One of the first cross-corporate propaganda organisations in the UK, set up at a meeting in 4 Deans Yard, Westminster in 1919. It later became known as the Economic League.
Mike Hughes give the following account of its origins in his book Spies at Work:
- Early in 1919 a small group of powerful and influential men met to discuss what might be done to halt what they saw as the growing "Red Infection" in Britain. They met in the offices of the "National Publicity Agency", the brewery owners' lobbying organisation based at number four Dean's Yard in Westminster. When the meeting closed an organisation had been created which would play an important, and largely clandestine, role in British political and industrial life for the remainder of the twentieth century. After a number of name changes, in 1926 it finally adopted the name by which it is known today - "The Economic League". Dean's Yard is a spacious, elegant and almost Oxbridge quadrangle immediately behind Westminster Abbey, and no more than a couple of minutes walk from the House of Commons. The meeting had in fact been called by one of the House of Commons' newest Conservative and Unionist Party members, Rear Admiral William Reginald Hall. Hall had been elected for a Liverpool constituency in the hastily called post-war election.
- Also at the meeting was Major Richard C. Kelly (director of the National Publicity Agency), and the right wing Conservative MP John Gretton (Chairman of the Bass Brewery and member for the brewing town of Burton in Staffordshire) who was presumably already a regular visitor to the offices. The leading industrialists at the meeting included: Evan Williams (president of the mine owners' Mining Association); Cuthbert Laws (of the ship owners' association); Arthur Balfour (later Lord Riverdale and perhaps the leading Sheffield steel manufacturer) and Sir Allan Smith (director of the Engineering Employers Federation). The only published account of that first Dean's Yard meeting is the Economic League's sketchy and unreliable autobiography "Fifty Fighting Years". According to this, the Dean's Yard meeting had decided
- ". . . . to raise sufficient funds to set up an organisation to counter subversion in industry during the critical period of post-war re-adjustment".
- This organisation had at first consisted of "a number of groups in industrial areas. . . known as Economic Study Clubs, each with a small staff of speakers and lecturers to hold meetings and distribute leaflets at factory gates, pit heads and on docksides". These Economic Study Clubs were "co-ordinated from an office in London, this task falling mainly to Admiral Hall and R. C. Kelly". There is, however, compelling evidence that the League's origins were by no means as straightforward as they themselves... presented them. These Economic Study Clubs were just one element in what was a complicated and highly organised network of groups and organisations which supported and advanced the cause of a group of radical right wing politicians and industrialists known as the "Diehards". Although there are good reasons for believing that Admiral Hall's entry into politics really did give an impetus to the growth of this network, its origins and therefore the origins of the Economic League, can be traced back to at least 1915 and perhaps to other equally important individuals.
- The League began life as the National Propaganda Committee of a group called the British Commonwealth Union, and it is likely that it was this committee which was being established at the Dean's Yard meeting. It quickly acquired an identity of its own - becoming known simply as "National Propaganda". National Propaganda acted as the co-ordinating body for a growing number of groups often treated by historians as independent entities - 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. In 1924 National Propaganda changed its name to "The Central Council of the Economic Leagues" and this name was finally shortened to The Economic League. Although the current name was not formally adopted until 1926, all its literature has subsequently claimed 1919 as the date of its formation. In addition to these public organisations there was also a secret and tightly knit intelligence operation run by Sir George Makgill, the author of some minor novels of imperial life. Makgill's little known organisation was inextricably linked to the National Propaganda/Economic League network. However Makgill's intelligence operation was fragmented, with agents working in "cells" which knew little or nothing about the work of other cells. It was perhaps at best a semi-detached wing of the National Propaganda network and certainly thus did not survive intact his early death in 1926. But one particular cell, called "Section D", did continue to function and flourished under the shadow, if not strictly within, the Economic League.
- The Liverpool Constituency of West Derby
- "Fifty Fighting Years", an anonymous twenty-four-page pamphlet published by The Economic League (Central Council) in 1969. Although written 50 years after the event, its author was probably John Baker White who was Director of the League from 1926 until the Second World War. The League's own records were not made available and the historian Arthur McIvor was told that most of the early records had been destroyed.
- The Name: If there has been some confusion about the way in which the Economic League emerged from this soup of Radical Right, anti-Labour groupings then the League's early Annual Reports help to clarify the situation. The Economic League's fifth Annual Review of 1925 clearly states that the Economic League was originally called National Propaganda, and the Independent Labour Party as early as 1926 traced the League Back to the "National Propaganda Committee" which Barbara Lee Farr (see next note) has identified as the National Propaganda Committee of the British Commonwealth Union. G C Webber, "Ideology of the British Right 1918-19", Groom Helm, 1986, tells us that this was (like the League) run by Hall. The fifth Annual Report announced its formal change of name to the "Central Council of the Economic Leagues" and this in turn was shortened to "The Economic League (Central Council)" in 1927.