The Place : Transport House (the Headquarters of the British Labour Party), Westminster, London.
The young man dissected Smith Square, oblivious of the hoots of cruising taxis or the idling engines of delivery vans. As he rounded the corner of St John's Church he paused momentarily in order to take in the sight which still, after all these months, sent a minor thrill down his provincial spine. He could take in the scene like one of those panoramic cameras they used on school photographs : starting with the imposing grandeur of the ICI building, swinging past the proud stone entrance of Transport House, crossing the road to the Marquess of Granby pub and finally tracking around to the ever-confident portals of the Conservative Party headquarters. This was the centre of the British political universe. This was not where the news was read, nor was it where the news was reported. This was where the news was made. This was where the movers moved and the shakers shook. And he still could not believe that he was part of it.
It was true that he was only a small part of this strange world of political intrigue. He was a gatekeeper. His job was to receive the long line of human flotsam and jetsam that were washed up to the reception desk of the Labour Party, the governing party of Great Britain. Sometimes it would be sad ex-colonels with bulging briefcases which chronicled their attempts to sue some Government Ministry or foreign power. Or mad inventors who had hit upon the secrets of perpetual motion and were in need of nothing more than a small grant from the Government in order to reveal their knowledge and change the future of humanity. Whoever they were, however strange and unhinged they might look, if they turned up at Transport House without an appointment the receptionist would reach for the telephone and he would be summoned to meet them, greet them and send them on their way.
And on this particular morning the telephone call came early. He had hardly found time to make his pot of tea and scan the headlines in the morning paper before he was called to the reception room to deal with a "caller". Cecelia was on the reception desk that morning and she nodded in the direction of a smartly suited man who was somewhat nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot whilst clutching a brief case with all the protective determination of a mother swan. The young man introduced himself and asked how he could help the visitor. And the visitor started to tell his strange tale.
He was a technological security consultant who had been undertaking a regular electronic "sweep" of the neighbouring headquarters of ICI. The company were on constant alert against the dangers of industrial espionage and he was paid to conduct regular electronic sweeps of the building to ensure that no bugs were in place and no telephones were being tapped. Whilst conducting such a sweep that morning they had detected clear evidence of a number of telephones being tapped but when they had investigated further they had determined that these phones were not within ICI Headquarters. They were next door in Transport House. They were within the headquarters of the Labour Party.
The young man listened to the story but made little of it. Watergate had been in America, that kind of thing just did not happen in Britain. And what was more, the Labour Party was in Government, it would hardly agree to bugging itself would it? He made a note of the conversation and sent the man on his way. Later he mentioned the visit to his boss, but he too just laughed and consigned the episode to the consequences of an over-active imagination.
About a week later the same young man was sat at his office desk. It must have been a Tuesday afternoon because it was quiet : for reasons he had never been able to understand eccentrics and loonies tended to stay at home on a Tuesday afternoon. He was speaking on the telephone to his wife, listening patiently as she poured her heart out about her lack of fulfillment in her chosen occupation. She too was far away from her Yorkshire home, trying hard to maintain enough enthusiasm to complete her PhD thesis on the Latin writer Seneca The Elder. She was disillusioned with classical studies and desperately homesick for her native Yorkshire. She wanted to abandon her thesis and do something which was more socially useful and personally fulfilling than textual analysis. She also wanted to go home. The conversation went on and on. He mainly listened whilst she went over the same choices again and again. To continue the thesis or to end it. To stay or to go. He knew he had to let her make the decision herself and therefore he just listened as she tried to work through the problem herself. And then, out of nowhere, there was a click on the line and a new voice suddenly interrupted their conversation. "Oh, for heaven's sake just make your mind up and do it" it said. And then once again there was silence.
They never discovered who that voice belonged to. They never heard it again. Sometimes when it was late at night and there was nobody about they wondered who was listening and why. It had been almost as though someone had been bugging the line, but they couldn't have been. Could they?
Just over a year later the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson suddenly resigned under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Later he claimed, in private conversations, that he had been the victim of a prolonged campagn of destabilisation by elements of the British Secret Service.
The Young Man continued to work for the Labour Party for a further three years before returning to his native Yorkshire. After a career as a lecturer and a writer on European affairs he took up blogging as a retirement hobby.
His wife eventually decided that she could never achieve fulfillment as a textual critic and abandoned her PhD. Later she applied to Medical School back in her native Yorkshire where she moved along with her husband.
Some ten years after the events described above the retired British Spy, Peter Wright, wrote a book (Spycatcher) describing how a secret group within the British intelligence service actively worked to bring about the fall of the Wilson Government in the 1970s. Amongst the illegal activities he had been involved in was organising telephone taps on phones at the Labour Party headquarters.