On January 18, 1963, Hugh Gaitskell, a leader of the British Labour Party, died at the age of 57. Gaitskell was opposed to the policv of his party favoring unilateral nuclear disarmement. At the time Gaitskell was likely to become the next prime minister of Great Britain.
Many people (including my "left-wing" friend Mark Howell, who was living in Britain at the time) believe the KGB killed Gaitskell.
If in fact the KGB killed the likely prime minister of Great Britain in 1963, this, I believe, adds some support to the theory that the KGB killed Kennedy. At a minimum, it shows that the KGB was willing to assassinate world leaders. Granted, Gaitskell was not yet a foreign "head of state" but he most likely would have become one but for his premature death.
The story that Hugh Gaitskell was murdered by the KGB was first put forward by Peter Wright in Spycatcher (1987):
Much has been written about Harold Wilson and MI5, some of it wildly inaccurate. But as far as I am concerned, the story started with the premature death of Hugh Gaitskell in 1963. Gaitskell was Wilson's predecessor as Leader of the Labour Party. I knew him personally and admired him greatly. I had met him and his family at the Blackwater Sailing Club, and I recall about a month before he died he told me that he was going to Russia.
After he died his doctor got in touch with MI5 and asked to see somebody from the Service. Arthur Martin, as the head of Russian Counterespionage, went to see him. The doctor explained that he was disturbed by the manner of Gaitskell's death. He said that Gaitskell had died of a disease called lupus disseminata, which attacks the body's organs. He said that it was rare in temperate climates and that there was no evidence that Gaitskell had been anywhere recently where he could have contracted the disease.
Arthur Martin suggested that I should go to Porton Down, the chemical and microbiological laboratory for the Ministry of Defense. I went to see the chief doctor in the chemical warfare laboratory. Dr. Ladell, and asked his advice. He said that nobody knew how one contracted lupus. There was some suspicion that it might be a form of fungus and he did hot have the foggiest idea how one would infect somebody with the disease. I came back and made my report in these terms.
The next development was that Golitsin told us quite independently that during the last few years of his service he had had some contacts with Department 13, which was known as the Department of Wet Affairs in the KGB. This department was responsible for organizing assassinations. He said that just before he left he knew that the KGB were planning a high-level political assassination in Europe in order to get their man into the top place. He did not know which country it was planned in but he pointed out that the chief of Department 13 was a man called General Rodin, who had been in Britain for many years and had just returned on promotion to take up the job, so he would have had good knowledge of the political scene in England.
Wright also explains why the Soviet Union wanted Gaitskell dead. His replacement, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent. In 1963 the Conservative government was unpopular. It looked like that the Labour Party would win the next election. The establishment was not concerned by this as Gaitskell was on the right of the party. However, when Gaitskell died, Wilson became the new leader.
There are several problems with Wright’s theory. After Gaitskell died, it was expected that George Brown or James Callaghan would become the new leader. Brown and Callaghan both held similar views to Gaitskell. However, Brown and Callaghan split the right-wing vote and Wilson, who held centrist views, was chosen in order to unite the party (he had been on the left in his youth but he had long abandoned those views).
Wilson won the General Election in 1964. I had a lot of media contacts and during the next couple of years I heard several rumours that Wilson was a KGB agent. I also heard other rumours that their was a right-wing conspiracy within MI5 who were involved in a smear campaign against Wilson. We now know that the second of these rumours was true.
In 1968 right-wing conspirators in MI5 attempted to organize a political coup. The man selected to become the next prime minister was Cecil King, the chairman of International Publishing Corporation. The choice is very interesting. King’s company was the publisher of the Daily Mirror, the UK’s largest circulation newspaper at the time. It was a strong supporter of the Labour Party. King was thought of as a left of centre figure. However, in reality he held right-wing views. He in fact held his position as a result of his family. His mother was the sister of Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere. These were the press barons who supported Adolf Hitler and the British fascists in the 1930s. It it possible that the UK had its own version of Operation Mockingbird.
However, the MI5, like the CIA, was deeply divided in the 1960s. There were some who held left-wing views. It was probably those figures who leaked stories of this conspiracy and it was Cecil King who was forced to resign in 1968.
Was there a KGB conspiracy to kill Hugh Gaitskell? Maybe. Some left-wing historians have claimed that Gaitskell was a CIA asset. Was that a reason he was killed?
Was Harold Wilson a KGB agent. Highly unlikely. There is nothing in his record as prime minister (1964-70 and 1974-76) that suggested he followed pro-KGB policies. However, to those on the far-right, Wilson was a dangerous left-winger who introduced what they consider to have been socialist policies. One thing is certain, he was definitely more left-wing than Tony Blair. Of course, there are some people who think he, like Gaitskell before him, is a CIA asset.