Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Radical past. From the archives

Frighteningly radical, set on violence what MI5 said about Labour boss's old comrades; Secret security service files reveal militant past of new General Secretary
First published 2 September 2001 The Mail on Sunday
THE NEW General Secretary of the Labour Party was named by the security services as a Communist firebrand and actively supported a series of student riots, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
Secret documents reveal how David Triesman now a respected trade union negotiator and a millionaire through inherited investment and property businesses was regarded as a leading figure in a 'potentially revolutionary movement' at the height of the Cold War.
The young activist advocated violence as a legitimate tactic for protesters, preached social upheaval and said there was no ideological difference between the Labour and Conservative
parties. Yet tomorrow, he will take up a key role in Tony Blair's New Labour, with special responsibility for the party's grassroots and conferences.
His domestic arrangements have also changed since his student days. Mr Triesman lives alone in a four-storey, Pounds 750,000 house bought ten years ago by a Liechtenstein trust run by a man who managed the secretive offshore investments of disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell.
The radical past of David Maxim Triesman, now 57, is disclosed in security service reports which were prepared for the Cabinet and have been obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
They were commissioned in 1968, as students fought with the police outside the US Embassy in London and at university campuses across Britain.
The security services were asked to identify ringleaders and investigate whether the riots were 'organised, directed or financed' by 'international Communism'. Mr Triesman was identified as being part of a 'revolutionary element . . . associated with the Radical Student Alliance' (RSA).
He was one of the leaders of the RSA and helped lead protests against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons. He also led demonstrations at Essex University, where he was a student.
The report says: 'Leading members of the RSA have been concerned in the organisation of most of the recent protest demonstrations at British universities, notably David Adelstein at the LSE and David Triesman at Essex.' During the height of the trouble, Mr Triesman said: 'We are going to demonstrate . . . we cannot preclude, sometimes, the possibility of violence.
'To say that one is opposed to violence is as absurd as to say that one is opposed to sleep.' The Government report quotes German revolutionaries as saying that the RSA were 'frighteningly radical, badly lacking in theory, but dead set on violence . . . the militants look for revolution as an aim in itself'.
The security services identified a number of links between the RSA and radical groups behind student riots across Europe. The report viewed the RSA as 'dangerous' and 'a serious Communist threat to the Government'.
The then head of the National Union of Students, Geoffrey Martin, later the most senior European Union official in Britain, claimed to have evidence that the protests were funded by a Communist group based in Prague. Mr Triesman called the charge 'scandalously misleading'.
As a radical student leader, David Triesman had no time for mainstream political parties. He wrote: 'In this country, we are faced with two immense, all-but-identical monoliths. They are different in name, but not in nature the Labour and the Conservative parties. Both come as attractively packaged as the admen can though the Labour Party, Mr Triesman said the trust was set up by his father. He added: 'I have lived there [in the house] for ten years and have at no time had any contact with Mr Frick.' Mr Triesman is involved in several companies started by his father, advertising manager and wartime aircraft inspector Michael, who died in 1991, and his mother Rita, who died in 1986.
These firms include an investment company, Maypar and Co, which generated more than Pounds 100,000 profits last year, and a property firm, Mortgage Credits Limited, which owns two factories in Finsbury Park, North London, where similar premises are being turned into luxury flats selling for a total of Pounds 4 million.
Yesterday, Mr Triesman said he had resigned as a director of the firms last month, but company records suggest he and his sister, theatre director Susan, still own the businesses.
After leaving university, Mr Triesman continued, for a time, as an outspoken radical. He was on the editorial board of a short-lived Leftwing newspaper, 7 Days, and worked at the Institute of Psychiatry's Addiction Research Unit as well as teaching Marxist sociology at London University.
It is as a trade union official that his views appear to have mellowed.
He became deputy general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) in 1984, and general secretary of the Association of University Teachers in 1993.
Unexpectedly, considering his past, he earned a reputation as one of the most moderate of the modern union officials.
A surprise choice as General Secretary of the Labour Party, he was recruited by his close friend, party chairman Charles Clarke, and will arrive at Labour's Millbank headquarters with the task of helping the party get its finances in order after the expense of a second victorious election campaign.
His Labour Party biography says that he was a youth footballer for Tottenham Hotspur. However, the club's official archivist can find no trace of Mr Triesman in its records.
Last night, Mr Triesman said he was unaware of the existence of the Government files on him. He said: 'I have never seen any files and am not aware what they contain.'