Stranger than any fiction: Rugby’s own Cold War spy

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WE trawled our archives to discover that Raymond Mawby was an unusual candidate for the Conservatives, who enthusiastically ushered him into a safe seat in the early 50s.

Mawby was born in Rugby in 1922 to a working-class family and stayed in the town until 1954. He left Long Lawford council school at 14 to become an electrician, joining the left-wing Electrical Trade Union (ETU). Like many with his background he wanted to be an MP, but one thing marked Mawby out – he was a Tory.

While his brother served as a Labour councillor, he served as a borough Conservative, despite his role in the ETU. He was a talented speaker and at the 1952 Conservative Party conference gave, in Winston Churchill’s words, a “striking speech”. The Prime Minister was determined to usher him into Parliament and he was offered the chance to stand at the Tory seat of Totnes, Devon, which he won in 1954. In the early 50s the party was struggling to shake off its reputation as a class party, and Mawby’s talents and trade-union links made him an ideal candidate for the more contemporary brand of Conservatives.

In 1960 he was appointed to the office of Assistant Postmaster-General and was president of the Conservative Trade Unionists organisation.

The Advertiser reported that in July of that year Mawby visited Czechoslovakia “to study how the trade union movement functions there”. However, it was at a lavish cocktail party in the Czechoslovakian embassy where he was first contacted by foreign agents, who had noticed his penchant for gambling and willingness to accept loans. Exploiting his weakness for gambling, they managed to tap him up, and gave him the codename Laval.

According to the BBC, spies reported: “His leisure time he spends in bars… and he also loves gambling.

“While playing roulette and other games he is willing to accept a monetary ‘loan’ which was exploited twice.”

The spies began their operation with Laval gradually, merely extracting political gossip from him at the start. But they soon began asking for more and more, until they began asking for political documents, for which he charged them £100 a time.

During this period he secretly met with the spies three or four times a month and on one occasion provided a hand-drawn map of the Prime Minister’s office, for which he was paid £100.

His Czech handler remarked that Mawby appeared uninterested in why the material was wanted. However, his handler became concerned when he was made Assistant Postmaster General and junior minister in 1963. The Czechs feared that his £2,000 salary increase could undermine the project, yet Mawby continued meetings even after this.

The Czechs’ operation lasted until November 1971, when Britain expelled 100 Soviet diplomats in London amid what the Czechs described as “worsening operational conditions”.

Mawby was deselected as a Tory candidate before the 1983 general election, and died 17 years later - having kept his astonishing secret.