God’s Spies

“And take upon’s the mystery of things As if we were God’s spies….”

William Shakespeare, King Lear

Today’s Times has another exposé, not this time on MPs’ expenses, but on the spy rings that operated against this country leading up to the end of the Second World War and beyond. Here’s a personal note.

This paper has a strong record in exposing espionage. It led the campaign over what was known as the “Fourth Man” in the Cambridge spy network. The great investigator was Peter Hennessy.

Hennessy was getting too close. The Times was fed, I guess, misleading information from questionable sources in the security services and named the wrong B (as he was known).

B turned out to be Sir Anthony Blunt.

Years on the Times returns to this topic and writes up an exposé on the Oxford spy ring. They name Arthur Wynn as a key player.

I know Arthur’s wife, Peggy, from my days at the Child Poverty Action Group. She was and remains a grand figure influencing British life in two significant ways.

The first was the research she undertook looking at how families were unfavourably treated in the tax and benefits system. She wrote a seminal work, Family Policy, which was a fitting tribute to the work Eleanor Rathbone began in her campaigns for family endowment and documented in her great book, The Disinherited Family.

In my days at CPAG, and on official visits to Sir Keith Joseph, then the Health and Welfare Secretary of State, Margaret Wynn’s book would be either on a shelf behind him, or on the table itself. It was he who told me about the importance of the book, that I should read it and as they say – the rest is history.

But not quite. That book certainly started to change the Heath Government’s policy towards families which has more recently run into the sands. For some reason best known to themselves, the Government has devised an unbelievably generous tax and benefits system which is totally blind towards whether the family has one or two parents. Not a move Margaret Wynn would have supported.

But Margaret, who is still alive, and her husband had an even more dramatic effect on British politics. As part of my job with CPAG I edited the group’s journal – Poverty.

The Wynns- submitted me a piece on the worrying trend of a falling birth rate amongst more prosperous families and a significant increase in the birth rate of poorer families. Keith Joseph, a CPAG member, read the piece and used it for a speech just prior to the challenge to Heath’s leadership.

He pointed to this trend and to the dangers it held for a prosperous country. Of course it had overtones of the Eugenics debate of the 1930s which had widespread support and which was quickly buried, thanks to the evil Hitler regime’s policies on racial purity.

But not to look at how societies are changing, and what benefits or challenges this throws up, is simple irrationality bordering on the idiotic.

There followed a huge hullabaloo in the press and as a result of the media coverage Sir Keith Joseph announced he thought he was not suitable to challenge Ted Heath for the leadership of the Tory party. It is at this point that Mrs. Thatcher realised that, if there was to be a challenge, she had to be the challenger.

Two rather good footnotes to history on God’s spies of families, do you not think?

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