:: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 ::

A Very British Coup

img091, originally uploaded by Ben Sutherland.

The Guardian has a new mega-blog 'comment is free' with lots of commentators all in one place.

Seems that they are really setting the pace when it comes to old media meeting new media.

One interesting piece by Jonathan Freedland today looks at something I have talked about a couple of times, most recently in the context of the V for Vendetta film and its concept of a fascist Britain. The subject is the plot against Harold Wilson by rogue elements of the British state in the 1970's. There will be a TV documentary on ITV tomorrow about it.

"As Peter Wright confirmed in his book Spycatcher, Wilson was the victim of a protracted, illegal campaign of destabilisation by a rogue element in the security services. Prompted by CIA fears that Wilson was a Soviet agent - put in place after the KGB had, the spooks believed, poisoned Hugh Gaitskell, the previous Labour leader - these MI5 men burgled the homes of the prime minister's aides, bugged their phones and spread black, anti-Wilson propaganda throughout the media. They tried to pin all kinds of nonsense on him: that his devoted political secretary, Marcia Williams, posed a threat to national security; that he was a closet IRA sympathiser.

Such talk stoked up an establishment already trembling at what it saw as Britain's inexorable slide towards anarchy, if not communist rule. Institutions were collapsing, inflation was rising, tax was at a near-mythic top rate of 98%, and Britain was losing the last outposts of empire. Above all, the trade unions, riddled with leftists and Soviet sympathisers, seemed to have the nation under their thumb. "It was no longer a green and pleasant land, England," recalls retired Major Alexander Greenwood, Colonel Blimp made flesh.

The great and the good feared that the country was out of control, and that Wilson lacked either the will or the desire to stand firm. Retired intelligence officers gathered with military brass and plotted a coup d'etat. They would seize Heathrow airport, the BBC and Buckingham Palace. Lord Mountbatten would be the strongman, acting as interim prime minister. The Queen would read a statement urging the public to support the armed forces, because the government was no longer able to keep order.

It sounds fantastic, almost comic. But watch Greenwood talk of setting up his own private army in 1974-75. Listen to the former intelligence officer Brian Crozier admit his lobbying of the army, how they "seriously considered the possibility of a military takeover". Watch the archive footage of troop manoeuvres at Heathrow, billed as a routine exercise but about which Wilson was never informed - and which he interpreted as a show of strength, a warning, even a rehearsal for a coup. Listen to the voice of Wilson, who five weeks after resigning summoned two BBC journalists to tell them, secretly, of the plot."

Far fetched? Think of the dismissal of the Gough Whitlam government in Australia by 'Her Majesty's representative, or the defense of Pinochet by Thatcherite Tories when he was arrested in London.

Our liberties exist only as long as we are ready to defend them.

Harold Wilson statue in Huddersfield, image courtesy of Ben Sutherland on Flickr

:: Alister | 11:44 am | save this page to del.icio.us Save This Page | permalink⊕ | |


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