Economic League

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From the end of the First World War to the closing years of the twentieth century the Economic League conducted its radical rightwing “crusade for capitalism” on the streets and outside the factory gates of Britain. From the 1920’s onwards they were manipulating newspapers stories before the concept of “spin” and “spin doctor” had been invented. But they became best known for their employment blacklist, created in its earliest years. The League was dissolved in 1993 following a series of press exposes and a parliamentary investigation into its blacklist. But the League sold on its blacklist to the construction industry which set up a trade association - The Consulting Association - to continue into the twenty first century blacklisting trade unionists and health and safety activists from the largest construction projects in the country.


Established in 1919 by conservative politicians and industrialists, the Economic League was a pro-capitalist and anti socialist propagandist group. In public it conducted a “Crusade for Capitalism” targeted at the workforce of local members’ factories, and a against the ‘subversion” of trade union activism and left of centre political parties. Behind closed doors it set up and ran a blacklist of allegedly “subversive” workers, available to member companies. After the Second World War the League continued both strands of propagandist activity and continued to campaign for capitalism especially through partisan apprentice training, and against activism through pamphlets and media stories and more clandestinely through a blacklist made available to members. However from the 1970s its role in pro-capitalism lobbying became less important as a result of the changes to the structure of the workforce in the UK and the demise of Industrial training and apprenticeships, . The League focused on campaigning against trade union activism and continued to provide a blacklisting service for member companies. Construction and Engineering Companies paid an additional premium for this service in their industries and became subscribers to the Economic League Services Group. The League’s income and importance as a pro capital and anti-activist lobbyist declined during the 1980s with an economic recession that reduced the number of corporate members, and Government sympathetic to their political views. Attempts to rationalise and restructure the League lead to internal disputes and at least one discontent employee leaking information and documents to journalists about the Leagues’s continuing blacklisting activities. There was a series of damaging media exposes, notably by World in Action and by Journalist Richard Norton Taylor writing in the guardian, and Paul Foot writing in the “Mirror”. This investigations led the UK Parliament’s Employment Select Committee to conduct a public inquiry into the League’s activities. Its final report in 1992 was highly critical of their blacklisting activities. In 1993 the Economic League was placed in liquidation and wound up. It claimed that the blacklist had been destroyed. The Employment Relations Act 1999 made provision for blacklisting to be made illegal through regulations, these were not however enacted. In 2009 the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the offices of an trade association called The Consulting Association run by a former employee of the Economic League This group had continued to run the Services Group blacklist on behalf the construction companies who had subscribed to it, and he was prosecuted and fined for breaches of the data protection laws. Following this prosecution the Employment Relations Act 1999(Blacklists) Regulations 2010 were finally enacted making Blacklisting Illegal in the UK. There were more than 3,000 workers on The Consulting Association blacklist. A Blacklist Support Group was established with support from trade unions and trade unionist with high profile campaigns against blacklisting companies and private prosecutions. These are continuing. In the UKParliament another Select Committee - The Scottish Selected Committee - decided to examine the current reality of the blacklisting calling number of former Economic League Employees and corporate supporters to give evidence.


Origins & early organisation

In 1919 a meeting of senior conservative industrialists and politicians was held at the offices of National Publicity Agency, lobbyists for the brewery owners. It was convened by Admiral William Reginald Hall who had retired as the wartime head of naval intelligence to become a Conservative MP for a Liverpool constituency in the hastily called post-war election.


Also at the meeting were:

National Propaganda

The outcome of this meeting was the creation of a new group to confront and undermine what they saw as a trade union, socialist and communist threat to capitalism within the workplace. This new group was placed within an existing group with anti socialist objectives called the British Commonwealth Union as its National Propaganda Committee but quickly acquired an identity of its own - becoming known simply as National Propaganda. National Propaganda seems to have acted as part co-ordinating body, part public relations agency for a large number of groups campaign for right wing causes and single issues - the British Empire Union, National Citizens Union, National Alliance of Employers and Employed, Industrial League and Council, Industrial Welfare Society, Christian Counter Communist Crusade, Children’s Faith Crusade, the Economic Study Clubs. The League’s main early functions were propagandist. It conducted a “Crusade for Capitalism” targeted at the workforce of local members’ factories, and a wider public campaign campaign against the ‘subversion” of trade union activism and left of centre political parties. To support its campaign against activists, the League gathered information from a variety of public and private sources. It published pamphlets naming activists and organisations of which it regarded as subversive. Under the enthusiastic direction of Reginald Hall and Richard Kelly, National Propaganda developed a regional structure, with membership made up of conservative politicians and/or employers.

Early organisation

By 1924 the League’s local Structure included:

Royal Central Chambers, Manchester Chairman: Sir William Clare Lees Central Council Representative: Lieutenant Col. Sir Alan J Sykes. Executive members: F. W Astbury, MP In 1923- 24 it held 1,417 meetings of various sorts attended by 333,497 people.

10 Hatton Gardens Chairman: Sir Max Muspratt Executive members: J. Sandeman Allen, MP. It claimed to have held 200 meetings. Greater London Economic League: 2 Millbank House Chairman: Neville Gwynne. In 1923- 24 it held 595 meetings were attended by 145,000 people. "A special feature of propaganda in London", it claims "Dinner- hour talks" to employees inside factories". The work of the League's paid workers was by 1923 being augmented by "25 working men, all of whom are trades unionists and constitutionalists”.

46 Stuart Street, Cardiff. Chairman: Frank Shearman Executive members: James Miles.

In 1923- 24 it held 751 meetings attended by 111,000 people.

In 1923- 24 it held more than 1,000 meetings

In 1923- 24 it held 347 meetings attended by 32,000

In 1923- 24 it held 295 meetings with a total attendance of 32,000

In 1923- 24 it held 133 meetings attended by 5,400 women and 74 study circles with a total attendance of nearly 1,000. A potentially fascinating area of the League's work, it disappears in subsequent reports.

10 Leazes Terrace, Tyne and Wear Branch Branch Office for Newcastle,Tees and Hartlepool. Central Council Representative: Launcelot E. Smith Tyne and Wear executive members: Clive Cookson, Major General Sir R A Kerr Montgomery

5, Myrtle Street, Hessle. Chairman: G. F. Robinson It noted its gratitude to the local press for "the very comprehensive reports they have given of the meetings in the area". They also recorded the establishment of a branch of the "Children's Faith Crusade" in February 1923. "Results to date are encouraging" and reports ".... The largest Communist Sunday School has been closed".

Hector House, Newbarns, In 1923- 24 it held 1578 meetings included afternoon classes for the unemployed.

Chairman: Gilbert Vyle This regional branch of the Economic League operated over a massive area which included Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It claimed to have been particularly active 1923- 24 in mining areas during a ballot of miners on the National Wages Agreement - "it being of interest to note that in all areas where the League concentrated the vote was for acceptance of the terms submitted”.

A small and short-lived branch of the League run from the Lancashire and Cheshire and Liverpool offices.

The First Labour government, and the leadership of Aukland Geddes

In October 1922 the the post-war coalition collapsed. and the liberal Prime Minister, Lloyd George, was replaced briefly by Bonar Law and then, in May 1923, by Stanley Baldwin. One of the first things Law had done was to appoint Reginald Hall as Principal Agent of the Conservative Party. He was the only serving MP ever to be Principal Agent of the Conservative Party. Following he election on December 6 1923 the Conservatives were the largest party, but they had lost their overall majority and Hall was one of 90 Conservative MPs to lose their seat. They couldn’t secure the support of the Liberals so in January 1923 the Labour Party formed it first minority government under Ramsay MacDonald. In March Baldwin sacked Hall as Principal Agent of the party, and the leadership of National Propaganda was passed to Sir Aukland Geddes. The former government minister and US ambassador was only in charge of the Economic League for a year before going to head up the Rio Tinto mining company, Later Rio Tinto Zinc. His Brother Eric Geddes, another former Conservative minister, was at the same time President of the Federation of British Industries. Under his brief stewardship Geddes was a major reorganisation of the League.Geddeschanged the name of National Propaganda to The Central Council of the Economic Leagues and in 1926 it became The Economic League. He was the President of the Central Council on a salary of 4,000 gbp. Geddes also consolidated the blacklisting of workers whom they believed to be political and trade union activists or supporters: "One of the first tasks initiated by Sir Auckland Geddes was the compilation of a chart and dossier of socialist and subversive organisations and their interlocking directorates. Arrangements are in hand for a permanent clearing house of information in connection with alien organisations and individuals. A document containing a considerable body of information on "red" ramifications and methods had already been circulated in confidence to district Economic Leagues. Supplements to the documents will be circulated from time to time.”

"The National Campaign to Combat Socialism"

Geddes’ salary as President of the League was 4000gbp , a very substantial sum for the time, indicating the level of investment that was going into the League and it satellite organisations. On April 8th of 1924 the British Empire Union launched an appeal for £100,000 per year to support a "National Campaign to Combat Socialism". That income would today be worth around £2.5m. Contributors were asked to mark subscriptions for either the General Fund, British Empire Union or National Citizens Union. The appeal was signed by Colonel O. G. Armstrong, president of the Federation of British Industries; Sir Vincent Caillard, of Vickers; Lord Gainford, coal owner; Lord Invernairn; Sir Allan Smith, chairman of the Engineering Employers Federation; Sir Alan Sykes, chairman of the Bleachers association; and Evan Williams, president of the Mining Association of Great Britain. It was to be a fighting fund for the the next election, which would be th third in two years. The League’s 5th annual report reflected their role in opposition to the Labour Government: "The period covered by the Annual report witnessed the establishment in office of the first Labour-Socialist Government. The question whether or not "Labour" is fit to govern has thus become academic. "Labour" HAS governed and a cabinet of Socialists is tacitly accepted by the nation as a potential alternative to a Cabinet of Constitutionalists.” It goes on to argue: "The fact that there were found five and a half million British citizens willing to place in power as well as in office a body of men plunged in uneconomics, pledged to the nationalisation of industry, and plighted in troth to subsidise Russian Bolshevism with British savings, is a measure of the educational work that remains to be done.”

The "Zinoviev letter"

MacDonald’s minority government only lasted until November. during which most of its activity was devoted to attempting to reach an agreement with the Russian government. When it became clear that the Liberals were not going to support the terms of the Anglo-Soviet treaty this Labour-Liberal alliance collapsed. Liberal support for MacDonald was withdrawn when on October 25th, 1924 the Daily Mail and The Times printed in full a letter alleged to have been sent by Gregori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, to the Communist Party of Great Britain on September 15th. The letter urged the Communist Party of Great Britain to make preparations, "in the event of danger of war . . . to paralyse all the military preparations of the bourgeois". The foreign office, MI5 and Special Branch all vouched for the letter’s authenticity and it was passed to Ramsay MacDonald who accepted their judgement. But before MacDonald could make any final decision about the text of the official response to the letter, the letter was leaked from MI5 to Conservative Central Office and also to Reginald Hall. It was then sent to the two newspapers with the implication that MacDonald had been trying to suppress it. It was Hall who almost certainly leaked one of the two copies of the letter received by his friend Thomas Marlowe, the editor of the Daily Mail. Labour lost the support of the liberals, MaCdonald stood down to be replaced by a Baldwin and a minority Conservative administration until an election was called for 29 October 1924. There were two twists in the tale of the Zinoviev letter. The first is that fact the letter was in fact a forgery. The second was the although the Labour Party was the overt target of the leak it was the Liberal Party which was devastated by it. The Liberals lost 117 of their 156 seats, the Labour Party just 40 of their 191 seats and actually increased by 1,000,000 the number of votes cast for them.

The General Strike

Reorganised, well funded and with a strong regional profile the Economic League played an important role in defeating The General Strike, the conservative industrialists and politicians at the centre of the League were also crucial to the Government’s role in defeating the strike. Lasting just 10 days from 3 May 1926 to 13 May 1926 the crushing of the strike had a lasting and negative impact on the development of the labour and trade union movement.

Williams was still the president of the Mining Association, which represented the coal owners in the strike and in 1926 he was also president of the National Confederation of Employers Organisations (NCEO). The Mining Association's submission to a Royal Commission on the Coal Industry in 1925 had laid down the line followed by the owners during the strike: "On every occasion the owners have deprecated this policy of concession to threats originating in the left wing of the Miners Federation ... The Mining Association reiterate their strong objection to doles from the Exchequer to bolster up uneconomic rates of wages and conditions of employment. Freedom from political interference in the economic sphere is a condition essential to the health of Industry, and the Association trusts that the earliest opportunity will be sought for the removal of the subvention in aid of wages in the coal industry."

One League's founders who had been actively obbying for a reduction in miners' wages. He was a Sheffield steelmaker and Chairman of the National Federation of Iron and Steel Trades Manufacturers. As such he submitted a memo to the Government Committee on Industry and Trade (of which he was also chairman) which was investigating the iron and steel industry: "We have had pressed on us a good deal that the iron and steel industry is in a very difficult state, but when we come to look into the problem it comes back very much to the question of coal. Coal is fundamental. Therefore until the coal question is settled, you cannot, in my view come to any definite conclusions regarding the iron and steel industry. Coal is cumulative in every direction."

Smith was director of the Engineering Employers Federation . Despite his impeccable right wing credentials he was in contact with Ramsay MacDonald and during the strike the Labour Leader took Smith to see Baldwin to promote hopeless “solution” which was that the miners return to work with wages temporarily reduced by 10% until a tribunal could be set up to fix a permanent wage.

Although not a founder in 1919, Pease was by 1923 a member of the Central Council of the Economic Leagues, and after the strike became its president. Although he was a Liberal Peer, a former Liberal Minister and a Quaker, Gainford was also a coal owner in Durham and in 1927-8 President of the Federation of British Industry (FBI). From 1922 until late 1926 he was chairman of the B.B.C. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, sought to broadcast an appeal for a settlement of the strike, Gainford was drawn into the controversy. Neither he nor Baldwin agreed with the Archbishop's appeal but neither was prepared to cancel the Broadcast. Gainford left the final decision with the B.B.C.'s managing director, John (later Lord) Reith. To Baldwin and Gainford's relief, Reith stopped the Broadcast. This remarkable episode does not seem to be the Archbishop's only encounter with Gainford during the strike. After the strike the Archbishop described Gainford as one of the owners "being most unhelpful throughout.”

Nimmo was, after Evan Williams, possibly the next most powerful coal owner in the country and one of the most aggressive in his attitude towards the strike. But Williams, Gainford and Nimmo were not the only mining employers who were active in the Economic League. A Labour Research Pamphlet, dating from 1926 also noted the presence on the Central Council of the Lord Invernairn, Sir Clifford Cory MP and James Miles, and Philip Gee who ran the Mining Association's "Propaganda Department", and W. A. Lee who was the Mining Association's secretary. At least 8 of its 36 members were involved in the highest level with the Mining Association. Other coal owners’ representatives were involved in the League's District organisations: In Leeds:

  • A. W. Archer(South Kirby, Featherstone and Hemsworth Collieries)

In the North East Coast district:

In Sheffield:

In South Wales:

  • Trevor S. Jones (Lewis Merthyr Collieries, Titdonkin Merthyr Collieries),
  • W. H. Newton (Locket Merthyr Collieries (1894) Ltd and Glyncorrwg Collieries),
  • E. L. Hann(Powell Duffryn Coal Treatment).

Reginald Hall and John Gretton Both Blinker Hall and John Gretton also played prominent roles in the strike. Gretton was for a time Treasurer of the government sponsored strike breaking group "The Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies" and Hall was the general manager of the Government's strike breaking paper the "British Gazette", which was produced on the Morning Post press and edited by Winston Churchill.

The League’s Role During the Strike

During the General Strike the FBI's President was Sir Max Muspratt, a member of the League's Central Council and Chairman of the Liverpool Economic League. At the same time another Central Council member, Sir Edward Manville, was an F.B.I. vice president. According to the former Archivist of the C.B.I. (which was formed out of the F.B.I. in 1965) the F.B.I. and Economic League worked closely during the strike, and the the league’s particular role was in the provision of intelligence: "The F.B.I. gave its headquarters and regional organisation to help the Government's supply and transport activities. The F.B.I. combined with the Economic League to provide information on coal stocks and shortages, the availability of lorries and the levels of employment, etc.” The League’s own official history, “Fifty Fighting Years” he League also confirms this: "During the General Strike the League made no attempt to hold meetings or distribute leaflets, but its staff were organised in a National Network to report daily to its Headquarters, then in Millbank House, on the position in their respective regions. This information was used to compile a daily report to the Prime Minister, for which the League received his warm thanks.” But the League’s contemporary "Seventh Annual Report" shows its assertion that it didn’t hold meetings or distribute leaflets was wrong. In Keighley, 20,000 "daily news bulletins were distributed" and "much "missionary" work was also carried out throughout this troubled period". In Liverpool, "over a quarter of a million leaflets were printed and distributed ... every endeavour was made to encourage the enrolment of volunteer workers". Lancashire and Cheshire also reported that "Every endeavour was made to encourage the enrolment of volunteer workers". In Leeds, 65,000 copies of another "Daily Bulletin" were distributed, while in the Midlands a van and "Flying Squad" toured railway centres like Leamington, attempting to persuade workers back to work. What may have been true is that during the ten days of the strike they avoided the coal fields. But then they did going in to the coalfields of Nottingham as described in“Fifty Fighting Years”: ”At first the League's speakers, to often hostile audiences, counselled a return to work and negotiations, arguing, as the League always has, that strike action is harmful to the nation as a whole.” In April, a month before the Strike began, the Economic League had appointed John Baker White as its full time director on £400 a year. Although he was only twenty-three when he was appointed, White had already established his credentials for the job. White had been working since 1923 for Philip Gee, a member of the League's Central Council, n the propaganda section of the mine owners' Mining Association. Gee had insisted that worked for six months in a pit in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, Newstead,where he worked "in the office, lamp room, on the winding engine and siding, and below ground”. The Economic League chose to concentrate its activities in Nottinghamshire not because it was familiar with it but because that is where the strike began to crack. When a local miners’ leader called Spencer set up a breakaway union, the League set up a "flying squad" whom they called "Constitutional Workers". Its aim was to "get the miners back to work". These flying squads consisted of both experienced League speakers and new recruits "equipped with vans and leaflets". The new recruits were mainly unemployed ex-officers and included for example two ex-Black and Tans - who were habitues of Rayners Bar in the Haymarket". "They did not strike again" he noted "and other pits soon went back". But tough as they were, even in Nottinghamshire, the League's "special cadre of speakers and leaflet distributors ... didn't go out at night alone" and were forced to replace the windscreens of their vans with chicken wire. “Fifty Fighting Years” claims that the League's intervention " any rate in this one coalfield accelerated the return to work and the eventual collapse of the strike, a fact admitted by the miner's national president, the late Herbert Smith".

Depression and preparation for war

There was no economic resurgence following the defeat of the General Strike and the miners, though Baldwins Conservative government continued in power until May 1929. By then there were more than 1 million men unemployed. The 1929 general election was the first in the UK conducted under universal suffrage, and Labour were the largest party with 27 more seats than the Conservative although Lloyd George’s 59 Liberals, who had campaigned for a Keynesian programme of public works under the slogan "We Can Conquer Unemployment”, held the balance of power. Five months later, in October,1929 the New York Stock Market crashed and the recession turned into the great Depression . For 18 months MacDonald and his Chancellor, Philip Snowden, responded to this collapse in international capitalism as classical economists, obsessed with the need to balance the budget. By July 1931 they were advocating cuts in public sector wages and public spending, including the unemployment dole. They were so severe MacDonald could not carry his party or Lloyd George with him. On 24th August MacDonald and the government resigned and formed a “National Government” made up of his Labour supporters, Conservatives and some Liberals. In October 1931 another election was called. The National Government supporters won an absolute absolute majority of the vote and though Conservative dominated Macdonald remained prime minister until 1935. An election that year saw him lose his seat and the return of a majority conservative conservative government dedicated to to securing European peace by a policy of appeasement of fascism.

Taking on the unemployed

After the General Strike, under its youthful director, John Baker White, the League consolidated its operations. A pamphlet from 1933, outlining its "Aims and Methods and Achievements", showed that the League continued to run its "open air meetings" and "study circles", produced a steady flow of leaflets and "Notes for Speakers”. It also used the press to good effect. "In its work the League has never failed to realise the great value of the press as a medium for public education. In consequence it contributes letters and articles on economic questions to daily and weekly newspapers throughout the country." The early 1930s were a time of massive unemployment; of riots and hunger marches. The Jarrow Crusade was just one of these marches, but it was by no means the largest or longest. Few of the hunger marches organised by the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) were so fortunate. The Economic League ran a vigorous campaign against the NUWM. The League sent "Flying Squads" of "Propaganda Vans", speakers and leafleters to towns and villages ahead of the marchers with the aim of encouraging or inciting an unsympathetic reception. The League's leaflets claimed that the NUWM was nothing more than a communist front: "Anybody who supports the "Hunger march" stunt, either by taking part in it, by attending the demonstrations arranged in connection with it, or by giving money to the March funds, is merely assisting a COMMUNIST PLOT to cause civil disorder... THINK THIS OVER AND DON'T BE DUPED BY THE REDS. N.U.W.M. stands for National Unemployed Workers Movement. It also stands for National Unemployed Workers Misguided and Misled. N.U.W.M. also stands for NO USE WASTING MONEY AND NO USE WALKING MILES"

Police support

In 1937 the Communist Party of Great Britain's newspaper "The Daily Worker" obtained and published letters from Baker White to its representative in Manchester, Robert Rawdon Hoare, a cousin of the Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare. One of these letters described a deal struck between Hoare and one Detective Eckersley who: ". . . promised to give me as long as I liked looking over the Communist industrial file in their office... I am also in touch with the Salford Police; their Communist man having already called at this office". Another indicated that the police were going to supply the League with a report of a private Communist Party of Great Britain meeting in Brighton. But the most shocking letter was a letter from White to Hoare describing the League's relationship with the general secretary of the TUC, Walter Citrine: "In most areas the League is openly and avowedly anti-Communist and fights against communism, most particularly in the trade unions. It may interest you to know that co-operation between Sir Walter Citrine and myself on this question is far closer than people imagine. . . Through an intermediary, the League is giving assistance to one very important trade union in fighting communists in its own ranks.” These three different letters showed the close contact and co-operation between Economic League and the British state's secret servants in MI5 and Special Branch. But they also pointed to a clandestine relationship a small number of influential rades union officials. In response to the leak the League took the paper and its editor to court for breach of copyright. During the case the Labour MP and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Stafford Cripps, represented the paper. He argued that since the letters discussed illegal activities, in breach of the Official Secrets Act, the Economic League could not claim copyright. Cripps’ ingenious defence failed because the court was not prepared to adjudicate on the legality of the League's contacts with the police, the most controversial of the revelations.

The League and international politics

The inter war period was of course marked not only by economic depression, unemployment and industrial conflict, but internationally by the rise of fascism, and the implications of Germany’s rearmament programme. The Economic League's contact and co-operation with the secret services was not restricted to their domestic operations. In 1924 the Economic League had become the British delegate to an international organisation called "The International Entente Against the Third International". Their representative at its meeting was, two years before he became the director of the League, John Baker White According to Baker White: "This organisation was founded by a Swiss avocat, Theodore Aubert, after his successful defence of Poluline, who killed Varovsky, the Soviet envoy to Switzerland, and it was the first attempt to coordinate on a world scale the activities of anti-Communist organisations in the different countries. It achieved much and could have achieved more had not the Germans, Italians and Japanese attempted to use it as a medium for totalitarian propaganda." The Entente, which survived until the end of the Second World War, had provided an entry into the international industrial world for its young director, John Baker White. From the late Twenties onwards White was a regular visitor to France and Germany and according to his own account he had high contacts with the German armament manufacturers Krupp’s: "My work took me to Germany quite often in the years before and after the Nazi accession to power. . . . I met Udet in the bar of the Cologne airport, when he was a stunt pilot . . . The next time I saw him was years later in the uniform of a colonel in the Luftwaffe. . . . In the Kaisserhof at Essen . . . a young Ruhr coalmaster told me that the Nazis were "a pack of silly schoolboys." Like a lot of the industrialists he was cute enough later on to see the way the wind was blowing. He bought his way into the Party, and today is a Gruppenfuhrer in the SS. . . . . I caught glimpses of German rearmament. On successive visits to Krupp’s I found that the number of shops into which I was not taken steadily increased, until it was put to me very politely but quite plainly by Dr Jennes that they would be delighted to lunch and wine me at the Essenerdorf and take me for a walk round Essen's beautiful gardens, or anywhere except inside the gates of Krupp’s..” The Economic League had a close relationship with the early British Fascists in the 1920s and Baker-White was a close associate of anti-semtic activists such as George Makgill, [Rotha-Linton Orman]], and Nesta Webster. They did not have the same sort of links to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and with strong anti German feelings, British imperialism, heavy engineer interests throughout there membership as the war approached they sided with the rearmament and anti-appeasement movement around Chuchill. One source suggests that Reginald Hall was by the mid thirties head of Churchill’s private intelligence grouping.

War and peace


When War was finally declared on September 3rd, 1939, the League had to rapidly re-adjust. The previous month the League had already decided that in the event of war it would continue to function. This posed significant challenes since Baker-White was a Territorial Army officer in the London Rifle Brigade, Robert Rawdon Hoare - was a Major in the Regular Army Reserves. Although through the War Baker White remained as the Director of the Economic League, the day-to-day running of the League was taken over by Major Tom Gribble. White was initially recruited to MI7 as head of Radio Propaganda, although he also spent some time in MI10, responsible for investigating enemy technical developments. The following year he joined the Ministry of Information. In 1941 he was transferred to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office and two years later (in 1943) to the Political Warfare Executive working on black propaganda in the Middle East. Gribble was himself recruited to the Political Warfare Executive, but being London based he combined the two jobs. The Economic League had effectively been nationalised for the remainder of the War. Before the end of 1939 the League had issued five leaflets: "What you should do", "The Home Front", "Communism Unmasked", "The Citizen in War", "Prices, Wages and Inflation" and "Wages in War". In 1940 sixteen leaflets were produced and the following year thirteen leaflets. When pay as you earn taxation (PAYE) was introduced in 1944 and extended income tax to far more people than before, the League sprang to its defence. Until the collapse of the Hitler-Stalin Pact with the German invasion of Russia on 22nd June, 1941 the Economic League continued to concentrate on anti-communist propaganda, though later the leaflets echoed Government propaganda efforts and concentrated on morale boosting on the Home front. "Don't be Bored", was their rather weak rallying cry. Then as paper rationing began to bite the League increasingly concentrated on factory canteen meetings. Just as during the General Strike the League had acted as a source of intelligence for the Government, once again it was not just preaching propaganda but gathering intelligence. Home Intelligence produced regular reports on the mood and morale of the public. According to Angus Calder in "The Myth of the Blitz" (Cape, 1991, ISBN 0 224 02258 X) the Economic League was one of the many sources of information upon which these reports were based. Others included W H Smiths and Mass-Observation, as well as police and telephone and postal censorship. In the last year of the War the League paid special attention to women workers and issues about food and even produced a special booklet: "Women at War - Their Future in Peace".


When the war ended, John Baker White did not return to his post of Director of the League but entered Parliament as Conservative MP for Canterbury. His role was taken over by Colonel Robert Rawdon Hoare, Tom Gribble continued to work for the League at a senior level and in 1951 when it became a limited company he was appointed the company secretary. There was some rationalisation of the League’s structure the "London and Southern Counties" branch now covered East Anglia, South Wales and the West Country, "additional speakers and lecturers" were recruited and "cadres of leaflet distributors" were formed and the League also absorbed the Anti-Socialist Anti-Communist Union. The War had taken the League past the factory gates and into the works canteens . In peace the League was quick to capitalise on this, and in 1946 started to run classes for apprentices. The league described this as a "complete realignment of many aspects of the League's work and the application of lessons learned in war" and tthe creation of a "training organisation”.By 1947 its annual report could record that: "through the goodwill of various national youth organisations, our staff has conducted a large number of courses for training youth movement leaders in the technique of conducting group discussions in youth clubs. These courses have been followed up by the provision of factual data upon which the leaders could base current affairs discussions in their respective clubs. We have also provided staff lecturers to address a great many national and regional youth conferences and the members of individual youth clubs." In Lancashire, the Economic League established a "Youth Movement" to coordinate its youth training there. By 1949, 295 youth club leaders, 580 senior club members had attended courses. In that year, and in addition to 874 other meetings in youth clubs, the League's own Youth Movement held 310 meetings. While the League was battling for the minds of the youth at play, it expanded its apprentice training to include a class in "elementary economics and civics". This new, official, access to the shop floor provided the League with the opportunity to launch "Facts", a monthly news sheet for foremen and works supervisors, with they claimed a circulation of 20,000 per issue.

But outside the factories the League could rely less and less on the large scale open air meeting to put its message across. These became "group discussions at works gates" and its propaganda machine depended increasingly on its leafleting. Instead of recruiting and training public speakers it employed "a special corps of leaflet distributors" who did not need to be orators but only needed "to be able to answer questions and discuss intelligently the leaflets they were distributing, as well as having a pleasant and friendly manner”. They began "house-to-house leaflet distribution" and "door-step talks" to get their message through to “housewives". A letter to members issued by the Federation of British Industries, in January 1948, explained how the League’s role in their campaign against the Government’s policies, supported by a more recently established group called Aims of Industry. Aims of Industry ad been founded in 1942 to campaign against wartime restrictions on capital, but in post-War years emerged as a right-wing, anti-nationalisation PR company: "The Federation has for some months had under consideration the steps that it should take to inform the public of the achievements and advantages to the country of Private Enterprise. At one stage we pursued the idea that we ourselves undertake this work by adding suitable experts to our own staff. Finally however, it was felt preferable to encourage such work through existing independent organisations. I am now writing to inform you that the Federation has examined the work carried out in the past by the Economic League and Aims of Industry Ltd., and is satisfied that these non-party, educational organisations are doing good work and have effective plans for the future. It is also satisfied that each covers separate specialist fields and that their fields do not overlap. If private enterprise wishes to see these organisations conduct a thorough, nationwide campaign, they will have to be very liberally financed. The Federation invites its members to make their own approach with a view to giving them the strongest support”.

Attlee's Blacklist

Disillusion with Clement Attlee’s labour government quickly set in, and it wasn’t able to retain enough of it’s landslide victory to win a second term. Nor was the radicalism of Attlee’s economic or welfare polices reflected in other areas of government, which saw the creation of the Cold War and a repressive anti communist campaign in the public services. In 1947 Christopher Mayhew, a Home Office minister, and Clement Atlee authorised the establishment of a new branch of the Secret Services. It was called the Information Research Department” (IRD) and was intended to act as a propaganda/disinformation channel for anti-communist intelligence and a peace time equivalent of PWE. IRD was the intelligence back room for Attlee’s "loyalty programme". Attlee told parliament that the Labour Government intended a purge against communists in jobs vital to State Security, and over the next seven years 17,000 civil servants were vetted and 150 were suspended. However this "loyalty programme" was soon extended to shop floor armaments workers and, by 1950, some local authorities were trying to apply it to teachers. ​ The Government's own blacklisting programme naturally influenced the attitudes of private employers, who were not already subscribers to the Economic League. In 1949 the John Lewis Partnership tried to bring in a “Political Test” as a condition of employment, although this particular, overt, attempt at blacklisting failed in the face of trade union and political pressure. This state sponsored blacklisting encouraged the League to pursue alleged Communists vigorously: "With the opening of the Cold War the (Communist) Party resumed its familiar role as an instigator of industrial disruption, and the League found itself engaged in countering one of the most intensive campaigns ever launched by subversive elements in this country. One of its tasks was to expose the true nature of the insidious and now almost forgotten "Peace" campaign, which developed into the notorious "Germ Warfare" exercise, and to counter the Communist plot to sabotage Marshall Aid. The League can claim credit for turning the spotlight of truth onto the international wrecking operation of which the "Beaverbrae" strike in the Port of London was a part."

The Economic League Co. Ltd.

In 1951 the League became a Limited Company. The first board of directors of the Economic League Company reveals the presence of some very powerful people: Sir Walter Benyon Jones: Chairman and managing director of United Steel Companies, and Appleby-Frodingham Steel Co., a director of Westminster Bank, Stanton Iron Works, and the Mining Association of Great Britain. The Rt Hon LORD ILIFFE: Edward Mauger Iliffe, until 1933, Unionist M.P. for Tamworth 1923-29. Deputy Chairman of Allied Newspapers and part-proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. A member of Lloyds and a director of London Assurance. Member of the Carlton Club. The Rt Hon LOrd McGowan: Henry Duncan McGowan, until 1937 Chairman of ICI, director of the Midland Bank and General Motors. Member of the Carlton Club. The Rt Hon Lord Riverdale: Arthur Balfour until 1929, Sheffield industrialist in the steel industry and prominent South Yorkshire Tory and Freemason. One of the League's founders. CLive cookson: League Treasurer during the 1937 court cases. Chairman of the Consett Iron Company, Vice President of the Federation of British Industry (FBI) which in 1965 became the CBI. WIlliam ALexander Lee: Barrister and Director of the Mining Association of Great Britain. A member of the Carlton Club. Sir Harry Brittain: Barrister, newspaperman and politician. Founding member of the Tariff Reform League and later the Economic League. During 1917-1919 he was Director of Intelligence at the National Service Department. Unionist M.P. for Acton 1918- 1929. A member of the Carlton Club. The Hon ANGUS DUDLEY CAMPBELL: President of Manchester Chamber of Commerce, director of Waring and Gillows and the Manchester Ship Canal. Sir JOHN RICHARD HOBHOUSE: Partner in Alfred Holt & Co, ship owners and director of the Royal Insurance Co. HALFORD WALTER LUPTON REDDISH: Chairman and chief executive of The Rugby Portland Cement Co Ltd and subsidiaries from 1933 to 1976. Later a director of the Granada Group. A member of the Carlton Club. The Rt Hon LORD ROCHDALE: George Kemp until 1913 and chairman of Kelsall and Kemp. Liberal Unionist MP for Heywood Lancs. 1895-1906. A member of the Carlton Club. The Rt Hon The VISCOUNT RUNCIMAN: Walter Runciman until 1937, ship owner and Liberal peer; at times MP for Oldham, Dewsbury, Swansea West and St Ives. Also, Director of Westminster Bank. Sir WALDRON SMITHERS: Unreconstructed Diehard Tory MP, sponsored by the British Commonwealth Union in 1919. In the words of a Labour Research Department pamphlet on the FBI published in 1950, he "annoys the Tories by saying what they think". Member of the London Stock Exchange and the Carlton Club. Colonel HUGH BAIRD SPENS: Solicitor (Maclay, Murray & Spens, Glasgow). Director of Union Bank of Scotland and Scottish Amicable Life Assurance. JOSEPH LINCOLN S. STEEL: Director of I.C.I. 1945-1960, then at Triplex Holdings Ltd and Charterhouse Investment Trust. Chairman of the Overseas Committee of the FBI from 1950-1965, when it became the CBI and he joined the CBI Council. A member of the Carlton Club. EDWARD REED: Managing Director of The Newcastle Breweries Ltd. and director of the Northern & London Investment trust. Colonel JAMES R H HUTCHISON: Unionist M.P. for Glasgow Central 1945-50, then Gordonstoun, Glasgow, 1950-1959. Director of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co and others. Member of the Carlton Club. GEOFFREY A N HIRST: Director of brewer Samuel Webster and of J Hey & Co. A member of the FBI Grand Council from 1932 to 1965 and of the Central Council of the Economic League from 1934 to 1967. Hirst is the only company founder to list his connections with the League in Who's Who. Conservative M.P. for Shipley from 1950 to 1970, he retired to Switzerland. Member of the Carlton Club.

"The training era"

“Fifty Fighting Years” called the two decades after the War as "The Training Era". Although, as we shall see, the League’s educational programme was central to all its activities - overt and covert. Apprentice Training : began in 1946. The following year these training sessions were transformed into "elementary economics and civics" classes. By 1949 it was holding 493 of these classes. By 1951 this had risen to 611, and in 1952 - following its transformation into a limited company - this doubled to 1,234. The League's first "residential courses" were started in 1953. By 1959 this had risen to 5,750 apprentice classes. "Supervisor Training": began in 1953. In 1954 the League conducted 331 training sessions for some 6,000 supervisors and junior managers. These training classes took various forms, according to the importance placed upon them by the sponsoring management: "training was given on a daily or weekly basis on the company's premises, or at one day conferences, or at a weekend residential courses". The aims of these courses were summed up in the League's 1959 annual report: "Among the apprentices of today are shop stewards, trades union officials, supervisors and managers of tomorrow. Now, they are rapidly forming their own views, for better or for worse. While some companies employ staff to guide apprentices, listen to their questions, and tell them the facts and reasons of the world of industry, many do not. The young men often make their own guesses to account for the ways of management, or acquire the attitudes of the more talkative cynics on the shop-floor. Objective thought and constructive attitudes are best learned early. For two reasons, economic education for the shop-floor requires that special attention be given to supervisors. First, the supervisor is often in a position to correct economic errors if he knows the relevant facts, and normally he does not know the facts unless steps have been taken to inform him. Secondly, the effectiveness of economic education at works gates is highly dependent on the mood in which men come out of the gates. The League, therefore, is as closely concerned with the management of the supervisors as with his economic knowledge." But during this period the League was not exclusively exclusively concerned with training and blacklisting, and its Director of information and research Harry R Welton had some notable success with the press.

Spinning against the seamen

Harold Wilson's relationship with the secret services, particularly MI5, which among other things was responsible for surveillance of the British Left and trade unions, began badly and ended dreadfully. But there was a period during 1966 when he seemed to be working closely with them, much to the surprise and disgust of many in Labour Party. Immediately after Labour’s election victory of 1966 Wilson attempted to introduce a prices and incomes policy, pegging prices rises and wage increases to around 3.5%. The unions' were unhappy with the wage freeze, one of the first to take them on was the National Union of Seamen (NUS). Although a strategically important union it was not traditionally militant, and had not organised a major strike since 1911. However, when, despite the 3.5% "pay norm", they sought a 17% rise and the ship owners then indicated that they were willing to pay it, Wilson intervened to prevent the prices and incomes policy collapsing and in response the Seamen's Strike began in May 1966, a strike in effect against Government policy not employers. Wilson was at the centre of the dispute, and he was determined to win. He mad a notorious statement to the House of Commons in which he alleged the strike was being manipulated by: " . . . a tightly knit group of politically motivated men who, as the last General Election showed, utterly failed to secure acceptance of their views by the British electorate . . . Some of them are now saying very blatantly that they are more concerned with harming the nation than with getting the justice we all want to see". The following Sunday the "Observer" published an article, under the headline "The Men Behind The Plot", which named five Communist Party members said to be orchestrating the seamen's strike for their own political ends. In a debate in Parliament the following Wednesday Wilson provided more details of the alleged conspiracy. The two sources for the "Observer" article were the Economic League, named by the paper, and George Wigg, the Paymaster General whose complicated portfolio of responsibilities included both acting as a link between Wilson and MI5, and being the major conduit of officially sanctioned "leaks" to the press. The Economic League were so pleased with their part in this affair they recorded it in one of their monthly newsletters: "THE ECONOMIC LEAGUE AT WORK ON PANORAMA Countering subversive activities in industry On the eve of the Prime Ministers statement about the influence of a "tightly-knit group of politically motivated men" on the progress of the seamen's strike in June 1966, the Economic League was invited by the BBC to provide factual background to a Panorama programme dealing with the subject. The League's contribution, which was undertaken by the Publicity Director, Mr H. R. Welton, occupied the opening ten minutes of the programme and was used as the foundation to material brought out in ensuing interviews and news reports." Later on the article recalls some interesting features cut from the interview with Welton: "The interview actually recorded covered approximately fifteen minutes and it was inevitable and understood that this would be cut and edited. This editing was carried out quite fairly and the programme as transmitted very well represented the interview as a whole. Nevertheless in such editing many points of some importance are bound to be lost. For instance, in the early stages of the recording the Publicity Director dealt fully with the operations of Bert Ramelson, the Head of the Communist Party's Industrial Department . . . One of the most interesting points dealt with by the Publicity Director, but omitted from the transmitted programme, was that appeals for funds for the strike were being made on a national basis but were to be sent to the Victoria and Albert Branch of the NUS which was dominated by two Communists, Gordon Norris and Jack Coward."

The point that the Economic League was trying to make here was that before Wilson's statements to the Commons, the League had given three of the names of the "tightly - knit group of politically motivated men" to "Panorama". This was not the Economic League's only successful and well publicised intervention in the seamen's strike. On the 21st June, Helen Bailey, an Economic League speaker, had attracted a great deal of newspaper coverage by preventing the dockers’ leader Jack Dash from holding a meeting to canvass support for the seamen. The “Daily Sketch”, “Daily Mail”, “Daily Express”, “Scotsman”, and “Evening News” all carried the story of how she had turned up before Dash and held her own meeting, in which, according to the “Evening News”, she: ". . . . spoke for about 45 minutes to 300 dockers on Communists in British Industry. She said: "There is evidence in the seamen's union that there have been extremists who have tried to take the union over. Communists try by subversion to undermine the country. By finding out where their members work and what union they belong to then they know precisely where their troops are deployed."" The "Daily Express" ran a folksy feature on Helen Bailey by Mary Kenny entitled "Little Nell - she silenced the dockers” in which Helen Bailey tells her "I feel I achieve more by being feminine. I like to be provocative. This is because I hate communism". Kenny tells us Bailey lives in a basement flat near Marble Arch, "drives a green mini and carries her own little wooden platform with her", always takes her black poodle, Susie, to meetings, and "has just one golden rule - and makes no secret of it - "I never speak to a communist". The following day The Daily Mail ran a feature "Presenting the men of industry behind the girl who dished Jack Dash". Helen Bailey was, Charles Greville told readers, an Economics Graduate from Sheffield, and was one of fifty League lecturers out of a total staff of 100. Greville also interviewed Mr John Dettmer, "a former Army officer who became director general in 1959”. Dettmer told him: "I shouldn't believe we were doing our job if extremists of any kind admired us". But, he claimed, the League was non-political and its staff were forbidden to take part in election campaigns "so that they cannot be accused of taking sides". "What annoys the Left most, I fancy, is the League's habit of collecting minute details about political activists, and working them up into newsletters and briefings for member and speakers."

1970’s &1980’s -Decline and Fall

For the thirty years immediately following the Second World war he League experienced a sustained period of organised stability. This was the result of the support of the leading industries and industrialists, the generally low cost of it operations, but on the other hand enough parliamentary change, and the emergence and growth of anti-capitalist radical left outside and inside the trades union movement that encouraged their paymasters to believe that the subscriptions were good value for money. From the 1970s the League’s role in pro-capitalism lobbying became less important. In 1976 the Conservative Party had elected Margaret Thatcher as its leader embracing the free market economics that had been central to the Economic League’s political agenda since its foundation. But there were changes to the structure of the workforce, particularly the decline in number of skilled manual workers which had lead to the decline of Industrial training and apprenticeships. In this context the League’s main role was to provide and manage blacklisting service for member companies. To emphasise this construction and engineering companies who subscribed to the League paid an additional premium for this service in their industries, becoming members of Economic League Services Group. In response to these external challenges to the League its leaders attempted to rationalise and restructure it. Ironically this lead to serious internal disputes about the League’s direction in response to the new political, economic and industrial situation. In 1978 Labour Research recorded a 63% increase in corporate donations to the Conservative Party, but reported that this increase was not experienced by the radical right in general. Aims, Common Cause, and the Economic League only recorded modest increases, barely, if at all in line with inflation. In the run up to the 1979 election the league were campaigning for the conservatives and the pre- election presidential speech to the League's Annual General Meeting, by merchant banker H I Matthey, was straightforwards address from the hustings: "It cannot be denied that a change for better is coming over this country with people in ever-increasing numbers realising where the post-war drift and in the last few years the rush to bureaucratic socialism is landing us. A healthy discontent is spreading fast which I devoutly hope will be reflected during 1979 in a change of government and a very positive shift away from Whitehall domination of our lives. Should we be blessed by such a change and should its success become so obvious, as I hope it will, that we finally throw of the shackles of socialism the necessity for the League's continued existence will abate not one jot; for the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and the league will need to be ever watchful that the soil is never again made fertile for the corrupting creed of socialism.” The person responsible for steering the League through the difficult days of the first Thatcher administration its Director General - Peter Saville, he was supported throughout by Matthey’s successor, Gerald Thorley, who had a considerable reputation within the City and Industry for his ability to get companies "into shape". But Savill and Thorley gained little support from the League's staff.

"The need for a change in direction"

The League's staff produced in 1984 a highly critical report which they circulated to "past and present Central Council members" and regional elected officials. This report, called "The Need for a Change in Direction", came into the possession of the Labour Research Department shortly afterwards, and its authenticity was confirmed by Thorley. Its highly personal criticisms of Saville present a revealing picture of the nature and scope of the League's operations before and after the rationalisation. Its authors claimed that the League's factory gate leafleting and its "training and management advisory services" had "disintegrated". It claimed the number of leaflets distributed by the League had fallen from just over 18 million in 1978 to barely 1 million in 1983. The League's regional organisation, it claimed, was collapsing and that "far more staff and money are engaged on administration and subscription raising" than on "services for member companies". “The Need For A Change of Direction” also criticises the winding up of the leaflet distribution because of its disastrous effect on the League's intelligence gathering capabilities: "The League is no longer able to counter extremists at the works gate. It is no longer able to inform companies of the attitude of shopfloor employees to the current issues. It is unable to pass back information to the Research Department about local extremists". The loss of more than seventy leaflet distributors also meant the some of their other information gathering duties were cut back: "For example, the leaflet distributors used to be responsible for obtaining information on extremist candidates standing in all local elections. As each candidate had ten supporters this provided an enormous input about extremists throughout the country." The League's other main direct point of contact with the shop-floor was also being more or less shut down. In 1978 11,500 apprentices and 1,574 supervisors had been on League training courses. In 1983 barely 1,000 and almost no supervisors were trained. The apprentice magazine "News and Views" and its supervisory cousin "Supernews" had ceased publication. The number of managers attending courses had fallen from 3,578 to "very few", and the circulation of the management aimed publication "2-Minute News Review" had fallen by a quarter to 75,000. In 1980 Savill had told subscribers that the League was to "concentrate on our two main activities - mass communication and research”, the “training era” was over. But "Need for a Change of Direction" argued that the research function - in effect the blacklist - had also been profoundly damaged by Savill's rationalisation. Before 1980 research had been coordinated by the London Region. In 1980 Savill personally took control of it and moved it to special offices in Thornton Heath in South London, and instructed regional offices that all regionally held files were to be moved there.The four men working in the Research Department in London "who had professional security or police background" refused to make the move and left its service. Savill also lost another valuable intelligence asset when a "former Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence", who had become director of the London Region in 1979 resigned nine months later. The down sizing of the League’s operation chronicled in “The Need for A change of Direction” was substantial. In 1978, for example, the names of 400,000 job applicants had been checked by the League. In 1983 it was less than a third of that. By the end of 1983 the League had closed down its London-based team of eight senior managers and ex-trade union officials, who acted as advisors on "industrial relations and personnel matters” and by 1985 it had stopped completely its factory gate leaflets.

The End

Peter Savill stood down as Director General in 1986 for personal reasons to do with his wife’s health, but he immediately joined the Central Council of the Economic League. His successor, Michael Noar who was recruited from the Federation of Civil Engineering Employers Contractors (FCEC), for whom he had worked for 23 years. Under Noar, the consolidation of the League's operation continued. He had inherited an organisation which had lost important subscribers like Heinz, and had undergone a demoralising restructuring, and yet still had no clear place in Thatcherism's community of think-tanks and lobbyists. He had had three priorities: to increase the number of companies subscribing to the League, to sort out the chaotic blacklist, and to develop new areas of operations. Within months, however, each of these objectives would be overwhelmed by the need for crisis management, as the League became the object of aggressive and prolonged attention from the media, and it became clear that Savill had not improved the accuracy of its research. The blacklist, and the Economic league’s role in blacklisting was, not a secret. Since the 1920’s The Labour Research Department had been tracking and publicising the league and its blacklist, and there were occasional exposes in newspapers. But the scale of its operation was never fully grasped or acknowledged by the leadership of the Labour Party and Trade’s Unions who were themselves often challenged by radical activists who were blacklisted. But it was hard to maintain this dismissive response when [Richard Brett]] began leaking information and documents to journalists about the Leagues’s continuing blacklisting activities, including the Kardex index from the North West’s region journalists. On it there were thousands of ordinary trade union members, Labour Party members, Members of Parliament and some people who had no political connections or interests at all. The most damaging and extensive revelations were made in three prime time “World in Action” television programmes. These led the UK Parliament’s Employment Select Committee to conduct a public inquiry into the League’s activities. The massive scale of their operations shocked many who had been actively opposing it. For example Ford appeared, and admitted that until 1990 it had screened all UK job Applicants through the Economic League. Its final report in 1992 was highly critical of their blacklisting activities and had Labour won the 1992 General Election, the League would have faced legislation. It was only a temporary stay of execution. The sustained media made the task of retaining the support of existing subscribers impossible attracting new ones was out of the question. Existing subscribers, especially those who used the blacklisting facilities extensively, were not happy with the publicity. In 1993 the Economic League went into liquidation, and claimed that the blacklist had been destroyed.

The Aftermath

In the year following the it is dissolution it emerged that two former senior League employees ,Jack Winder and Stan Hardy, had established a company called Caprim to undertake some of the roles the League had undertaken. This it later emerged did not include blacklisting. Caprim was a small scale operation providing Winder and Hardy with some ad hock income. Following the election of a Labour Government in 1997 legislation was introduced to provide some protection from the sort of blacklisting operation operated by the League in the previous eighty years. The main legislation was to be found in the Data Protection Act 1998 which extended the protection of data held in computer databases to the manually held data files of the sort preferred by the the Economic League. The Employment Relations Act of 1999 then also gave delegated authority to the Secretary of State to introduce regulations to prevent blacklisting. That authority was not exercised until 2010. What prompted the introduction of the The Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 was a raid in 2009 by the Information Commissioner’s Office on the offices of an trade association called The Consulting Association. The Consulting Association was run by Ian Kerr who had been running the Economic League’s Services Group at the time it was closed down. Kerr had continued to run the Services Group Blacklist on behalf the construction companies who had subscribed to it, and he was prosecuted and fined for breaches of the data protection laws. Blacklisting was to come under the scrutiny of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament following this. Ian Kerr was called to give evidence and revealed that Robert MacAlpine who had paid 10,000 for the Service Group blacklist when The Consulting Association was established, also paid the Kerr’s fine when the Information Commissioner closed it down. Ian Kerr died a couple of weeks after giving evidence.


A who’s who of the Economic League

The following list takes two historical snapshots of the membership of the Economic League's main governing bodies: in the mid 1920's and at the time of the formation of the Limited Company in 1951. "1925", "1926" or "1927" after a name indicates the first known date of appointment; in some cases it might have been earlier be earlier. "1951" indicates that the person was a founding member of the Economic League Co Ltd. As as the way of things in Powerbase titles have been omitted in the name. however the are given at the end of the entry to assist in identification in other documents.

Central Council Members1988 - 1990

Central Council Members Who Resigned/Died Between 1988 And 1990:

Economic League Directors & Workers

Director Generals:

John Baker-White, 1926-1945 Robert Rawdon Hoare, 1945-1959 John S Dettmer, 1959-1977 Michael Noar, 1986-1989 Stan Hardy, 1989 - 1993

Senior Staff In August 1987

Michael Noar, Director General Thom Robinson, Company Secretary & Director Of Information John O Udal, Liaison Director P Thackery, National Co-Ordinator Of The Services Group Jack Winder, Research

Regional Directors:

Richard T Brett (North West Region) J S Bromley (North Eastern Region) (Assistant Director Alan Harvey Was Said To Have Been Sacked Following The First "World In Action" Programme In Which He Had Been Covertly Filmed Boasting Of Contacts Within The Police) E Dover (Western Region) Peter Leach (Eastern Region) Hamish MacGreggor (Scotland) Jack Winder (Midland Region) A L P Weeks (South Eastern Region) By 1989 Thom Robinson had been replaced by M James. F Barnes and P Thackery had been replaced by Ian Kerr. The supervisor of the Information and Research Department was Joanne Wood. Richard Brett had been sacked, alleging unfairly dismissal.


Companies Which Subscribed to the Economic League

There is a longer list of companies at Companies subscribing to blacklisting in the UK. Those marked + had a Director on the League's Central Council 1975-1989

600 Group; A Anderson & Sons; A Longworth & Sons +; A E Symes; A. Monk & Co; A. P. C. M. +; Acme Signs and Displays; Acrian (UK) +; Addle Shaw & Latham; AEGT Pension Trust +; Air UK +; Air Holdings +; Airwork +; Akroyd and Smithers +; Alcan Enfield Alloys; Alder & Mackay; Alexanders Discount +; Alldee Nominees +; Allied Lyons +; Allmay & Layfield; Alpine Double Glazing; AMEC Construction Services; Amey Roadstone; Anchor Chemical Co +; Anthony Gibbs Holdings; Arbuthnot & Savory Mills +; Ardon Contractors; Ashton Court (Sale) +; Associated Engineering; Associated Fisheries; Augustus Barnett; Automotive Products; Avenfield (Pty) Limited - South Africa +; B.A.C.; Babcock Power Engineering; Babcock & Wilcox +; Baker Perkins Holdings; Balfour Beatty Construction; Bankers I T +; Barclays Bank; Barfab Reinforcement; Barrow Hepburn Group; Bass Charington; BAT Industries; Battle Farm Lands +; Baxter Bros (1920) +; Baxter Fell International; Beagle Nominees +; BEC; Beecham Products; Benson Turner; Berkley Hambro Property; Bernard Sunley; BICC; Biggs Wall; Birmid Qualcast; Blue Circle Group +; Boddingtons; Bomag (GB); Border & Southern Stockholders IT +; Bovis Construction; Bowater +; BPB Industries; Bradford & District Newspapers; Braithewaite Engineering; Brammer; Brewers Society; Bricomin Farms +; Bricomin Investments +; Bridon; Bridon +; Brintons; Britannic Finance Trust +; British Telecom; British Manufacture & Research; British Engine; British Commonwealth Investment Co +; British Ropes; British Leyland; British & Commonwealth (Group Management) +; British & Commonwealth Shipping Co (Hotel & Travel; Enterprise) +; British & Commonwealth Shipping Co PLC +; British Air Transport (Holdings) +; British & Commonwealth Shipping Co (Aviation) +; British And South American Steam Navigation +; British and Commonwealth; British Vita Co; British United Industrialists +; British Aluminium; British Investment Trust Bullock Construction; Brocklehurst Mews Maintenance +; Brooke Bond Leibig; Brooklands House +; Bryant Construction; Brymo Steel; Building Joinery Components +; Building Employers Federation; Burmah Oil; C T Bowring; C.B.I. Management Education Committee +; Caledonia Investments +; Cambrian Soft Drinks +; Cape Industrial Products; Cape Boards; Capital and Countries Property; Carlton Mansions +; Carpets International Clayton Dewandre; Cawoods Holdings; Cayzer Irvine Shipping +; Cayzer Ltd +; Cayzer Gartmore Investments +; Cayzer Irvine (Investments) +; Cayzer Irvine (Property Management) +; Cayzer Irvine (Group Finance) +; Cayzer Irvine (Insurance Management) +; Cayzer Irvine & Co +; Cayzer Trust - The +; Cedar IT; CEGB; Cementmakers Federation; Centre for Policy Studies - The +; Chanton Engineering; Chapel Court (Ashton) +; Charles Stephenson Funeral Directors; Charlton Leslie Construction; Chartered Trust Agency +; Chevron Foods +; Chloride Industrial Batteries; Christian Coull Consultants +; Chritian Salvessen PLC +; Chrysler UK; Ciba Geigy; City National Investment Trust +; Clan Line Investments +; Clan Line Steamers - The +; Clanair +; Clos-o-mat (Great Britain) +; Clothing & Allied Products Industrial Training Board; Clyde Nominees +; Coalite; Coates Bros & Co; Coldflow; Commercial Union +; Commercial Street Nominees +; Compair Broomwade; Compaq Computer Corporation; Concrete; Consolidated Goldfields +; Consumer & Video Holdings +; Continental Union Agricultural Holdings +; Continental Union Finance Co +; Cookson Group; Corals Racing; Costain (UK); Courage +; Courthaulds; Coutts & Co; Crabtree Vickers; Crane Fruehauf Trailers; Crewkerne Investments +; Dalepak; Daniel Thwaites; Davidsons Ltd; De La Rue; Dean Craft Fahey +; Delta Enfield Cables; DFM Holdings +; Dickinson Robinson Group; Distillers; Dock & Airport Services +; Dominion General Trust; Doncasters Shefield(Inco Europe); Donkin & Co +; Dow Scandia; Dowsett Engineering Construction; Dowty Communications; Drake & Skull Holdings; Drayton Japan Trust +; Drummonds Branch Nominees +; Dundee Office Royal Bank Of Scotland Nominees +; Dunlop; Dupont Plastic Gas Pipes; Duritas Trustees +; E C Stenson; Eagle Star; East Lancashire Papers Group; Eastman Kitchens; Edbro (Holdings); Edgar Allen Balfour; Edifice Trustees +; Edinburgh West End Nominees +; Edmund Nutall; Electra IT +; Engineering Employers Federation +; English and New York Trust; English Electric; English China Clays; Equity Capital Trustees +; Evans Medical; Ever Ready Holdings +; Everards Breweries +; Faber Prest Holdings; Fairclough Construction; Fairey Co; Fairey Group; Fairport Engineering; Fasco; Federated Employers' Press +; Field Tanksteamship Co +; Field Industries Ltd - Zimbabwe +; Field Industries Africa Ltd - South Africa +; Field Aviation Co Ltd - Canada +; Fitch Lovell; Flemming Technology IT +; Flemming Far East Trust +; Fluor; Ford Motor Company; Foreign And Colonial IT +; Formica; Forthaven +; Forward Chemicals +; Fraser House commercial Developments +; Frederick Robinson +; Freemantle & Co +; French Kier; Friends Provident Life Office +; Frobisher Gardens Maintenance +; Fry Construction; Furness Withy & Co; G Percy Trentham; G.K.N +; Gallagher; Galliford Sears; Gartmore Investment Management +; Gartmore Securities +; GEC; Geest Holdings; General Combustion; Geoffrey Osborne; George Wimpey; Gerrard & National Discount; GES; Gibson Crude Oil Purchasing Co Ltd - Canada +; Gillinghm Woodcraft; Glasgow Stockholders; Glass Bulbs; Glaxo; Goldsmiths Research Foundation +; Gordon Street Nominees +; Grand Metropolitan Contract Services; Greater Manchester Economic Development Corporation +; Greater Manchester Residuary Body +; Green's Economiser +; Greenall Whitley +; Greene King; Greene King +; Greenhalls +; Group 4 Total Security; Guardian IT; Guardian Royal Exchange; H & J Quick; H J Heinz; Hall Engineering (Holdings) +; Halmatic +; Hampton's Wholefoods +; Hanley Economic Building Society +; Hanson Engineering; Hanson Trust; Hardys & Hanson; Harlands of Hull Hambros; Harry Neal; Harrytown Hall Maintenance +; Hartwells of Oxford; Hawker Siddeley +; Hazleton UK; Head Office Nominees +; Hector Whaling +; Helix; Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Henry Barratt; Herbert Ferryman; Hereford English Wine; Hewden Stuart Crane; Hiram Walker & Sons (Sctl); Hogg Robinson +; Homfray & Co +; Hotpoint; Houlder Bros; Howard Doris Construction; Howson Algraphy; Huntaven Properties Ltd +; Hunters Foods; Huntfield Trust Ltd +; Hunting & Son +; Hunting Firecracker +; Hunting Associated Survey Holdings +; Hunting Associated Industries +; Hunting Group +; Hunting (Eden) Tankers +; Hunting Petroleum (America) +; Hunting Survey & Photographic +; Hunting Painting Contractors +; Hunting International (Holdings) +; Hunting Gibson +; Hunting Investments +; Hunting Surveys and Consultants +; Hunting Steamship Co +; Hunting Aviation Management +; Hunting Engineering Management +; Hunting Associates Limited - Canada +; Hunting Composites +; Hunting Oil & Gas +; Hunting Holdings +; Huntley & Sparks (Lands) +; Huntley Cook & Co +; Huwood; Hyphen Fitted Furniture; ICI; Ilford; Imperial Group; Inner Guard; Institute of Personnel Management +; Institutional Fund Managers +; Insulated Buildings Ltd Interiors; Intercosmetics +; International Shipping Information Services +; International Westminster Bank +; Iron Trades Insurance +; J H Fenner & Co; J Bibby & Sons +; J R Govett; James Longley; James Galt & Co; James Neill Holdings +; James Walker; Jenks & Cattell +; John Jones Excavations; John E Wiltshire; John Mowlem; John I Jacobs; John Laing Construction; John Wilmott Group; Johnson Matthey; Jonas Woodhead & Sons; Jones Laing Wootton; K Wool Products; Keeton & Sons; King Line +; King Investigation Bureau; Kingsway Nominees +; Kleinwort Overseas IT +; Kleinwort Charter IT +; Kleinwort Benson Lonsdale +; Komatsu UK; Kyle Stewart; L.D.C. Trust Management +; Lake View IT +; Lamson Industries; Law Debenture Overseas +; Law Debenture Trust Corporation PLC +; Law Debenture Intermediary Corporation +; Law Debenture Corporation PLC +; Laycock Engineering Lloyds Bank +; Lead Industries Group; Legal and General; Lincoln Woodworking; Lindsay Oil Refinery; Lindustries; Lister Peter; Lloyds; Lombard Street Nominees +; London & Southhampton Stevedoring Co. +; London-American Maritime Trading +; London Brick Co; London Prudential IT; Low & Bonar; Lyon & Lyon; M & G; M & G Group +; M J Gleeson; Magnet Joinery; Magnet Metals; Main Gas Appliances; Maintenance Chemicals +; Management Search International +; Manchester Chamber of Commerce +; Manor House Hotel (Castle Combe) - The +; Markham Systems; Marlar International +; Marley Group; Marples International Holdings; Massey Ferguson; Matthew Hall Engineering; Matthew Clark & Son +; Maxwell UK; McCarthy & Stone; McGlauchlin & Harvey; McKenhie Bros; Meldrum Investment Trust PLC +; MEPC +; Metal Box +; Midland Bank +; Miller Buckley; Miller Construction; Mineral Drilling International +; Missouri Maintenance +; MJN Newcastle; Mono Pumps; Morgan Crucible +; Morgan Grenfell +; Mount Nelson Hotel +; National & Commercial +; National Westminster Bank +; Neepsend; NEI; Nestle & Co; Nicholas Lane Nominees +; Nico Construction; North British Hire Purchase +; Northern Petroleum and Bulk Freight +; Northern Engineering Estates; Norwest Holst; Norwich Union Insurance; Norwood Estates (Stretford) +; Ocean Transport & Trading +; Ondawel (GB) +; Oxford University Appointments Committee +; P C Harrington Contracts; P Hassall; Parkfield Jersey +; Pauline Hyde & Associates +; Pegler-Hattersley; Penrith Door Co; Pentland IT; Phoenix Steel Tube; Phoenix Assurance +; Picadilly Nominees +; Pilkingtons; Plaxtons (Scarboro); Plessey Group +; Plessey Group; Pochins; Portland Group Factors +; Powell-Piggott; Powell Duffryn; Power Steels; Powers Samas; Precision Cast Parts Corporation; Press Offshore; Project Direction Ltd +; Provincial Insurance; Ptarmigan (Nove Leather); R & M Fabrications; R R & J Willan +; R W Willan (Estates) +; R M Douglas Construction; R.B. Property Nominees +; Racal Guardall (Sctl); Radio Forth +; Rank Hovis McDougall Royal Insurance; Ransome Sims & Jefferies; RCO Contract Services; Readicut International +; Reckitt & Colman; Record Ridgeway +; Redhill Aerodrome +; Redhill Flying Club +; Redland Engineering; Regent Street Nominees +; Reliance Security ServicesRuberoid; Rexodan +; Rexshire Ltd +; Richard Costain; Rockware Group +; Rockwell (UK) +; Roland Long Associates +; Ross Foods; Rosser & Russell Building Services; Royal Bank of Scotland & Prosper Nominees +; Royal Insurance; Royal Bank of Scotland - The +; Royal Bank of Scotland Group - The +; Royal Bank of Scotland (Aberdeen) Nominees - The +; Royal Bank of Scotland (Central Branch, Glasgow) Nominees - The +; Rudolf Wolff & Co +; Rush & Tomkins Group +; Samuel Webster Breweries; Samuel Jones; Sanderson Walker & Sons (Sctl); Sanderson Kayser; Sankey Sugar +; SBAC (Farnborough) +; Scandura; Schreiber; Scotcom Nominees +; Scottan Investments +; Scottish Council for Development and Industry - The +; Scottish Lion Insurance Co - The +; Scottish Lion Investments +; Scottish National Trust +; Scottish and Newcastle Breweries; Scottish United Investors +; Scottish Shire Line - The +; Scottish lion Holdings +; Scottish Tanker Co. - The +; Sea Lion Investments +; Seabridge Shipping +; Seapool +; Secdee Nominees +; Second Industrial Trust +; Securites Limited +; Senior Engineering; Sheffield Testing Works +; Shell Petrol +; Shell; Shephard Hill; Shepherd Neame +; Sinclair & Collis; Singer & Friedlander +; Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons; Sir Alfred McAlpine; Skefco; SKF (UK); Slough Estates; Slough Newspaper Printers; Smiths Warehousing Group +; Smiths Industries; Society of British Aerospace Companies - The +; South Wales Electricity Board +; Spath Holme +; Spear & Jackson; Spirax-Sarco +; St Vincent Street Nominees +; St Mary Axe Holdings +; Stag Line +; Standard Broadcasting Corporation of Canada +; Standard Continuous; Staveley Industries +; Sterling Industries +; Stockbridge Engineering Steels; Stockholders IT; Stone Platt Industries; Storreys of Lancaster; Streed Ltd; Sulzer (UK); Sun Alliance +; Swan Hunter Group; Symbol Biscuits; Symmonds English Wine +; Syntex Pharmaceuticals; T C Harrison; T S Overy; Tabuchi Electrical UK; Tanganika Concessions; Tanks Consolidated IT +; Tarmac Construction; Taskman Security Services; Tate & Lyle +; Taylor Woodrow; Thermal Syndicate; Thirsk Racecourse Ltd +; Thomas Borthwick & Sons; Thomas Grice & Co Tallent Engineering; TI Domestic Appliances; Tilbury Contracting; Total Oil Marine; Touche, Remnant & Co +; Touche, Remnant Holdings +; TR Industrial & General Trust PLC +; TR North American Investment Trust PLC +; [[TR Technology Investment Trust PLC+; TR City of London Trust +; TR Pacific Basin IT +; TR Holdings (1974) +; TR Natural Resources +; TR Trustees Corporation +; TR Australia Investment Trust PLC +; Trafalgar House +; Tragen Finance +; Trans Oceanic Trust +; Transmanche Link; Transport Development Group; Travel Savings (I) +; Travel Savings +; Travel Savings (XII) +; Trico Folberth; Tube Investments +; Tube Investments; Turner & Newall; Turner & Newall +; Turriff Corporation; Twill; Tysons (Contractors); Tytherington Court +; Union Castle Mail Steamship Co - The +; Union Street Nominees +; Union castle Line +; Union Discount Co of London; Uniroyal Englebert Tyres; United Kingdom Temperance and General Provident Institution +; United Molasses; Urquhart Engineering +; Valour Heating; Varian TEM; Vaux Breweries; Venesta International Components; Vickers Instrument Co; Vickers; Victor International Plastics; W & T Avery; W H Smith Electrical Engineers Group; Wadkin; Wagon Industrial Holdings +; Walsall Conduits; Walter Lawrence; Walter Llewelyn & Sons; Wandel & Halterman & Co; Wardle Court +; Wardley Group; Weir Group; West George Street Nominees +; Western Royal Bank of Scotland Nominees +; Westments +; Westminster Contractors; Westminster Bank +; Westminster Press; Wests Group International; WGI; Whalley House +; Whinney Murray & Co +; Whitbread +; Wilkinson Match; Willan Home Improvements +; Willan Bros (Sale) +; Willan Properties +; Willans of Macclesfield +; William H Herbert +; William Baird & Co; William Latimer & Co +; William Boulton Group +; William Jackson; Williams and Glyns +; Wilmot Breeden +; Wilsons Breweries; Wm Teacher Ltd +; Woodhunt Property +; Woolsey house +; Worthington Simpson; Y J Lovell Construction; Yorkshire Bank PLC +; Yorkshire Post Newspapers +;

===Companies which were members of the Economic League Services Group===; A Monk & Co; Alfred McAlpine; AMEC Amey Roadstone; Balfour Beatty; Costain UK; D T Bullock; Edmund Nutall; Flour (GB); French Kier (Const); G Percy Trentham; Geoffrey Osborne; George Wimpey; Harry Neal; James Longley & Co; John Laing; John Wittshier Group; John Wilmott Group; Kyle Stewart; M J Gleeson Group; Marples International Holdings; Matthew Hall Electrical & Mechanical; McCarthy & Stone; Miller Construction; Nico Construction; Norwest Holst; RM Douglas; Rush & Tomkins Group; Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons; Tarmac Tellings; Taylor Woodrow; Tilbury Contracting Group; Trafalgar House; Turriff Corp.; Tyson (Contractors); Walter Lawrence; Walter Llewellyn & Sons; Y J Lovell Holdings


Publications about the Economic League

“Blacklist: Inside Story of Political Vetting”, Mark Hollingsworth, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Hogarth Press, London, 1988, ISBN 9780701208110


Parliamentary Reports:

Scottish Affairs Committee - Thirteenth Report: Blacklisting in Employment-Update: Incorporating the Government's Response to the Sixth Report of Session 2013-14, May 2014,

Scottish Affairs Committee  - Oral and Written Evidence, Blacklisting in Employment, February 2013,, see also and

2nd report, session 1990-91 : recruitment practices. Vol. 1, Report Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Employment Committee. Employment Committee, London : HMSO, 1991. ISBN 0 10 273691 X

This is not available online. The full recommendation reads: "Under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, any consumer denied credit can obtain the name of any credit reference agency consulted, and can thereafter obtain details of the information held about them. WE BELIEVE THE SAME SHOULD BE TRUE OF INFORMATION ABOUT POTENTIAL EMPLOYEES SUPPLIED TO THE EMPLOYER BY ORGANISATIONS KEEPING SUCH INFORMATION; IF THE POTENTIAL EMPLOYEE IS REFUSED EMPLOYMENT THE INFORMATION SHOULD BE PASSED ON TO THE EMPLOYEE; INDEED IT SHOULD BE PUT TO THE EMPLOYEE SO AS TO PROVIDE A CHANCE FOR THE EMPLOYEE TO REFUTE IT. "WE ALSO RECOMMEND THAT LEGISLATION SHOULD PROVIDE THAT, WITH THEEXCEPTION OF PREVIOUS EMPLOYERS PROVIDING REFERENCES, ALL ORGANISATIONS SUPPLYING INFORMATION ABOUT POTENTIAL EMPLOYEES SHOULD BE SUBJECT TO LICENSING AND TO A CODE OF PRACTICE, PERHAPS SIMILAR TO THE LICENSING SYSTEM FOR EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES UNDER THE EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES ACT 1973. "We believe that the recommendations we have made would go some way to lessening the disadvantages faced by those who apply for jobs at companies using the services of organisations who provide information about them.

Web Page:

Economic League Publications