half' a desk officer who concerned himself with the pensions of former employees. This was confirmed in the third edition of MI5's own glossy brochure shortly afterwards.
I reminded the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, of this during his parliamentary statement on 21 June 1999 following the previous anti-capitalist riots in London, and challenged him without success in subsequent correspondence to revive the role of MI5 in monitoring subversive organisations.
Thus, we found ourselves listening to the Home Secretary this week bemoaning the fact that the demonstrators on Monday had refused to co-operate with the police, who should not be blamed for the failure to prevent serious damage being done.
It is not a question of being wise "with the benefit of hindsight", as Mr Straw repeatedly stated: it is rather a question of being denied the benefit of foresight thanks to the irresponsible dismantling of an important element of our security service under this Labour administration.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP