Friday, December 21, 2012

Something rotten in the state of Britain

A plot by the state against a weak government of the day, unable to govern on its own, amidst a grave economic crisis. Sounds familiar? Well, this is not actually about “plebgate” and the Tories – though it could just as well be - but Harold Wilson and Labour.

Wilson was prime minister from 1964-70 and again from 1974 to his sudden and dramatic resignation in 1976. Later he would claim that the spy agency MI5 had wanted him out. And that army officers had been plotting a takeover.

Wilson was right on both counts.

In 1968, a period of mass upheavals in Britain and worldwide, senior army officers, together with press baron Lord Cecil King, Lord Mountbatten and intelligence agency figures, discussed staging a coup in to overthrow a Labour government thought to be in the pockets of the trade unions.

A global economic crisis followed America’s decision in 1971 to end the system of fixed currencies established at Bretton Woods after the Second World War. Inflation spiralled out of control. Oil prices tripled and miners took industrial action. Much of Britain was on a three-day week in 1973-4 as power supplies dwindled.

The plans for a coup were dusted down when Labour was returned to office in 1974 after miners’ industrial action had brought down the Tory government of Edward Heath. Heath asked voters to say “who rules Britain?”. A minority Labour government took office.

Out of the blue, a series of joint police/army exercises were held at Heathrow Airport. The first of these was held in January 1974, while Heath was still in power but the remaining three were held in June, July and September. They were labelled “anti-terror” operations.

The troops at Heathrow in 1974 were part of a dry run for a coup. Six years later, Field Marshall Lord Carver, during a Cambridge Union debate, admitted that “not very senior, but fairly senior, officers were ill advised enough to make suggestions that perhaps if things got terribly bad, the Army would have to do something about it."

The army and MI5 had already shown their contempt for Wilson’s government. MI5 had vetoed the appointment of a number of his colleagues to the cabinet on the grounds of "security", while in Northern Ireland the spy agencies and the army had seized control of events.

In May 1974, right-wing Protestant forces organised a strike to break the power-sharing agreement politicians had agreed. The army pointedly refused to carry out instructions from Wilson’s government to intervene to maintain electricity generation.

Former MI5 officer, Peter Wright, whose book Spycatcher was banned by the Thatcher government, wrote extensively about MI5’s plot to force Wilson out on the fantastic grounds that the prime minister was a Soviet agent!  

Weeks after Wilson’s shock departure, journalists Barrie Penrose and Roger Courtiour, interviewed him. "Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s," Penrose wrote in 2006.

"Both were said to involve high-ranking elements in the British army, eager to see the back of Labour governments.” Penrose concludes his Radio Times article:

"You may ask, at the end of the programme, how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears.... in answer to the question 'how close did we come to a military government' I can only say - closer than we'd ever be content to think."

Fast forward to 2012 and we are bang in the middle of a plot by sections of the police to destabilise the Tory government, no doubt spurred on by cut-backs that have weakened pension and other conditions. The economy is on a knife-edge and the Coalition divided and weak.

There is something deeply rotten at the heart of the British state, as the plots against Wilson and fake “evidence” produced against former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell demonstrate. There can be no real democracy until we revolutionise the state from top to bottom. Until then, we can answer the question “Who rules Britain?” by saying for certain that it is not the people.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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