John Simkin Posted March 7, 2006 Share Posted March 7, 2006 Interesting article by in the Guardian by Chris Mullin (is a former Foreign Office minister in the Tony Blair government) about the possibility of the US overthrowing an elected Labour government: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/sto...1725304,00.html A Very British Coup was conceived in the first week of October 1980. I was on a train returning from the Labour party conference at Blackpool with Stuart Holland, the newly elected MP for Lambeth Vauxhall, and Tony Banks and Peter Hain, both of whom subsequently became MPs. We were discussing how the establishment would react to the election of a leftwing Labour government. In those far-off days the proposition was not as fanciful as it now seems. Mrs Thatcher was in office, but had yet to consolidate her grip on power. Labour was high in the opinion polls. There was a real possibility that, come the election, the Labour party would be led by Tony Benn. The rightwing press was working itself into a frenzy at the prospect. "No longer if, but when," screamed a Daily Mail headline over a full-page picture of Mr Benn. To cap it all, the news that the US was planning to install cruise missiles in its British bases had given the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament a new lease of life. "A good subject for a novel," said one of my companions. By the time A Very British Coup was published, in 1982, the political climate was even more propitious. Prompted by the imminent arrival of cruise missiles, CND demonstrations were attracting crowds in excess of 200,000. The establishment was getting so twitchy that, as we later learned, Michael Heseltine had set up a special unit in the Ministry of Defence to counter the impact of CND. The US was getting twitchy too. When A Very British Coup was published I was editor of the political weekly Tribune, and we were selling the book by mail order through the paper. A few days after the first advert appeared we were intrigued to receive an order from the US embassy. We duly dispatched a copy and waited to see what would happen next. We did not have to wait long. An invitation arrived to lunch with the minister, the most important man at the embassy after the ambassador. He even sent his bullet-proof Cadillac to Tribune's modest headquarters in Gray's Inn Road to convey me to his mansion in Kensington. At first I assumed that I was one of a number of guests, but no: there was just the minister, two of his colleagues, an Asian butler and myself. "Why are you interested in a minnow like me?" I inquired. "I reckon," he drawled, "that you are among the top 1,000 opinion formers in the country." "Well, I must be about number 999." "The other 999 have been here too." A year or two later I received from an anonymous source an envelope posted in Brussels. It contained an internal US state department memorandum addressed to US diplomats in London listing a number of questions they were to put to "authorised contacts" in London regarding the balance of power within the Labour party and opinion regarding the US bases in general and the impending arrival of cruise missiles in particular. Although, in retrospect, we can see they had no cause for concern, there is no doubt that alarm bells were ringing in Washington. A Very British Coup attracted attention elsewhere too. It was helpfully denounced in the correspondence columns of the Times, and as a result sales in Hatchards of Piccadilly almost matched those at the leftwing bookshop Collets. (When it comes to selling books, a high-profile denunciation is worth half a dozen friendly reviews and I have always done my best to organise one). Thereafter interest might have faded, but for events conspiring to make it topical. In August 1985 the Observer revealed that an MI5 officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham, was to be found in room 105 at Broadcasting House. His job? Stamping upturned Christmas trees on the personnel files of BBC employees he deemed to be unsuitable for promotion. Students of A Very British Coup will know that my head of MI5, Sir Peregrine Craddock, was also vetting BBC employees. What's more, he also had a spy on the general council of CND - and in due course the MI5 defector Cathy Massiter revealed that there had indeed been such a spy. His name was Harry Newton. Finally, in 1987 Peter Wright, a retired MI5 officer, caused a sensationwith his claim that he and a group of MI5 colleagues had plotted to undermine the Wilson government. Suddenly the possibility that the British establishment might conspire with its friends across the Atlantic to destabilise the elected government could no longer be dismissed as leftwing paranoia. The rest, as they say, is history. In due course the novel was translated into a brilliant television series. Harry Perkins, my prime minister, was brought to life by the wonderful actor Ray McAnally, who tragically died not long afterwards. The TV series was shown in more than 30 countries and showered with Bafta and Emmy awards. It was a particularly big hit in the US. Could it happen today? No, I am afraid not. The political landscape has changed beyond recognition. Cruise missiles are long gone. MI5 has been cleared of dead wood such as Peter Wright and his friends. A Labour government is in power - and on excellent terms with Washington. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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