This is a valuable and unusual tour of the secret history behind the last 50 years of British government. At its heart is the tale of Harold Wilson, an honest and dedicated moderate socialist whose 1964 election as Prime Minister rattled the cages of some powerful beasts. It was the Cold War. Britain's secret services were reeling from disclosures of Soviet penetration and were keen to prove their purity to the US. Wilson's election had unexpectedly bypassed the established crown prince in the Labour Party, who was a CIA collaborator. Wilson looked popular and set to roll forward the post-war Welfare State. A fantastical theory got cooked up between MI5, MI6 and the CIA that Wilson was a Soviet agent who must be driven from power. This book is the story of their campaign over the next 10 years to achieve this.
It was a campaign instigated and intermittently directed by MI5, MI6 and CIA but, once in motion, largely waged by their secret helpers in Parliament and the press, and within networks of right-wing extremists - some with Forces links. An awful lot of what is described in this book is simply organised smear stories and press harassment. But twice at least serious practical planning for a coup does seem to have occurred. Remember how during the Falklands War some Cunard liners were requisitioned as troop carriers? Well, in 1975 Cunard got a similar official request for use of the QE2 as a floating prison for Wilson and his ministers in the event of a coup (p 285).
This book covers a vast swathe of recent history - Vietnam, Rhodesia, the early miner's strikes, Northern Ireland, the Chilean coup, the `private armies' plotting to rescue Britain in the early seventies, the `Spycatcher' affair. Some topics seem touched on all too briefly and frustratingly - many short chapters on utterly disparate topics. Re the plots against Parliament by the South African and the Ulster-based intelligence services, for instance, it's tantalising not to be told more. Likewise for startling comments about an intense, multi-decade feud between MI5 and MI6, which may be running still. And yet this is how it must be, for the book is long as it is - and a very dense read. There's no way yet more could be squeezed in.
This book is essential for anyone who cares about British democracy. Some themes are highly relevant today.
· A network of covert assistants for MI5, MI6 and CIA among MPs (including ministers) and senior journalists - has this changed?
· The power of the popular press to bully and discredit elected politicians- think Murdoch's phone-tapping operations and private detectives.
· The cumulative long-term effect of the orchestrated mass repetition of lies.