Monthly Archives: September 2015

The United Kingdom in the Noughties.





Labour were confident but believed they must not gloat. So long as they did not blot their copy book they would win easily. Caution was their watchword. Labour’s thewless campaign would pay dividends. Blair took advice from Clinton on his re-election.

Labour had plenty of set piece rallies to which only Labour members were invited. The Conservatives castigated Labour for spin. They claimed that Labour was false in providing these artificial images of positivity to the public. In fact the Conservatives were at the same game but were not so good at it.

Polls showed Labour was much more trusted on the NHS, education, the economy, crime and so on. Only one issue favoured the Conservatives and that was the European Union. Hague decided to play that card for all it was worth. He also highlighted the fact that a large number of illegal immigrants were entering the United Kingdom and many lodged bogus claims for asylum.  The Conservatives made euroscepticism the mainstay of their campaign. Hague was asked about a future referendum on the Euro. Hague said, ”this is the referendum on the Euro.” He was raising the stakes. By trying to make the election about the Euro his party would win more votes. David Dimbleby said, ”then you will accept the result?” So if Labour won the election then Hague would admit that Britain wanted the Euro. William Hague dodged the question. Hague was too dishonest to admit this was the inescapable conclusion of his logic. When Labour did win Hague backtracked and did not accept that most British people wanted to get rid of the pound. His claim that the election was a poll on the Euro was disingenuous and will have gained but a corpuscle of support. Senior Tories such as Heseltine inveighed against euroscepticism. They viewed Hague as being a hapless jackanapes.

Despite the public mostly being eurosceptic this issue was low on saliency. It was well down their list of priorities. They did not see how it impacted on them. Labour was not committed to the Euro so it was a straw man argument to say that only the Conservatives could save the pound.

Labour emphasised prosperity. They mocked the Conservatives as being a film ”Economic Disaster II” – Hague as Mr Boom and Portillo as Mr Bust. The Tories had lost their reputation for economic competence. Low unemployment featured heavily in Labour’s campaign. Brown was portrayed as the Iron Chancellor – not like Bismarck. He joked that he loved prudence. In years to come people would say it was imprudence. Labour was shrewd in knowing that the economy mattered more than the themes the Tories were stressing.  It became normal for middle class people to vote Labour. It was no longer for the covetous working class.

Blair undertook a few walkabouts. Outside a Birmingham Hospital he was accosted by a woman named Sharon Storer. She upbraided him for not improving the NHS enough. She said her boyfriend had had to wait far too long for his operation. She spoke for many when she said Blair did not care about the NHS. Blair remained tranquil and apologised. It was one of the few real moments of the campaign. Sharon Storer was later interviewed by Paxman. She was asked if she would agree to higher taxes to fund the NHS. She said no. This is the dilemma politicians had to deal with. People demanded better public services and then refused to pay for them.

John Prescott was on a walkabout in Wales. He was confronted by a heavy looking mulleted fuel tax campaigner who threw an egg at him. Prescott punched the man. It enlivened an otherwise banal campaign. Blair did not castigate Prescott for this ”John is John.” The Sun had dubbed Prescott ”two jags” because of his jaguars. Now they called him ”two jabs.” The police investigated the incident but did not prefer charges against the Deputy Prime Minister. Some saw it as setting a poor example for children. Despite being provoked Prescott had not needed to defend himself. He came out well by not behaving sourly afterwards.

In the 2001 election the Conservatives stressed some key policies. They wanted to tackle the illegal immigration issue. They would retain the pound sterling.  The pound was the Conservatives only very popular policy. They were mistrusted on education, the NHS and even crime.

The Liberal Democrats wanted to raise tax. They said that the pound must be abolished as soon as possible. They wanted to spend more on public services and abolish tuition fees.

Labour won 41% of the vote and 410 seats. It was happy to note that this was almost the same number of seats as before. Labour’s share of the vote had fallen by 3% points. This was mostly to the benefit of the Liberal Democrats. This was yet another reason to smile. The Conservatives might one day be a threat but it was hard to envisage the Lib Dems ever posing a danger to Labour. Labour had suffered from low turn out. This was partly because the outcome was seen as a foregone conclusion. If there had been a significant chance of the Conservatives regaining office then reluctant Labour supporters would have come out of the woodwork to prevent a Conservative Government. Labour felt their very comfortable victory was a recompense for their caution. It was also commensurate with what they had anticipated. They had seen a thumping victory coming.

The Liberal Democrats increased their share of the vote for the first time since 1983. They captured 52 seats. They mostly gained from Labour. The Conservatives made a net gain of a solitary seat. They polled 32%. It was a small gain in share of the vote since 1997.

Tories knew they would lose. They were reluctant to believe they would lose to heavily.

In Northern Ireland nothing much changed.

Plaid Cymru and the SNP did not better than before. The Scottish Socialist Party did not come anywhere near capturing a seat and neither did the Socialist Alliance.

The 2001 election must rank as the most boring election of all time. Of about 650 seats in the House of Commons only around 20 changed between parties.

Leftists like to grind the Tories face in their double defeat. The Guardian mused that the public had rejected the Conservatives in 1997 and again so ”they meant it.” The Conservatives had not accepted how much they needed to reform.



Fresh cheeked Hague resigned within hours of the close of polls. ”Clearly it has been a deeply disappointing night for the Conservative Party.” It turned out his press chief Amanda Platell kept a secret diary. She revealed all the inner workings of the Conservative Party just after the campaign. Hague was but a stripling. Maybe an older leader was needed.

Hague had changed the Conservative Party rules for leadership contests. MPs would vote on a shortlist of candidates. This would reduce it to two candidates who would then be put to the mass membership.

Several men contested the Conservative leadership. Ann Widdecombe also wished to stand. No other Conservative parliamentarian would nominate her.

Portillo had been the Shadow Chancellor. He had become a standard bearer of the liberal Conservatives. He said the party should agree to same sex civil partnerships. Portillo has been seen as the coming man of the party for years. Expectations heaped on him were unrealistically high. He would liberalise the party and lead them back to office. For years rumours and circulated in the Westminster Village that Portillo had been actively gay in his 20s. The press printed stories claiming that when he had been at Peterhouse, Cambridge he had had a liaison with a don named Evans. Peterhouse was then known as Poofterhouse and all the undergraduates (boys only at that stage) were given girls’ names. Portillo was known as polly. Portillo had refused to respond to any inquiries about the veracity of such tales. In 2001 he finally decided to make a clean breast of it. He confirmed, ”I did have homosexual experiences as a young person.”

Iain Duncan Smith also stood. He had been talked of by the Tory right as a future leader even before 2001. Duncan Smith was the son of an RAF pilot. His Japanese ancestry made it hard to accuse him of racialism. He had been to a minor public school and was then commissioned in the Scots Guards. AFter a full army career he had gone into politics. Duncan Smith was respectable and had hinterland. However, he was not a good media performer. He was too desiccated and formal. He was not convivial. One journalist wrote it was hard to imagine him ever having worn jeans. IDS as he was known, was a hardline Eurosceptic. He had rebelled over the Treaty of Maastricht many times. How could he demand loyalty from others?

Ken Clarke was another major candidate.

The Conservative MPs narrowed down the field of candidates. One Conservative MP offered to vote for Portillo if he would water down his proposed reforms of the party. Portillo declined to do so. Portillo came third by a single vote. Some believe that Portillo’s statement about his prior gay activities had sunk him.

It was between Clarke and Duncan Smith. Clarke had more backing from among the parliamentary party. Former leader Hague gave his blessing to Duncan Smith.

Clarke’s determination to join the Euro counted against him. He also said the party should not necessarily be in favour of low tax. He said he was a liberal and accused Duncan SMith of being a hanger and a flogger.

The result was announced and Duncan SMith won 60% of the vote. He had been the Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary. Other than that he was plucked from relative obscurity. Not having been to university or in the professions he was in a sense a less typical Conservative MP than Clarke.

Within days Duncan Smith said the Monday Club was being suspended from the party for ”racism or perceived racism.” The fact that it could be suspended for a perceptions should have worried people. The club had been a faction within the party since 1961. Many MPs had been members.



After the General Election one newspaper headline chided Labour, ”Get back to work.” The Guardian told Labour that they had been elected but had yet to earn the nation’s love. New Labour had to significantly improve public services. Blair wanted to introduce elements of the market into public services and he knew that public sector unions would not like it one bit. The unions were demanding more for their members. Labour, the party of the unions, was firmly in government. But it seemed to be the party of the smart suited business elite and not the toiling classes.

There had been intelligence chatter for a few months that a large scale attack was planned against American interests. This would not necessarily be in the United States. It might be against a US embassy abroad as had occurred in Nairobi and Dodoma in 1998.

That September Blair went to address a conference of trades unionists. As he prepared to deliver unwelcome news to them a message came from America. There had been a devastating attack in New York City and other places. Tens of thousands of people had been killed. The speech was cancelled. Some hardened cynics among the press corps felt Blair had somehow planned this to duck out of a speech that he knew would bomb. Pun intended.

American air space was closed.Security measures were tightened in the United Kindgom. Among the dead in the USA were dozens of Britons. The felonious attacks provoked genuine horror in the UK.

Tony Blair flew to the United States with the head of MI6. They met President Bush. Blair expressed support in his usual effusive style. He was at his best during moments of high drama when he could moralise. He pledged unlimited British support. Blair was a comfort man for the United States and merely endorsed what Bush wanted to do. Blair also believed it was in the United Kingdom;s long term interests to stay close to the United States. He believed in the special relationship which was also never a phrase mentioned in the United States. This nominally special relationship was special to the UK but not to the United States. Britain’s political weight had been declining for decades. One way to compensate was to clutch America’s coattails. It may have seemed incongruous for a Labour Prime Minister to be so cosy with a Republican president who was notorious for his narrow mindedness. George W Bush was seen to epitomise Christian fundamentalism, unliateralism, disregard for the environment, regressive taxation and an excessively severe penal policy. He was regarded as being inept and antagonistic. His frequent malapropisms made him a subject of mirth around the world.

The British security apparatus began to fear an Al Qa’eda attack on the United Kingdom. Indeed a court in Pakistan convicted men of plotting an attack on the UK soon after 9/11.

The US looked to Afghanistan. The attack had Al Qa’eda’s fingerprints all over it. Al Qa’eda had attacked Americans around the world for several years leading up to the 9/11 atrocity. They had attacked the World Trade Centre in 1993. They had bombed the USS Cole. They had bombed the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Some were perspicacious in thinking that the United States would launch military action against Iraq. However, this did not occur immediately.

Many people in the United Kingdom had never heard of Al Qa’eda. There was a spike in anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims found their houses graffitisied.

Parliament was recalled from recess. SOme new legislation was rushed through. The Conservative Shadow Home Secretary was Oliver Letwin. He critically analysed some of the bills and managed to have them watered down. His non confrontational style suited the moment.

The Home Secretary was David Blunkett. Blunkett was blind and the first seriously disabled person to serve at such a rank. Blunkett was a member of Amnesty International but seemed to disagree with them on almost everything.

The UK briefly reintroduced internment. Only a handful of people were locked up. The security services were given a lot more funding.

The Liberal Democrats opposed these moves on the basis that they encroached on civil liberty.

Within a month the US Air Force was bombing Taleban and Al Qa’eda positions in Afghanistan. The chapter of the NATO charter on common defence was invoked for the first time. The United States had been attacked an all NATO countries were leagued to assist her. The British military was dispatched the Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance was the legitimate government of Afghanistan. It had the country’s UN seat. The Northern Alliance only controlled about 5% of the territory of the country. The real name of the Northern Alliance was the United Islamic Front. Islamophobia was widespread in the United States and some American did not appreciate that their allies in this fight were Muslims.

Pakistan had recognised the Taleban as the rightful government of Afghanistan. This was for a plethora of reasons. The Taleban was created with the assistance of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI Pakistan’s secret service. The Taleban were mainly drawn from the Pashto speaking people of Afghanistan. The same ethno-linguistic group dominates Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. The Taleban controlled most of Afghanistan so it was politik to have a good relationship with them. Some Pakistani’s shared the Taleban’s mediaeval version of Islam. Some Taleban leaders had been stalwarts of the anti-communist struggle in the 1980s.

Ferocious air attacks decimiated the Taleban. Northern Alliance morale surged. The Taleban fell back. Some people pointed out that one of the most prominent Northern Alliance commanders was General Rashid Dostum. This Tajik had been in the pro-Soviet Afghan Army in the 1980s. He was also responsible for a large scale massacre.

Pakistan withdrew recognition from the Taleban and expelled the Taleban’s diplomats. Pakistan wanted NATO to make sure that the new Afghan Government was not inimical to them.

NATO promised Pakistan that the Northern Alliance would not enter Kabul straightaway. As the Taleban abandoned Kabul the Northern Alliance advanced anyway. A Loya Jirga or tribal council was later held in Germany. The sorted out the creation of a provisional government until elections could be held. Mohammad Karzai was made interim president. Karzai had spent years in India and the United States. He spoke fluent English. He was a practising Muslim but not a fundamentalist. He was a Pashto speaker which was important as it counteracted the perception that Pathans were being pushed out of power. He had had a flirtation with the Taleban a few years before but NATO ignored this.

Labour became even more popular. The United Kingdom was fighting a war of liberation. At first it was going very well.

The usual far left protestors demanded that tyranny be left unmolested. The Campaign Group of extreme left wing MPs was to the fore in this. Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were among them.

Paul Marsden was one Labour MP who was part of Labour against bombing. Some members of this faction were in favour of armed action but not bombing. Marsden said Labour whip Hilary Armstrong told him people like him helped Hitler come to office. Marsden was assaulted by a fellow Labour MP. He was rumoured to be planning to defect. The Conservatives had a meeting and discussed what to do if he tried to join them. They decided they could not accept him. He moved over to the Liberal Democrats.

The skies darkened over Afghanistan as air forces and their equipage arrived. The US Air Force pounded Taleban positions. The Taleban fled to the mountains. Barrack busters were able to destroy their grottoes. Many Talibs fled over the Durand Line into Pakistan. A large minority of Pakistanis had some sympathy for the Taleban. Osama Bin Laden was rumoured to have his lair in Tora Bora caves.

There was so much focus on Afghanistan that Blair neglected domestic policy. The stock market took a beating in the wake of 9/11 but recovered after a couple of months. The other indicators continued to move the right direction. Blair said that the liberation of Afghanistan would help people at home. Afghanistan was the world’s major producer of heroin. NATO would destroy opium poppies and give people well paid jobs in the security of a growing economy. This last promise proved to be utterly false.

Taleban cave complexes were surrounded. Pashto propaganda was blared to them day and night to induce them to surrender. It at least aggravated them.

One Oxford Tory circulated verses to the melody of ”The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” – ”For mine eyes have seen the glory of the boming of the rags/ We are killing the Taleban and sending them home in Bags/ George Bush is marching on….Glory, glory bomb a rag head/ Glory, glory bomb a rag head / George Bush is marching on… We are dropping daisy cutters on the towel head beneath/ We are sifting out the limbs of rags in Mazar i Sharif/ They have learnt a healthy lesson for their infidel belief…. We are killing them with tanks/ they are firing back with blanks/ we killed ten thousand Afghans coz they killed 10 000 yanks…. Osama and his mullah are a hiding in a cave . with a thousand other Arabs whom their allah cannot save/ They shall find their mountain hideout turning swiftly to their grave/ George Bush is marching on. ”

Duncan Smith as a former military man was in his element. He could speak about militaria from personal experience. Despite this he was not making progress for the party. He was known by his initials IDS. People quipped this stood for In Deep Shit. They thought he hastened the party’s decline. Certainly recovery did not seem anear.

In 2002 Duncan SMith addressed his party conference. ”Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.” It was seen as a cringeworthy moment of ham acting. His boast, ”the Conservatives are back” was delivered without panache. When he went back into the House of Commons Labour MPs chorused ”sh…sh… sh” an allusion to him being a quiet man. He did not have Blair’s rapier wit. He always coughed before speaking – this was a sign of jitters. He never got Blair on the ropes.



The United Kingdom had maintained air patrols over Iraq under Blair. Saddam Hussein had played cat and mouse with UN weapons inspectors. They had been repeatedly refused access to various sites. One had to conclude that Iraq had a lot to hide. The 1991 peace agreement was predicated on full co-operation with weapons inspectors. In 1998 weapons inspectors had been withdrawn because the could not do their job. The US Air Force and RAF bombed Iraqi military installations to degrade their defences. This was to penalise Iraq for refusing to abide by the peace terms.

Sanctions remained in place. There were many things that Iraq was not allowed to purchase because they could be turned to a military use. The Oil for Food Programme was run by the United Nations. This permitted Iraq to sell a certain amount of oil and the money from these sales could only be used to purchase medicines and food. Saddam purchased the medicine and food and then sold most of it abroad. He deliberately malnourished his people and denied them medicine. There were countless images of Iraqi children dying of preventable illness. Saddam blamed this on his enemies. Many useful idiots fell for his deception.

Some feared that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction as in 1991. Saddam might share them with Al Qa’eda. Others said this was very improbably. Saddam had crushed religious extremists at home. However, in later years he had moved towards religious fundamentalism. He had put Allahu Akbar on the national flag.. He introduced hand lopping for theft. He was a Sunni like Al Qa’eda. He was very pragmatic and might make common cause with Al Qa’eda/

Some believed that the coalition should have ousted the Ba’athists in Iraq in 1991 and freed the country. Since 1998 it had been US policy to achieve regime change in Iraq.

Iraqi exile groups called for the overthrow of Saddam. These groups included the Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Congress. They were both based in the United States.

As NATO battled in Afghanistan Bush spoke of the axis of evil. He addressed Congress and identified the axis of evil as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

The US dispatched tens of thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia. Many Saudis disliked Christian troops being on their soil. However, they also disliked the Ba’athists in Iraq. Kuwait welcomed Western troops. With Saddam in power they would always be in danger of being attacked again.

Many other countries joined the US led coalition. They wanted Iraq to prove it had no weapons of mass destruction or else there would be war. Romania, Spain, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Ukraine, South Korea, Italy and many other countries sent soldiers.

There was a UN resolution calling on Iraq to give full and immediate co-operation on the search for WMD. The man in charge of weapons inspections was a Swede named Dr Hans Blix. The UN security council unanimously passed that resolution. It was not just the 5 permanent members but also the temporary members including Syria. The resolution warned of ”serious consequences” if the resolution was not complied with.

After a few weeks Dr Blix said he was not getting full co-operation from Iraq. The US sought a second UN resolution authorising the use of force. Blair persuaded them to try for this. Some like Vice President Dick Cheney were against. The UN refused to pass this second resolution.

Russia, China and India were all opposed. France, Germany and many other EU states also opposed war. However, their opposition was conditional. If there was a second UN resolution they would support it. Give it another few months and they might send troops themselves. Most of the Muslim world was also opposed even though this meant keeping their fellow Muslims under a tyrant. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt warned Blair he would create 100 Bin Ladens by invading Iraq. He also told him he would face WMDs in Iraq. The Jordanian Government said the same. Both Egypt and Jordan spoke out against military action against Iraq. Jordan’s Palestinian majority had a measure of respect for Saddam since he was a forthright supporter of Palestinian liberty. Despite Amman’s public pronouncements King Abdallah tacitly permitted the US to use his air bases.

The Stop the War Coalition had become a major force in the United Kingdom. It did not want the UK to fight the Taleban either. The Stop the War Coalition was a front organisation for the Socialist Workers’ Party. Some on the Labour left also joined it. The Green Party was somewhat involved.

Scott Ritter was a former US Marines officer who came out campaigning against military action. He said the Ba’athists were utterly wicked and he would like to see Saddam dead. He also said Iraq had no WMD.

The UK Government released a dossier about intelligence that suggested Iraq had WMD. It also published a book on human rights abuses in Iraq.

Some American pacifists went to Iraq to act as human shields at installations. They called themselves the peaceful tomorrows. Some of them were CIA undercover.

The League of Arab States sought to broker rapprochement. Iraqi and Kuwait delegates shook hands for the first time in years to loud applause from the other Arab representatives.

Grave doubts were raised about the legality of possible military action. Blair took legal advice from the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith. Lord Goldsmith wrote a legal opinion which was kept confidential at the time. Some years later it was published. It stated that regime change was an insufficient justification for armed action. There had to be a threat to world peace such as illegal Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, had requested a one sentence statement from the government assuring servicemen that military action would be lawful. He wanted it in plain language and not in legalese. This was given.

In February 2003 there was a march of over 1 000 000 anti-war protestors in London. Ken Livingston, Tony Benn and Charles Kennedy addressed the mutlitude. Reverend Jesse Jackson from the United States was also there to address those who were determined to keep the Ba’athists in office. Aaron Barschak the comedy terrorist came on and said it was a rally for the congestion charge.

A few worthies of the Conservative Party also opposed military action. Douglas Hurd, a former Foreign Secretary, said it was folly.

Many of the far left figures who opposed freeing Iraq did so because they said there was no second UN resolution. Yet in 1991 even when a UN security council resolution specifically permitted armed action in Kuwait most of these same far left figures had opposed that. It was a red herring about a second UN resolution.

There was no law requiring Parliament to vote on armed action. The Prime Minister could exercise royal prerogatives on behalf of Her Majesty and declare war. This is how it had always worked. In view of the wide anti-war sentiment Blair decided to hold a parliamentary vote on the matter.  Blair said if he lost he would stand down as Prime Minister. People began to see him as a popinjay. In the 1990s he seemed to crave popularity. By the Noughties he seemed to revel in being reviled. He embraced some causes as moral imperatives. He became curiously detached from public opinion. He was dangerously sure of his own rectitude and screened out unwelcome advice. He looked askance and frank warnings.

On 17 March 2003 Parliament voted on military action. The Conservatives overwhelmingly voted for armed action. Former Chancellor Ken Clarke was one of the few to oppose. Clarke said that next time there was a terrorist outrage in the UK ”we need to ask how far this war has contributed to that.” The Lib Dems opposed. However, Baroness Emma Nicholson (Lib Dem) said that ”this war has one of the strongest legal and ethical justifications of modern times.” Almost half the Labour Party opposed. Those who voted Yes were largely the pay roll vote. Blair would not be bidding adieu to Number Ten Downing Street.

Blair said, ”Even now I offer Saddam the chance to save his hideous regime. This is not the time for weakness. Imagine Saddam immensely strengthened.” Despite this Blair had blended the evil nature of Ba’athism with the WMD threat into his explanation for why military action was right and unavoidable.

The liberation of Iraq was about WMD and overthrowing a genocidal tyranny. Some railed against the liberation saying it stooped to neo-colonialism.

The Leader of the House of Commons was Robin Cook. He had informed Blair that he would not support military action without a UN resolution explicitly authorising it. ”Serious consequences” in the prior resolution was insufficient for him. Cook resigned because he could not defend the war. In his resignation speech he said it was wrong to fight, ”without international approval and without domestic support.” It was perhaps a percipient warning. Other former Labour Cabinet Ministers also voted against Chris Smith and Frank Dobson. There appeared to be a measure of personal satisfaction in their denunciations of Blair. Dobson had been persuaded to stand down as Health Secretary in order to stand for the Mayoralty of London. He lost largely due to Blair and was not rewarded with a Cabinet post. Smith had been dropped from the Cabinet in 2001.

Clare Short had said she would resign rather than be a party to military action. When it came to it she was talked into remaining International Development Secretary because she said she needed to do what she could to assist people in Iraq. People grimaced when they heard her reasons for remaining in the Cabinet. Blair had effectively annihilated be talking her into remaining in the Cabinet. Yet after a couple of months she resigned. This was the worst of both worlds.

For President Bush this was personal. In a sense it was unfinished business from 1991. Some people believed the US should have toppled Saddam then. Moreover, when President George H W Bush had visited Kuwait some years later there was an Iraqi bid to assassinate him. This is why many claimed that this was a showdown initiated by the so-called Toxic Texan as revenge.

Saddam seemed to have miscalculated yet again. He never thought that countries would fight him over Kuwait. Just as he believed he could defeat Iran. He seemed to think in 2003 that there was brinksmanship on the part of the coalition – that they would not liberate Iraq.  There was a huge military buildup in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Iraqi soldiers fired on American soldiers in Kuwait.

George W Bush on 18 March announced on television that Saddam and both his sons must leave Iraq or war would begin. Bush said that the US had no quarrel with the Iraqi people. The Hussein family stayed put. Bush had become preternaturally calm. He was at peace with the decision he had made.



On 19 March 2003 the British Army entered Iraq.  A helicopter crashed on the first day killing several soldiers.

Spain, Italy, Kuwait, South Korea, Spain, Poland, Australia and Romania and many other countries also had troops battling to free Iraq.

The conflict was reported like sport. At first there were easy victories. There was a race to Baghdad. The Iraqi Army melted away. The Free Iraqis – with the coalition – advanced. The Kuwaiti Army also advanced.

Within three weeks the coalition was in Baghdad. An Iraqi Ministry of Information official known as Comical Ali told the most unblushing lies. He insisted to foreign journalists that the invaders were nowhere near Iraq

Iraqi media broadcast images of Saddam going on tours of inspection. These were library pictures. The clothing he was wearing indicated these were shot in cold weather. He was out of public view. In mid April he went into hiding.

George Galloway a Labour MP spoke on Al Jazeera. ”The British are fighting illegally. British soldiers should not obey illegal orders. The only ones fighting legally are the Iraqis. Where are the Arabs armies?” The Labour Party held an inquiry into his sedition. He had incited soldiers to mutiny. He was expelled from the party. His support for the Ba’ath Party was notorious.

The Republican Guard was supposed to be ultra loyal unit of the Iraqi military. They were the SS of the regime – soaked in Ba’athist ideology. However, this praetorian guard unit was smashed. The fedayeen were orphans raised to see Saddam as their father and they too were beaten. However, after they were vanquished they regrouped as terrorists.

In Baghdad there was looting as order had broken down. The coalition troops guarded key installations. They did not attempt to halt looting because they did not have the manpower to do so. The national museum was looted and Saddam’s palaces were also ransacked. The US guarded the ministry of oil. In one government building a British journalist David Blair found documents relating to bribes paid to help circumvent the UN embargo. It mentioned payments to British MP George Galloway. These were published by the Daily Telegraph.

By the end of April things seemed to be going well. The coalition had control of almost all cities. The Iraqi police had initially disappeared. Then in Basra they started showing up for duty. This trend spread to other cities.

There was deep seated hatred of Saddam in Kurdistan. Kurdistan was liberated with little trouble. Kurds rejoiced to be free. Being fairly homogenous it became peaceful. For decades they had lived under the threat of genocide. Their civilians had been slaughtered by the tens of thousands. For them life without Saddam was Elysian.

In May local elections were held in the United Kingdom. Labour experienced a Baghdad bounce – a slight up tick in their fortunes. Once military action had begun a majority of people said they supported it. Because the decision had been made people decided to say they approved.

There were a few bombings and the odd sniping incident. People assumed it was just a few Iraqi Army remnants. The Iraqi Army never formally surrendered. The coalition took over Iraqi barracks to find them looted and empty. The coalition began releasing Prisoners of War. They then declared the Iraqi Army disbanded. The trouble was this made a few hundred thousand men jobless.

The Ba’ath Party had tyrannised Iraqi for decades. Some wanted Ba’athists banned from key posts. However, too many professionals had been members of the Ba”ath Party. Blair said these people had been in the party ”not because they wanted to but because they had to.” They were allowed to keep their jobs. This angered some of the Iraqi resistance who had fought the Ba’athists.

Gradually the bombings and sniping incidents became more frequent. It turned out that Al Qa’eda had sneaked into Iraq. Some SUnni tribes threw in their lot with them. Al Qa’eda cadres from Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved in. Al Zaraqawi was a Jordanian Al Qa’eda leader who rose to prominence on Iraq. There was also a Ba’ath Party terrorist organisation. Shia militias were formed. The conflict was partly about the coalition. There was also a denominational dimension to it. Sectarian murders became common. There was also sheer criminality. The coalition had confiscated firearms from many families. They were then vulnerable to robbery and kidnapping.

The UN passed a resolution recognising the Coalition Provisional Authority. The coalition was authorised to rule Iraq for the time being. The UN’s top man in Iraq was Sergio di Mellio. A terrorist bombing at the UN headquarters in Iraq killed him. Many left wingers in the UK expressed admiration for the terrorists despite their attack on the UN and countless other crimes.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was headed by an American named Paul L Bremer. Bremer was proconsul because he was seen as an expert on counter terrorism. He had castigated the Bush administration in its early days because it was not taking the terrorist issue seriously. He predicted there would soon be a massive attack. These were prophetic words. He granted portfolios to Iraqis such as Ahmed Challabi. Challabi was from a wealthy Shia family that had owned many properties in Baghdad. These had been confiscated by Ba’athists in the 1960s. Challabi had then lived abroad. In the 1980s he had been convicted in a Jordanian military court of embezzlement in a bank he owned. Challabi said it was a kangaroo court. How could he an Iraqi be tried in a military court in Jordan when he was not a Jordanian and not a soldier? He skipped the country. He later went to Kurdistan to fight the Ba;athists there. He ran the Iraqi National Accord in the United States. He campaigned for American aid in liberating his homeland. However, he had little following in Iraq.

Iraq was washed by a nationalist swell. Even those who were anti-Saddam wanted the US to leave but when. Some called upon the US Government to set a date for withdrawal. Al Gore was among those who did so. Others felt this was artificial and would condemn the mission to failure. Bush said the troops would stay not a day longer than necessary. Bill Clinton excoriated Bush one some issues but would not denounce him on Iraq. If he had been president he said he might have ordered military action in Iraq.

The Iraqi banking system had broken down. The dinar was worthless. People had to be paid US dollars in cash. The CPA had to organise a distribution system.

Baghdad was a huge sprawling city. Much of it was ungovernable. The Green Zone was the only semi-safe area.

The Iraq conflict continued in a similar vein the next 8 years. Through 2003 the security situation deteriorated. Some forecast that if Saddam was apprehended the insurrection would be broken. He was arrested in December 2003 and it made very little difference to the uprising even in the short term. Saddam had run his country on dynastic principles. His sons were soon cornered and shot dead.

Blair came to be perceived as perfidious. His war making was not popular. Public support for the liberation of Iraq leached away. Bush was seen as being rash and puerile. Blair suffered from his close relationship with Bush. Blair said that Bush was not just a wartime ally but he was a dear friend.

Soon there was a sectarian maelstrom in Iraq. The Shia had been largely excluded from power for decades. There was pent up fury due to the massacres of Shia after various uprisings. The Sunni had been privileged under Saddam. The Arabic speaking Sunni fought to defend their position of mastery. Tit for tat killings became commonplace. Each attack exacerbated the situation. Shia pilgrimages were held for the first time in decades. These presented tempting targets for Sunni extremists. Car bombs slaughtered dozens of the Shia faithful. The ire this provoked led to calls for a terrible vengeance to be exacted. The coalition strove to stop these sectarian slayings but it was to prove a hopeless struggle. Precepts of inter-ethnic harmony were a dead letter. The CPA tried to persuade people that it was benevolent and did not wish to rule Iraq long term. Iraqis had been indoctrinated with anti-American propaganda for years. Few believed that the US’s intentions were honourable. American Zionism was also a huge source of suspicion in Iraq. Most Iraqis felt fraternally towards the Palestinians.

Progress against the terrorists was variable. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani supported the overthrow of Saddam. His political party was the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Bearing in mind that the US Government denounced political Islam it was richly ironic that their bosom buddies in Iraq should include the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution. The Shia areas were not so hostile to the Coalition as the SUnni Triangle north of Baghdad. Nonetheless there were Shia who fought against the coalition. In Basra Moqtada As-Sadr urged his acolytes to fight the Coalition. This mainly meant against British troops.

The CPA was trying to introduce democracy to a country that had little tradition of parliamentarianism. It was seeking to plant democracy in the most testy circumstances. The midst of an internecine sectarian conflict is an unpromising situation in which to launch a political experiment.  The notion that democracy could be introduced in such circumstances was a triumph of hope over experience. It revealed an astonishing naivete on behalf of the White House. Bush’s ignorance of Iraq was staggering. He had not even heard of Shias and SUnnis until 2003.

The US Defence Secretary was Donald Rumsfeld. He was a retread from the 1970s. He was very sure of himself. Unwelcome advice went unheeded. He thought the US could accomplish this mission with fairly few troops. He also authorised interrogation techniques that many felt counted as torture. Rumsfled was at least not capricious – he refused to change his views in the light of evidence. Others agitated for more troops. He said it would be a cakewalk.

British troops began dying because their landrovers were not armoured. They were vulnerable to roadside bombs. They could have been armoured and thus been better protected against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) but the Chancellor’s obstinacy prevented this.

Some chemical shells were found but this was only a fraction of what might have been found. People asked where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were. Some agitated for British withdrawl and for Blair to resign. Blair’s daughter Kathryn attempted suicide. The Blair’s secured an injunction to prevent the press publishing this information. Blair was seen as unbalanced. He no longer read public opinion or cared about it. It seemed to be hubris.



Labour’s boost in popularity after the liberation of Iraq soon faded away. For the first time placards were seen saying ”Blair must go.” People called him ”Bliar”. The WMD he had said were in Iraq were rarely found. There were some chemical shells. This was a fraction of what he said would be there. The fact is there was WMD in Iraq in 2003. Moreover, the reason for the war was the refusal of Iraq to disarm in a verifiable manner. Because Iraq had not proved it had disarmed then it had to be assumed that she still had WMD.

New Labour had been comically loyal to Blair in the early years. They were no longer on message. Many Labour MPs openly opposed Blair. Gordon Brown continued to defend the liberation of Iraq. People looked to him as a left wing alternative to Blair despite the fact that he had gone along with all Blair’s policies.

The Conservatives were slightly ahead on the polls. Iain Duncan Smith was beginning to make an impact. He had also proved more liberal than many had anticipated. In 2002 Alan Duncan MP came out as gay. He was the first sitting Conservative MP to declare himself to be a homosexual. IDS publicly praised Duncan for his bravery. There was a left wing Conservative pressure group called Policy Exchanged. THEY demanded further liberal reform. They were aware that the party had little appeal among the young and ethnic minorities. The Cornerstone Group was a pressure group demanding that the party remain true to its core principles. It needed to keep the faithful onside.

Some Conservative Party insiders had never accepted the choice of the ordinary members of the party. He was too right wing and principled. They decided he must go. They had some dirt on him or so it seemed. His wife, Betsy Duncan Smith, was paid by the taxpayer as working in his office. A journalist, Michael Crick, contacted several organisations that had contact with Duncan Smith. None of them had had any dealings with his wife. It seemed she drew a salary while doing almost no work.  In October 2003 there was a party coup against him. Dozens of MPs came out against him demanding he stand down. Boris Johnson announced he would never abandon Duncan Smith. He then did so. IDS fell on his sword. A few months later a commission of inquiry cleared him of paying his wife from taxpayers’ money not to work.

The Conservative Party looked for a leader. Only one came forward. He was Michael Howard. Howard was a former Home Secretary and a successful one too. He had stood for the leadership in 1997 and got nowhere. His chances had been destroyed by his former departmental subordinate. Ann Widdecombe said there was ”something of the night” about him. The epithet stuck. Howard was born in Wales to Romanian Jewish parents. Contrary to what many claimed they were not refugees. Howard’s family was middle class and he attended a grammar school. He went to Cambridge where he read Law. He was called to the Bar. It took him almost 20 years to be elected to Parliament. He married a Christian and his children were raised in both faiths. Howard was a very self-assured House of Commons performer. He was a match for Blair in a way that IDS was not. Howard raised Conservative morale. In 1997 he had been seen as too closely associated with unpopularity of the Major years. By 2003 he was not liked but he was respected. People joked that he was Dracula since his parents came from Transylvania.

Peter Mandelson stepped down as an MP. He went to Brussels to be a European Commissioner.

The Labour Government was no longer trusted. Labour’s ambition of the United Kingdom joining the Euro was put on the back burner.

The Liberal Democrats were doing well owing to their opposition to the liberation of Iraq. They won some by elections.

The Respect Party was taking votes off Labour. The SNP also did well at Labour’s expense. Tens of thousands of people left Labour in disgust. The Conservatives pulled ahead of Labour.

In 2004 the Mayor of London was up for election again. Ken Livingston was Mayor of London and popular. Labour faced the disaster of having to fight against Livingstone. Labour would certainly not win. It risked a Conservative becoming mayor. Labour broke its own rules to let him back in to the party. He stood as Labour’s candidate against the Conservative Steven Norris. Livingstone won easily. His provocative style went down well with some. He fulminated against the iniquities of capitalism and then took GBP 10 000 for an after dinner speech.

In the European elections UKIP did very well and came second. The Tories won. The BNP also gained two MEPs. The BNP had people elected to the London Assembly. The election of the BNP was a boon to Labour. Labour said that racism was a cancer in British society. The BNP made it seem significant. Labour treated the BNP like they were important and kept mentioning them. Labour’s illiberal policies were intended to seem like they were combatting racism when in fact they detested dissident opinion. It also coralled many ethnic minority electors into voting Labour.

There was no policy compromising from Labour. Opposition to military action in Iraq was manifest in polls but protests withered.

The Lib Dems called for higher taxes. They never learnt from experience. Redwood said the Lib Dems proved that calling for higher tax was the best way to come last in an election.



In 2002 The Queen Mother died. She was 101. She was accorded a state funeral, The country took stock that march. Massed bands played on Whitehall. Soldiers from as far as Canada came to take part in the ceremony. The Koh i Noor was seen atop her crown. Her body laid in state in a sealed coffin in Westminster Hall. Hundreds of thousands filed past it.

Weeks later Princess Margaret also passed away. Her Royal Highness; death was brought on by smoking. Princess Margaret was accorded a smaller scale funeral. These bereavements did not much mar the upcoming celebrations.

In 2002 Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her Golden Jubilee. She was highly respected. Only 15% of people wanted to abolish the monarchy. No party with any parliamentary representation advocated such a course. She had fully recovered from the death of Princess Diana.

There were Golden Jubilee events all over the realm. Her Britannic Majesty visited many of her realms beyond the seas.

There was a concert in Buckingham Palace. The Queen went through London in her Golden State Coach on the day of the climax of celebrations. Over a million people came to do her homage. The monarchy was as popular as ever.

The Princes of Wales moved into Clarence House which his grandmother had previously occupied.

The rumours about Princess Diana;s death refused to go away. Dodi Fayed exploited them for commercial gain. He disseminated the lie that his son was engaged to Princess Diana. He had her image up in his shop. His royal warrants were taken away. Feeble minded people fell for the very exciting story that the evil establishment had killed Princess Diana.

The younger members of the royal family attracted more interest. Prince William was seen at St Andrews University with Kate Middleton.

It came to be known that Prince Charles kept intervening in politics. Freedom of Information legislation meant that his black spider letters became known. For years he had badgered politicians on various subjects. He felt strongly about education and rural affairs. He was a dilettante with some crackpot beliefs on homeopathy. He lobbied to have it made available on the NHS. Some Labour MPs found this wearisome. It emerged he had berated Thatcher on urban poverty. He sagely stayed out of the fox hunting debate. His views on hunting with hounds were discordant with public opinion.



In 2005 in some ways things were going well for the government. The economy was healthy. The NHS had improved. Education had been degraded by dumbing down and pointless bureaucracy.

The two main parties were neck and neck in the polls. Blair was loathed by many. Should he call an election early? Maybe Labour;s fortunes would be restored? But things could go wrong for them.

Blair called an election for May 2005.

Blair was confronted by many people and told he had deceived them over Iraq. ”You are going to have to make your mind up about that” he would say as he shrugged it off. People would often say, ”Yeah I have and you are a liar.” Blair had nothing to say in his defence.

Labour warned people they had better vote for them or wake up with Howard as PM. A Lib Dem vote was a vote for the Tories they were told.

One Conservative MP ruined things early in the campaign. Howard Flight was recorded saying that the party should cut spending depsite pledging not to. Howard sacked him as a parliamentary candidate.

In the end Labour won 35% of the vote. They managed a narrow majority. The Conservatives scored 33.3% of the vote –  a tiny bit higher than under Hague. But the Tories gained dozens of seats.

The Lib Dems won 22% of the vote – mostly because they wanted Saddam in power. They went up to 62 seats.

The BNP did well in some seats but did not gain any.



Blair was delighted to have won his hatrick. Labour had never managed it.

Howard said he would stand down. He insisted on a long leadership campaign. There must be ample time to make the right choice. Howard also wanted dictatorial powers for the new leader – the right to dismiss MPs and total control over policy. His reforms were defeated.

Kennedy seemed to be at his zenith. However, there were persistent rumours about heavy drinking. Journalists who interviewed him at 9 am could swear they caught a whiff of whisky off him. He testily denied these allegations.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rumbled on. There were still anti-war demonstrations but fewer attended. People got bored of the issue.

London applied to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Lord Sebatian Coe was the head of the British bid committe. Coe was a former Conservative MP and Olympic Gold medalist. Lord Coe had been Hague’s chief of staff when William Hague was Tory Number One. Coe had been the only person in the world to call himself a Hagueite and had even worn a Hague baseball cap. Despite Coe’s past misjudgments he proved to be highly effectual in running the bid. He was ably assisted by another Conservative Olympian Lord Colin Moynihan. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London also took part. The last two cities were in the running. The other one was Paris.

The announcement was made. London. As Blair recalled, ”It is not very often in this job you punch the air and hug the person next to you.”

The next day Blair was hosting the G8 summit in Gleneagles. The G8 is a group of the largest economies. That day was 7 July 2005. Four suicide bombs were detonated on LOndon buses and tubes. Over 50 people were killed.

Blair made an announcement from Gleneagles. He was flanked by world leaders. George W Bush;s pose looked like he was a gunslinger ready for a shoot out – eyes narrowed, hands poised over his hips ready to ”draw!”.

The suicide bombers were Britishers who were admirers of Osama Bin Laden. They objected to Muslims being freed from mediaeval theocrats.

That autumn the Tory Party leadership race dragged on.

Dr Liam Fox was the most right wing candidate. He was an outspoken admirer of Bush and an Atlanticist. This Glaswegian doctor’s gungho views on defence ruled him out.

Bizarrely Michael Ancram thought he might be in with a chance. To give him his real title he was the Marquess of Lothian. He had been to Ampleforth and Oxford University. He had read for the Bar at the Faculty of Advocates. He had been the first Catholic Conservative MP in Scotland. Then he did the chicken run to Devizes. Ancram was not telegenic. A chubby nobleman running the party would not cut it.

David Davis had the best life story. He was born to a single mother on a council estate. He did not get along with his step father. He read Business at Warwick University before going into business. He had been in the Territorial SAS. He was grumpy and gave a poor conference speech.

David Cameron was also standing. He was born in London. His father was a Scottish stockbroker. Cameron went to Eton where he managed to avoid expulsion despite being caught with drugs. He went to Brasenose College, Oxford. He took a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He had been in the Bullingdon CLub – a group for very rich boys. He then worked for the Conservative Party. He was one of the first special advisers. He then left to join Carlton Media. He ended up as head of communications. He was married to a glamorous artist and had children. His severely disabled son only increased his saleability. Cameron was an outspoken moderniser. The party needed to attract people who had previously disliked it.

In December the contest was between the two Davids – Cameron and Davis. Cameron won. He gave Davis a role in the Shadow Cabinet.

Cameron said that there would be an A list for parliamentary candidates. They would get the pick of constituencies to contest. The A list would be endorsed by Central Office. The A list must be at least 50% female and at least 10% ethnic minority. Cameron totally embraced the gay agenda. People said he was seeking to detoxify his brand.



Despite the economy going well and the NHS being better than ever the Labour Party gradually fell behind in the polls.

In January 2006 a story broke about Charles Kennedy. The long disputed rumours of alcoholism were confirmed by numerous Lib Dem sources. Several prominent Lib Dems called on him to resign. Finally his position became untenable. Kennedy called a press conference. ”For a few years I have had a drinking problem for which I have been seeking help.” He had also been lying to the public for years. He remained a Member of Parliament.

The Lib Dems tried to find a new leader. They elected Menzies Campbell. Campbell was MP for Fife. He was also one of their oldest people in the House of Commons. Campbell was very smartly dressed, grand and seemed like a Tory.

Labour benefited from the Lib Dems crisis.

UKIP was also a feature on the political scene. The Tory right demanded they be appeased. Cameron said he would not bore people by talking about Europe.

Cameron said vote blue go green. He claimed to care about the environment. He cycled to the COmmons. It then came to light that a car drove behind him with his suit. He also had a wind turbine on his house.

Cameron was an effective COmmons debater. He said he would move away from yah-boo. In fact he soon reverted to it. Blair found him difficult to confound.



Cameron was able to land some punches on Blair. In the House of Commons he scorned Blair, ”He was the future once.” The implication was unmissable – Cameron was now the future. Strangely Cameron confessed to admiring Blair and even being the new Blair. Cameron’s foes within his own party felt that this said much about Cameron. They believed that Cameron was trite and media obsessed. Simon Heffer, a right wing journalist, panned Cameron as ”a PR spiv.”

In the local elections 2006 Cameron went to Lapland to highlight the effects of global warning. This was a very unorthodox move. Some people said it was  waste of time. Was it a gimmicK. What carbon footprint did he leave by flying there. He was certainly audacious.

When Patrick Mercer MP said when he was in the army everyone got verbally abused, ”come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard” Cameron sacked him from the Shadow Cabinet for racism. He said Mercer’s conduct was disgusting. Mercer apologised but explained he had just been explaining the reality of serviceman’s repartee. Some believe it was Cameron being fixated with the media again. Hague had dithered in similar circumstances in 2001 when John Townend MP had said some people considered the British to be a mongrel race.

The Liberal Democrat’s Menzies Campbell failed to connect with a younger generation. He was too old school and intellectual.  His Christian name is pronounced ”Ming.”

In 2007 the Lib Dems toppled Sir Ming Campbell. The Liberal Democrats had to choose between Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg. Both had been to Westminster School. Huhne went to Oxford and Clegg to Cambridge. Huhne was a millionaire banker and Clegg was the son of won. Clegg had been a journalist for six months. Apart from that he had never worked outside politics. He had been a Eurocrat before being elected an MEP. He was then elected MP for Sheffield Hallam.

Clegg defeated Huhne. It was very good news for the Lib Dems but they did not then know it. 5 years later some information would emerge about Huhne which would have sunk the party had been its helmsman.

Labour was trailing the Tories in the polls. Blair announced that he would step aside as leader of the party and as PM in the middle of 2007. There has been a lot of TBGBs – this meant Tony Blair versus Gordon Brown rows. Sulky Brown was impatient for the top spot. Only one person was nominated for the Labour leadership. It was a coronation for Dr Brown. The deputy leadership was contested. Harriet Harman won.  It was the second time a woman had been deputy leader. The other had been Beckett.

In June 2007 Blair finally made good on his promise. He signed off with a characteristic flourish. One Conservative MP was decent enough to give Blair a tongue lashing. Cameron realised there was no mileage in seeing ungracious. He led his party to a standing ovation for Tony Blair. Blair flew to Sedgefield to resign as an MP although that was not necessary. Strictly speaking no one signs. They enter the Chiltern Hundreds. This is an office of profit under the Crown which is incompatible with being an MP.

Brown enjoyed a surge of popularity and this was confirmed by opinion polls. He gave ministerial posts to people who were not in the Labour Party such as Lord Digby Jones (formerly head of the Institute of Directors). He spoke of having a ministry of all the talents. The Ealing Southall by election was a key test.  Should Labour call an early election? In the by election Labour did well. There was talk of a pustch against Cameron. Dr Brown went to far as to invite Baroness Thatcher to tea at Downing Street in a bid to woo former Tory voters.



In September 2007 Brown announced he would not be calling an early election. He said he had not had time to set out his stall. The Conservatives mocked his explanation. The Sun had the headline ”Brown’s bottled it.” Labour ducked the election because they were millions of pounds in debt. Some donors gave them loans to sustain the party. Cameron breathed a sigh of relief. Had Labour called a snap election they almost certainly would have won albeit with a slim majority.

Within a fortnight of Brown deciding not to call an election the economy started to contract. He plainly had not foreseen this otherwise he would have gone for an early election. A bank called Northern Rock almost went bust. It became known as Northern Wreck. Northern Rock was based in Newcastle – a strongly Labour area. There was a demand from Labour backbenchers holding seats in north-eastern England that Northern Rock must not be allowed to go to the wall. The government bailed it out. There had been a run on the bank for the first time in over 150 years. Th government propping up a bank was to become a familiar sight.

In 2008 economic gloom began to gather. In September 2008 the worldwide credit crunch began. Many people lost their jobs. Wages were slashed. It turned out that the UK had been living far beyond its means.

David Cameron inveighed against the Labour Government, ”WHy didn’t you fix the roof while the sun was shining?” Brown had had an image as a hairshirt chancellor. He came to be perceived as having been profligate. Labour was well behind in the opinion polls.

By the summer of 2009 Labour insiders were quietly predicting that victory was impossible for them in the upcoming election.

In 2009 the United Kingdom withdrew all its military from Iraq. The British Army remained in Afghanistan. The pull out from Iraq was a popular move but did little to bolster Labour’s dismal poll rating. At times Labour’s popularity touched 20%.

In early 2010 the economy picked up. The public subjected the Conservatives to greater scrutiny. Labour’s standing improved a little. Some Labour people believed that Labour could just about stay in office on its own or more likely form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

In April 2010 Gordon Brown asked Her Britannic Majesty to dissolve Parliament and precipitate a General Election. Her Majesty chose to do so. Brown announced the election.

Labour campaigned but without much vigour. The anger against Labour was palpable. Brown had a public encounter with a Labour supporter named Gillian Duffy. ”You are a good woman you have served your community” he told her. She said, ”I am ashamed to say I am Labour now.” Mrs Duffy remarked that there were too many Eastern European immigrants. Brown and his aide drove away in a car. Brown remarked, ”That was a disaster.” His assistant inquired ”Will they go with that?”/ Brown remarked ”They will go with that” – as in the television channel would broadcast that interaction. He then added, ”the woman was a bigot.” Brown did not realise his microphone was still on. Later  in a radio station he was played what he had said. Brown was stunned and humiliated. He went around to Gillian Duffy to apologise for calling her a bigot because of her anxieties about excessive immigration. It was symptomatic of a campaign in which everything went wrong for Labour.

All major parties held rallies to which only vetted supporters were permitted. This meant the public say positive images of crowds cheering these leaders.

There was Prime Ministerial debates. The leaders of the three major parties participated. Nick Clegg was thought to have got the best of it. His poll ratings shot up. People spoke of Cleggmania.

At the debates Brown said the other leaders were like ”two little boys squabbling at bath time.” Cameron shot back, ”I bet that sounded good in rehearsal.”  Dr Brown was notorious for his turgid delivery and his lack of wit.

Cameron proposed tax breaks for married couples. Clegg scorned this. He said he married because he was in love and would not do so for a few pounds. His glamorous Spanish wife seldom accompanied him on the campaign trail. People noticed how similar Clegg and Cameron were in background, dress sense and attitudes. Labour tried to make some play from this. It was intended to deflect people from voting Lib Dem.

Labour were reduced to 28% – their worst result since 1983. The Lib Dems gained some votes but lost a few seats. The Conservatives won 35% of the vote but were short of a majority of seats.

When it came to election day UKIP did fairly well but picked up no seats. The BNP lost most of their support.

The Prime Minister refused to concede. People even wondered whether he could form a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party. Labour held meetings with the Lib Dems. The senior civil service facilitated meetings between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

Labour peer Lord Mandelson came on television to say, ”the constitutional conventions are clear” – that Labour had first dibs on forming a two party government with the Lib Dems. This was not the case. Labour had been beaten in seats and share of the vote. The convention is the party with the most seats forms the government. He was talking through his hat. It was partisan dishonesty.

The Lib Dems intimated that Brown’s resignation was a precondition of forming a government.  Brown was willing to resign since Labour;s defeat had been to a considerable extent a personal rejection. There were many other sticking points. The Lib Dems were dubious about propping up a rejected Labour Government. They feared being tarred with its unpopularity. They were not sure about forming a coalition with the Conservatives. Some such as Lord Ashdown – form Lib Dem leader – advocated forming a coalition with neither party of state. Some Conservatives were also opposed to sharing office with the Lib Dems. Viscount Cranborne wanted a single party government. But if the Tories did not cut a deal with the Lib Dems then Labour might.

In the end Brown finally conceded that his party could not form a government with the Liberal Democrats. Tje Conservatives and the Lib Dems made a written coalition agreement. Brown went to the Palace to resign.

Cameron was invited to form a government and accepted.



David Cameron became Prime Minister. Nick Clegg was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. The Cabinet posts were shared between the two parties. The agreement was that the coalition would last for the full parliament. Moreover, by elections would be fully contested. It was the first peacetime government including the third party since 1922. The Liberal Democrats had been called upon to serve and they had answered that call. Surely one enters politics to win office and implement one’s policies. Opposition is also service but not as useful as being in government. Some Lib Dems preferred the purity of eternal opposition.

Both parties had to jettison manifesto promises in view of the political arrangement.

Some Lib Dems who detested the Conservatives were upset that there party was forming a government with the Tories.

The Lib Dems found themselves agreeing to university tuition fees rising from GBP 3 000 to a maximum of GBP 9 000. However, they managed to secure free school meals.

A Labour minister had left a note for the incoming government ”I am sorry there is no money.” The fiscal situation was parlous. The budget had already been pared. It had to be cut even more. The diplomatic service had a recruitment freeze for all but those coming through the civil service fast stream. The defence budget was cut even further. This was despite the coalition committing to fighting on in Afghanistan.

UKIP attacked the Conservatives for forming a government with fanatical europhiles. Ken Clarke – an extreme europhile – was brought back as Lord Chancellor. He was aged 70.

In the summer of 2010 Raoul Mote went on a shooting rampage in north-east England. He was eventually shot dead by police. A taxi driver in Lancashire also went shooting people. Cameron declined to introduce new legislation saying it would be an over reaction.

The United Kingdom slipped back into recession. Labour blamed George Osborne’s excessive spending cuts. The CHancellor of the Exchequer Osborne said that reducing spending was needed. The deficit was enormous and was still growing. Under him it would grow at a slower rate than it had under Labour.

The cost of living was still rising. Housing was very pricey. Unemployment reached 10%. Many people worked for free as interns. The government’s honeymoon melted away. The Lib Dems had suffered an immediate fall in support. Some Lib Dems could not stomach forming a government with the Conservative Party.


Nuclear arms.



In the 1930s some scientists came to realise it was possible to release colossal amounts of energy by splitting an atom of uranium. Physicists had been publishing papers on this theory.  In the late 1930s American and British scientists stopped publishing their findings on this. They were persuaded not to be Professor Einstein. Einstein was  Jewish-German who had moved to the United States and become a professor at Yale. Einstein and others were worried lest such research fall into the hands of the Third Reich. Adolf Hitler came to rule Germany in 1933.

During the Second World War the United States and the Third Reich both made progress on developing nuclear weapons. Japan also did some work on this but did not get far.

The US atomic weapons research was called the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project mostly took place at a very remote site call Los Alamos in New Mexico. It was in a very isolated place because it was very difficult to spy on. Any outsider would be noticed. Cleaners at Los Alamos had to have an unusual qualification – illiteracy. The Manhattan Project wanted to make sure the cleaners could not read any documents left in laboratories.

In July 1945 the USA successfully detonated a nuclear weapon. One of the scientists on the project was Robert Oppenheimer. When he saw the mushroom cloud rising from the detonation of the atom bomb he quoted the Bhagavad Ghita, ”I am born – destroyer of worlds.”

Germany had surrendered to the Allies in May 1945. Japan was still at war against the Allies. President Truman, Prime Minister Churchill and Marshall Stalin met at Potsdam in Germany in July 1945. Truman told the others that his country had perfected a weapon with an astonishing destructive capacity. Stalin expressed surprise but in fact he already knew about it. Some of the Americans working on the Manhattan Project had been passing information to the USSR because they were communists. The Allies informed the Japanese that they must immediately surrender unconditionally or they would be attacked with a weapon more powerful than they could imagine. The Japanese refused.

On 6 August 1945 a nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On 9 August 1945 a nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Over 100 000 people died in these two attacks. The great majority of those killed were civilians.

On 15 AUgust Japan surrendered. The bombs dropped on Nippon remain the only ever use of nuclear arms.

The USA was the mightiest nation on earth. This was because of her industrial capacity but also because she alone had nuclear weapons.

Stalin was determined that the USSR should also have nuclear arms. He made his scientists work on creating a nuclear bomb. The United States believed it would take the Soviets many years to accomplish this. Because the Soviets had access to much American information from their spies the Soviets were able to develop nuclear weapons very fast.

Relations between the USA and the Soviet Union deteriorated very rapidly after the Second World War.

In 1949 the USSR announced that it had nuclear arms. Washington was shocked. Some Americans were aghast at having lost the advantage. Others regretted not having used it whilst they had the chance. SOme Americans were pleased because they felt this made war less likely.

How could each country prevent the other from attacking them with nuclear weapons? They would need to be able to say if you nuke us then we will nuke you hours later. This was called Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD. Some people said that it was mad. Nukes could be dropped from planes. Then submarines were built that could launch them from missiles from underwater.

The Americans stopped sharing nuclear information with the United Kingdom. Although the UK was an American ally this information was so precious that the US wanted to keep it to itself. The UK then began work on its own nuclear weapons. It was cripplingly expensive. In 1958 the United Kingdom successfully detonated a test nuclear bomb in Australia.

France was also working on nuclear arms. France exploded a nuclear bomb in Algeria in 1962 just before that country’s independence.

China was also working on nuclear arms. They too set off a nuclear bomb in 1962.

By the 1950s some people started to think that nuclear weapons were a terrible idea. They did not distinguish between civilian personnel and military personnel. They could not be aimed. They would obliterate a city. They were also ruinously costly. They had so many megatons of explosive that they could destroy the world several times over.

Some people opposed to nuclear arms founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or CND. The CND had a white flag with its logo on it which looked like the letters CND. The CND was and is a worldwide organisation. It advocates that every country dismantles its nuclear weapons and no country be able to make them in future.

The CND attracted millions of members. The CND was not allowed in the USSR. The Soviet Government was happy that the CND might cause western countries to get rid of nukes. In some countries left wingers were pro CND.

India developed nuclear weapons in 1974. India was at the top table. A country with nuclear arms could not be overlooked. Pakistan felt threatened that its arch enemy had nukes and Pak began to seek to develop nuclear arms. The Prime Minister of Pakistan was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said other belief systems had a nuclear bomb. Communism had one, capitalism had one, Hinduism had one. Now it was time for a Muslim bomb. Pakistan’s nuclear weapon would be to defend all Muslims.

Israel secretly began to seek to develop nuclear arms. Israel had a very amicable relationship with the USA. However, the USA would not share nuclear weapons with Israel. That was something too precious and would antagonise the Muslim World too much. Israel had a nuclear weapon by the start of the 1980s. Israel adopted a policy of ambiguity. It would neither confirm nor deny that it had nuclear arms.

In 1985 an Israeli who had worked in the Israeli nuclear arms facilty at Dimona. His name was Modechai Vanunu. He was a Moroccan-Israeli and felt mistreated by Israelis of European origin. He published photos he had secretly taken of Israel’s nuclear reactors. These were published by the Times newspaper in the United Kingdom. Mordechai was later kidnapped and taken to Israel. He served a 20 year sentence for revealing state secrets.

In the early 1980s Iraq trying to build a nuclear bomb. The Israeli Air Force bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak – destroying it. In 1991 Iraq was again trying to develop nuclear arms. After Iraq was beaten by a United Nations coalition she vowed to dismantle her nuclear arms programme. Many believed that Iraq never did so and was still trying to get nukes. That was part of the reason for the 2003 Iraq War.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union only Russia out of all the former Soviet countries had nuclear weapons.

South Africa had a racist system that favoured whites. The white government feared being invaded by other African countries. South Africa clandestinely built a nuclear bomb. In the early 1990s South Africa underwent a democratic transition. Nuclear weapons were got rid of.

In the 1970s the Shah of Iran began a nuclear arms programme. It had not got far before he was overthrown. A radical religious government replaced him. In the late 1980s the Iranian Government stood accused of trying to develop nuclear arms. Teheran vehemently denied it. Such allegations have persisted to this day. Iran had been building civilian nuclear power stations. However, civilian nuclear energy can be converted into making a nuclear weapon. Many countries imposed sanctions on Iran to induce her to have her civilian nuclear power plants inspected. People wanted the UN to verify that Iran is not trying to build nuclear arms. Israel and some Arab countries were very anxious. The US is a major supporter of Israel. Some people said it was hypocritical of Israel and the USA to oppose Iran developing nuclear weapons since these countries already have nukes themselves. Israel threatened aerial attacks to destroy Iran’s nuclear plants. There are explosions in Iranian nuclear power plants. These could be accidents but many people believe they are set off by Mossad – the Israel secret service.

In 2015 a deal was agreed. There will be inspections and sanctions on Iran will be lifted. Teheran reiterated that it has no intention of making a nuclear bomb.

North Korea is suspected of having nuclear arms.

Some people say nuclear weapons are terrible.. They can wipe out the planet.

No nuclear arms state has ever fought a full war against another nuclear arms state. India and Pakistan have exchanged fire since 1971 but they have not fought a proper war.


  1. What was the Manhattan Project?

2. Which was the first country to develop nuclear arms?

3. What happened at Los Alamos?

4. In which year did the USSR achieve nuclear power status?

5. Which was the third country to develop nuclear weapons?

6. What is the CND?

7. wHY do some people oppose nuclear arms?

8. Why did Pakistan build a nuclear bomb?

9. WHich is the only country to have got rid of nuclear weapons?

10. What is your opinion of nuclear arms?

The United Kingdom in the 1990s.


THE U K in the 1990s.

Britain entered the 1990s with Margaret Thatcher standing down as Prime Minister.

Douglas Hurd was Home Secretary. Hurd was the son and grandson of Tory MPs. He was born in 1930 and had been a King’s Scholar at Eton. He had gone to Cambridge where he had been President of the Union. Hurd joined the diplomatic service. In the 1970s he had worked for Conservative Central Office before being elected to Parliament. Hurd was notable for his moderation. He identified as a One Nation Tory. Alan Clark described Hurd as being ”drily cynical”. Hurd was a passionate europhile but apart from that seemed to have no bedrock beliefs. He had been willing to take on thankless tasks. He served as Northern Ireland Secretary when the conflict seemed intractable. Some panned Hurd as too patrician. He stressed that he had only been to Eton on a scholarship and his father had been a tenant farmer – he had not owned the farm. Hurd commanded little affection among the grassroots.

Heseltine came from Wales where his father was a factory manager. He grew up in a well to do middle class family but was conscious of the poverty around him. He went to Shrewsbury School and then Oxford University. He was not academic and threw himself into politics instead of studying much. He became President of the Union.  He ran a hotel and launched his own publishing company. After making a million he entered politics. He was on the moderate wing of the party. Like many of his generation he was also a convinced believer in European integration.  He had been Defence Secretary. Some in the party loathed him for his self-regard. Clark wrote ”Heseltine had a VERY high opinion of himself.” Some upper class Conservative MPs looked down on Heseltine. ”He had to buy all his own furniture” was one waspish comment recorded in Alan Clark’s Diaries. Clark did not say this himself but he recorded someone else saying it. Clark was the grandson of a Glasgow thread merchant made good.  Heseltine was seen as a traitor by many because he had moved against Thatcher. Some Wets believed that Heseltine was the man to bring the party back to moderation. But Heseltine was unprincipled. If he considered Thatcher to be too right wing he should not have served in her Cabinet. Heseletine promised a full rethink on the community charge which was plainly a catastrophe. He was canny enough not to specify what his alternative was. That would paint him into a corner.

John Major was the last contender for the top spot. Major was born in Brixton, a working class area of London. His social origin was a big advantage to him. He did not have a public school background to live doen. This is perhaps why he was the most right wing of the trio. His father had been in a circus and had then run a garden gnome business. Major had left school at 16 and only had one O level. He famously failed the exam to be a bus conductor because he could not do the sums. He became a bank clerk and briefly worked in Nigeria. He was a local councillor on the 1970s. He was against the Enoch Powell wing of the party. Major was elected to Parliament in 1979 and quickly rose to the Cabinet. He was thought to have a chip on his shoulder about his working class background and lack of education. He had been Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was not thought to be as europhile as his rivals.

Major did best on the first ballot with Heseltine coming second. Rather than force a final ballot Heseltine and Hurd both withdrew. Major won. Thatcher resigned and the Queen appointed Major as Prime Minister. It was November 1990.

Major enjoyed a sudden surge in popularity. People were glad to be rid of Thatcher.

Major set about coming up with an alternative to the community charge. He also had to plan for military action in the Gulf of Arabia. Soldiers form many countries were massing there.

Labour was deeply anxious. Major was popular – in fact the most popular Prime Minister since opinion polls began. The community charge would soon be gone. It looked like there would be a victorious war. The Tories could win again. Major was a man of the people – having himself filmed eating at Little Chef.



UN sanctions on Iraq were supposed to oblige Iraq to pull out of Kuwait. The Kuwaiti civilian population was being terrorised. Some Palestinians in Kuwait were persuaded to join the Iraqi Army.

The UN passed a resolution authorising the use of force to expel the Iraqi Army from Kuwait if Iraq did not withdraw by 15 January 1991. It was thought that the Soviet Union might veto this UN security council resolution but in the end the USSR supported it. The British Labour Party supported military action but a minor faction within the party opposed it. This included Corbyn, Benn, Diane Abbott, George Galloway and the far left.

The USSR had been Iraq’s main armourer in the 1980s. The Soviet Foreign Minister flew to Baghdad to try to talk some sense into Saddam Hussein. Hussein refused to be shifted. He would not avert calamity by ordering his troops out of Kuwait.

France dispatched troops to Saudi Arabia ready to participate in the liberation of Kuwait. But President Mitterand of France said France might not take part in military action. France would only fight if all possible alternatives to war were exhausted.

Germany which had just been reunited. Chancellor Helmut Kohl did not sent soldiers to Saudi Arabia. Because of the Second World War Kohl believed that Germany should never fight again. However, the Federal Republic of Germany paid a lot of money to coalition countries to defray the cost of fighting.

President George H W Bush said that 15 January was a political and not a military deadline. He implied that fighting would not commence on that date. The US Commander in the Gulf was Norman H Schwarzkopf. Arab countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Syria sent troops to fight against Iraq.

On 15 January the coalition began bombing Iraqi military positions in Kuwait and also bombing Iraq. At the last minute Mitterrand announced that France would also fight.

The air attacks continued for days. Iraq had some scud missiles. Saddam had said that the Palestinian issue should be resolved before he discussed Kuwait which he claimed was the 19th historic province of Iraq. Most Muslims sympathised with his support for Palestinian freedom. Scud missiles were fired at Israel. Israel feared these could contain chemical weapons.

The Israeli Prime Minister was a former terrorist named Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir wanted to bomb Iraq. This would be just what Saddam wanted. Saddam tried to portray this conflict as the Muslim world against Zionists. The US very strongly pressured Israel not to do so. If Israeli attacked Iraq then some Arab countries would leave the coalition rather than be associated with Zionism.

The SAS went into Iraq to try to find the scud missile launchers. They could then be targeted for destruction. This SAS mission was called Bravo Two Zero and was a fiasco.

After a fortnight of air attacks the ground war began. The Iraqi Army had been so pulverised by coalition air forces that it did not put up much of a fight. The coalition took Kuwait in a few days. The coalition had also invaded Iraq as part of the campaign. The question was how far into Iraq to go? Should the coalition ovethrow Saddam? Some said yes. Arab countries did not wish to do this. President Bush was chary. He did not want US troops to have to reconstruct Iraq over years. There would be a possibility of a war against Iran. The Iran-Iraq War had ended not long before.

A ceasefire was agreed. The coalition were in southern Iraq. Prisoners were exchanged. No fly zones were established in southern and northern Iraq. Iraq agreed to dismantle all weapons of mass destruction in a verifable manner.

The coalition was able to go home victorious. American troops remained stationed in Iraq and Kuwait.

Kurdish and Shia rebellions began in Iraq. US propaganda urged them to revolt but the US did not assist them. However, most Iraqi soldiers stayed loyal to Saddam. He was able to quell the insurgency in southern Iraq. He never gained control over Kurdistan.

The USA, UK and France enforced the no fly zone. They regularly bombed Iraq for breaching it.

Sanctions remained on Iraq for failing to honour the ceasefire terms. Saddam did not destroy his Weapons of Mass Destruction in a public way. France soon pulled out of enforcing the no fly zone.



John Major could have called an election in early 1991. He was riding high in the polls. The Gulf War was a victory and the community charge had been replaced with council tax.  He felt it was wrong to call a khaki election.

To Labour’s relief Major chose not to go to the country.

The UK joined the ERM. Labour supported this move. The country soon slipped into a recession. Interest rates were very high. Some people with mortgages went into negative equity.

People began to castigate Major as son of Thatcher. He was seen to be continuing the same policies and presiding over another slump. But Thatcher publicly criticised him for bringing the United Kingdom into the ERM.

In April 1992 Major called an election. Labour seemed to be just ahead. It appeared they would not have a majority in the House of Commons. People spoke of a Lib Lab coalition. Ashdown refused to be drawn on whether he would do any deals with another party.

Labour had changed its policy to supporting nuclear weapons. Kinnock had changed his personal view on this. Labour still said it would push for a united Ireland by consent and would take into account the wishes of the Unionists in Northern Ireland. They said they would not permit a Unionist veto on political development.

During the election it was revealed that Ashdown had had an affair. Ashdown said that was a few years ago and moved on. His wife stayed by him. Kinnock and Major wanted to keep their options open. Neither used Ashdown’s philandering against him..

The Tories highlighted Labour’s tax proposal. Their billboard read ”Labour’s tax bombshell.”

At a rally in Sheffield Labour displayed all the flags of the countries of the UK. Labour’s Shadow Cabinet was announced as the Government in waiting. Kinnock was referred to as the Prime Minister in waiting. Kinnock came onto the stage to thunderous applause. ”We’re all right  – we’re all right. We had better get some talking done here.” Kinnock’s self congratulation bombed with the public. His smugness cost him dear. He later said, ”I deeply regret that moment.”

The Conservatives experienced a sudden revival and won 43% of the vote to Labour 34%. Against all the odds the Tories won a majority of 20 seats. The Liberal Democrats slipped back. Major was Prime Minister again.

Kinnock was distraught. His hopes were dashed. He mulled over his future for a few days before tendering his resignation. Had he tried to lead Labour for another 5 years to another election he would not have succeeded. Members of his party were fed up with him losing twice. It was time for Labour to pick a new leader.



The economy was performing poorly under John Major. Unemployment was fairly high but not near the 15% maximum of the early 1980s.

Labour elected John Smith as their leader. Smith came from a middle class family in the Western Isles of Scotland. Smith had attended Glasgow University where he read Law. John Smith was a close friend of Menzies Campbell who was a Liberal Democrat MP. Like Menzies Campbell the Labour leader John Smith SMith was an advocate in Scotland. He was elected Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Monklands. He had been the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was his tax hike proposals that the Tories had exploited so successfully in the 1992 election.

Smith was affable and a very talented House of Commons performer. He was a moderniser within the party., He was married and had three daughters. There were no skeletons in his cupboard but he was a heavy drinker.

As Britain slid into recession the Conservatives popularity plummeted. They started to lose by elections.

In September 1992 the pound sterling lost ground against the deutsch mark. The government tried to pull the pound up by selling gold. In the end it was a failure. This became known as Black Wednesday. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was Norman Lamont. He gave a lugubrious statement about this disaster while flanked by his special adviser – David Cameron.

The United Kingdom pulled out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Labour skewered the Tories for the disaster of Black Wednesday. Labour lept shtum about the fact that they had urged the government to join the ERM which had caused the whole debacle.

As soon as the pound sterling was untied from the deutsch mark the British economy picked up. The UK began an economic growth spurt which was to last for 15 years. Unemployment fell.

One of Major;s changes in 1992 was to rename all polytechnics universities. This instantly doubled the number of universities in the country. Student grants were reduced.

Because the economy was not going well at first the Tory Government sought to distract attention. At the Conservative Conference Major announced his new theme – Back to Basics. This was supposed to be about dealing with crime, school indiscipline and more generally promoting personal responsibility. Tim Collins, a Tory press officer, confirmed that this was to be the predominant government policy.

The Back to Basics campaign started to unravel very rapidly. Several Conservative Members of Parliament were found to be conducting extra marital affairs.

Michael Brown MP was discovered to have gone on holiday with a 19 year old man and shared a bed with him. The gay age of consent was 21 at the time. Brown was not prosecuted although theoretically he could have been sent to prison.

Asil Nadir, a Turkish -Cypriot, multimillionaire fled the country in the wake of the collapse of BCCI (Bank of Commerce and Credit International). He moved to the unrecognised country of North Cyprus. It came to light that Tory MP Michael Mates had given him a watch inscribed with the words ”don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Labour was well ahead in the polls.

In 1993 there was a by election at Newbury. At a press conference Norman Lamont was asked if he regretted admitting he sang in the bath on Black Wednesday. He replied, ”Je ne regrette rien.” His allusion to Edith Piaf made him seem callous. Newbury had been a safe Conservative seat but the Liberal Democrats took it by storm. Lamont’s unwise words were partly responsible foe the debacle. Shortly thereafter he was sacked.

In his speech on his sacking Lamont made a coruscating attack on Major’s government. ”They give the impression of being in office but not in power.” Labour loved it. A senior Tory’s attack on the Tories was used by Labour at every opportunity.

The new Chancellor was Kenneth Clarke. Clarke was the son of a Nottingham jeweller. Clarke had attended Nottingham High School for Boys and then Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He has read for the Bar. He did not practise for long before being elected MP for Rushcliffe in 1970. Clarke was a One Nation Tory and a europhile. He was also a fairly good chancellor. The economy grew steadily. He was obliged to put up value added tax to 17.5%. He also raised tax on fuel.  Clarke was deeply relaxed. He was an obese cigar chomping jazz fan. He liked Ronnie Scott’s Nightclub.

The NHS was screaming. Waiting lists grew longer and hospitals could not stand within their budgets.

One of the few bright spots on the horizon was that in 1994 crime started to fall. It had tripled since 1979. The Home Secretary of the time was Michael Howard. He said ”prison works.” One of his junior ministers was Ann Widdecombe. A pregnant prisoner was handcuffed whilst giving birth. Miss Widdecombe said it was right to keep this woman chained up as she parturated. One Tory MP remarked, ”I prefer to have women chained up at the moment of conception.”



In May 1994 things seemed to be going Labour’s way. Despite the slight economic revival the Labour Party was well out on front in the polls. Smith gave a speech including the phrase, ”A chance to serve is all we ask.” The next day he died of a heart attack. His drinking almost certainly brought on the cardiac arrest.

Smith was buried on the island of Iona. His funeral in Edinburgh had the entire political elite there including John Major.

Labour then had to pick a new leader. The two modernisers within Labour were Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Brown was the son of a Church of Scotland minister. Born in 1951 Brown had attended a state school and then Edinburgh University. He was elected Rector by the students. This job was usually held by elder statesman. He gained a PhD in History. He was a far left agitator in his youth and wrote the ”Red Paper on Scotland.” He had spoken about ”challenging the logic of capitalism.” He briefly worked as a BBC journalist as many left wing intellectuals do. Brown had been an MP since 1983. Brown was lacking in emotional intelligence and held limited appeal for those who were not already Labour voters. Moreover, he was a bachelor.

Brown and Blair held broadly the same views. They met at Granita Restaurant in Islington. They agreed that only one of them would stand for the leadership. That man would lead Labour into government. After a few years the winner would stand down and assist the other in becoming Prime Minister. But which of them stood a better chance of leading Labour in Number 10 DOwning Street. They both agreed that it was Blair.

The contenders were John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and Tony Blair.

Prescott had grown up in Merseyside. He had been a merchant seaman. He attended Ruskin College. His ways were very working class and this appealed to many voters. However, his solecisms and lack of policy detail were major weaknesses.

Margaret Beckett was one of the most senior female MPs. She seemed very dull but was a decent public speaker. She had no university education. Her hobby was caravaning. She seemed like a caricature of a self righteous left winger. Even Labour supporting comic Billy Connolly sneered at her.

Blair was the obvious choice. He was 41 and very handsome. He was a superb public speaker and had emotional intelligence. Old women saw him as the ideal son in law. Blair was the son of a Scottish barrister and an Irish mother. Tony Blair had been born in Edinburgh, moved to Australia as a toddler and then moved to Durham. Blair attended Fettes College, one of the most pukka schools in Scotland. Blair later attended St John’s College, Oxford where he graduated in law. He was called to the Bar of England and Wales. Blair was more Scots than anything else but some people perceived him as being ENglish. He was an atypical Labour MP. He appealed to many southern English voters and middle class voters. Labour was feeble among these segments of the electorate. Labour badly needed to win votes from these sections of society. The industrial working class had declined. Union members had been loyal Labour voters but the unions were losing members. The working class was shrinking as people either moved up into the middle class or down in the the underclass. The underclass were people who were more or less permanently out of work. People in this demoralised group rarely voted.

Blair won easily. An internal Conservative memo was written about him by John Maples MP. It read, ” If he [Blair] is as good as he looks then we have a serious problem.”

Blair wanted to reformulate Clause IV of Labour’s constitution. Previous Labour leaders had also wanted to do this. Clause IV dated to 1920 and talked about the government owning ”the means of production, distribution and exchange.” This was replaced by a woolly statement on achieving together. It was intended to prove to middle of the road voters that Labour was not socialist and was nothing to be afraid of.

Blair lied about his previous CND membership. He supported nuclear weapons. He also said that Labour had been ”hopeless on defence.”

Blair’s campaign to drop Clause IV was overshadowed by the O J Simpson Trial in America. Nevertheless, the British public got the message that Labour had changed. Blair called the party New Labour.

Blair was extremely popular. He reached areas of the country that Labour leaders had not done for decades. He was a consummate House of Commons performer. He ran rings around Major. Labour gained some celebrity endorsements. Kevin Keegan headered a football to Tony Blair many times outside the Labour Conference. Blair was fashionable, athletic and personable.

Major looked careworn. Hardly a week went by without another scandal. Some Conservative MPs defected to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.



In the early 1980s the Conservatives had been a very europhile party. The EEC was good for business. In the late 1980s the EEC demanded ever more control of the affairs of members states. The European Parliament was founded in 1979 with MEPs elected to it. The European Court of Justice could overrule British courts. This was established by the Factortame case in 1986. The United Kingdom was still a massive net contributor to EEC budgets. The COmmon Agricultural Policy benefited other nations such as Eire, France and Spain but not the UK. The Common Fisheries Policy devastated the UK’s fishing fleet.

Some Conservative MPs became increasingly disenchanted with the EEC. These eurosceptics tended to be on the right of the party. The Exchange Rate Mechanism exemplified all that was wrong with excessive EEC integration. Moreover, the EEC was German dominated especially after 1990 when Germany reunited. At that point Germany had the largest population in the EEC. Prior to that it had been the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of her time Thatcher became eurosceptic. Some europhiles talked of a United States of Europe or a Federation. She said of the President of the European COmmission Jacques Delors, ”he says the European commission is to be the executive, the European Parliament is to be the legislature and the European Court of Justice is the judiciary. No, No, No.”

In 1992 the Treaty of Maastricht was negotiated. Maastricht is in the Netherlands. Maastricht was about turning the European Economic Community into the European Union. The EU institutions would be given even greater control over members states. The members states would have to implement EU directives.

The eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party grew to almost half the party. For some of them Maastricht was too much. Margaret Thatcher by that time was in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. She urged her followers to vote against Maastricht. Major called her a back seat driver.

A large number of Tories rebelled against their party whip over Maastricht. The Tory Cabinet was in favour of Maastricht. The europhiles in the cabinet were Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke. They regarded the eurosceptics with disdain. They viewed them as ignorant, reactionary and xenophobic.

The Treaty of Maastricht was narrowly ratified. Labour was delighted with the Conservatives tearing themselves apart.

The eurosceptics also had a presence in the Cabinet. Despite their eurosceptic beliefs people like John Redwood had to either tow the party line or else resign. One eurosceptic was Heathcote Amory and he did resign.

Major spoke to a journalist Michael Brunson. Major believed that the television cameras were off. Brunson asked him why he did not sack the eurosceptics in the Cabinet who were briefing against him in off the record quotations to journalists. Joh  Major said he did not dismiss them, ”Because then you would just have three more of the bastards out there causing trouble.” WHo were these three bastards? Most people believed Major was referring to John Redwood, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo.

Clarke and Heseltine took the view that Britain should get rid of the sterling and join the single European currency. This was unpopular in the party. Major was agnostic. Major tended towards the europhiles on other issues. He could not go totally against the eurosceptics. He was under severe pressure from the 1922 committee which represented the views of backbench Conservative MPs.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru had revived a little. Labour and the Liberal Democrats had sometimes shared platforms with the nationalist parties on other issues. Labour was worried that the Nationalists might split the anti-Tory vote. Since John Smith Labour had adopted the policy that it was ”the settled will of the Scottish people to have a Scottish Parliament.” Labour reversed its earlier opposition to devolution. Opinion polls showed devolution was very popular in Scotland. Devolution was at even stevens with full unionism in Wales. Scotland had favoured Labour for years as had Wales yet the Conservatives ruled there. The left wing consensus in these countries demanded different policies from Westminster. Scottish Labour MP George Robertson said the devolution, ”will kill nationalism stone dead.”

Major spoke against devolution. He said, ”it goes against 1 000 years of British History.” He was too ignorant to know that neither union had lasted anything like that long. To assuage separatist sentiment he brought the Stone of Scone from Westminster to Edinburgh.



In 1993 a scandal broke about cash for questions. A Conservative called Tim Smith MP admitted taking money to ask questions in the House of Commons. He stood down as a Member of Parliament. Others denied the allegations. One of these was Neil Hamilton MP.

Stephen Milligan was a Conservative MP who died from sexual asphyxia. The first phone call made when his corpse was discovered was to Conservative Central Office.

Such allegations were to dog the party throughout the parliament.

Piers Merchant MP was found to be having an affair with a 17 year old  hostess  from the Pink Pussycat club called Anna Cox.



In 1995 John Major had had enough of constant sniping. The Daily Telegraph –  the most right wing newspaper – was always slamming him. Many of Major’s own party castigated him. Major consulted only a few of his closest friends before calling a press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street.

He said ”back me or sack me.” He announced he was resigning as leader of the Conservative Party. This would oblige the party to hold a leadership election at which he would stand. The party could choose between him and an alternative.

Who would take up the gauntlet? Many people urged the Defence Secretary Michael Portillo to stand. Portillo was a half Spanish Londoner. He had been to a state school and the Peterhouse, Cambridge. AFter years as an oil trader he had been elected to Parliament in a 1984 by election. He was right wing and eurosceptic. He was not burdened with a posh background.  People installed phone lines for a Portillo campaign. Portillo disappointed his admirers by refusing to stand. Portillo doubted he could win. If he lost he would be seen as disloyal and severely chastised by the party. Even if he won he would be taking over a horrific situation. He would lead the party to metldown at the next election. Far better to bide his time. He calculated that the party would be heavily defeated at the next General Election. Then he could win the party leadership and lead the Conservatives back into government.

SOme Wets wanted Michael Heseltine to throw his hat into the ring. He had nursed an ambition to be Prime Minister. Now was his main chance – in fact his last one. However, Major’s enemies were right wingers and eurosceptics. They were hardly likely to vote for a man who was an outspoken europhile and a One Nation Tory who had helped fell Thatcher. Moreover, Heseltine had had heart surgery only a few years before.

The Secretary of State for Wales resigned from the Cabinet to challenged Major. His name was John Redwood. Redwood was replaced as Welsh Secretary by William Hague.

Redwood was born in Kent. His father was an accounts clerk.  Redwood had gone to a state school and then Magdalen COllege, Oxford. He attained a D Phil in History before going into banking. He was formidably clever but had no people skills.  He was distant, dry and cerebral. He was seen as an ultra Thatcherite. Redwood had no attraction for anyone who was not already a Tory. Redwood came into the open with his pronounced eurosceptic opinions. If he believed that why had he gone along with all this EU integration?

Major’s critics were confounded by his uncharacteristic boldness. Blair later admitted he was impressed by Major;s shock move.

Redwood argued ”no change, no chance.” Unless the party changed leaders it would definitely be smashed at the next election. Labour was 30% ahead in the polls. Redwood;s modest slogan said it all. He was by no means saying victory at the next election was likely under him.

Even Major’s critics mostly recognised that Redwood be a worse leader. Major was easily re-elected. His poll ratings had a brief uptick.

Heseltine’s loyalty was rewarded with him being appointed Deputy Prime Minister. There had been not Deputy PM since Geoffrey Howe in the 1980s.

The Sun had backed the Conservative for almost 20 years. The SUn dramatically shifted its support to Labour. It was an immense morale booster for Labour. Britain;s most widely read paper was throwing its weight behind them.



In 1996 Thomas Hamilton went mad and shot dead 20 people in a school in Dunblane. He then committed suicide. Politicians of all parties laid flowers there. Sir Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, had to persuade Major to invite the Labour leader to law a wreath at the school. Restrictions on guns were increased. An inane tabloid campaign of wild emotionalism called for a ban on handguns because of the Dunblane angels. Major would not go that far. Labour pledged to do so.

Despite the good economic news poll ratings were still dismal for the Tories.

Sir James Goldsmith set up a new political party. It was called the Referendum Party. Goldsmith was a multimillionaire for vulture capitalism. Born in 1930 this half French maverick was the son of a hotelier. He had left ETon at 16 announcing he was too rich to be a schoolboy. Goldsmith was a womaniser and reprised the quotation, ”When a man marries his mistress he creates a job vacancy.” For a spell his mistress was the daughter of the Marquess of Londonderry. He later wed her.

Goldsmith was a well known right winger. He used to be a Tory donor. He denounced the party for its ”decrepitude.” He was very eurosceptic despite having been an MEP for a region of France. He wanted all parties to pledge to hold a referendum before joining an EU currency.

The Referendum Party garnered much media interest. Many erstwhile Tories joined it. Major pledged that a future Conservative Government would hold a referendum before joining a common European currency.

Major toyed with a number of election dates. In the end he decided to go for the last possible one. Tory polling picked up slightly in 1997 but they were still miles behind Labour. The Liberal Democrats were breathing down the Tory neck. The growing economy would help the Conservatives.

Ken Clarke cut tax in April 1997. People saw on their pay cheques they had slightly more money than the month before.

Blair had every reason to be ebullient. However, Labour made it a rule not to be smug. They saw what such presumptiousness had done to them in 1992. The polls gave them a huge lead. Blair counselled caution, ”This is not a landslide country.”



Major asked the Queen for a dissolution of Parliament and it was granted. The election campaign was on.

Labour relished this day. Blair was energised and adored. He was also cautious. The election was his to lose. He dare not put a foot wrong. Labour MPs had to be on message. They had been briefed on what to say. So long as there were no gaffes they would win.  Labour issued cards with their five pledges. They would not raise income taxes. (They said nothing about other taxes). They would halve the time for young offenders between court and sentencing. They would cut the NHS waiting list by a specified amount.

Labour was trusted more than the Tories on all policy areas except Europe. Blair was much more atune to the public mood. He said, ”I am a 60s person – the Beatles that’s my generation.” He was 11 years younger than Major but seemed much more so. The Tories seemed deeply uncomfortable with modern Britain. One Conservative MPs inveighed against his Labour opponent for being an unwed mother. He called her children ”bastards.”

One Tory poster showed Blair sitting on Helmut Kohl’s knee. It was crude and anti German. Another showed a bull dog with its teeth pulled out.

Labour went onto traditional Conservative territory. One poster read – 22 tax rises in 5 years. Enough is enough. Blair had long said, ”it is a myth that the Tories are the party of low tax.” The Conservatives had also cut tax so overall the tax burden was slightly down.

John Major announced that, ”There is 24 hours left to save the United Kingdom.”

On 1 May the United Kingdom went to the polls.

The polls closed at 10pm. Within the hour Sunderland South declared. It was already a solid Labour constituency but also showed a marked gain for Labour. Results through the night served only to confirm the trend. It was hours before the first Conservative seats were won. This is because the Tories tended to do better in rural constituencies. These had a much large land area than urban seats which were overwhelmingly Labour. It took longer to collect ballot boxes from widely dispersed polling stations in the countryside than a few polling stations in a city constituency that were close together.

Michael Portillo was standing for the Conservatives in Southgate, a London constituency. As the Tories were certain to be booted out of office everyone expected Major to stand down as leader of the Unionist and Conservative Party. Portillo was thought to be a shoo-in as the next Conservative leader. In the event Portillo was knocked out of Parliament by Labour’s Stephen Twigg. Many people were astonished. Michael Portillo gave a gracious concession speech.

Labour won 43% of the vote and 418 seats. The Conservatives won 31% of the popular vote and held 166 seats. This waa their lowest number of seats since 1832. It was still much better than any opinion poll had suggested. The Liberal Democrats won 16% of the vote and they more than doubled their tally of seats from the last election. They took 46 constituencies.

The Referendum Party took over 1% of the vote. Most of their voters were former Conservatives. They almost certainly deprive the Conservatives of a few seats.

In Scotland the Tories were wiped out. One Labourist jubilantly declared North Britian to be, ”A Tory free zone.” In Wales the Conservative were also annihilated.

This constituency breakdown is misleading. The Conservatives attracted more votes in Scotland than the Liberal Democrats. Likewise in Wales the Tories outpolled the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. The first past the post system had worked well for the Conservatives many in times. In 1997 it worked against them

Blair was in Sedgefield for his count. He defeated a Conservative woman. In his acceptance speech he displayed some rare decency in remarking that he had stood in a rock solid Conservative seat during the Falklands conflict in 1982 and been thrashed. She must not give up on politics.

Blair flew to London. At Festival Hall there was a victory party. Neil Kinnock was seen there bopping his head. Labour’s campaign song was by D:REAM ”Things can only get better.” He remarked- ”it would have been inhumane not to be jealous.” He saw Blair and thought – this should have been me. Blair addressed the ecstatic crowd of Labour backers. ”A new dawn has broken has it not?”

John Major went to the Palace to request the Queen relieve him of his duties. Her Britannic Majesty duly obliged. Major returned to Downing Street and looked like the happiest loser ever. He was elated to be rid of the burden of leadership. ”When the curtain falls it is time to get off the stage.” He announced he would stand down as leader of the party.

Then she had her staff phone Tony Blair. Blair went to Buckingham Palace to be requested to form a government. Blair accepted.

Blair returned to Downing Street with his wife and children. Anthony Blair then delivered a brief speech. ”Enough of talking. Time now to do.”



Blair announced his new cabinet and there were no surprises. John Prescott was Deputy Prime Minister. He was recognisably working class and reassuring to Old Labour voters. Some of them were doubtful about New Labour.

Gordon Brown became the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Within days he announced the independence of the Bank of England. It would set interest rates to avoid manipulation to suit the political cycle. This was welcomed by almost everyone.

The IRA called a ceasefire in July 1997.

The Conservative sought to elect a new leader. The runners were Ken Clarke, John Redwood and William Hague. Hague was born into a lower middle class family in Yorkshire. His strong Yorkshire accent belied the upper class image of his party. He had attended Oxford University and been a management consultant for McKinsey and Co. He was also 36 in a party that was seen as being old. He seemed just the ticket. Hague was a politician to his finger tips. He had addressed the party conference aged 16. ”Let’s roll back the frontiers of socialism. I want to be free.” Baroness Thatcher came out in favour of W J Hague.

Redwood and Clarke made a pact. Clarke;s euro enthusiasm was anathema to much of the party. The deal was that Clarke would be leader but he would leave European policy to Redwood. This seemed like a cynical stitch up. It  was not credible. Hague won the election.

Blair held a constitutional committee. He invited the Liberal Democrats to take part – not the Conservatives. Blair and Ashdown had mutual regard and admitted to agreeing about a lot. Blair considered bringing the Lib Dems into Cabinet but he realised this would alarm the Labour left. He wanted to appease them by also bringing the left wing extremist Ken Livingstone. He asked Livingstone how he thought the government had been doing. ”A lot worse than I expected.” Livingstone talked himself out of a Cabinet seat. Without a far left figure to balance the Lib Dems Blair felt he could not include them in the Cabinet.

Blair’s ambition was to obliterate the Tory Party which had held the country back for a century. He believed the way to do that was to unite the Lib Dems and Labour. He had a lot of sympathy for the people who had joined the SDP.

Peter Mandelson was the architect of New Labour. He spoke of the Big Tent – including all people of moderate opinion.

Blair confessed to respecting Margaret Thatcher. Within weeks of becoming Prime Minister he invited her to Downing Street to seek her guidance.

In July 1997 Blair went to Hong Kong with Prince Charles on the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten presided over the colony’s hand over to China.

The economy was growing. Crime was falling. The NHS waiting lists were still climbing. All were legacies of the Tory years.

Blair went to Balmoral for the PM’s customary week with the Royal Family.

Princess Diana’s divorce from the Prince of Wales had become absolute that January. She was known to be dating an Egyptian playboy named Dodi Fayed. He was the son of the multimillionaire owner of Harrods – the controversial Mohammad Fayed.

In August 1997 news came through one midnight of a car crash in Paris. Princess Diana was badly injured and Dodi was dead.



Princess Diana died after a few hours in a Paris hospital. Theories have abounded about her death. Her carcass was flown back to the United Kingdom by the RAF.

Blair was in his constituency when the news broke. He went to his parish church in mourning. He gave a speech which seemed extempore. ”She was the people’s princess.”

Hague later said that Blair was trying to capitalise on the princess’ death for political gain. This was a grave error of judgment. The public did not see it Hague’s way at all. Hague called for Heathrow Airport to be renamed in honour of Her Royal Highness.

Many people were grief stricken. Tens of thousands of people laid flowers in front of Kensington Palace which was her home.

Her Majesty the Queen remained at Balmoral. She was a woman of her generation and class. She was reserved. Certain members of the public – usually the liberal left – wanted a public display of grief. This would seem false and wrong to the queen. She was there to be steadfast in difficult moments. She must provide leadership by not going to pieces. She must remain dignified and exercise emotional self-control. It was known that the Queen did not like Princess Diana. Her volatile and tell it all ways were very different from the Queen’s decorum and restraint.

Some blamed the media or even the House of Windsor for the death of Princess Diana. She had been outcast by the Royal Family. That was for washing dirty linen in public and bad mouthing them. She said Prince Charles should never be king. But Prince Charles had started it by admitting adultery.

The Union Flag over Buckingham Palace flew at full mast. It always does since the sovereign never dies. The Queen went by form. Keeping the Flag flying was the right thing to do. It was tradition. The Sun showed the flag with the headline, ”Show us you care.”

Blair as Prime Minister persuaded Prince Charles to beg the queen to lower the flag.  The Queen returned to London and walked among crowds. She inspected floral tributes outside her palace. She gave a televised address. Alistair Campbell, Blairs’ press chief, gave key advice on this. The monarchy had briefly been deeply unpopular. Blair saved the day.

A funeral at Westminster Abbey took place some days later. There was a massive outpouring of grief. Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, gave an elegy. Lord Spencer was ghastly in using his tribute to lash out at his in-laws. Diana was buried in Althorp – her Northamptonshire home.

The country gradually recovered from the death of Diana.



Within weeks normal business was assumed. Things were easy for the government. Only the NHS gave trouble.

In September the referenda on devolution were held. In Scotland it was passed by 75% and the new legislature was to have tax varying powers. In Wales on 50% of people voted and the Yes side won very narrowly.

Hague proved to be a damp squib as Tory leader. He tried to reform the party and appear more modern. He got engaged to Ffion Jenkins. He admitted he would be sharing a room with her at the Tory Conference. This earned a rebuke from Lord Parkinson. Comic Ian Hislop remakred, ”I am sure it had a certain moral authority coming from him.” Lord Parkinson had infamously committed adultery. Lord Parksinson had been reappointed to his role as Conservative Party Chairman.

Hague said a couple living together before they married could be a good thing. Some Conservatives were still espousing Victorian morals.

Hague foolishly vowed to make the Tories a mass party with hundreds of thousands of members.

In December 1997 Blair invited Sinn Fein president Gerard Adams into 10 Downing Street. This was only a few months after the IRA had temporarily halted terrorism. It continued to mutilate people it called petty criminals.

The Euro was the new name for the currency of EU states. In 1998 it was launched as a theoretical currency – it had no coins or notes.

Brown came up with 5 tests for whether Britain would join or not. The UK would not be in the first wave of countries joining.

The Euro was a divisive issue. The old guard of Tories were mostly pro Euro. The younger Conservatives tended to be anti Euro. Hague then balloted members to accept his policy of ruling it out for 15 years. Either side could vote for this. 85% of members endorsed his policy. A few people left the party and founded the pro Euro Conservative Party. They stood in by elections. They eventually merged with the Lib Dems.

In 1998 Labour was stratospherically popular. Blair could have won a referendum on scrapping the pound. However, he was not certain. He dared not give the Tories a life line. So he bottled it. Conservative opposition to the Euro was not quite calcified.

In January 1999 Ashdown announced he was standing down as leader of his party. There was a campaign for several months. Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy were frontrunners. Bizarrely, Jackie Ballard stood despite having been elected to Parliament two years before.

After a campaign of  few months Charles Kennedy was elected leader. Kennedy had been elected to Parliament in 1983. Then aged 22 he was the Baby of the House. Kennedy had started out in the Social Democratic Party. Kennedy was from Scotland and represented a constituency there. Kennedy was an attention seeker with some deeply held beliefs. He was willing to take part in many light entertainment programmes on television. Some scorned him as ”chat show Charlie.” He advocated decriminalising cannabis. SOme called him Charles ‘Ganja’ Kennedy. He was relaxed and liberal in the broadest sense of the word. He lacked gravitas. He later privately admitted that he had been elected to Parliament too young. He posed as an anti-politician but had only ever worked outside politics for 6 months. As an anti-Conservative he had done his obligatory stint with the BBC.

Kennedy defended his habit of appearing on chat shows by saying the Liberal Democrats must do all they could to grab media attention. On these programmes he was not elucidating Lib Dem policy but the public still saw him and many grew to like his conviviality.

Labour appointed a commission on university funding. It reported back recommending tuition fees of GBP 1 000 a year. Labour accepted it an implemented it. The Labour left opposed this as did the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives supported the move. Undergraduates starting in 1998 had to pay fees but these were reduced for those from poor families. In fact it was the parents who had to pay. This was established in court by a test case. Student grants were changed to being loans.



Hague had tried to reform the Conservative Party. He sought to broaden its appeal. By 1999 it seemed to have failed. The Conservatives were seldom much over 20% in the opinion polls. They had crashed to 20% on Black Wednesday 1992 and hovered there ever since. Conservatives joked darkly that they were ”flat liners” because their opinion poll rating would not budge. Flat liner also means a patient in an emergency room without a heartbeat.

SOme Conservative MPs plotted against Hague. Hague’s approval rating was very negative. A lot more people disapprovef of him than approved of him. The Conservative Party launched surveys to ask ways they could enhance the party’s appeal. One answer kept coming back, ”Change the leader.” Many members of the public did not know who Hague was.

Hague had one defence. WHo else? WHo else would lead the party? There did not seem an obvious answer. Clarke had been rejected. Besides his Euro fanaticism was unacceptable to the broad mass of Conservatives. Redwood was too odd. Who would want to be party leader in such dire circumstances? It was a poisoned chalice. Despite the unrelieved gloom Hague seemed to be a tower of strength. His energy and optimism were an inspiration to all around him.

Hague changed tack. The Conservatives reverted to type. They laid emphasis on traditional Conservative values. The plan was to get out the core vote. If the Conservatives did not perform decently in the European Elections then William Hague would have to be turfed out.

Only about 25% of people bothered to vote in the European Elections. EU elections never garnered much enthusiasm in the United Kingdom. Because Labour was so popular its supporters were complacent and few turned out.. People predicted that the Tories might hold their own. However, Hague defied all expectations of a mediocre performance. The Conservatives won. Hague was saved. In the long run that might have been a bad thing for the party.

A new political party also stood in this election. They were called the United Kingdom Independence Party or UKIP. Three UKIP people were elected. Among them was a 35 year old financier named Nigel Farage.



Labour was not too worried over its mildly disappointing performance in the Euro elections.

There were also elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Labour won both of those. The SNP performed decently in North Britain and the Tories did badly. The Conservatives had opposed establishing the Scottish Parliament but said they accepted it as the will of the people. The regional member top up system was the only reason the Tories had any Members of the Scottish Parliament.

In 1999 Her Majesty the Queen opened the Scottish Parliament. The DUke of Hamilton rode beside her in her coach. The new Holyrood Parliament Building was under construction.

The new First Minister of Scotland was Donald Dewar. He was old, spindly and looked like a miser. He was a man for whom the word dour could have been invented. His saturnine aspect was partly due to the fact that his wife had run off with Lord Irivne of Clashfern years before. Lord Irvine was a barrister who had been Tony Blair’s master and had introduced young Blair to Cherie Booth – whom Blair wed.

In 1999 Lord MacPherson issued a report. He had looked into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Lawrence was a black teenager who was stabbed to death by whites in 1993. The police investigated but chose not to charge anyone. The family took out a private prosecution. The police advised them not to do so because they would probably not get a conviction on the evidence available. If the suspects were acquitted they could never be tried again.

The defendants were all acquitted. The Lawrence family and their supporters claimed it was all about racism. They accused the police of being incompetent for racist reasons.

Lord MacPherson invented a novel concept – ”institutional racism.” He said that the police had no racist policies and did not try to be racist. They were racist without knowing it. This daft notion was embraced by Labour the Liberal Democrats. Labour was eager to secure ethnic minority votes. The Conservatives were dubious about it. Asking questions about how the police were all racist led to the Tories being excoriated in the foulest terms.

Labour then threw away a centuries old principle of liberty. They scrapped the principle of double jeopardy. From them on a person could be tried twice for the same alleged offence.



Kosovo was a province of Yugoslavia. Most of the Kosovars were Albanian speaking Muslims. Some of them formed the Kosovo Liberation Army – KLA.

The KLA rebelled against the Yugoslav Army which was largely Slav. The Yugoslav President was Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was very anti Muslim. His forces had massacred thousands of Muslim civilians in Bosnia a few years before.

The Yugoslav Army fought the KLA. The Yugoslav armed forces also deliberately killed hundreds of Kosovar civilians. Many Kosovars fled.

NATO threatened Yugoslavia and demanded they withdraw from Kosovo. Without UN approval NATO started to bomb Yugoslavia. China and Russia were against. Russia was very friendly with Yugoslavia. Clinton was doubtful about this operation and ruled out ground troops. The Tories did not all support military action. Some noted that the KLA was involved in drug dealing and slave trading.

There were weeks of bombing. The Chinese Embassy was hit and its diplomats were killed. Serb civilians were also killed.After a few weeks Yugoslavia capitulated.

Kosovo was evacuated by the Yugoslav security forces. UN troops moved in. Blair visited Kosovo and was hailed as a hero. He was a liberal interventionist.

Blair also sent troops to Sierra Leone. This former British colony was wracked by civil war. The Rebel United Forces  RUF had committed many artocities. The British Army was able to help the government win.



In 1998 more and more asylum seekers began to arrive in the UK. The government became worried about this illegal immigration. The Conservatives warned about the abuse of the system.

Labour also allowed in more legal immigrants than ever. They mostly became Labour voters. Net immigration was massively plus unlike before. The immigrants tended to become Labour voters. Ethnic minority voters broke strongly in favour of Labour. Furthermore, Labour had let these people in. They did not need to be British citizens to vote. Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK could vote in British elections.

The Conservatives attacked Labour about not stopping large scale illegal immigration. Many asylum seekers were lodging false claims. The government was inefficient at booting them out. The Tories could not make much mileage out of this. They had given an amnesty to illegal immigrants in the mid 1990s to clear the backlog of cases.



Labour started taking more money from the taxpayer to fund the party’s operations. It also gave over GBP 1 000 000 a year to the Tories for their party;s purposes. Hague slammed Labour for what it was doing but still took the money.

Labour had been mainly funded by trades unions for decades. Before the 1997 election there was a blind trust. People could anonymously donate to Labour. Because of funding scandals in the 1990s Labour introduced a transparency law. All party donations of over GBP 5 000 a year had to be declared. For years no one knew who was funding the Conservative Party. The suspicion was that those who donated to the Tory coffers got government contracts and gongs. Funding came out into the open. The Conservatives were still better funded than Labour but not by as huge a margin as before. Many business leaders favoured Labour. This was partly because Labour was in office.

The rules on declaring MPs’ interests were widened. They had to declare even free gym usage. A Parliamentary commissioner was appointed to look into allegations of misconduct. A committee of MPs looked into such allegations. When Miss Filkin, the commissioner, did her job too vigorously she was castigated. MPs brief against her anonymously saying she was mentally ill. She had divorced recently and they suggested she was promiscuous. They accused her of being nosey and anti democratic. She was just zealous in executing her duty to investigate allegations of impropriety.



1999 saw the end of the Millennium. There was much fret about a Millennium computer bug. Y2K would ruin computer systems, it was claimed. It transpired that nothing untoward occurred.

The beginning of 2000 saw the NHS in bad shape. Waiting lists were still far too long. Blair had stuck to the Conservative spending plans for the first two years. The NHS was not improving fast enough. Blair experienced public anger at the perceived government inaction on this issue. Hague attacked Labour for mismanaging the NHS. Blair would always riposte. ”the choice is between improving the NHS under Labour or privatising it under the Tories.” The Labour Government started throwing money at the NHS. Waiting lists began to shrink.

Blair brought in Private Finance Initiatives for the NHS. This meant that money was spent up front but not by the NHS. The trouble was the government then had to repay companies a lot more in the long run. It was very short termist but it made the books look good for the next election.

Labour had vowed not to raise incomes taxes. They had said nothing about other taxes. Labour increased National Insurance contributions. They also raised taxes on alcohol and tobacco in every budget. Labour increased fuel duty. They were putting some of this money into education and the NHS.

In the summer of 2000 petrol tax was the highest in decades. A group called the People’s Fuel Lobby campaigned against this tax hike. They picketed petrol depots. Many truckers joined in. They said their livelihoods were under threat. Then they started to blockade refineries and the like. Petrol stations began to run out of petrol, This meant private cars and lorries could not be refilled.

Labour was worried. They pointed out that ambulances and other emergency services would soon be out of fuel. Vital supplies would not be moved. The police struggled to prevent people from blockading fuel depots. Hague praised the protestors as ”fine upstanding citizens.” For once the Conservatives jumped ahead of Labour in the polls. It lasted for a week. Labour pointed out that these taxes were needed to fund public services.

The protests dispersed after a fortnight. The petrol tax was up for review in a couple of months. Gordon Brown sagely reduced it.

Throughout this time crime was falling and the economy was growing. House prices continued to rise. Statistics were massaged roughly to make them seem better.

Labour introduced blizzards of regulations. They hugely increased the public sector. Public sector workers mostly voted Labour. At Downing Street the number of special advisers tripled. Special advisers were invented by Thatcher. They were political placemen or placewomen. They were partisan. Under Blair they were allowed to give orders to civil servants for the first time. Some decried this as an interference with the independence and neutrality of the civil service. Blair brushed this all aside claiming it was modernisation.

The country entered 2001 in good shape. Labour was very upbeat. The Tories were down in the dumps.


The United Kingdom in the 1980s.


THE U K in the 1980s.

The United Kingdom commenced the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of a Conservative Government. James Callaghan was leader of the Labour Party. David Steel headed the Liberal Party.

Unemployment kept going up. However, inflation was controlled.

There was a miners’ strike. The leader of the National Union of Mineworkers was Arthur Scargill. Scargill was a Yorkshireman who had been in the Communist Party. In the 1950s he had gone to the Soviet Union where he berated Khruschev for betraying the legacy of comrade Stalin. Scargill later joined the Labour Party. He openly spoke of class warfare and was an ardent anti-monarchist. He wanted trades unions not just to better the lot of their members but also to defeat the Tories on all issues.

Margaret Thatcher quickly decided to fold. She was in no fit state to face down the miners. She was not confident of her position. She resolved that next time the mining unions made demands she would be ready for them.

Margaret Thatcher attempted to conciliate Argentina on the Falklands issue. A Conservative MP Nicholas Ridley want to Switzerland with his wife. Ostensibly it was a holiday. By arrangement he checked into the same hotel as an Argentine diplomat. Ridley and the Argentinian had secret discussions about the Falklands. The idea of pretending this was a holiday was so that if the press discovered he had been speaking to the diplomat he could pretend he just happened to meet him in the hotel and they had a friendly chat. The proposal mooted was for the United Kingdom to cede sovereignty over the islands to Argentina and then lease it back from Argentina. The Argentines would feel honour had been satisfied and the British could retain the substance of what they already owned. The liberty of the Falklanders would be safe and war would be avoided. In the end this parley did not bear fruit. These discussions remained secret for many years.

In December 1979 the Red Army entered Afghanistan. They were propping up the deeply unpopular communist dictatorship there. Thatcher condemned the Soviet action as an invasion. In Afghanistan the mujahideen rebelled against the Red Army and their Afghan confederates. Thatcher praised the Afghan resistance.

Crime started to rise. More illegal drugs were being imported into the UK. Drug addicts began mugging and burgling to fund their habits. Despite Conservatives boasting that they came down hard on criminals they failed to tackle crime.

In the summer of 1980 there was unrest in several cities. There were riots in some. To some extent this was over unemployment. Black youths often said they were harassed by the police. They often complained about the sus laws – stop and search. To some extent these riots were mere opportunism when the weather was good. It was a chance to loot shops. A judge called Lord Scarman was given the task of leading a commission of inquiry into these disturbances.

Margaret Thatcher introduced legislation allowing council house tenants the right to buy their properties. This was to make capitalism more popular and give people independence. Thatcher said the council tenants often failed to care for their properties because they did not own them. About 40% of people lived in council houses at the time. Many of these people could never have afforded to purchase a house. Average house prices were about double the national average wage. Many council house tenants took advantage of this scheme and were elated to be homeowners. Many of them were former Labour voters who switched to the Conservatives for the time being. Labour opposed this policy. They said councils needed social housing to house the needy. Labour was also wedded to the collective principle.

The Conservative fell behind Labour in the polls. This was not unexpected as the government neared mid term. Unemployment was over 10% – the highest in decades. A government’s popularity was inversely proportional to unemployment. That means that as unemployment rose a government’s popularity fell. Moreover, the opposition gained popularity from rising unemployment.

The Tories looked to be in deep trouble. However, all was not plain sailing for Labour. A Trotskyite group called Militant Tendency had joined the Labour Party. These Trotskyites pursued entryist policies. They believed in joining the mainstream democratic socialist party with a view to converting it into a far left organisation. Moderate Labour MPs were screamed at in Labour conferences. The CND was very strong in the Labour Party. Militant Tendency tried to have Labour MPs with middle of the road views deselected as parliamentary candidates for the forthcoming election. In some cases they were successful. Some Labour Party members spoke up for the IRA. One of the most renowned Labour politicians was Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was born in London in 1945. Both his parents had been Conservative councillors. Livingstone was a laboratory technician before being elected to Greater London Council. He was noted for his extreme left wing views. He was seen as loony left. He endorsed the IRA’s cause though not its methods.

In early 1981 James Callaghan decided to retire as leader of the Labour Party. This was perhaps a mistake. It seemed he had a decent chance of leading his party back into government. At that stage the party seemed very difficult to lead.

Labour elected Michael Foot as the new leader. Foot came from a distinguished political family. Foot came from Plymouth where his father Isaac Foot had been a Liberal Member of Parliament. Foot had gone to Wadham College, Oxford where he had been active in the Liberal Party. After graduating he moved to Liverpool and worked as a shipping agent. He was refused accommodation on account of his bad skin. This ought to have said something about his raffish appearance. In Liverpool Foot was horrified by poverty. He changed allegiance to Labour which he believed was the only party committed to dealing with poverty. Michael Foot later became a journalist. In 1940 he wrote a book called ”Guilty Men” which excoriated leading Tory politicians for having caused the Second World War through the pusillanimity. He did not serve in the armed forces.

In 1945 Foot, as he said himself, ”The good people of Plymouth elected  me to Parliament. In 1955 the bastards threw me out.” Foot filled the intervening years with journalism. He was elected an MP in 1958 for Ebbw Vale – he filled the vacancy left by the death of Nye Bevan.

Foot was bookish and not personally ambitious. He paid no attention to his appearance. He was a man of sincere views. His opinions on social issues were very liberal. In many ways he was a terrible choice for Labour. Although he was a gifted and witty debater he did not look like Prime Minister material. His ragamuffin appearance was off putting to floating voters. He was also 69 when elected leader of the Party. He was a long standing member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. His views were just about acceptable to Militant Tendency but they wanted him to go even further left. He did at least advocate remaining a member of NATO which Militant Tendency disagreed with.

Labour also chose a deputy leader. Denis Healey beat Tony Benn by the narrowest of margins. Healey was a former Defence Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Healey had been a communist at Oxford before the war. By the 1980s he was on the right wing of the Labour Party and he was pro nuclear arms. Benn was a member of the CND despite having been in the Cabinet when the decision was taken to renew the Polaris nuclear weapons system. Moreover, Labour kept that decision secret because they knew it would be unacceptable to their party.

Benn had become a left wing extremist. Former Labour PM Harold Wilson said of him ”he immatures with age.” Benn was lauded by readers of Tribune – a publication of the Labour left. Benn’s far left views did not prevent him owning a very expensive house in Holland Park – one of London’s most exclusive areas.



Some members of the Labour Party were aghast with the direction the party was taking. They were fed up with being verbally abused by people who were communists not socialists. They recognised the need for Labour to be a mainstream party. In 1981 four leading members of the Labour Party resigned from the party and issued a statement called ‘The Limehouse Declaration.’ These four MPs were Shirley Williams, Bill Rogers, Roy Jenkins and Dr David Owen. All of them had been cabinet ministers. They were dubbed the Gang of Four after the Chinese coterie.

The Limehouse Declaration takes its name from the part of London where it was issue. It was near Dr Owen’s house. Moreover, this was the district of London where Clement Attlee had cut his teeth in local politics. The Limehouse Declaration decried the far left trend of the Labour Party. It called for the formation of a new moderate left wing party. It recognised the necessity of the UK retaining nuclear weapons. The declaration called on people to put country before party and to set up  new political force. ”We recognise that ch oices will be painful.” Many people had deep roots in the Labour Party. Their families had identified with the party for generations. That saw that Labour had done much for the working class. They were reluctant to divide it and to weaken anti-Toryism.

SOme Labour people denounced what the Gang of Four had done as the Slimehouse Declaration.

The Gang of Four toyed with a number of names for their new political party. They considered ‘New Labour’ but they decided to drop the word Labour. They did not want to be seen as a breakaway from an existing party. They must be a totally new party appealing to people from across the spectrum. They assumed the name the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Of 240 Labour MPs at the time 24 eventually joined the SDP. Labour had lost a tenth of its parliamentary party. One Conservative MP defected to the SDP. Others such as Julian Critchley were tempted.

The SDP published advertisements in newspapers setting out its views and appealing for members. The SDP was inundated with applications for membership. Tens of thousands of people joined in weeks. Some of them were defectors from Labour and some from the Conservatives. Many of them were political virgins – they had never been members of any party.

The Liberal Party noticed that the SDP agreed with them on a lot. They wanted to help the poor but not to be socialist. They were both deeply committed to the EEC. Both believed that the UK needed nuclear arms.

Roy Jenkins was elected leader of the SDP. He had ample parliamentary experience. He was a former Home Secretary and European Commissioner. He also had many cross party friendships.

The Liberals and SDP recognised that up until that point UK politics had been a duopoly. There was little room for a third party and none for a fourth. Could the collaborate. The negotiated an alliance for the upcoming election. They would stand as the SDP-Liberal Alliance. Sometimes people simply called it the Alliance. However, they were two parties working together. They did not merge into one party. Not at that stage.



In the late 1970s hospitals in New York noticed that some men were coming to them with failing immune systems. They ranged from teenagers to elderly men but most were in their 20s and 30s. SOme led very healthy lifestyles but some did not. Many smoked and drank. Few took drugs. There seemed to be no link to diet or ethnicity. WHy were their immune systems suddenly breaking down? There was only one common factor. They were all gay. The hospitals called this mysterious breakdown in the immune system G R D – Gay Related Disease. Many of these men had been on holiday to Haiti and consorted with rent boys.

In 1981 GRD was recognised as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. This disease was contracted through blood, semen, vaginal secretions or even saliva. It could affect men or women. Heterosexuals were also infected with it.

AIDS was revealed to the public. There was a huge panic. It was believed that tens of millions of people would be infected with it. Those who were infected with this disease were first of all HIV positive. After a few years this turned into AIDS. AIDS caused a patient to die of a minor infection that a healthy person would easily beat.

There were no effective treatments for these illnesses. SOmeone diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980s would expect to die within 5 years. They would be in very poor health for the last two years.

The discovery of this disease led to a recrudesence of anti gay sentiment.

The UK Government launched a public information campaign to combat the spread of the illness. The Health Secretary was Norman Fowler. Fowler discussed the issued with his civil servants. The expression oral sex came up. This middle aged married man did not know what oral sex was. Poor Mrs Fowler!

The government encouraged the use of condoms. They were issued free by the NHS.

Drug addicts who shared needles were likely to become HIV positive. Some of these drug addicts also worked as prostitutes which increased their risk factor. It also spread the disease into the general population.



The House of Windsor recovered from the murder of Lord Mountbatten. Lord Mountbatten was Prince Charles’s great-uncle. The Prince of Wales viewed him as a grandfather figure. Both Prince Charles’ grandfathers died when he was very young. Mountbatten had harboured an ambition for Prince Charles to wed a Mountbatten. This did not come to pass.

The Prince of Wales was in her early 30s. The time had come to take to wife. His sister Princess Anne had married in 1972 and already had two children.

The prince met Lady Diana Spencer. He had known her slightly since 1977. Back then the age gap seemed to great. In August 1980 she was invited to Balmoral. Fleet Street photographers snapped them together.

In November 1980 it was announced that the couple had become engaged. The wedding would take place the following July.

The summer of 1981 was wracked by protests and riots. People were furious about unemployment. The government feared that far left protestors would disrupt the Royal wedding. In fact that did not transpire.

The wedding was a most extravagant affair in St Paul’s Cathedral. It was beamed live to hundreds of millions around the world. Billed the wedding of the century it did not disappoint. It demonstrated that the House of Windsor was more loved than ever. It also took people’s minds off the bad economic situation.



In April 1982 the outlook for the Tories was gloomy. Unemployment kept going up. Despite Labour’s civil war the Tories were lagging in the polls. The SDP were sometimes shown on course to win the next election. As though it could not get worse some news arrived from the South Atlantic.

On April Fool’s Day 1982 British intelligence intercepted Argentine communications about invading the Falklands. Was this a joke?

On 2 April 1982 Argentine commandos landed on the islands that there country had long claimed. Argentine commandos soon surrounded Government House. The Royal Marines made a last stand and shot two Argentines. The Argentines used fire and movement tactics to make it appear that their force was much bigger than it really was. The Royal Marines were running low on ammunition and realised that in time the Argentines could bring in artillery or call in an air strike. The British surrendered. The Argentine commander congratulated the Royal Marines on their fighting and shook them by the hand. They were flown to neutral Uruguay to be released.

The news of the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands was greeted with dismay in the United Kingdom. The government gave a gloomy statement in the House of Commons. Lord Carrington the Foreign Secretary took responsibility for the debacle and resigned. It was the last such principled resignation. He later said he had only lost his job. Many lost their lives.

Mrs Thatcher consulted the Chief of Defence Staff. ”Can we retake the Falklands?” He replied, ”We can and we must.” She was surprised by his saying that the Falklands must be liberated. Some elder statesman were less gungho. It seemed like Suez all over again. This conflict was avoidable. It was for a place where very few British people lived and another country had a plausible claim to the disputed territory. Furthermore, the country would be fighting without even the moral support of the United States.

The Argentinians moved in thousand more troops. However, they were sure that the British would not attempt to free the Falklands. They renamed the islands Las Malvinas. They said people must drive on the right.

The USA had a cordial relationship with the Republic of the Argentine. Argentina was then ruled by a junta. The dictator was Leopoldo Galtieri. The news that the Falklands had been conquered by Argentina was greeted with delirious jubilation in Buenos Aires. Even left wing enemies of the military government were cock a hoop. Argentinians temporarily forgot the hyper inflation that was ruining their country. Argentina also seized South Georgia which had never been their territory.

Within a few days the United Kingdom had dispatched a task force to retake the islands. Thousands of troops were earmarked to go.  A ferry was commandeered under the Defence of the Realm Acts. Some elder statesmen were very sceptical. They thought it was Suez all over again.

The US Government equivocated over the Falklands. If they supported the British they would alienate all Latin American countries. British diplomats at the UN spoke to their Argentine counterparts to find a solution. In fact Thatcher was not sincere in these efforts. She wanted outright victory but she could not be seen to pass up the opportunity to avoid fighting. In fact fighting had already begun when the Argentine Army landed on the Falklands and opened fire. President Reagan was an ideological soulmate of Margaret Thatcher as well as a dear friend. At the last minute the USA came on side.

British journalists in Argentina were arrested and accused of espionage. They were deported. Argentina and the UK maintained diplomatic relations. There was a large British community in the ARgentine.

The UK retook South Georgia. Sir John Nott read a statement outside Downing Street. ”May it please Her Majesty to know that the Union Jack and the White Ensign fly once more over South Georgia. God Save the Queen.”

One of the most controversial actions of the Falklands conflict was the sinking of the Argentine warship the Belgrano. The UK declared a 200 mile exclusion zone around the Falklands. The Belgrano was outside the exclusion zone. She had zig zagged in and out of it. She was shadowed by a Royal Naval submarine HMS Conqueror. The Belgrano had not detected the submarine. At any moment she might detect the sub and sink it. The order came through from the Royal Naval Headquarters at Northwood to sink the Belgrano. The captain of HMS Conqueror obeyed the order that he disagreed with. Three hunter killer torpedoes were fired and two struck home. The Belgrano sank and hundreds of Argentine sailors were killed. Most died of exposure rather than due to the explosion. They were in life rafts for days.

The Argentine Government panicked at the sinking the Belgrano and recalled the rest of their surface ships to port. It was a moronic decision. Buenos Aires had started a conflict it was unwilling to fight.

The British Forces landed on East Falkland. They landed at a secluded bay far from the capital Port Stanley. Argentinian spotters had seen them an informed their commander General Menendez. Menendez said his army was in no fit state to march. He did  not oppose the landing. This was a very poor decision. Argentina’s best chance of winning was to stop the British landing. The British were at their most vulnerable then. The unopposed landing was a boon for the British.

A few hours later the Argentine Air Force attacked the British flotilla in the bay. The Argentine planes struck several British ships and did considerable damage. Had they attacked a few hours earlier they could have killed hundreds of Britons as they came ashore. The Argentine Air Force was the best branch of their military. The Royal Air Force never established air superiority throughout the South Atlantic Campaign.

The UK later won the Battle of Goose Green. Argentines surrendered to a British force one third their size. Argentine conscripts were ill-trained, poor led and demotivated.

The UK forces closed in on Port Stanley. They fought the Battle of Tumble Down Mountain. Having cleared the Argentine defenders the British Army prepared for the big push on Stanley. The Argentinians hoisted the white flag.

Menendez met his British counterpart. The British general handed him the instrument of surrender which had been sent from London. It called for ”unconditional surrender” and specified other terms. Menendez objected to the word ”unconditional” as he felt it was denigrating towards his men. The Britisher said that as the word unconditional made no difference he crossed it out. Menendez signed and that was that.

The whole campaign lasted two months. The government experienced a huge surge of support. In the House of Commons Michael Foot commended the soldiers on their gallantry.

Soldiers came home to a hero’s welcome. A victory parade was organised in the City of London. Margaret Thatcher reviewed it. Some objected since the Queen ought to have done so. A service of Thanksgiving was held at St Paul’s Cathedral. Some took exception to the Bishop of London praying for the repose of the souls of the Argentines.

It was hard to believe that a few years before Thatcher had considered giving sovereignty over the islands to Argentina. This was kept a closely guarded secret. Had the conflict gone the other way Thatcher would have surely lost office. Some far left figures expressed their wish for an Argentine victory because they wanted to bring down Thatcher.



The Tories fortunes were restored. Thatcher was popular because she was seen as strong and determined. Her party rode high in the polls despite the terrible unemployment figures.  The Conservatives were united and had a charismatic leader. Inflation was down. They told their story with conviction.

Labour was tearing itself apart. The SDP was still doing well.

In May 1983 Thatcher called an election. Labour’s Manifesto was described by Gerald Kaufman – a Labour MP – as the longest suicide note in history. It wanted Northern Ireland to join the Irish Republic, the UK to scrap nuclear weapons, the UK to leave the European Economic Community, very high taxation and massive public spending. Foot had no appeal beyond Labour voters.

The Conservatives polled 44% of the vote and romped to a huge victory. Labour just pipped the SDP Liberal Alliance. Labour won 27% of the vote and 209 seats. The Alliance won 25% of the vote and 27 seats. The Alliance had piled up many second places. Their millions of votes did not translate into many seats because their votes were too thinly spread. They had a roughly equal appeal all across the country. Labour had regional bases in the main cities and most working class areas of the UK

Thatcher formed another Tory administration. She was brimming with confidence.

Days after her election victory the Conservative Party Chairman came to see her. Cecil Parkinson MP was married and had children. He confessed that he had had an affair with his secretary with his much younger secretary. His secretary was pregnant. Parkinson resigned as Chairman of the Tory Party. He had been the mastermind behind the 1983 campaign. Parkinson’s secretary claims he tried to pressurise her into having an abortion for political reasons but she refused. Parkinson’s love child was born. His daughter was severely disabled. Parkinson provided for her financially but never saw her. He stayed with his wife.



Labour had to choose a new leader. They elected Neil Kinnock. Kinnock was born in 1942 in Wales. He was an only child in a working class family. He said, ”Why am I the first Kinnock in 1 000 generations to go to university?” His rhetoric was ruined by his statistics. 1 000 generations would be about 25 000 years. That was long before any civilisation had writing.

Kinnock came from Wales and was steeped in Labour’s traditions. He worked for a trades union after graduating from Cardiff University. He was an opponent of devolution for Wales. He was elected to Parliament aged 29. He was married and had two children. His family man status was not in question. He was forward, self-assured and was a firey orator. He was seen as too verbose. People dubbed him ”the Welsh Windbag”. He was Labour to the core and there was no doubt he detested Conservatives. His weakness was that he did little to reach out to people who had previously voted Tory. Neil Kinnock was also a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which meant he had little credibility on defence matters.

Roy Hattersley was elected the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Hattersley came from Sheffield where his mother had been Labour mayor. Hattersley had attended university and become a journalist. He was an MP for Birmingham and had many ethnic minority people in his constituency. He saw how racist rhetoric led to them being mistreated. He confessed to reviling Enoch Powell. Hattersley was no statesmanlike and his tongue was too big for his mouth. His silly voice made him difficult to take seriously.

Roy Jenkins stood down as SDP leader. He was 60. He was replaced by Dr Owen. Owen was good looking and voluble. His commanding mien was a boon to the party. He was also a risk taker and vain. David Steel remained leader of the Liberals. The two Davids did not always get along.

Cartoonists on Spitting Imagine had Dr Owen with David Steel in his top pocket. Steel was too small both literally and figuratively. He seemed a weed.

Labour gravely undermined their credibility when Tony Benn MP and Ken Livingstone (leader of the Greater London Council) invited Gerry Adams to London. Gerard Adams was the leader of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein was another name for the IRA. Adams’ father and brothers had been in the IRA. That is not disputed. He was also in the IRA and had commanded the Ballymurphy Battalion in the early 1970s. A couple of years earlier the IRA had murdered MPs such as Robert Bradford and Airey Neave. Livingstone said the IRA were not criminals. He then changed his tune and said anyone who knew anything about them should contact the police.



For decades the UK had been moving away from coal. In 1945 there were over 1 000 000 miners in the United Kingdom. By 1984 this was down to 200 000. Many coal pits had been closed by Labour governments. The UK used nuclear energy and oil. Some oil was shipped in and some was from the North Sea. The country was also importing cheaper coal from Czechoslovakia and Poland.

In March 1983 the government announced that several more collieries would be closed. The National Union of Mineworkers would not accept this. The NUM president was Arthur Scargill. The NUM would not stand for any pit closure. The National Coal Board explained that some mines were exhausted. The NUM was asking taxpayers to pay them to dig up mud. Scargill announced a miners’ strike but did not call a national ballot. Arthur Scargill had been heavily involved in the miners’ strike in the 1970s. Since becoming leader of the NUM in 1982 he had twice held ballots on strike action and twice been decisively defeated. He did not hold a ballot on a strike since he did not believe he could win one. He calculated that once a strike was declared most miners would throw their weight behind it ballot or no ballot.

In March 1983 the miners’ strike began. Labour was in a quandary. Miners had great purchase on Labour. Many Labour people were very sentimental about miners. Miners had been the backbone of the party. Miners exemplified the bravest and most exploited workers who were mistreated by the grasping capitalist class. But without a national ballot of the NUM the Labour leadership felt it could not throw itself behind the miners. Kinnock was insulted by some Labour people for not lending his unconditional support to the strike.

Scargill’s aims went far beyond keeping pits open. He boasted that he would bring down the elected government. He wanted nothing short of revolution. He was invited on a talk show called Parkinson. Scargill reiterated his view that the monarchy must be abolished.

Tony Benn (real name Wedgwood-Benn) was one of those Labour MPs who fully endorsed the strike. Ken Livingstone threw his weight behind the strike.

The Labour Party chose to criticise the government’s response rather than saying that the strike was morally and legally right. Labour said too many police were involved in dealing with the strike. They said that civil liberties had been infringed and they pointed out the cost to the taxpayer of policing the pickets. They emphasised suffering among mining communities. This allowed Labour to express sympathy for the miners and capitalise on the strike without being seen to back the strike.

Not all miners were on strike. Some smaller miners’ unions chose not to strike. This was especially so in Nottinghamshire. there the union was secretly funded by the Tory Party. Greatrex was one of the Nottinghamshire miners’ leaders who did not take part in the strike. He and his family were subjected to vitriol and intimidation.

The SDP opposed the strike but called on the government to compromise.

The strikers’ slogan was ”coal not dole.” They had good reason to be concerned for their jobs. Unemployment was running at 15% . The rise in unemployment was part of the reason crime kept going up and up. Despite Tory rhetoric about a robust approach to crime they failed on this issue. The precipitous rise in crime was partly owing to the country being awash in drugs. Much of the heroin originated in Afghanistan. In many cases it was produced by the mujahids who were battling against the Red Army.

Thatcher had foreseen the likelihood of a miners’ strike. This time she was ready for it. Oil prices were very low so the alternative to coal was cheap. Conditions would not be as good again for a long time to defeat a miners’ strike. Coal had been stockpiled for months. Power stations were still able to operate. The government could outlast the miners. The miners were not paid their wages while on strike. They contributed trades union membership dues. These were then used to pay striking miners. However, that money ran out after a few months. Oil was much cheaper than it had been in the 1970s. Therefore the miners were far less powerful than they had been. The NUM had not cottoned onto this. Thatcher was keen to prove that she could win where Heath had lost. The NUM was marching proudly into an elephant trap.

There were numerous strikers’ protests. They held pickets outside coal works. SOme miners chose to go on working. Furious strikers tried to prevent these dissident miners from doing their job. Miners who wanted to do their duty and dig coal were greeted with blood curdling chants of ”scab, scab, scab!”  In the trades union world ”scab” was an especially disgusting insult for a strike breaker.  Miners who continued working received hate mail and even death threats. One working miner Patrick McLoughlin addressed the Conservative Party Conference.

Most people had a negative view of the strikers. There were numerous pitched battles with the police such as at Orgreave. Scargill was arrested. Police were drafted in by the thousand to keep order. They were paid overtime and did very well financially.

One miner who was driving to work was killed by a brick being dropped onto his car as he drove under a bridge.

Scargill made many strategic errors. His refusal to hold a ballot in the NUM weakened the strike. He would not compromise on agreeing to uneconomic coal mines closing. He aligned himself with extreme left figures from abroad such as Colonel Gaddafi. Gaddafi would have shot any strikers in his country. Scargill flirted with the IRA. He did not limit his aims to legitimate NUM objectives such as saving jobs. He wanted to overthrow the elected government. He wanted to be the dominant figure on the left rather than Kinnock.

Labour was also chary. Even if the NUM won that would not mean that Labour won the next election. People scared of excessive trades union power remembered the 1970s. They would probably still want Tories to keep the unions in check. If there was another Labour Government then Scargill would feel he could push them around too.

SOme people sympathised with miners and donated money to them. The gays and lesbians often showed their solidarity by going on pro strike protests. AT this time many people viewed homosexuality as revolting. In 1984 Chris Smith of Labour made history by being the first MP to come out as gay.

As the winter of 1984 set in the strike was failing. Some miners saw Christmas coming and were broke. Some of them went back to work. They were denounced. The more of them who returned to work the harder it was to condemn them and maintain the strike.

By March 1985 the strike was virtually over. Most NUM members had abandoned the strike. Scargill called off his strike. He led a march back to work with banners being carried aloft and brass bands playing. It did not disguise the fact that it was a calamitous defeat. He had failed to save a single pit.

Miners numbers were down. But the government said there would be no further pit closures. The Labour movement was demoralised. Many conceived an incandescent hatred of Thatcher. Many pit villages were to seed. They became unemployment black spots. Many youngsters turned to drugs in these depressed zones.

In late 1984 the Anglo-Irish Agreement was announced. The Irish Government would sent civil sevants to Maryfield in Belfast. They would monitor the situation and act as an advocate for the nationalist community. The Irish Republic would also enhance security co-operation with the UK. The agreement was signed at Hillsborough Castle which is the Royal Family’s residence in Northern Ireland. The SDLP had been briefed by Dublin.

Unionists had not been kept in the picture by London. Unionists were aghast. They felt they were being sold down the river. Northern Ireland was racked by massive demonstrations. Thatcher refused to back down. In the House of Commons this treaty was ratified by a majority of 90%. Labour fully supported her bid to improve relations with the Republic of Ireland. Ian Gow was one of a handful of Tory MPs to speak against this agreement. He felt it weakened the Unionist position.

A Friends of the Union Group was formed for those Tory MPs who opposed the Anglo Irish Agreement.



After March 1985 Thatcher was almost at the height of her powers. She had removed almost all the Wets from the Cabinet.

The economy suddenly experienced a boom. However, it did not last and there was a sudden bust. The Tories slipped behind in the polls.

Thatcher negotiated a rebate from the EEC. The United Kingdom was contributing too much. She was disliked by other EEC leaders but her firmness paid off. She then signed the Single European Act.

In 1986 there was a dispute about which helicopters to procure for the army. Thatcher favoured some American manufactured ones. Michael Heseltine the Defence Secretary wanted to purchase a European made type. This was possibly owing to his europhilia. This disagreement in the Cabinet led to Heseltine folding his papers and saying quietly he could no longer serve in the Cabinet. He stood up and walked out in the middle of the meeting. Heseltine told the cameras outside Downing Street what had happened. He wrote a resignation letter later that day. It was bad form to resign in the middle of the meeting.

Heseltine was probably looking for an excuse to resign. He expected the party to lose the election which Thatcher would call the next year. As a Cabinet Minister who had resigned in protest he calculated that he would stand a good chance of being elected the next leader of the party. He could lead the party back to office. He had sketched out a life plan as an undergraduate in which he said he would be Prime Minister in the 1990s. He was also the last Wet in the Cabinet.

Some far left Labour members were disillusioned with Labour’s equivocation on the miners’ strike. Some people left the party for the WRP and the CPGB.

Kinnock saw that Labour was dogged by Militant Tendency. Militant Tendency was a Trotskyite group. They realised a Trotskyite party would never win office on its own so they believed in entryism to take over the Labour Party. They tried to be as confrontational as possible – they wanted to bankrupt local councils. Derek Hatton was the leader of Liverpool City Council. Liverpool was a Labour bastion.  Militant Tendency was strong and deselected some right wing Labour MPs. The Tory government set maximum rates that local councils could charge. Militant Tendency;s strategy was to spend as much as possible to they would bankrupt the city council and force the Tories to change the law or else precipitate revolution.

Some people as leader would have been minded to compromise with MT. Kinnock decided this battle would have to be fought. He took them head on. At the 1985 Labour Conference he gave Militant Tendency a tongue lashing. ”I will tell you what happens with impossible promises – you start out with outdated dogmas irrelevant to the real needs. You cannot play politics with people’s jobs. You end up with the grotesque spectacle of a Labour council a LABOUR council hiring taxis to scuttle around a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.” Only yards away Hatton shouted ”liar, liar.”

A court case eventually allowed Labour to expel Militant Tendency members. MT was seen as incompatible with Labour. It was a party within a party. It had its own alternative structure. Benn and Livingstone were MT fellow travellers and denounced the decision to kick out MT. Labour still had far left politicians. Dennis Skinner was still talking about ”the class enemy.”

Labour was still committed to ridding Britain of nuclear weapons – that included American nuclear weapons. Kinnock addressed a CND rally with the words ”this is a movement for life.” Conservatives called him ”Kinnockio” as in Pinocchio. They said he was a liar for claiming that US nuclear arms could be removed from the country while the UK remained a member of NATO.

In May 1987 the economy had picked up again. Thatcher called an election. The Tories were well ahead in the polls. Unemployment was still high but had fallen from its peak of 15%. The National Health Service was experiencing funding problems. Waiting lists were growing. Nevertheless the country seemed to be on the right course.

Kinnock was not making enough of an impact. He tried to be trendy by appearing in a pop video. He was infamously filmed walking down a beach with his wife and falling into the sea. He was a stalwart of the anti apartheid cause. The Labour Manifesto of 1987 repeated its policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. That would leave the UK vulnerable to Soviet invasion. Labour also wanted to cut the conventional armed forces. Labour wanted the long term policy of Northern Ireland joining the Republic by persuasion. Labour changed their tune on one key issue. They decided that Britain should remain a member of the European Economic Community.

The Conservatives won again. Thatcher was at the height of her powers.

Labour saw off the Alliance challenge in 1987. Labour won 220 seats and the Alliance lost a few.

Labour chose to keep Kinnock as leader.

Thatcher was lucky that the election had been in May. In October 1987 a stock market crash in New York and London hurt the economy badly. The UK went into a new economic downturn and jobless shot up.

Labour had wanted to pull the UK out of the EEC. However, by the late 1980s Labour came to see the EEC as a good thing. The European Parliament was increasingly assertive. They could get the legislation they wanted through that. They welcome the President of the European COmmission to Britain. He was Jacques Delors. Delors was a French socialist and he addressed the Trades Union Congress.



The Liberals and the SDP started to talk about doing the obvious. Should they unite? A majority of both Liberals and the SDP voted to merge into one party in 1988. They considered the name Liberal and Social Democrats but that would make them the LSD Party. Initially the party was called the Social and Liberal Democrats. They were known as the Salads. Dr Owen refused to join the new party. Charles Kennedy MP voted against amalgamating. Once the change was made Kennedy climbed on board.

Dr Owen carried on with what he called ”the continuing SDP”. A handful of Liberals also refused to join the Liberal Democrats.

In a 1989 by election the SDP came behind the Monster Raving Looney Party. There was barely room for a third political party. There was no space at all for a fourth political party. Spitting Image mocked him ”Dr Owen is all alone.” David Owen went to the BBC to announce that the SDP was dissolving.

The Liberal Party still exists. It stands in some elections against the Liberal Democrats but has no MPs.

In 1988 David Steel stepped down as leader of the Liberals. He had held that position for 12 years. He was replaced by Paddy Ashdown. Jeremy John Ashdown was born in India in 1941. He was Irish on both sides but went to Bedford School. He was commissioned into the Royal Marines and married at 18. After 10 years of military service he attended the University of Hong Kong to learn Chinese.

Ashdown had once been a member of the Labour Party. In the 1970s he joined the Liberals. In 1983 he was elected an MP. Ashdown was likeable and energetic. He was from outside the political class and his very colourful CV meant he appealed to floating voters. He was more smiley and approachable than the high minded and squeaky Steel.



Thatcher looked at the local government taxation system. She disliked rates. These taxed the property not the people. An elderly widow alone in a large house paid a large amount despite her low income. She could take lodgers or sell. People in a cheap property paid a small amount even if they had a high income. Labour controlled many local councils. Labour splurged money on nuclear free zones and non jobs for left wing apparatchiks.

Thatcher introduced the community charge. Those with an income would pay the same amount regardless of that income. Students, the unemployed and pensioners would be exempt. It would pressurise local councils to spend less. High spending Labour councils would be punished by voters. People on the electoral register had to pay.

The rates came up for review in Scotland in 1989. The community charge was introduced in Scotland. Labour bitterly attacked it as a poll tax. It was redolent of 1381 when every man regardless of his income paid the same amount. It was a regressive tax. That had sparked the Peasants’ Revolt. Some people de-registered to vote so they could avoid paying. Despite the official name community charge the term Labour used ”poll tax” entered common parlance.

The community charge sparked huge protests. Some refused to pay and went to prison. Kinnock refused to countenance withholding tax. He said, ”lawmakers must not be law breakers.”

There was rising fury about the community charge. Labour pulled ahead in the polls. Some Conservative MPs grew jittery. Thatcher refused to back down. She believed the community charge was right and wanted to go full steam ahead with the community charge.

In 1989 a backbench Conservative stood against her. He was Sir Anthony Meyer. Meyer sat for a Welsh constituency. Thatcher won but not by the landslide one would expect. It was a worrying sign for Thatcherites.

In 1990 the community charge was extended to England and Wales. It was never introduced in Northern Ireland. There were huge protests against it. Labour vehemently opposed it as did the LSD. Labour pulled further ahead. The Conservative began to lose by elections. Many Conservative backbenchers became very worried about the next election. Thatcher peopled her cabinet with yes men. She also surrounded herself with advisers who were handsome younger men who always praised her. She only ever appointed one woman to the cabinet.

There was a riot in Trafalgar Square in October 1990. Some in the Tory Party counselled caution. Millions of people were refusing to pay. Local government was not being funded. In many towns it cost more to collect than the tax brought in. Thatcher would not be moved. She had become totally hubristic.

Another issue coming to the fore was the Exchange Rate Mechanism. There was a proposal that currencies in the EEC should all be pegged to the deutschmark which was the currency of West Germany. Some europhiles were talking about a single European currency. Thatcher had been a europhile but she felt that European integration had gone too far. She was opposed to the ERM. Her Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson was in favour. He stood down and was replaced by John Major. Major also agreed with the ERM.

In August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. Several thousand Britons lived there and some were taken hostage. The world was taken by surprise at the Iraqi annexation of this oil rich country.  The President of Iraq was a deranged genocidal maniac named Saddam Hussein. The United Nations Organisation voted resolutions condemning the Iraqi action. Only Yemen supported Iraq. Jordan abstained. Jordan’s Palestinian majority liked Saddam Hussein because of his strident anti-Zionism. The UN imposed sanctions on Iraq. The United States led by President Bush talked about military action against Iraq. Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia were very worried that they too would be invaded by Iraq.

Thatcher demanded that British hostages be released or the UK would go to war against Iraq. Many countries sent soldiers to Saudi Arabia. They were dissuading Iraq from invading and also seeking to bring about Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The Kuwaiti royal family had fled to Saudi Arabia as soon as their land was invaded.

The British media was full of stories of the brutalities of Saddam Hussein’s forces. During the 1980s the UK had given vocal support to secular Iraq in its battle with religious extremist Iran.

In November 1990 her Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe resigned. In his resignation speech he said, ”there has been a tragic conflict of loyalties with which I myself have wrestled for perhaps too long.” There was no mistaking Thatcher’s discomfiture. Labour were delighted to see the Tories in disarray. Labour was far ahead of the Conservatives in voting intention. With Thatcher as PM and the community charge crisis continuing it looked like Labour would definitely win the next election.

Michael Heseltine decided the time had come to strike. In a press conference he said, ”I am persuaded…” he did not say by whom but probably by himself, ” to stand for the leadership of the Conservative Party because we need to change Prime Minister to avoid the ultimate calamity of a Labour Government”.  He challenged Thatcher for the leadership. Heseltine said there would be a full rethink on the poll tax – he in fact used the words ”poll tax”. He was canny enough not to spell out an alternative. Thatcher won on the first ballot. She carried on as normal. She flew to Paris for a summit of EEC Prime Ministers. She announced, ”I fight on. I fight on to win!” She won 55% of the votes of her MPs. However, she was holed below the waterline. Almost half her parliamentary party was against her.

Thatcher received many assurances of loyalty from her Cabinet Ministers. In fact several of them voted against her. Thatcher was persuaded by Alan Clark to step down. Her achievements were remarkable and could never be undone.  Her husband also told her it was time to call it a day. She could have fought on and probably continued as Prime Minister for another year and a half. But it looked as though Labour would trounce her in the next election. Her community charge policy was calamitous. She refused to reconsider it. Had she scrapped it then she would have wrecked her reputation for mettle.

On 22 November 1990 Thatcher announced she was resigning as leader of the Conservative Party. She would remain Prime Minister until such time as a successor was chosen.

Three men threw their hat into the ring. They were Douglas Hurd, John Major and Michael Heseltine.


A dream og flying to London


I bedreamt me that I was flying to Heathrow. Must be wish fulfillment. Te kit ecame in lw over places I rememevr well. I chatetd to the passnegr rebside me. Shew as a Briish Indian in her early 20s. She was svelte and pretty. Her hair was wll past her shoulders. she wore western clothes and ws companionable.

Later in the temrinal we chatted as we pushed outd trolleys. i ntocied ehr bangle. ia sked if her name was Kaur. She said yes and remakred that ehr surname was SIngh. I aksed her how I knew she pasued for a momnet and then fgured itu. ut. i express my surrpise that 30% of British Indias wer Sikhs. SHE lived locally. she had forgottne so,ethin the plane and wn bakc to fetch it. I DESIRED HER. mAYBE SHE RPESENTES FIALing to get a relaitonsuop. I shat to all the cabies her. mostly from South Aisa. I was singin resaum piriri to a Nelai yesternight.

The United Kingdom in the 1970s.



The British Kingdom entered this decade with Wilson leading a Labour Government. The Northern Irish conflict was boiling over.

Wilson called an election in June 1970. Most polls showed a small lead for the Conservatives. However, one opinion poll put Labout 14% points ahead. Yet the Tories narrowly won.

Edward Heath formed a Conservative Government. Alec Douglas-Home was made Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

The Tories faced a deteriorating situation. Prices were rising faster than incomes.

Edward Heath was a convinced europhile. Wilson had applied to the EEC for Britain to join that organisation. The United Kingdom had been rebuffed. The moderates in both parties of state tended to be europhiles. The Liberals were europhile almost to a man. The radical wing of Labour was generally eurosceptic as were the more hardline Tories. Anthony Wedgwood Benn was one of those Labour doyens who was adamantly opposed to EEC membership. Barbara Castle was a standard bearer for the Labour left and she inveighed against the EEC. Enoch Powell was also dead against it. Although Wilson had tried to lead the United Kingdom into the EEC in the late 1960s he said that Heath had negotiated the wrong terms of entry in 1972. Because of this Wilson and the official Labour line was to oppose the British application. Secretly Wilson probably wanted Heath to succeed. Wilson was giving in to demands from his backbenchers.

The United Kingdom applied for membership of the European Economic Community. The Irish Republic and Denmark applied at the same time. Most of the British public were opposed. They felt that it would be the end of their indepence. Heath issued a statement declaring that ”’there would be no loss of essential national sovereignty.” The operative word was ”essential”. How much was essential? Others felt that the UK’s future lay with the Commonwealth. New Zealand and many other COmmonwealth countries had preferential trade agreements with the UK. Heath did not set much store by the Commonwealth. Most Commonwealth countries were economically underdeveloped. The sold raw materials and were markets for British manufactures but because of their low average incomes they could not buy that many British products.

Heath assured people that there would be no European Parliament. The UK Parliament would still fashion laws. The European Court of Justice would not overrule British courts. There would never be a single currency. The UK would not have to adopt avoirdupois weights.  This was all myth making by xenophobes. There would never be a European Army.

Heath successfully negotiated British accession to the EEC. In 1972 a British delegation went to Brussels to sign the Treaty of Rome. Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal leader, accompanied him. Thorpe and Heath did not have a cordial relationship. They were chalk and cheese. Thorpe’s metier manque was the stage. Heath was a dry character who was distant and austere. However, on this one issue they were in complete agreement. This was perhaps Heath’s greatest achievement.

As part of joining the EEC it was decided to abolish the UK’s strange currency system. There were 12 pennies to a shilling. There were 20 shillings to a pound. Therefore there were 240 pennies in the pound. There were ha’apennys too. People spoke of crowns, half crowns and guineas. The system was very tricky for foreigners to learn. Heath chose to move to decimalisation. In future a pound sterling would comprise 100 pence. There would be no more shillings.

The United Kingdom joined the EEC on 1 January 1973. Decimalisation came at the same time.

The Northern Ireland conflict became a great deal bloodier. In 1971 internment had been introduced. However, the situation still got worse. In January 1972 the Parachute Regiment shot dead 14 people in Derry and wounded 13 more. This was later proven to have been largely unprovoked. Nationalist opinion was inflamed, In all over 500 people were killed in Northern Ireland that year. The Irish Republican Army started setting off bombs in Great Britain. There were calls to restore the death penalty.

The 60s had been seen as a decade of progress. The 1970s seemed to be about stagnation if not decline. Strikes became more and more frequent. Heath was minded to stand firm and refuse to capitulate to demands for higher wages. However, industrial action became so widespread that he was obliged to give in.

In 1972 the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin announced that the Asian community in his country was being given a few months to leave the country.  All their assets that had not been sold within that time would be sequestered without compensation. When Uganda had become independent 10 years earlier the Asian community had become British citizens. These Asians were largely of Indian descent. It was odd that they were given British citizenship as most of them had no ancestors from the United Kingdom and the great majority of them had never set foot in the UK. As Uganda was expelling its Indian residents most of them planned to head to the United Kingdom. Some Conservatives called on Heath to block the entry of the Ugandan Asians. Heath said that as they were British citizens there was no legal grounds for refusing them entry. Tens of thousands of Ugandan Indians entered the UK in 1972. One Tory parliamentarian Alan Clark said, ”They must be told you cannot come to Britain because you are not white.”

The National Front was an ethno-nationalist organisation that came to the fore at this time. The National Front was explicitly racist and demanded the expulsion of all non-whites even if they were British citizens. Its slogan was ”immigration no – repatriation yes.”

In 1973 Egypt launched a surprise attack on Israel during Yom Kippur. Despite some initial success the Egyptians were bested and driven back into their own territory. The Gulf Arab states were angry that Western countries were pro-Israel. These Gulf Arab monarchies had become a crucial source of oil for Western Europe and North America. They decided to punish Western countries for their Zionism. For a few weeks the Gulf states chose not to pump oil. These countries had been poverty stricken only a few years before. They could live in straitened circumstances since they were used to it. The impact of the cessation of oil production on Western economies was markedly deleterious. Oil prices soon quadrupled.

Wealthy people from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and so on came to London and spent a great deal of money. THEY were able to buy expensive properties and sports cars. They went to casinos and nightclubs.

Shortage of fuel meant that little electricity could be generated. The UK had to switch to a three day week. There were frequent power cuts. It also strengthened the hand of the miners. Coal was vital as never before. The government was frightened of another coal miners’ strike. Unemployment started to rise. It was difficult to operate a business with an unreliable energy supply. Foreign firms were unlikely to invest in the UK when it was in such a parlous condition.

The UK seemed to be in permanent crisis. Some British intelligence officers and military officers wondered whether a  military government was called for.

The CABINET drew up a secret plan to seize oil installations in the Middle East to provide oil..

In the late 1960s oil had been discovered in the North Sea. In the early 1970s oil started to be pumped. This came too late to seriously counteract the 1973 oil shock. Aberdeen had been a declining fishing port. The 1970s turned it into a boom town.

The SNP suddenly experienced a new lease of life. One of the key arguments against Scots independence was that it was not economically viable. The SNP riposted ”it is out oil..” Their narrative was that North Sea Oil was Scotland’s and Scotland would be very affluent if independent. Scotland was subsidising the rest of the UK and not the other way around.

The SNP began to do very well at by elections. The Liberal proposed Home Rule for Scotland. They started to use the term devolution. The Scottish and English Parliaments had merged in 1707. The Liberal proposal was for Scotland to continue to be represented at Westminster. The UK would remain. However, a Scottish Parliament would be recreated and certain matters would be decided there. The evolution of the two parliaments into one would be partly reversed. Scotland would have the same position within the UK as Northern Ireland had until 1972. The Liberals proposed the same for Wales. The Tories and Labour examined these proposals. They garnered some support within both parties. But in both cases the leadership was unconvinced. The important question was whether such a move would prevent the move to the breakup of the United Kingdom or whether in fact it would advance the separatist agenda.

Heath’s Education Secretary was Margaret Thatcher. Very few women had achieved such a high rank in the Tory Party. Mrs Thatcher ended the practice of giving free milk to schoolchildren. Some called her, ”Maggie Thatcher milk snatcher.” She was a conventional cabinet minister and nobody imagined that she would amount to move.

Plagued by constant strikes Heath decided to go to the country early. Trades union barons were using strikes to try to thwart the government’s policies generally and not simply to advance the wellbeing of their members in a legitimate fashion.

The Conservative slogan in the February 1974 election was ”WHo Governs Britain?” The implication was that it should be Parliament and not trades unions. Many felt that the government should not need to ask such a question. It smacked of palsy and irresolution that Heath should put such a question to electors.

Enoch Powell who had been a Tory MP stepped down from his seat. He urged his followers to vote Labour in February 1974. It was considered astonishing that one of the most right wing figures in British politics wanted a Labour Government. Powell explained that he would be voting Labour because the Conservatives had brought the UK into the European Economic Community whereas Labour’s policy was to leave the EEC. Powell was a very substantial figure and millions of people were moved by his words. In a very closely fought election his intervention may well have made the difference. When he addressed one rally calling on people to cast their votes for Labour a heckler shouted at him ”Judas!”. Powell did not miss a beat – ”Judas was paid! Judas was paid! I am making a sacrifice.”

The result was in inversion of the 1951 election. Labour won fewer votes than the Conservatives but more seats. As the results came in Heath did not resign. He felt it might be possible to stay in office. He asked the Liberal leader to come to Downing Street. Thorpe duly met Heath in Downing Street. They discussed the possibility of forming an inter party government. The Liberals wanted electoral reform. Their preferred option was proportional representation. If they could not have that they wanted something more proportional system such as alternative vote etc…. They also wanted devolution to Wales and Scotland. Heath said he would need to consult his Cabinet colleagues. He was notably unenthusiastic about the Liberal objectives but he was familiar with them. Thorpe was also guarded. The most Heath felt he could officer was a royal commission to exame PR. This commission might of course find against PR. Even if it recommended PR the government was under no duty to introduce legislation. Such legislation could easily be defeated. There was at least the possibility of some Cabinet ministries for Thorpe and other Liberals.

Thorpe was guarded. He was wary of being seen to prop up a government that had been rejected by the voters. If he agreed to support the Tories it might break his party. The Tories were offering nothing in return.

Lord Carrington and others urged Heath to reject any deal with the Liberals. Thorpe met with ire from his Liberal MPs. They were angry that he had not kept them in the loop. They were deeply sceptical about the idea of forming a coalition with the Tories. If they did they were inheriting a terrible economic mess. Many Liberal voters loathed the Tories. The Liberals had 14 MPs and had achieved 19% of the vote – the best result in decades.

It was perhaps wrong of the Liberals not to serve in government. A party exists to win office and to implement its policies. The Liberals preferred the purity and easy of opposition. Not for them the responsibility of actually doing something.

After a few days Heath went to the Palace to resign. He advised Her Majesty the Queen to send for Mr Wilson. Harold Wilson was appointed Prime Minister again. Despite his warm relationship with Thorpe he did not entertain the possibility of forming a coalition with the Liberals. Many Labour MPs disliked the Liberals as being Tories in disguise who cost them seats.

Labour had a tiny majority.

The SNP had performed very strongly in the 1974 election. They had more Members of Parliament than ever. They travelled by train to London Euston in jubilant mood. They were confident that Scotland would shortly become independent.



Labour’s victory celebrations were shortlived. They faced a very challenging situation on many fronts.

The economy was slowing. Strikes were frequent. If Labour thought the unions would give them an easy ride they were sorely mistaken. The trades union leaders were mostly militant socialists. They regarded the Labour Parliamentarians as being mostly too soft on capitalism. They were frustrated that the Labour Government would not pay the working class more and have them work shorter hours in better conditions in guaranteed jobs for life. Labour was infiltrated by left wing extremists. Labour Conferences became increasingly fractious. Labour Cabinet ministers were barracked. Many Labour activists wanted to implement policies that the Labour front bench considered daft and unworkable. Many rank and file Labour members had no respect for their leaders.

In October 1974 Harold Wilson called another general election. He was hoping to repeat his success of 1966 – a snap election which would lead to a healthy Labour majority. In fact Labour performed only a tiny bit better than the February 1974 election. However, the Liberals did worse. Maybe passing up their chance of serving in government had been a misjudgment.

Labour leached support to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. The WRP was led by an Irishman named Gerry Healy. It attracted luvvies such as Vanessa Redgrave and Corin Redgrave.

In January 1975 Heath decided to submit himself to a leadership election. He had been head of the party for 10 years and he was coming under sustained pressure to step down. He had lost three elections out of four. Even then the election he won was only won by a small margin. Contrariwise his first defeat had been heavy. Heath could argue that he won the popular vote in two out of four elections. Heath was voted out and the party sought a new leader. Some minor figures stood and Margaret Thatcher. The major contenders were expected to enter the race later. Sir Keith Joseph had been tipped as a future leader. However, he had made an ill-advised speech about women of low intelligence having too many children. He seemed to advocate eugenics and this ruled him out.

Many people were stunned when Margaret Thatcher won the leadership of the Conservative and Unionist Party. No woman had ever contested the leadership of a British political party. Alan Clark said that some MPs voted for her not expecting her to win. They thought that she must not be seen to do too badly otherwise it would seem the party was anti-female.

Thatcher was 50 when she was elected Tory supremo. She was married and had two children who had just reached adulthood. Her husband was a very senior executive in Burmah Oil. Thatcher had grown up in Grantham where her father had owned three corner shops. Her father had been very parsimonious and this left a profound influence on her. By intelligence and grit she had won a place at Oxford University. Neither of her parents had even attended secondary school. Margaret had been a Conservative from her teenage years. She quickly lost her Lincolnshire accent and cultivated received pronunciation. She had been a chemist at an ice cream company before being called to the Bar.

She enjoyed a surge of support as Leader of the Opposition. Wilson had been leader of his party for 12 years and his party was riven by dissent. His party was bickering about the EEC or Common Market as people usually called it. Most Labour parliamentarians were against being an EEC member state. However, as the UK had already joined the EEC should they UK remain in? The issue was so divisive that Wilson decided to put it to a referendum. He first of all began renegotiating the terms of British membership of the EEC. This was a cunning tactic for several reasons. Wilson had opposed EEC membership in 1972 not in principle but because he said the terms were wrong. He wanted to change his position without is seeming to be a volte-face. This was a face-saver for him. He could also make EEC seem more appealing to people who were dubious about it by securing better terms. His arm was strengthened in negotiations with other EEC countries because they believed that is significant concessions were not made to the British then the UK might vote to leave the EEC. This would be a major blow and could lead to other countries withdrawing from the EEC.



In 1975 the United Kingdom had a referendum for the first ever time. This was a bold move and it was disapproved of by some politicians. Heath and others believed that Parliament should make such decisions and not voters. Parliament existed to exercise such judgment.

Wilson said that the Labour Party must agree to disagree on the European aquestion. The collective cabinet responsibility was suspended on this one issue. It remained intact on other issues. Labour Cabinet Ministers were allowed to campaign for a Yes or a No in this referendum.

A slight majority of Tory MPs wanted a Yes vote. The Liberal party was almost entirely pro Common Market.

The Anti Common Market League led the No Campaign. The No Campaign included such luminaries as the Reverend Ian Paisley, Barbara Castle, Enoch Powell and Tony Wedgwood-Benn. However, Wedgwood-Benn refused to share a platform with Powell because he accused Powell of racism. The most prominent figures in the No Campaign were tendentious. Many far left figures and trades union bosses were for No. The Ulster Unionists and SNP were for No. Ian Paisley was worried that it was based on the Treaty of Rome and thought the EEC was linked to the Catholic CHurch. He saw the EEC as a way of forcing Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland. Some No campaigners said that joining the Common Market was a betrayal of the Commonwealth. That is how many in the Antipodes perceived it.

The Yes campaign was very well-funded by corporations. All the major newspapers supported an affirmative vote. The Yes campaign had mainstream figures from the three main parties backing it. Heath and Thorpe wanted a Yes. Wilson reversed his position again and wanted a Yes.

The Yes campaign said ”It is better to lose some sovereignty than a son or a daughter.” They implied that the alternative was war. They morally blackmailed voters and hinted that No campaigners were war mongers.  Conservatives said, ”Support your local continent” The young were more likely to vote Yes and the elderly. More people could afford continental holidays. The Yes Campaign sought to conflate Europe the place with the political project of European integration.

The wording of the referendum was, ”The Government has renegotiated Britain’s terms of membership of the European Economic Community (Common Market). Should Britain remain a member of the EEC?” Many No campaigners said it was a loaded question. It was a leading question because the preamble suggested that the UK had got a better deal from the EEC. It also had the advantage of incumbency. The UK was already in the EEC. Yes campaigners were able to argue that even if the UK had not joined it now had joined and it would be disruptive to pull out.

The No campaign were caricatured as racists, xenophobes, reactionaries and extremists.

At the outset of the campaign 66% of the people were planning to vote No. When the poll was held 66% of people voted Yes. The Yes campaign had come across as moderate and modern. They suggested that staying in the Common Market would be good for the economy and would ensure peace.



The economic situation did not improve much even though the oil shock was over. The employment situation was fairly good but inflation continued to be a major headache. North Sea Oil coming on stream was the only reason for optimism. Otherwise the situation was gloomy. In the United States there was also stagnant growth and inflation. People called this stagflation. As the US was a key trade partner this was bad news for the USA.

Trade with Japan became increasingly important. Japan was ever more prosperous. Trade with mainland Europe increased a little because of the EEC.

Despite the less than sparkling economic outlook immigrants continued to come to the UK in tens of thousands per year. Labour came under increased pressure to circumscribe their number. There was an increase in emigration because of the unsatisfactory economy in the UK. The USA, Australia and New Zealand remained the preferred destinations. Again there was still net emigration.

Non-white emigrants complained that they were often discriminated against in employment despite legislation forbidding this. They were sometimes verbally abused. Violent attacks occasionally occurred. The NF made life uncomfortable for them.

Labour introduced legislation outlawing incitement to racial hatred. They also founded the Commission for Racial Equality

In early 1975 a scandal broke concerning the leader of the Liberal Party – Jeremy Thorpe. Thorpe had had a homosexualist relationship with Norman Scott in the early 1960s. Scott had been paid hush money but had still hawked his story around the pubs of Thorpe’s North Devon constituency. In 1974 Scott had been befriended by a man who drove him into the countryside one night and told him to get out of the car. The man then shot dead Scott’s dog and allegedly said ”you’re next” as he aimed the gun at Scott. The gun jammed and Scott ran for his life. Scott claimed that Thorpe had paid a hitman. The story was told in court where Scott was had up for non payment of national insurance. Because the words were uttered in court newspapers could publish them without fear of being sued for libel.

Thorpe denied that he had hired someone to shoot Scott. He initially denied having had a gay liaison with this man. He claimed to barely known Norman Scott (ne Josiffe). Other issues came to light as a result of these allegations. Over GBP 10 000 of Liberal Party funds had been received by Thorpe. He gave three different accounts of what happened to the money. The man who allegedly tried to kill Scott was gaoled for firearms offences.

Wilson was deeply sympathetic to Thorpe. He liked him on a personal level and they agreed on many key issues. He also saw the Liberals as a crucial factor in keeping the Tories out. MI5 informed WIlson that the South African secret service (BOSS) was behind a plot to traduce Thorpe. Thorpe was an indefatigable anti-apartheid campaigner. BOSS wanted his name tarnished. They also wanted the Liberals to be enfeebled. Then the Conservatives would from the next UK Government. The Tories were thought to be less hostile towards South Africa.

In 1976 Thorpe stood down as Liberal leader. He was replaced by David Steel.

The UK experienced balance of payments difficulties. Taxes were increased and increased. Many in Labour wanted nuclear arms to be scrapped partly for ethical reasons but also so money should be spent on more productive policies. The CND attracted a large membership within Labour. The UK was obliged to ask the International Monetary Fund for a loan. The IMF agreed subject to various provisos. They demanded certain cuts in the UK budget. This was too much for many on the left of the Labour Party. It looked as though the Labour Conference would vote against the deal.

Denis Healey was on his way to a meeting with the IMF when he had to be called back to the Labour Conference to address the members. He sought to persuade them to accept the agreement. He was heckled by far left activists. The motion was only just carried.

The Tories made much of Healey being forced to go cap in hand to the IMF. Some far left people said that the UK was effectively governed by the IMF.

In early 1976 Wilson made a shock announcement. He had turned 60 and that was too old to remain Prime Minister. He was standing down. This took all but his closest confidantes by surprise. He was no longer enjoying the job which had become extremely stressful. Labour had a minute majority. The attrition of by elections was likely to whittle it down even more. Wilson also suspected that a hardline right wing element in MI5 was plotting against him.

Hughie Green – the entertainer – was one of those who conspired against Wilson. He contacted the commander of the British Army of the Rhine with a view to enlisting his support for a military coup. SOme in MI5 mused about overthrowing Wilson and keeping him under house arrest at Chequers. They would put someone in as Prime Minister who could command broad support – Earl Mountbatten of Burma was their top choice. Some right wingers in MI5 believed that Wilson was a KGB agent who was turning the country communist. With ceaseless strikes and staglation and unending violence in Northern Ireland some felt that drastic measures needed to be taken. Wilson suspected that his house in Lord North Street, London was bugged. Wilson’s fears were not altogether misplaced as Colin Wallace later revealed.

In his resignation honours WIlson drew up the lavender list. It was so called because that was the colour of the paper he wrote it on. These were people given honours. One of them was his long serving secretary Marcia Falkender. This spinster was made a peeress. Some took this as evidence that he was having a clandestine relationship with her.



Labour had to pick a new leader. James Callaghan was elected and duly became Prime Minister. Jim Callaghan was born in Portsmouth in 1912. It was ironic that Wilson said 60 was too old to be Premier. Callaghan was 4 years older than him.

Callaghan was the son of a Royal Navy chief petty officer who was killed in the Great War. Callaghan;s mother raised her two children in a meagre war widow’s pension. Callaghan left school as a teenager to work as a clerk. He became involved in a trades union and a nonconformist church. Despite his name he had only one-eighth Irish background. His great-grandfather had been a Carogan who ran way to sea. Carogan changed his name to Callaghan to prevent his parents tracing him.

James Callaghan was sensitive about his lack of higher education. When he came Prime Minister he remarked, ”Prime Minister and I never even went to university!” He had been a Royal Naval officer during the war. He was elected an MP for Cardiff in 1945. He was happily married and had children. He was a moderate within the party. He was known as SUnny Jim because of his affable manner. He was easygoing and down to earth. He also seemed ineffectual.

Callaghan assumed office at a very challenging time for the country and for his party.



In 1977 Her Majesty the Queen had reigned for 25 years. It was time for a Silver Jubilee. This was the first since 1935. On one hand it seemed there was nothing to celebrate. 1952-77 marked the sharpest decline in British fortunes ever.

That summer the United Kingdom celebrated as though the country was thriving. Her Majesty the Queen proved to be still enormously popular. A handful of far left malcontents protested ”Liz has not worked for 25 years.” Her procession in the Golden State Coach raised people’s spirits with a show of royal magnificence.

The Cabinet all chipped in to buy her a present. Callaghan wanted to stay out of the Silver Jubilee celebrations. He was glad there was some tonic for the country. It also took the public mind of economic travails. The Queen toured her realm. She went to Derry and Belfast. It defied the IRA.

Her Britannic Majesty also toured the Commonwealth.


In 1978 strikes still blighted the country. Income taxes were very high.

Callaghan lamented that he had no control over what was taught in state schools. Many teachers were left wingers. They experimented with new educational methods. Some thought grammar and spelling was reactionary.

Some Labour MPs beseeched Callaghan to call an election in the autumn of 1978 when Labour was slightly ahead in the polls. Callaghan declined. One Labour MP sensed trouble brewing.

In 1978 was dubbed the Winter of Discontent. It was a reference to the play Richard III by Shakespeare. Rubbish piled high and the dead went unburied. The trades unions that controlled graveyards had locked the gates. It was a catastrophe for Labour;s reputation. Labour was seen as debilitated by its links to organised Labour. They were Labour’s paymasters. This was why Labour would not stand up to extreme union demands. The nation was paralysed by withdrawals of labour. Unemployment also started to rise.

James Callaghan went to the Caribbean for a Commonwealth Conference. One morning he went from his hotel for a dip in the sea. The Sun newspaper had to lovelies in bikinis follow him and splash around in the sea with him. Callaghan was very surprised to see them but not at all put out. The photos were published back in the United Kingdom implying that James Callaghan was indulging himself in the Antilles as his country went through misery. When he flew back to London he was asked by a journalist about the ”mounting chaos that greets you on your arrival?” James Callaghan remarked that he had just been at an international conference and no one there would say that the UK was in a state of mounting chaos. The Sun published a headline ”Crisis? What crisis?” as though this is what Callaghan had said. The view became widespread that the Prime Minister did not understand the malaise facing the country and was not making a serious effort to solve the nation’s problems. He was portrayed and a cheerfully absent-minded and irresponsible old man.

In 1979 Jim Callaghan called an election. The Tories launched a highly effective campaign. They hired the advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi. The Saatchi brothers masterminded the camapign. One of their most persuasive posters showed a curling queue of people to an unemployment office with the legend ”Labour just isn’t working.” It was hard to take issue with that view. It implied that the Conservatives would prioritise reducing unemployment. In fact Thatcher had other plans but that was not stated at the time.

Opinion polls showed more people wanted him as Prime Minister than wanted Thatcher. She was shrewish and untried. However, more people wanted Conservative and Labour. As in 1945 the party mattered more than the Prime Minister. The Liberals were in the doldrums. Their former leader John Jeremy Thorpe had been charged with attempted murder. His trial was due for shortly before polling day. He asked the court to postpone it so he could contest his seat. His requested was granted. The horrific publicity halved the Liberals’ support.

In May 1979 the Conservatives won. Callaghan went to the Palace to resign. He was confident that Labour would soon be back to collect the seals of office.

Her Majesty the Queen called upon Margaret Hilda Thatcher to form a government. For the first ever time a woman became Prime Minister.

Thatcher arrived at Downing Street and said, ”In the words of St Francis of Assisi where there is error may we bring truth./…”



In August 1979 Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA whilst on holiday in the Republic of Ireland.

Thatcher went to Northern Ireland in September 1979 to emphasise her commitment to the province.

James Callaghan did not resign as leader of the Labour Party. Nor was there a concerted effort to force him to do so.

Thatcher was not sure of her position at first. She had been leader of the party for four and a half years. She was viewed coolly by some of the grandees. They believed they could control her. Having a woman as leader was a gamble.

Thatcher believed in Monetarism. She was convinced by Friedreich Hayek and the Chicago school of economists. She considered stopping inflation was much more important than cutting unemployment. Under her unemployment continued to rise but she was not worried.


The United Kingdom in the 1960s.


THE UK in the 1960s.

The United Kingdom entered the 60s with Macmillan as Prime Minister. The Conservative Party was in office and appeared to be in a strong position.

The Labour Party was led by Hugh Gaitskell. He was a respectable figure but without the gravitas of Attlee nor did he connect with working class voters who made up Labour’s base.

The Liberals were led by Jo Grimmond. The Liberals had been reduced to six seats. Each election was a near death experience for the Liberals. There was a good chance that the Liberals would be made extinct as a parliamentary party. They clung on in the Celtic fringe. They had seats in rural Scotland, in Wales and in South-West England. The cities were Liberal-free zones. The first past the post system meant that many large cities did not have a single Liberal councillor.

Economic growth was reasonable. However, in the early 60s there started to be a few strikes.

The Empire was being transformed into the COmmonwealth. This provided a shock absorber for the UK. Suez proved that the United Kingdom was no longer  Great Power. There were two superpowers – the USSR and the United States. The UK was a second rate power. Because the Commonwealth existed and held annual conferences many Britishers did not realise that Britain’s position had slipped.

The European Economic Community had been founded in 1957. The founding member states were the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium. The UK had declined pressing invitations to join. Churchill had previously called for a United States of Europe and made clear that it should not include his homeland. One Labour figure had said the UK should not join the EEC because ”the Durham miners won’t wear it.” The expression ”wear it” in Cockney slang means ”agree to it.”

The Liberals endorse the notion of British membership of the EEC.  A few moderate Labour MPs and moderate Tories also shared this viewpoint. Hardline Labour MPs tended to be against it because they saw it as a capitalist club which would prevent full socialism. Tories were mostly opposed for nationalist reasons. Many believed that the Commonwealth was Britain’s market place. The EEC was usually known as the COmmon Market. Few Britons spoke foreign languages. Few continentals spoke English. Foreign Travel was very expensive and unusual back then. People were unaccustomed to foreign cuisine. Britishers usually took their holidays within the UK. Only the affluent went abroad and then it was normally Italy or France in the summer and Switzerland in the winter. The super rich were the jet set who would holiday in the Caribbean. The lack of foreign travel explains why people were more insular and the EEC seemed alien and threatening.

Macmillan came to believe that the United Kingdom ought to accede to the EEC.  Britain applied for EEC membership but this was vetoed by President de Gaulle of France.

The British military was reasonable formidable. But over the years there were cutbacks. Many regiments were amalgamated. The Royal Navy could no longer afford such an establishment. Macmillan took the momentous decision to phase out National Service. It is surprising that the Conservatives chose to do so because they liked to put the accent on defence. Not many people in Labour were calling for National Service to be discontinued. The last National Servicemen left the military in 1963. Of course those who liked life in the Armed Forces were permitted to apply to stay on for a full career. The immediate effect of the end of National Service was a small rise in youth unemployment.

Many troops were stationed in Germany. They were called the British Army of the Rhine.

Immigration continued apace. Many of the immigrants came from the New Commonwealth particularly the West Indies, India and Pakistan. Racist attitudes were not uncommon. Tens of thousands of people from the Republic of Ireland moved in every year but they received very little hostility. There was also immigration from mainland Europe such as Italy and Greece. Australians and New Zealanders who came to the UK were usually received with open arms. This is because they were usually of British descent. Many people complained that there was too much immigration. What the public did not realise is that there was net emigration. That is to say more people were going out than coming in. Many Britishers moved abroad. They often went to settle in Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia. Australia was running the assisted passage scheme. That meant the Government of Australia would pay someone’s boat fare if he or she stayed in the country for two years. Several thousand ”ten pound Poms” arrived in Australia arrived each year. The United States was also a popular destination. South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961 when it was on the point of being expelled due to its racialist policies. Many Britishers moved to South Africa.



The engagement of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones was announced by Buckingham Palace. The princess was aged 30 so no spring chicken by the standards of brides of the time. On the morning of the wedding Armstrong-Jones was ennboled as the Earl of Snowdon. The title related to the part of Wales he came from. The wedding was a spectacular affair in Westminster Abbey. The happy couple honeymooned for a few weeks aboard the royal yacht – Britannia.

Princess Margaret carried out some royal duties. She opened the Jamaican Parliament on the occasion of Jamaica’s independence.

In 1960 the Duke of Kent wed. He is the Queen’s first cousin. The marriage took place in York Minster. It was the first royal wedding in York for centuries. The bride was a Yorkshire lass.

In 1960 Her Majesty the Queen gave birth to a baby named Andrew. This was the name of his paternal grandfather.

In 1964 Her Majesty the Queen was delivered of a son named Edward.

The Royal Family was still very esteemed. Only a handful of people on the Labour left disapproved of the monarchy. Media coverage of the Windsors was entirely deferential.



In the early 1960s the Secretary of State for War was John Profumo. He was known as Jack to his friends. Profumo was of Italian descent – hence his unusual surname. His name means ‘smelly’ – the Tories should have decided to beware! Profumo had been educated at Harrow and Cambridge. He was an unremarkable man and it is surprising that he ascended to such a high office. Profumo was a middle aged married man. He started to have a liaison with Christine Keeler. Miss Keeler was a 20 year old prostitute. Christine Keeler had grown up in a working class family in Uxbridge. She had been sexually active very young and had a baby with an African-American soldier at a time when inter racial relationships led to a lot of verbal abuse. Her baby had died after a few days.

Keeler was also giving her favours to Colonel Yevgeniy Ivanov. His surname is pronounced ”ee van OV”.  Ivanov was a diplomati at the Soviet Embassy. He had formerly served in the Red Navy. Christine Keeler was also climbing into bed with an osteopath named Stephen Ward. Stephen Ward styled himself ”doctor” on the basis of a qualification he bought from a diploma mill in the United States. He was also the son of an Anglican priest which made the story even more deliciously salacious. Ward was a gifted artist who sketched Prince Philip and was sometimes featured in the media.

The story broke that Profumo had been openly consorting with a known prostitute. He had taken her to Cliveden – a stately home. He cheated in a swimming race by walking in the shallow end. ”That’ll teach you to trust a Minister of the Crown” he quipped. Some say that he was paying for her – that it was out and out prostitution. Others such as Matthew Parris take the view that Profumo was in love with her.  Profumo commented in the House of Commons about Miss Keeler saying that he had met her as had his wife. ”There was no impropriety.” His word was accepted.

It eventually became clear that despite his previous denial Profumo had had an affair with Christine Keeler. There was a media frenzy. Many suspected a security risk. He could have leaked military secrets to her. This could be Samson and Delilah. She would then pass this information on to Ivanov. Ivanov left the country – which tended to confirm the belief that something untoward had occurred.

Profumo was told to resign of be sacked. He wrote a letter of resignation. Macmillan replied saying ”the contents of your latter have been communicated to me” – insinuating he had not read the missive as though it was so repugnant that he could not bear to read it. ”I have no option but to recommend to Her Majesty to accept your resignation.”

Macmillan was livid. Labour was having a field day. The Conservative appeared to be sexually immoral and also untrustworthy with national security. Bill Deedes MP, a Tory Whip, said, ”the Tory Party needs to pull its trousers up.” It was a pun on the expression  ”pull your socks up”

Macmillan ordered an investigation into Ward. Normally if there is a crime the police investigate it to lead them to a suspect. In this case Ward was declared to be a suspect and the police were told to pin a crime on him.

Stephen Ward had been living with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Miss Keeler claimed that Ward had arranged illegal abortions for call girls ”who got into trouble.” Keeler and Rice Davies sold their bodies to upper class men. Both had been erotic dancers before becoming call girls. Mandy had had a liaison with Johnny Edgecombe a  Jamaican Yardie. He had fired several shots at Ward’s door when he was not allowed in to see Mandy. Edgecombe went to prison for several years for discharging these shots. Edgecombe was later hanged in Jamaica for murder.

Ward was charged with living off immoral earnings. He was viewed as being a pimp. He was convicted and awaited sentencing. Before he could be sent to prison he committed suicide. In his suicide note he wrote, ”I shall be sorry to disappoint the vultures.” The vultures were those who were persecuting him.

Many Rice Davies moved to Israel where she ran a successful business. Christine Keeler was the talk of the town. She infamously posed for sultry photographs in the nude using only a chair to preserve her modesty. She remained in the UK. In later years she claimed she had been part of a spy ring. This has been dismissed by most people as an absurd fantasy.

Profumo sought election as a local councillor in the East End of London. He did a great deal of charity work and maintained a low profile. His wife stayed with him. In the 1980s Thatcher invited him to Downing Street. After over 20 years he could be forgiven. He was contrite. When he died his son published a book about his father entitled ”Bringing the House Down.” His grandson was a King’s Scholar at Eton.

The Profumo Scandal hit the Tory’s reputation hard. The Tories appeared sordid and divided. They were running out of steam.

Gaitskell suddenly died. Some suspected that he was poisoned by the KGB. He was succeeded by Harold Wilson. Wilson came from Yorkshire. He was born in 1916 to a lower middle class family. His father was an industrial chemist but often out of work. Wilson won a scholarship to Oxford. He was a Liberal there but converted to Labour. He was later an Oxford don. During the Second World War he worked as a civil servant. He was elected to Parliament in 1945. Wilson had been seen as a radical in the party and an acolyte of the redoubtable Nye Bevan. He became more moderate. WIlson was married and had children. He was very close to his unmarried secretary Marcia Falkender. In the 1950s he went to Moscow on a few occasions and Marcia came with him. Some speculated that he was having an affair with Miss Falkender. Were they caught in bed by the KGB. This is sheer conjecture. Some believed he was blackmailed by the KGB who killed Gaitskell to get there man in as Labour leader. These theories are probably all specious.

Wilson’s down to earth style and homely accent made him approachable.. He was a world away from the patrician figure of Macmillan. He was also a wily strategist. His cosy pipe smoking ways were ones that people could identify with.

Times were changing rapidly. People were no longer so deferential. Some youngsters started experimenting with drugs. Apart from heroin and cocaine these were legal.

Peter Cook founded a comedy club called ”the Establishment” in London. The Establishment was a pun on the term that the left wing historian A J P Taylor coined. A J P Taylor used ”the establishment” to mean the upper class and various institutions as in the officer corps, the Royal Family, the Church of England, the judiciary, Varsity, public schools, the high street banks, the City and so forth. Cook;s background was in fact impeccably establishment. His father was a colonial civil servant. Cook attended Radley College and then Oxford. He developed left wing views and his comedy was very anti-establishment.

Macmillan famously attended Cook’s club on one occasion. Macmillan was prepared for some ribaldry at his expense and would have laughed along to prove he was a sport. Cook’s take off of Macmillan was accurate but also cruel. There was not gentleness to his ant-establishment act.

Macmillan’s popularity was sliding. Shortly after the Profumo Scandal he was diagnosed with prostate problems. He resigned on health grounds. He was so ill that he could not stand let alone travel to to Buckingham Palace. The Queen came to visit him in hospital.

The Tory Party went through it nebulous procedures of choosing a leader. Men talked to men behind close doors. There were no high ranking Conservative women though there were a few female Tory MPs. It was decided that  Lord Alec Douglas-Home should be Prime Minister. Notice that his surname is pronounced ”hume”. (His brother was later to write an autobiography entitled ”Home pronounced Hume.” Macmillan advised Her Britannic Majesty to appoint Douglas-Home as Prime Minister.

Alec Douglas-Home was in the House of Lords. Since the 1920s there had been a convention that the PM had to be in the Commons. Douglas-Home renounced his peerage and sought election at a by election in October 1963. He won it. It was a constituency in Scotland. The Conservative and Unionist Party was still healthy in North Britain at that stage. He then became Prime Minister.

Harold Wilson, the Labour leader, greeted Douglas- Home’s appointment with disdain by saying in the House of Commons, ”After half a century of social advance we are led by a fourteenth earl.”  Wilson’s remark resonated with a generation that was increasingly disenchanted with the upper class. Douglas -Home riposted a few days later on the radio, ”When you think about it he is quite a lot more than the 14th Mr Wilson.”

Douglas-Home was in his 50s but his lissom figure made him seem far younger. He was the third Old Etonian Prime Minister in a row and had been to Oxford. He believed in expediency and like many aristocratic Conservatives was on the One Nation wing of the party. He enjoyed a surge of popularity. Labour was rattled.

In October 1964 the moment came for the election. The Tories had recovered a lot of ground.



The Labour Party won the 1964 by 1% point. They had a majority of 4 seats. It was a much better than expected result for the Conservatives. The Liberals won 9 seats out of a total of 650. Wilson became Prime Minister. He does not appear to have even considered forming a coalition with Jo Grimmond’s Liberals. The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru did not win a single seat.

Labour was relieved more than elated to be back in office. Some had feared that Douglas-Home would pull off a miracle at the last minute.

Wilson had only been Leader of the Labour Party for under two years before he assumed the Premiership. Caution was his watchword. He was the most left wing candidate for the Labour leadership. He did not want to do anything that could have the press tar him as an extremist.  There were some minor cuts to defence spending.

Labour’s wafer thin majority was reduced by by elections.

Labour continued the Conservative policy of decolonisation. This was uncontroversial except in the case of Rhodesia. The smal white minority in the country wished to retain mastery. London insisted that Rhodesia could only be independent once the black majority had equal access to political power.

Wilson had appointed George Brown as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. Brown was often described by Private Eye with the libel-proof phrase ”’tired and emotional” which meant ”drunk.” Brown was a very loose cannon. He was totally lacking in the finesse required for his task. He was vain and self-indulgent. When he was Shadow Foreign Secretary had claimed to have been devastated by the death of John F Kennedy – implying they were close friends. Brown had briefly met Kennedy thrice. It was typical of his self-dramatising character. He was a terrible choice and did some harm to Labour’s reputation.

In November 1965 Rhodesia issued a Unliateral Declaration of Independence. The British Government immediately condemned this. Rhodesia had an outlaw government. Not a single country recognised it de jure.

In the Queen’s Speech the government had Her Majesty state its desire to bring to heel ”the illegal regime in Rhodesia.”

Some Labour MPs were approached by Nationalist politicians from Northern Ireland. They were told that the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland was discriminated against. Dozens of Labour MPs joined the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster.

The one daring thing the Labour Government did was to suspend the death penalty. This issue had been debated since the 1930s. The range of murders for which the death penalty had been gradually reduced. By 1965 it was only to be handed down for premeditated murders especially murders in furtherance of a robbery. This meant that armed robbers were very unlikely to kill. Moreover, they usually made sure that anyone with a gun did not have bullets. Robbers knew that if one of them committed murder they could all swing. This was under the common purpose principle. In the United States this is called the law of parties. The death penalty was suspended for five years. The last executions had taken place the year before when two men were hanged for the murder of a postman during a robbery. Most Labour MPs voted for this moratorium. They were often under pressure from their constituents not to do so. The Liberals were almost all against the death penalty. Tories were mostly in favour of retaining the death penalty. In 1966 Harry Roberts shot dead three policemen in London. The Shepherd’s Bush Murders were carried out when Roberts was loitering near a prison with a view to rescuing a friend from there. The murder of a police officer was extremely rare in those days. There was an outburst of public fury. The Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, stood up to the public demand that the death penalty be reintroduced.

In 1965 Jo Grimmond stood down as leader of the Liberal Party which he had ably led for 9 years. He had brought it back from the brink of annihilation. Three Members of Parliament sought the leadership of this miniscule party. The blatant choice for leader was Jeremy Thorpe. Thorpe was a flamboyant and extrovert Old Etonian and Oxford graduate. He was a lackadaisical lawyer. He had been a BBC interviewer and was a consummate media performer. His elegance and poise raised the party’s profile far beyond what one would expect in view of its tiny parliamentary presence. His fixation with the glamour of Commonwealth affairs and avant garde causes such as joining the European Economic Community meant he neglected bread and butter issues.

Thorpe gave the Liberal Party oomph. He was 36 when elected and as a bachelor he had plenty of time to devote to its activities. He spent his free time cruising for gay sex. This was whispered about in parliamentary circles but in the 1960s no newspaper would dare to publish such allegations. His personal life was not to cause the Liberal Party problems – for the moment. The Liberals were bothered by a man calling himself Norman Scott who had been Thorpe’s lover a few years earlier. His constant demands for money were little short of blackmail. The Liberals found it prudent to pay him off.

Wilson formed the view that the UK ought to seek EEC membership. This view was certainly not universally popular in Labour. Thorpe saw eye to eye with Wilson on this. In his first term Wilson chose not to risk it by pushing this issue.

Wilson and Thorpe enjoyed an excellent rapport. As a former Liberal Wilson had much sympathy for this party. Wilson treated Thorpe with great respect – according him a status almost as high as that of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Heath and Wilson were not in sympathy. Wilson was able to irk Heath this way. Wilson and Heath heartily loathed each other. Wilson also kept open the possibility of forming a coalition with the Liberals if he needed to.

Labour’s majority was so small than one Liberal MP was persuaded to be a Deputy Speaker. This reduced the Liberal Parliamentary Party even more.

In 1965 Douglas-Home resigned as Conservative Leader. He remained a prominent figure – later serving as Foreign and COmmonwealth Secretary. The Tories sought a new leader. For the first time they held an election. Only Members of Parliament were allowed vote. The party chose Edward Heath. Heath was born in Kent the son of a prosperous builder. His mother had been a housemaid. Despite attending a fee paying school he could claim to have working class origins. This marked him out from the landowners who had provided Tory leaders for decades. Heath had been an organ scholar at Oxford. He was very much a moderate Tory and had supported the Spanish Republic during Spain’s Civil War. He had been reading for the Bar when the war broke out. He served as an army officer. The war convinced him of the need for Europe to unite. He was an early zealot for the EEC.

Heath was a lifelong bachelor. He lack of physical attraction led some to speculate about his sexual orientation. There is no evidence that he had any liaisons with any man. He was an aloof intellectual. His hobbies were conducting orchestras and sailing. Heath was gauche and grave. He went into politics because he was passionate about his ideas and not because he was a people person. His formality and lack of social grace was a handicap.

Wilson saw things were going the right way for him in 1966. Heath and Thorpe’s honeymoons were over. The economy was growing but was likely to deteriorate soon. Labour was ahead in the polls. There were no crises so he called an election.

Labour was easily re-elected. They increased their majority greatly. Labour was delighted – it was almost as good as 1945.

Almost immediately things went wrong for Labour as the economy stagnated. Soon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, was compelled to devalue the pound.

The conflict in Yemen (South Arabia as they then called it) hotted up. There was no end in sight to the Rhodesia dispute. There was spiraling unrest in Northern Ireland.

To provide a reservoir for Liverpool a Welsh village was flooded. This caused ire in Wales. There was an upsurge in Welsh separatism. Plaid Cymru did well in a couple of by elections but did not take seats. This was partly due to Labour’s general unpopularity. At rugby internationals some extreme nationalist booed God Save the Queen. This was an act so shocking as to have been unimaginable a few years earlier.

The SNP also experienced an upswing. The SNP could no longer be dismissed as an absurdity. In 1967 sensationally won a by election. They had their first Member of Parliament in 22 years. This was again a symptom of Labour’s malaise. The SNP had taken what had previously been a secure Labour seat.

Wilson appointed Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary. Jenkins’ father had been a miner who had gone to Ruskin College. Ruskin is a trades union college which is in Oxford but not part of the university. Jenkins’ had attended Balliol College, Oxford. Jenkins had been an army officer in the war. He was a bon viveur and a political centrist. He was a cosmopolitan and a small ‘l’ liberal. Had the Liberals been a serious political force he surely would have joined them. Jenkins was to introduce the most significant legislation of this Labour Government. This legislation was no whipped. That is to say Labour did not have an official line on it. These were matters of conscience and not party party politics. In reality a high majority of Labour MPs voted for these reforms whereas few Conservatives did.

The decriminalisation of homosexuality is one of the most eye catching changes effected by the Labour Government. Until 1967 gay men were regularly arrested for cottaging. They would be charged with gross indecency. Those who plead guilty would be given a fine for a first offence. Serial offences would be sent to prison where they faced heavy violence from other prisoners. Some were subjected to oestrogen therapy in the belief it could turn them straight. The Woolfenden Report of 1957 had recommended that homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 be permitted. This report had been commissioned by the Tory Government of the day. It included clergymen and doctors. The head of the commission had been a Mr Woolfenden – hence the name of the report. Woolfenden had been headmaster of Uppingham and this was thought to give him some expertise on the subject under discussion. Woolfenden’s son Jeremy was homosexual who tried to force himself to be straight. He even got married. Jeremy Woolfenden served as the Daily Telegraphy correspondent in Moscow. He was seduced by a young Soviet man. The KGB tried to use compromising photos of Jeremy to pressurise him into spying for them. He refused and reported the incident to the British authorities. He lost his career and this drove him to alcoholism causing him to die in his 30s. The Conservative Home Secretary in the 1950s was Sir David Maxwell-Fyffe. Maxwell-Fyffe said, ”I am not going down in history as the man who legalised buggery.” He refused to implement the recommendations of the commission that he had implemented.

Jenkins, Wilson and others believed that homosexuality would always exist and was no disgrace. There were several known gay men on the Labour benches. One of them was the notoriously risk taking far left MP Tom Driberg. Homosexual acts were decriminalised in England and Wales between men over the age of 21 and only two men were allowed to participate. Threesomes were a crime. These actions remained a crime in Northern Ireland and Scotland for some years to come. In the House of Lords Earl Montgomery of Alamein inveighed against the legislation, ”This is the sort of thing the French might tolerate but we are British thank God!”

The Abortion Act was also passed at this time. It was moved by a Liberal MP named David Steel. Abortion when not medically necessary was a crime at the time. Those found to have carried out an illegal termination of pregnancy were sentenced to several years in prison. Doctors who did this would also be struck off.

Sympathetic doctors would sometimes terminate the pregnancies of patients even if there was no medical need to do so. They would claim the woman had an ectopic pregnancy even when this was untrue. The wealthy who had access to Harley Street doctors were more likely to be able to obtain this treatment.

Women who wanted an abortion and could not find a doctor to provide one went to back street quacks. There were also DIY abortions. These sometimes led to severe health problems or even death. It is estimated that dozens of women died in illegal terminations each year.

Steel introduced this act to prevent women dying in illegal terminations. Other countries such as Sweden and the USSR had long since legalised this procedure.

The Abortion Act legalised abortion if two doctors considered that the risks to the patients mental or physical health were greater in carrying on the pregnancy than terminating it. This was not supposed to lead to termination on demand although that is eventually what happened. There was a 28 week gestation time limit on this. Severely disabled foetuses could be terminated at any stage.

The legislation was passed.

Laws on pornography and obscenity were eased but not abolished.



Towards the end of the 1960s the Labour Government faced mounting difficulties. There was a more racial ambience with which Labour did not keep pace. To move further left would cede more ground to the Conservatives. The economy tanked and strike increased. Heath was finding his feet as Conservative leader. Labour’s reforms on homosexuality and abortion had produced a backlash. Crime was on the rise and many attributed this to Labour’s supposed weakness on hanging.

Drug abuse began to spread despite the fact that Labour outlawed cannabis and LSD at this time. The Beatles glamourised drugs with their song ”Lucy in the SKy and Diamonds” as in LSD.

The Vietnam conflict was raging. Wilson had earlier offered vocal support  to the United States on this issue. As the conflict heightened so did opposition among the British public to US policy in Vietnam. Wilson was no longer able to express approval of what the United States was doing. It would have had him ousted by his own party. However, Wilson did not go so far as to condemn the American military presence in Vietnam. There were huge street protests in the United Kingdom against the American war effort in Vietnam. Thousands demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. his degenerated into a riot. Left wingers among Labour’s youth wing were frustrated at the excessive caution and moderation of the parliamentary party.

The Workers’ Revolutionary Party took some support away from Labour but never came near winning a seat. the COmmunist Party of Great Britain enjoyed a revival.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia hardly dented support for the CPGB. The Red Army had attacked Hungary in 1956 and killed far more people. Those who stayed communist by 1968 were happy to support such invasions.

Far left groupsucles such as the Angry Brigade were formed.

The number of people moving to the United Kingdom kept increasing. Migrants from Cyprus and Malta experienced little hostility. The same was true of those who came from the Irish Republic. However, immigrants from the New Commonwealth such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Nigeria, Malaysia, Kenya, India and Pakistan often encountered viciously racist attitudes. Physical attacks were not unknown. There was growing concern about the number of people coming in. Again, this was despite the fact that more people were going out than coming in. Labour introduced legislation which restricted the right of Commonwealth citizens to move to the United Kingdom. Those with a grandparent born in the UK had the automatic right to settle in the UK. In effect this meant that people from countries such as New Zealand and Canada could usually come to the UK since they were of British stock. The Conservatives back Wilson on this issue but some demanded he go further. The Liberals denounced him for caving in to racist instincts. Thorpe wanted no limitations at all on Commonwealth immigration.

Labour introduced anti-discrimination legislation. Up until that time there was no law against refusing someone a job, accommodation or services on the grounds of race. Enoch Powell acknowledged that racial discrimination was idiotic and distasteful but ought to be permitted for libertarian reasons.

In 1969 the Troubles erupted in Northern Ireland. Wilson’s efforts to act as a midwife to reform had failed. Troops were on the streets.

In 1969 British soldiers withdrew from South Yemen. Effectively they had only held Aden. They were pulling out a year ahead of schedule. This was one of the few successes for Wilson.

There were significant defence cutbacks. This was partly because Labour was minded to cut defence anyway but Labour was compelled to go further than they wanted to because of financial constraints. The Blues and Royals were merged into each other. Some county regiments were abolished and this produced a push back. Mad Mitch – an officer who had distinguished himself in South Arabia – stood for Parliament as a Conservative to save his own Scottish regiment. He won and his campaign succeeded – for the time being.


Lee Kuan Yew



In 1923 Lee Kuan Yew was born at Singapore. At that time Singapore was a British colony. Most of the people of Singapore were of Chinese origin. There was also an Indian minority and a Malay minority. They had moved to Singapore over the previous hundred years.  Not many Singaporeans doubted that British rule was last. Few questioned whether British rule was beneficial to them. There was no independence movement. Japan invaded China in 1931. China battled against the Japanese but no other country helped China. Many Chinese moved to Singapore to escape the war. Some sent money home to help the war effort.

Chinese people put their surname first. So Lee Kuan Yew is Mr Lee. His personal name is Kuan Yew. He grew up speaking Chinese. He went to an English speaking school and acquired perfection in the language. His family was not wealthy. He enrolled in university at the age of 18.

In 1942 the Japanese invaded Singapore. Singapore was defended by British Imperial forces – i.e. British, India, Canadian and Australian soldiers. The British Army quickly surrendered. It was an ignominious defeat for the British. The Japanese were outnumbered by the British Empire forces 3-1! The Japanese had won by valour and daring. The Japanese were also very low on ammunition. If the Britishers had been more aggressive they might have won. Had they held out even one more day then the Japanese would have run out of bullets.

The Japanese secret police arrested Chinese Singaporeans who were known to support China in her fight against Japan. Chinese nationalists were executed without trial. Lee chose to keep his head down. He stayed out of trouble and even worked at a Japanese radio station. He became fluent in Japanese. The Japanese renamed the city Syonyan-to meaning ”The Shining South.”

Lee Kuan Yew survived the war. His faith in the British was severely shaken by their defeat in 1942. Singaporeans needed to take responsibility for their own country.  The British Army returned and the city resumed its former name of Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew won a place at the London School of Economics. He went there for a term. However, he then managed to transfer to Cambridge University. Cambridge was a more distinguished university so it was better to go there. He read Law. He introduced himself as ‘Harry’ because some Britons were too stupid to pronounce his name ‘Kuan Yew.’

Lee befriended some communists. They said that Singapore should become independent and he agreed with them. At that stage no one else in the United Kingdom supported Singaporean independence.

Lee gained a First Class degree in Law. He returned to Singapore. English Law was practised there. He was called to the Bar of Singapore. He soon built a flourishing practice. He joined the People’s Action Party. The Communist Party was also a considerable force in Singapore but Lee had turned against them.

In Malaysia a communist rebellion had commenced. Communists in Malaysia drew some support from the Chinese minority there. The Malays in Malaysia were almost all anti-communist. The British Army repressed the communist revolt. In 1957 Malaysia became independent but the British Army stayed there to help Malaysia against communists.

In the 1950s Singapore was convulsed by race riots. The Chinese community fought against Malays who wanted to unite with Malaysia. Indians fought against both. Sometimes the small white minority was attacked. Lee saw that racial strife could tear the country apart. The British Government agreed to lead the country towards independence.

Lee was elected to the Legislative Council (parliament). In 1963 he led Singapore to leave the British Empire. Singapore united with Malaysia. Singapore was 75% ethnically Chinese. Malaysia was 70% ethnically Malay. This led to some tension.

In 1965 the union broke apart. Singapore broke away from Malaysia. Most Malaysians were happy for Singapore to leave their country. Lee was depressed because the union had failed. Singapore was a poor, small. overcrowded island. There was racial tension and gangsters flaunted their power. It had no mineral resources. It was not self-sufficient in food. Indonesia was talking about conquering it. Lee asked the British Army to stay because Singapore could not defend itself from Indonesia. Few people spoke English and some people spoke English.

Lee decided to crack down on crime. Drug dealers had operated openly on the streets. Lee introduced the death penalty for drug trafficking. He introduced severe security legislation. Those suspected of sedition were imprisoned without trial. Communists were locked up despite not being charged with a crime. Libel laws were stringently enforced. ANyone who criticised Mr Lee had to be able to prove what he said was true. Otherwise this person would have to pay ruinous damages. This almost bankrupted opposition parties. Demonstrations were not permitted. Very high taxes were imposed on alcohol.

He emphasised education. There were three ethnic groups in Singapore each with a different language. No group must impose its language on the others. Therefore the primary official language would be English  because this did not favour any of the ethnic groups. Moreover, English is the world language. Everyone must learn to ride and ride. Incitement to racial hatred was outlawed. Lee wanted to make sure that every ethnic community felt involved. He appealed to Malays and Indians to join his political party. He did not want the PAP to be perceived as a Chinese only party. Moreover, he shoe horned an Indian-Singaporean into the presidency – S R Nathan.

The People’s Action Party won elections handily. Lee had a plan to develop the economy. He made the most of Singapore’s position at the Straits of Malacca. Many cargo ships passed through it. Singapore’s port became a vital point for loading and unloading ships. He allowed companies to set up in Singapore and to operate tax free for the first few years. Once they started turning a profit they paid tax.

Lee emphasised school discipline. He allowed caning in school. Standards were high and children were made to do a lot of homework. Teachers were lauded. He also funded the National University of Singapore. He stressed quality not quantity. Although more people started to study there he did not want it to over expand. He wanted places to be limited so that there were be tough competition to get in. NUS attracted many students from abroad.

Lee realised that Singapore was very vulnerable to invasion by Indonesia. He built up the armed forces. Controversially he recognised Israel in return for Israel selling military hardware. This did not go down well with the Muslim minority in Singapore. He required all boys to serve two and a half years in the military. No exceptions were made. Even disabled boys were required to don a uniform and do some military service. Conscientious objector status was not recognised.

In 1970 the British Army announced it was withdrawing from its base on Sentosa Island, Singapore. Singapore was ready to handle its own defence.

Lee improved the transport system. He ordered the Rapid Mass Transit system to be built. This is the metro. He expanded Changi Airport. Singapore Airlines was founded. It is renowned for excellence. It became easy for tourists and business executives to fly to Singapore. Singapore Airlines is a semi-state enterprise like many business in Singapore.

Lee was anti-communist. He developed a cordial relationship with the United States but did not have a military alliance with them. However, he was wise enough to curry favour with China. He exchanged visits with Chinese leaders.

Singapore had become the safest place to do business in South-East Asia. It was stable and it had a good business environment with light touch regulation. Most people spoke English. Many multinational corporations put their headquarters for South-East Asia in Singapore.

Singapore went from strength to strength. She grew richer each year. The People’s Action Party (PAP) was always handsomely re-elected. Lee had friendships with many other world leaders. He had a close rapport with Margaret Thatcher. Lee was a believer in the COmmonwealth of Nations. Singapore hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.

In 1993 Lee Kuan Yew retired as Prime Minister. He was succeeded by his protege Goh Chuk Tung. Lee remained a Member of Parliament for Tangjon Pagar. He still served as Minister Mentor. His son Lee Hsien Loong had also attended Cambridge University. Hsien Loong then enlisted in the Singaporean Army. Hsien Loong served a full military career rising to the rank of major. Then Hsien Loong started in politics being elected to Parliament. After several years Goh stood down as Prime Minister. Lee Hsien Loong became Prime Minister.

Lee Kuan Yew remained in Parliament until the day he died in 2015.


  1. In which year was Lee Kuan Yew born?

2. What is his surname?

3. Singapore was a colony of which country?

4. Which British university awarded him a degree?

5. What was his profession before he entered politics?

6. What does PAP stand for?

7. Which country was Singapore united with in the 1960s?

8. Why did the union with Malaysia fail?

9. How did Lee Kuan Yew develop Singapore? Write several sentences. (5 marks)

10. What criticisms can be made of Mr Lee?  Write several sentences. (5 marks)

The United Kingdom in the 1950s.


THE UK IN THE 1950s.

The United Kingdom began the decade with George VI on the Throne as Clement Attlee as Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister was Herbert Morrison.

The UK was still undergoing rationing. The wartime gloom was only just lifting.



In June 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Kingdom was a founding member of the United Nations. Attlee at once decided that the UK should help the United Nations mission to repel the North Korean attack. The UN authorised the United States to lead a force to beat back the North Koreans. North Korea was a communist country and it was backed by the Soviet Union and China. British troops were dispatched to take part in the UN force. This put a strain on the budget.

Churchill admitted that prior to 1950 he had never heard of Korea.

The UN was believed to be key to world peace. It must not be allowed to become a feeble irrelevance like the League of Nations. The United States was in the UN and this was seen as vital. The League of Nations failed partly through American non-participation. Military action in Korea was supported by almost every MP. The lone communist spoke up for the North Koreans as did a handful of far left Labour MPs. Pacifists outside Parliament protested that it was wrong to fight.



By far the most eye catching event of the 1950s was the coronation.

George VI was so frail that in November 1951 he could not read the Speech from the Throne at the State Opening of Parliament. He looked drawn and had serious trouble with his circulation. He often lost feeling in is legs.

The Princess of Wales and her husband went on a tour of the Commonwealth in January 1952. They flew to Kenya. George VI saw them off and he must have been conscious that he might never see his daughter again. Princess Elizabeth took her mourning dress with her – just in case.

On 6 February 1952 the King was found dead in his bed at Sandringham. The news was sent to Kenya. Prince Philip was informed and had to break the news to his wife. She was queen the moment her father died. The same day the lugubrious tidings were announced the heralds rode around London to St James Palace and the steps of the Royal Exchange and delivered the following proclamation. ”It has pleased Almighty God in his infinite wisdom to call to His Mercy our late sovereign lord George of happy and glorious memory. We now proclaim with one assent of tongue and heart that the Crown does rightfully solely pass to our sovereign lady Elizabeth. God Save the Queen” The herald was the same man who had proclaimed George V in 1952.

Churchill said that ”The king walked with death as though with an old friend. ”

Elizabeth II flew back to London. She disembarked from the plain in mourning. She was greeted by the Prime Minister and the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Both wore mourning – Attlee even wore a black top hat.

Elizabeth II assumed regal duties. There was no gaiety in these for the first few month. A splendid coronation was planned. They needed to allow a decent interval for mourning. They also needed time to make all the arrangements. The coronation was planned for June 1953. There should be clement weather.

Sovereigns and presidents from many lands were invited. A magnificent coronation dress was designed with emblems of Soctland, Wales, Ireland and England.

Should the coronation be televised. The queen felt it should not. Churchill officially advised her that it should. She went with his counsel. SOme felt that it should not be broadcast live. It should be filmed and any missteps then edited out. But in the end it was boldly decided to show it live.

There were many run throughs to get it perfect. Earl Mountbatten came back from Malta. He was Admiral of the Fleet and wanted to play a very prominent role. He was gutted that he would not ride in the position of the greatest honour by the State Coach. His attempt to change the order of precedence got nowhere. This is why he is seen as very vain.

Despite unseasonal rain the coronation was a glorious triumph. Hundreds of thousands of jubilant well wishers lined the procession route. The coronation was world news for weeks. Troops from Canada, Australia, Pakistan and other Commonwealth realms marched in the parade. The Prime Ministers of several Commonwealth countries attended.

Her Majesty the Queen then toured the United Kingdom. She was welcomed rapturously.

The Queen and Prince Philip set off on a Commonwealth tour. The children were left behind. They had been on this tour in 1952 but it had been cancelled when the king died. The Queen visited Australia. She was the first reigning monarch to ever visit Australia. She was received with great warmth. As she sailed to New Zealand hundreds of boats came out to greet the Royal Yacht Britannia. She was greeted by crowds delirious with delight. She also visited Canada. She was extremely popular.

After several months the royal couple returned to the UK. As she greeted Prince Charles he shook her hand. Many commented that the royal family must be cold. He was a 4 year old who had not seen his parents in months.

The Royal Family remained very respected throughout the 1950s. Newspapers did not criticise them. The BBC would not permit any comedy about the House of Windsor.

At the coronation some journalists noticed Princess Margaret standing close to Group Captain Peter Townsend. She picked  speck of dust off his RAF uniform. Some realised this was a grooming gesture towards her boyfriend. Sure enough the princess had a secret relationship with this divorced man. The Queen felt that scandal must be avoided. She could not forget what Edward VIII had done.

In 1955 the news broke that Princess Margaret wished to marry Peter Townsend. The law stated that members of the royal family must obtain permission to wed. The Queen took advice on this. The ruling was that the marriage would be permitted if Princess Margaret renounced her title and her right of succession for herself and any children she may have. She would not longer be given a privy purse – i.e. money from the taxpayer.

Princess Margaret issued a press release. ”Mindful of my duty to the Commonwealth and conscious of the Church’s teaching on the indissoluble nature of Christian marriage I have decided to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. It might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage.” It would definitely have been possible. Princess Margaret claimed to have high minded motives – morality and duty. In reality it was probably the loss of title and money that moved her.

Princess Margaret was seen as impossibly glamorous. She socialised with good looking aristocrats. She liked smartly dressed, sophisticated slim men. They did not need to be muscular. Noblemen of her generation saw her as too much hard work. If they wed her they would have to do royal duties.

She formed a relationship with Armstrong-Jones. He was the son of a royal doctor. He had been to Eton and Cambridge. tHERE He had coxed the blue boat. He was a photographer in high society. He was fashionable and fast.



The parliamentary term was 5 years. The Labour Government called an election in 1950. Labour lost many seats but managed to win overall. Attlee remained Prime Minister. Labour was rattled at having lost so many constituencies despite its manifold achievements since 1945.

The Liberals were reduced from 12 seats to 9. They were led by the redoutable Cymric MP Sir Clement Davies. In 1950 a personable young Scotsman entered Parliament as Member for Orkney and Shetland. His name was Jo Grimmond. Grimmond had been educated at Eton and Oxford. He breathed new life into a party that appeared to be moribund.

The Conservatives had all but absorbed the National Liberals or Simonite Liberals as they were sometimes known. Some people stood for Parliament under the title ”Conservative and National Liberal.”

In late 1950 and early 1951 Conservative fortunes picked up. The gained a handful of seats at by elections. Labour’s thin majority thinned further.

In October 1951 Attlee asked for a dissolution of Parliament. George VI graciously followed his Prime Minister’s advice. Labour won more votes than the Tories but the Tories took more seats. Following the constitutional convention it was Churchill who was invited to form a government. Churchill was overjoyed to be returning to Downing Street at the age of 75. The Conservatives had a very slight majority. Had Labour retained office as they deserved then they would have inherited the post war boom and would have been in a good position to win another general election in the mid 1950s.

In 1945 many had imagined that there would not be another Tory Government for decades. A Labour MP, Hartley Shawcross, had ill-advisedly bragged, ”We are the masters now. And not just for now but for a very long time to come.”

Churchill invited Davies to bring the Liberals into coalition with him. Sir Clement mulled over the proposal. The Liberals were weak and this might make them strong. Was it wrong to turn down a chance to serve in government? Most Liberals who wrote to Clement Davies pleading with him to decline. Davies received especially vociferous missives from the Oxford University Liberals headed by Jeremy Thorpe. Davies reluctantly declined Churchill’s offer. Liberals feared that if they had formed a coalition with the Tories then they would have lost any independent identity. Like the National Liberals they would gradually be subsumed into the Conservative Party. Liberal voters would desert them. Floating voters who disliked the Tories would see the Liberals as turncoats.

The Tories were very fortunate to assume office when they did. The economic indicators were all pointing the right way. The country was slowly lifting out of post war austerity. More consumer goods came on the market. There was full employment and industrial peace. A post war boom took off.

Churchill was infirm. His state of health was so bad that it was kept a closely guarded secret. He was out of the public eye for days at a time. He had a stroke and this was kept from the public. His family got around this by the simple expedient of forging his signature on state papers. Churchill was not close to his son Randolph. Randolph was an ignorant hothead who had dropped out of Oxford. He had been involved in a lunatic fringe party called the Empire Crusade in the early 1930s. He was always losing his temper in public. One friend of his said, ”the only words worse than ‘war has been declared’ are ‘Randolph has just arrived at the party. ” Despite the immense advantage of the name Churchill he only briefly entered Parliament during the war. Even with his father campaigning for him after the war Randolph Churchill was bested by a bookish far left Worsel Gummage type intellectual named Michael Foot.

Churchill had a close relationship with his son-in-law – Soames. They went to horse races together. Soames was the son that Churchill never had.

It was not long before some in the Conservative Party hinted that Churchill should consider retiring. Churchill refused to do so. Would he at least call an election? It would be a good time to call an election. There were the advantages of incumbency and economic growth as well as the feel good factor of the succession. It might have seemed wrong to capitalise on this for partisan advantage. Churchill ruled out an election in 1952 or 1953. Churchill was in clover that the coronation should happen on his watch. He cooed over ”this film star of a queen!”

In 1955 Churchill invited Her Majesty the Queen to a formal dinner at Downing Street. The next day Churchill announced he was standing down as Prime Minister.

There was no formal procedure for selecting a leader of the Conservative Party. Soundings were taken. It was said that a leader ’emerged’. Eden was the obvious candidate although some favoured Macmillan or Rab Butler. Eden was 58, a sharp dresser, a confidant media performer, good looking and he had ample governmental experience. He was also related to Churchill by marrying Churchill’s niece. He had been divorced and then married Clarissa Churchill – daughter of Jack Churchill. In an era when divorce was still considered deeply tendentious it is surprising that the Conservative Party was willing to tolerate a divorced PM.

Churchill’s last act as Prime Minister was to officially advise the Queen that she should send for Sir Anthony Eden as Prime Minister. Elizabeth II duly asked Eden to become PM. Eden duly accepted.

Opinion polls showed the usual honeymoon for the new Prime Minister. There was a surge of support for the Conservative Party. There was peace in Korea and the situation in Malaya was improving and that was also the case in Kenya. The Cyprus situation was deteriorating so it was wise to call an election before that got worse.

After a month Eden went to the country. Labour was led by Attlee. He was 15 years older than Eden and looked older still.

The Conservatives trounced Labour. It was the first proper Conservative victory in 20 years. If one discounts the National Government it was the first real Tory win in 31 years.

The Conservatives won a majority of seats in Scotland. They had more support in Scotland than England.

Attlee had headed Labour for 20 years. He decided it was time to retire. Labour elected a new leader. His name was Hugh Gaitskell. Gaitskell came from a well to do family. He had attended Winchester COllege and Oxford University. Gaitskell had not fought in the war but had been a civil servant. He was a moderate within the party. He also believed that Britain should retain nuclear weapons. There was a growing movement in Labour that nuclear arms should be got rid of. They were expensive, immoral and more likely to make Britain a target.

The late 1950s was a time of steady economic growth. The government built plenty of houses. There were very few strikes.



In 1956 the 20 year British-Egyptian Defence Treaty lapsed. British troops were withdrawn from most of Egypt. The UK was allowed to keep soldiers in the Suez Canal Zone. It had been built in the 1860s with French and British money but Egyptian labourers. It was designed by a French  engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps. Egypt had sold the canal to France and the UK.

Sir Anthony Eden decided to trust Egypt. He voluntarily withdrew British soldiers from the Canal Zone.

The pro-British King of Egypt had been overthrown in 1952. The Free Officers’ Movement ruled Egypt. The military dictator of Egypt was General Gamal Abdul Nasser. Nasser wished to built the Aswan High Dam and used it to generate hydro-electric power. If he could electrify Egypt he could improve people’s standard of living at home but also power many factories. The UK refused to lend Egypt the money for this project. Nasser felt the refusal was delivered in a very insulting manner. There was already a dam at Aswan but it was too low to be used to hydro electric turbines.

Nasser thought of another way to fund the construction of this dam. This plan of his would also increase national pride.

In July 1956 Nasser arranged for Egyptian soldiers to enter the Canal Zone for the first time and seize control of key installations. They were not to disrupt the working of the canal. Nasser was making a speech at that time. The signal for this top secret plan to go into action was the word ‘de Lessps’ as in the name of the designer of the canal. Nasser’s oration at Tahrir Square in Alexandria was broadcast live. The soldiers on the secret mission listened to the broadcast just before the appointed hour for their operation to begin. Just in case they did not hear the whole transmission Nasser mentioned the word ‘de Lessps’ several time.

The operation was a complete success. Most of the Canal workers were Egyptian. The soldiers burst in. They told the Canal operators not to worry – to continue working as normal. There were not fatalities.

Towards the end of his very long winded speech Nasser announced that Egypt had just taken back control of the Canal. The crowd was ecstatic.

The French and British Governments received the news the next day. They were shocked and irate. Eden thought he had a good working relationship with Nasser. Eden felt he had been accommodating by pulling out British troops when he was not required to do so. Nasser had exploited this reasonableness by seizing Franco British property.

Paris and London fulminated – the Canal must be returned or else. They went to the United Nations. Nasser planned in charge tolls on ships passing through the Canal but he did not start doing so until he was surer of his position. Many countries slammed what he had done and this included pro British Arab states.

The Soviet Bloc was supportive of Egypt’s act. Egypt imported a lot of weaponry from Communist countries. They Egyptians were also aware that France and the UK sold arms to Israel. Israel was the arch-enemy of Egypt. Egypt had been beaten by Israel in 1948. Nasser continually announced his wish to smash Israel. Gaza, part of the Palestinian territory, had Egyptian troops stationed in it.

The Israelis took Nasser at his word. WHy wait for him to complete his military buildup? If there had to be a war then let it be at a moment of Israel;s choosing. The Israelis wished to defeat Egypt while Egypt was unprepared. The Israeli’s were apprehensive about taking on Egypt while Egypt had an air force much larger than them. Tel Aviv was worried that it could not defeat Egypt without outside assistance. The US Government was not as close to Israel as it is now. The Suez Crisis provided the ideal opportunity to enlist the support of two powerful nations – France and the UK. Such an chance would not come again.

Eden called up military reservists. Soldiers were sent to Malta and Cyprus. They were within striking distance of Egypt. There was bellicose rhetoric. SOme hoped that this sabre rattling might lead to Nasser backing down and returning Canal or at least some acceptable compromise. Nasser ruled out doing so. He also chose not to up the ante. He did not block British or French merchant ships from sailing through the Canal. He was not going to provide France and the UK with an excuse to attack.

Eden was psychologically unstable. He was taking amphetamines and barbiturates. They were then colloquially called uppers and downers. These were prescribed by the bucket load in the 1950s. He took Suez personally. He had MI6 examine ways of launching a coup d ‘etat. He had them plan an assassination of Nasser. It was not effected but Eden remarked, ”I want Nasser murdered.”

The Suez Canal was not so vital for the UK in the jet age. The United Kingdom had very few colonies left east of Suez. Yet for many Suez was a symbol of British prowess and resolve. Independence had been granted to a few colonies but these were exceptions. Many believed that the British Empire could last for decades.

The French, British and Israelis had a secret meeting in Paris. They came up with a plan. Israel would attack Egypt. The French and British would then intervene and tell the Egyptians and Israelis to withdraw from the Canal. The Israelis would comply. If the Egyptians did not then the French and British would bomb the Egyptian air force. If the Egyptians did comply then the British and French could take back the Canal and Israel would have a buffer between Israeli occupied Sinai and the Egyptians.

In late October 1956 the plan swung into action. The Israeli attacked and stormed through Sinai. The French and British demanded that both sides halt all acts of war and pull back from the Canal Zone. The Israelis upheld their end of the bargain and withdrew. The Egyptians fell into the trap and refused to leave the Canal. The French Air Force and the RAF destroyed most of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. British paratroopers and French paratrooper landed in the Canal Zone. Tanks and artillery were landed with them. This was because of Arnhem. Egyptians working at the Canal sank ships in the Canal to render it unusable. They had foreseen the prospect of a Franco – British attack and had been issued with orders to do this in the event of such an attack. The French and British soon controlled the Canal but it was impassable until the sunken ships were raised. This task would take weeks.

Almost every country censured the UK and France for their action. Even Arab countries which had condemned the Egyptian takeover of the Canal were against the Franco-British attack. There was a large element of Muslim solidarity. Every Muslim country in the world railed against the French and British intervention. The same was true of newly independent countries such as India. Every communist country in the world denounced that the British and French had done. Paris and London had anticipated a negative reaction but the furore was worse than expected. Much more worryingly the US Government also excoriated the French and British. President Eisenhower was days away from his second election. He did not want his Allies queering the pitch. His reasons for speaking out against them were not just personal. NATO was protesting against the Soviet invasion of Hungary. NATO’s moral authority was undermined by what France and the UK had just done.

The French and British controlled the Canal. They did not attempt to invade Egypt proper. The Conservative Party was almost entirely behind Eden. The Labour Party most spoke out against him. Hugh Gaitskell, Labour leader, protested against this action in a rally at Trafalgar Square. The motto of the anti-Suez campaigners was ”Law not War.” A Labour MP called the Honourable Anthony Wedgwood-Benn also spoke at that same meeting. The Liberals too denounced this action.

Eden was questioned in the House of Commons. Had he had any foreknowledge that the Israelis were going to attack Egypt. He used periphrastination. Labour sensed his evasiveness. Eventually they managed to put the question in such a way that no circumlocution could save him. He told an outright falsehood and said that Her Majesty’s Government had had not knowledge that Israel was about to invade Egypt. In fact the British Government had colluded with Israel.

Some oil producing states refused to sell to the UK. This was long before North Sea oil. There were shortages of petrol. There was financial pressure from the Americans. The Soviets spoke of sending troops to Egypt. They saw the Atlantic alliance fracturing. In the UN motions were carried by the General Assembly which condemned what Britain and France had done. The UK and France consented to a compromise. They would pull their soldiers out and UN troops from other countries would replace them. This was a face saver. At least the Canal was not in Egyptian hands.

Suez was widely perceived as a calamity. Hundreds of people had been killed for no gain. Militarily it had been a success but the diplomatic fallout was so severe that Eden’s time was over. Churchill was no longer in Cabinet but said, ”I am not sure if I would have dared to start Suez but if I had then I would not have dared to stop.”

Eden retired in January 1957 on the grounds of ill health. Although he was unwell there is no doubt that Suez brought his retirement forward several years.

The CIA had failed to predict Suez. Many say that if the British and French had waited a few days till Eisenhower was re-elected and kept the US informed then the Americans would have been supportive. The lesson London learnt was to stay close to the Americans – not to embark on anything without they tacit approval.

Suez was supposed to be a line in the sand – no more imperial retreat. In fact it hastened the liquidation of the British Empire.

Labour was riding high. They were confident they had the Conservatives on the ropes. The Tories had led the country to a foreign policy disaster. That Eden had perjured himself in Parliament was widely suspected. It was not proven until years later when the Israelis released documents.



As Eden announced he was stepping down as Prime Minister a few leader of the Conservative Party had to be found. The Tories went through their usual secret process. Macmillan ’emerged’ as having broad support. He was three years older than Eden and had a more patrician air despite being the great-grandson of a crofter. Macmillan liked to say ‘grandson of a crofter’ but that is untrue. His grandfather had founded Macmillan publishing. His father had been to Westminster and Cambridge. Macmillan had been a King’s Scholar at Eton. He had gone up to Balliol College, Oxford in 1912. He had been poised to be President of the Union when the Great War broke out. He volunteered for the Grenadier Guards. For years afterwards officers were praised for being ”as brave as Mr Macmillan.” Subalterns were known as ”mister.”

Macmillan remarked that he never would have got so far in politics if so many talented men had not been killed in the Great War. He had chosen not to return to complete his degree after the war. ”Oxford for me was a city of ghosts.” He became an aide de campe to the Governor General of Canada – the Duke of Devonshire. He was the duke’s daughter. It was remarked to the duke that His Grace’s daughter was marrying beneath her. The duke observed that his other daughter had married the heir to a brewing fortune whereas Macmillan’s family were publishers, ”Books is better than beer.”

Macmillan had become a Conservative MP in the 1920s. He was a One Nation Conservative. He flirted with the notion of establishing a centrist party. He believed more had to be done to reduce unemployment and deal with deprivation. He wrote about this later as ‘the middle way’. He wanted a halfway house between socialism and capitalism. Had it not been for his class he surely would have joined Labour.

Macmillan was one of Churchill’s roving ambassadors in the Second World War. He most served in this role in North Africa. After the war he was responsible for many Russian anti-communists being returned to the USSR. Many were beaten to a pulp and made slave labourers for years. A large minority were executed. They had been heavily oppressed by Stalin so sought to overthrow the tyrant. Some had been born outside the USSR after 1917 so had never been Soviet citizens. This is the darkest stain on his record.

Macmillan had been Chancellor of the Exchequer under Eden. Because of collective cabinet responsibility Macmillan was answerable for Suez too. Macmillan was grandfatherly pragmatist.

Macmillan managed to move on from Suez very swiftly. He laid emphasis on the fact the economy was doing so well. His slogan was ”you have never had it so good.” Unemployment was very low, the government built plenty of houses, consumer goods were becoming more affordable. Macmillan rapidly became very popular. The press dubbed him ‘Supermac’. This was the time when superman cartoons were popular.

Macmillan decided that the colonial era was over. He ordered that colonies be prepared for independence as soon as reasonably practicable. He noticed that colonies cost more to maintain than they brought in. He looked back to the 18th century when the UK had no colonies as such. British land in India was governed by the East India Company not the UK Government. The American colonies had been self-governing. ”Why not sit back and be rich?”, he asked.

Rising prosperity manifested itself in teddy boys hanging around a juke box in milk bars. American rock and roll culture was exceedingly fashionable. Many idolised Elvis Presley though he never performed in the UK.

Independent Television was established. Until ITV there had only been BBC.

The Labour Party was riven by the nuclear arms issue. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The CND was a worldwide organisation. The CND organised ”ban the bomb” marches. The CND in the United Kingdom was very popular among young Labour activists and communists. Some CND members were inspired by religious motives.

The CND marched from Trafalgar Square to the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston. The Labour leadership was in favour of the UK keeping nuclear arms. However, a large minority of Labour MPs were members of the CND.  The left of the party tended to be anti-nuclear arms. Nye Bevan held enormous kudos on the Labour left. Bevan disappointed many of his followers by speaking in favour of nuclear weapons. He said for Britain to give up the atom bomb would be ”to send the Foreign Secretary naked into the conference chamber.” Bevin died shortly thereafter. His Ebbw Vale seat was won by the far left idealist Michael Foot.

Labour gave the impression of being feeble on defenced and being disunited generally.

The Conservative Party bounced back from Suez remarkably quickly. In 1959 Macmillan chose to go to the country. The Conservative Party won easily.

Labour was despondent. They had lost three elections on the trot. However, they chose to keep Hugh Gaitskell as leader.




In 1948 a revolt had begun in Malaya. It drew some support from the Chinese minority and a little from the Indians there. Almost no Malays backed it.

The British Army was in Malaya and fought against the Communists. Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia also sent troops there to battle the communists. In time the communists were crushed.

The UK granted independence to Malaya in 1957. Malaya meant the Malaysian Peninsula. The sultanates of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo later acceded to Malaya. The country changed its name to Malaysia.



When the Queen visisted Kenya in 1952 the country as at peace. Shortly thereafter a rebellion began. It was confined to members of the Kikuyu tribe. The insurgent organisaton was called Mau Mau. It was partly a cult. Mau Mau wanted to drive out the whites and retake the land. Some Mau Mau fighters had formerly served in the King’s African Rifles.

There was an influx of white Britishers to Kenya after the Second World War.

Kenya had a Legislative Council. Whites had the right to vote and so did Indians. The whites had most representation. The colonial authorities said that black people should not vote for the Legislative Council since they had their own tribal political structures. Tribes had chiefs who governed the internal affairs of the tribe. Tribes organised gatherings to settle matters. Native Kenyans also managed their own judicial affairs. Not many black Kenyans were literate at that time.

This argument that black Kenyans should not vote had less merit over time. Kenya was governed by English law. If there was a legal dispute between an indigenous Kenyan and a person of another race then English law was used. The rules of the road or the law on commerce were English law and not customary law. More native people were moving to the cities and were mixing with other tribes. Tribal political structures no longer worked.

Jomo Kenyatta was a Kikuyu man who had lived abroad a lot. He spoke fluent English and had been exposed to socialist ideas. He was an anti-communist but still critical of the colonial authorities. He had been in the UK just after the Second World War and exchanged ideas with other Africans who wanted self-government. Kenyatta had formed the Kikuyu Central Association to campaign for the betterment of his tribe. By the 1950s he wanted self rule for all Kenyans. He concerns were not just for Kikuyu people.

Mau Mau killed whites including civilians. Black people who were pro government were also killed. The government established the Home Guard. The government raided forests were Mau Mau were hiding. Mau Mau men who were captured were sometimes persuaded to change sides. They went through de-oathing ceremonies. This released them from their vows to Mau Mau. The army formed pseudo gangs. They dressed like Mau Mau and did not wash for days. The were able to walk into Mau Mau areas and surprise Mau Mau units.

The government penetrated Mau Mau with informers. Many Kikuyu men were interned. SOme were tortured. Mau Mau suspects were tried. Some of those found guilty were hanged. Sir Kenneth O’Connor was the hanging judge who sent many of these men to the gallows. The leader of Mau Mau was Dedan Kimathi. Kimathi seemed to turn mad when it became clear his campaign was failing. He was eventually captured and executed.  By 1956 the revolt had been smashed.

Kenyatta was charged with sedition. He denied any connection to Mau Mau. He was sentenced to several years in prison. Some whites wanted him hanged. He was eventually set free.

The British Government decided that Kenya needed to reform. Black people were allowed to elect representatives to the Legislative Council. The Government of India pressed Britain to grant independence.



In the 1950s there was a rebellion in Cyprus. EOKA was the rebel organisation. Many Greek Cypriots wanted independence and unity with Greece. The Turkish Cypriot minority was against it. The Marquess of Salisbury resigned over the government being too soft on EOKA.

The UK eventually agreed to Cypriot independence. The UK was allowed to keep two bases there.

There was fighting between Turks and Greeks over the fate of Cyprus. In 1960 the country became independent.


The October Revolution 1917.



In 1917 the First World War had already been raging for three years. The world was divided into two hostile camps. They were the Central Powers and the Allies. The Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The Allies included the Russian Empire, France, the United Kingdom, Serbia, Japan, Italy and then the United States joined the Allies. Because most of Africa and Asia were colonies of European countries this meant that these continents were also in the war.

Russia was a virtual dictatorship under the Tsar. The Duma (parliament) was elected but it could only express an opinion. The voting system was openly weighted towards the affluent.

The Russian Empire had suffered enormously. Over two million Russian soldiers had been killed. Russian industry was producing enough weapons but the transport system was not bringing sufficient weapons and food to the front. In the cities there were grave shortages of food and fuel. People queued for hours to get bread and coal. They grumbled about their problems.

In the non-Russian parts of the empire there were separatist rebellions. In 1916 there was a nationalist rebellion in Kazakhstan. Many Kazakhs wanted independence. They resented the government’s bid to conscript them into the Russian Army. Some Kazakhs viewed the Russian Army as an army of occupation. Russia stressed that Christianity was central to its identity. It was therefore very hard for a Muslim to feel Russian. Not many Kazakhs spoke Russian back then. One of Russia’s foes was the Ottoman Empire. WHy should Kazakhs fight against their co-religionists in the Ottoman Empire? The Turks had some linguistic and cultural similarity with the Kazakhs. Most of the Russian troops were fighting in Europe. This meant that Russia lost control of most of Kazakhstan.

Lenin was a Marxist theorist. He was the leader of the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks were a faction of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party. This party had been banned under the Tsar. He had been exiled to Siberia in his youth. Since 1900 he had lived outside Russia. He briefly lived in London and then he moved to Switzerland. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (known as Lenin) wrote in little known Marxist newspapers. Lenin was virtually unheard of in Russia. Lenin believed that national identity was nonsense. He said he wanted to liberate the working class in all nations. He wanted workers to unite and fight against the boss class which exploited them. Lenin thought that the First World War was totally immoral. He claimed that both sides were evil. It was an imperialist war – prideful empires fought for more territory and more markets. The wealthy grew even richer while proletarians were slaughtered in their millions just to increase the profits of a few capitalists.

In February 1917 there had been a revolution in Russia. Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown. He had never been popular but his mismanagement of the war had led to him being widely reviled. The Tsar and his family were held prisoner and transferred to Yekaterinaburg. The monarchy was abolished. A republic was established and many political parties were allowed. Every adult was allowed to vote and there was free speech. The Provisional maintained the capitalist system but said they planned to share wealth more equally in future. The Prime Minister was Prince Lvov – no relation to the Romanovs. Prince Lvov led the Constitutional Democrats Party. After a few months Prince Lvov was replaced as Prime Minister by Alexander Kerensky. He was a member of the Social Revolutionary Party. The Provisional Government declared that it would continue to fight the war. This was ”revolutionary defence”. Germany had occupied a lot of Russian land. The Provisional Government simply wanted its land back. Once the lost land was recovered Russia would stop fighting – if Germany was willing to make peace on those terms.

The war was extremely costly in terms of lives and money. Russia could hardly sustain the war. The Western Allies were very keen to keep Russia in the war. They feared that if Russia pulled out of the war then Germany would defeat them (the Western Allies).

Lenin detested the German Government. Germany was more or less a military dictatorship under the Kaiser. Lenin believed that Germany’s system was wicked to the German working class who were mistreated by the bosses. Lenin was determined to withdraw Russia from the war which he believed was idiotic and morally repugnant. The German Government knew that Lenin was adamant that Russia should stop fighting. They also knew that Lenin hated them as much as he did his own government but nevertheless they saw how Lenin could be useful to him. Lenin and the German Government agreed that he would return to Russia and be funded by them. He was put in a sealed train and allowed to cross German territory to go home. Lenin returned to Russia in March 1917.

Lenin was met by some Bolsheviks at Finland Station in Petrograd (now called St Petersburg). Lenin immediately gave a rousing speech about how Russia was immediately cease fighting. His slogan was ”Peace, Bread, Land!” Most people were utterly sick of the war. It had cause untold suffering and appeared to be unwinnable.

The Provisional Government believed in free speech. However, they grew anxious about the Bolsheviks’ anti-war agitation. The Bolsheviks had been a tiny party at the time of the February Revolution. The Bolshevik Party grew very rapidly especially in cities among factory workers, soldiers, sailors, transport workers and servants. Soldiers started to desert because they were convinced by Bolshevik anti-war rhetoric.

In April 1917 Lenin published the April Theses. These were his thoughts about why Russia ought to make peace. His opinions were very attractive. Lenin suddenly became famous. He published a newspaper called Pravda.

The Bolsheviks attempted a revolution in the summer of 1917. They did not have enough support. The Provisional Government defeated them and Lenin fled to Finland.


In October 1917 the situation had deteriorated for the Provisional Government. Russian offensives had been beaten back by the Central Powers. Desertions in the army had made the military situation untenable. The paucity of food and firewood in the cities was severe. The war was killing civilians in huge numbers. The Provisional Government had become very unpopular. Tsarists were even plotting a comeback. The Bolsheviks decided it was the moment to strike.

Many soldiers and sailors – even those still serving in the military – had become Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks formed a secret Revolutionary Military Committee. The Bolsheviks carefully planned their revolution. Then they struck..

The Battleship Aurora was under Bolshevik control. In the dead of night the Aurora fired on the Winter Palace. That was the signal for Bolshevik troops to storm the Winter Palace. In fact the Winter Palace was very lightly defended. It was held by some cadets and some women soldiers. Not a single person was killed in the storming of the Winter Palace.

The Bolsheviks seized several key installations around St Petersburg. These included the telephone exchange, banks, railway stations and ammunition dumps. They encountered some resistance. Dozens of people were killed. Bearing in mind this was the capital city the fighting was very small scale. Almost every pro-government soldier was at the front facing the Germans.

Alexander Kerensky fled in a vehicle provided by the US Embassy. SOme other government ministers were arrested.

The Bolsheviks set up their headquarters in the Smolny Institute. This was formerly a finishing school.

We call this event the October Revolution. According the the New Style Calendar it began on 5 November. Russia used the Old Style Calendar until 1918. So by the Russian calendar of that time this revolution occurred in October. It is always known as the October Revolution.

Bolsheviks also seized control of Moscow. There they faced serious opposition. It took weeks of heavy fighting before the Bolsheviks won there. The Bolsheviks also took over several other major cities.

The Bolsheviks said that Russia would be a socialist state. They did not ban other political parties at that time. Elections scheduled for November 1918 went ahead. These were rather disrupted owing to the fighting. The Bolsheviks scored 25% of the vote but the Social Revolutionaries won 40% of the vote. The Duma met in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks closed the Duma after one day.

The Bolsheviks established a soviet of people’s commissars. The chairman of the soviet of people’s commissars was Lenin. This was equivalent of being Prime Minister.  Other countries would say ”government minister”/ Bolsheviks said that was a bourgeois term so they used the words ”people’s commissar” as in ”people’s commissar for foreign affairs, people’s commissar for health, people’s commissar for war”’. Other countries talked about the cabinet – as in group of the top government minister. In Bolshevik Russia this was called the soviet of people’s commissars.

Lenin said he wanted the non Russian sections of the Russian Empire to remain united with Russia but if these countries wished to declared independence then they would be allowed to separate. Most non-Russian nations declared independence. A couple of years later Lenin changed his mind and conquered them.

The October Revolution was a very significant moment. It established the first communist government.

In the USSR this event was called ‘The Great Socialist October Revolution.’