September 14th, 1982*
If there is one thing Willie Whitelaw hates, it is being late for lunch at his club. The Home Secretary has been trying to get away but the Prime Minister will not stop talking. As she continues to rail against the hard left, Whitelaw’s mind wanders and he realises that he will only make lunch if his driver puts his foot down on Whitehall, along Pall Mall and then up St James’s Street. At his club there will be grouse on the menu, and what about some smoked salmon to start? No, potted shrimps. The potted shrimps are good. So, that’s G&T to kick off, then a glass of white burgundy. Hold on, if we’re both having a glass it makes sense to get a bottle, and then we’ll order some claret with the grouse and…
Prime Minister: “Willie, are you listening?”
Whitelaw: “Yes, yes, of course. Hard Left are terrible chaps. Absolutely terrible.”
Prime Minister: “I was talking about the IRA”
Whitelaw: “They are even worse.”
Prime Minister: “They are as bad as each other, Willie. They are dedicated to the destruction of all that we hold dear.”
His considerable stomach starts to rumble and gurgle. All that Willie Whitelaw – ex-Scots Guards, 6th Guards Tank Brigade, tank commander in Normandy, Military Cross – holds dear right now is the thought of lunch.
Willie Whitelaw: “Can we continue this later? I am keeping the director general waiting at my… my…”
Prime Minister: “Ah… of course. At your club. You boys must have your lunch. Today are you meeting the Director general of the BBC or of MI5?”
Prime Minister: “But surely he can help us with this? We need to do something that really discredits the Left, permanently.”
Whitelaw: “Footie is doing a pretty good job of that himself.”
Prime Minister: “No, no, no. I’m thinking of the future. Thirty years down the line, after we’ve all gone. If the Left tries to make a comeback it would be disastrous for Britain.”
Whitelaw: “The Director General of MI5 cannot get involved in party politics, Margaret. That would be unthinkable.”
Prime Minister: “Of course not! But this is a question of national security.”
Whitelaw: “I’ll see what I can do, Prime Minister.”
An hour and a half later, and the Home Secretary exhales. That grouse was tremendous, cooked just the way he likes it. The claret is slipping down nicely too; 1961 really had been the most marvellous year for Bordeaux, and for Latour especially.
Even better, the DG of MI5 has considered the Prime Minister’s request for a plan on the hard left and has had an intriguing idea. Could Conservative Central Office not plant someone as a lowly Labour MP, and then, at the moment of maximum advantage, during a crisis for capitalism which comes along from time to time, activate this agent? At that point he would be instructed to either cause trouble in Labour or even become leader and make all manner of crazy decisions that alienated sensible voters, thus making the life of the Conservative party, the City and business easier.
But who would they get to undertake this dangerous mission? It would mean some poor chap going undercover for perhaps thirty years or more. The person chosen would have to display iron discipline, cultivating links with all manner of disgraceful loonies and dangerous subversives. He would have to parrot the most unbelievable tosh about the glory of failing Socialist regimes and the supposed benefits of the state making everything from washing machines to those new-fangled computing machines, all to a model designed by an expert in Whitehall. It would be difficult for the undercover agent to keep a straight face, never mind the risks of detection if the comrades suspected that they had been infiltrated by a Tory bent on destroying the Labour party for good.
Who might be patriotic enough to take it on?
At this point the sommelier appears. Would Mr Whitelaw like anything else from the wine list? Whitelaw thinks for a moment. Director General, would we like anything? Oh, I think so, says the DG. A glass of Sauterne and then perhaps a small port, or a brandy, in the bar. Very good, sir.
And then it comes to him. The young sommelier, Frank, has always expressed particularly strong Conservative views on the rare occasions when their friendly conversations touch on politics rather than claret. The man is so committed a Thatcherite that he is a member of the Tory party in Finchley, the PM’s seat, rather than in Islington where he lives in a council flat that he is planning to buy.
Whitelaw: “Frank, how would you like to serve your country, and your Prime Minister?”
Frank: “There would be no finer honour, sir.”
Whitelaw: “It would mean going undercover. There are big downsides. You would have to carry on living in Islington, albeit in a much larger house that we would provide. You would also be an MP. I’m sorry about this, but you would have to join the Labour party and grow a beard.”
Frank: “A beard you say, sir?”
Whitelaw: “I’m afraid so, Frank.”
Frank: “I will make that sacrifice, sir.”
Whitelaw: “Excellent news! I will make the arrangements with the club chairman to have you released for training next week with Central Office. The Prime Minister will be very grateful.”
Frank gives a little bow of the head and heads for another table, where the members cannot decide on the pudding wine. Chateau d’Yquem or Chateau Rieussec? Choices, choices.
Whitelaw: “Of course, you realise Frank will need an entirely new identity, a new wardrobe of terrible clothes, and an invented life story that makes him a believable member of the hard left. A public school background and all that.”
Director General: “And he will need a new name.”
Whitelaw: “Any ideas?”
Director General: “How about… Jeremy? Jeremy… Jeremy Corbyn.”
Whitelaw (raising a glass): “Perfect! Here’s to Agent Corbyn.”
*This is a fictional account. However, when one considers Jeremy Corbyn’s policy positions and the appointments he has made to Labour shadow cabinet since becoming leader of the Labour party, one does wonder.