Category Archives: History of Ireland

This history looks primarily at Ireland in the Middle Ages. It has a couple of articles on Ireland in the 19th century. It will be expanded to cover Modern Irish History in greater depth. These articles challenge the nationalist narrative but avoid diatribe.

Irish nationalism is wrong.

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Irish nationalism is not immoral. It is merely unhistorical.

Irish nationalism emerged in an identifiable form in the 1790s. It was then led by upper middle class Protestant intellectuals who wanted to copy the French Revolution. The anarchy, internecine fighting and mass executions of the French Revolution might have given them payse for thought. Nonetheless the wish to found an Irish Republic with religious equality was not a totally bad idea. The legal discrimination against the Catholic majority at the time made the Kingdom of Ireland a place badly in need of reform.

In the late 19th century Irish nationalism became Gaelic nationalism. Arlene Foster correctly identified it as such in 2005.

Gaelic nationalism’s twi engines were the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic. These atavistic organisations harked back to the 12th century. That was before English and Welsh soldiers arrived in Ireland at the invitation of the King of Leinster.

Gaelic nationalism considered Gaelige to be the language of Ireland. Irish is not the original language of Ireland. There was a prior Celtic language before Irish. That Celtic language has been lost and was never written. So much for lingucide. Gaelic nationalists often accused the English of killing the Irish tongue. In fact the Gaels killed the previous Celtic tongue. Does that make Gaels bad?

Gaelic nationalists pretended that everyone in Ireland was  a Gael. There were several waves of immigration and invasion into Ireland before the 12 the century. Anciet Britons fled to Ireland in the 4th century AD. In that sense the people of Ireland are the true owners of Great Britain. The Britons who came to Ireland at the time were running away from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who attacked Britannia.

Therefore many changes had occurred prior to the arrival of Strongbow and King Henry II of England in 1169.  All these changes before the 12 th century were accepted. Everything since 1169 was an abomination according to Gaelic separatists.

Gaelic nationalists stressed Irish unity. They overlooked the historical truth. In 1169 Ireland was divided into several kingdoms that were often at war against each other. There was a high king at Tara. But he had little authority. There was no regal dynasty. The country lapsed into fratricidal war every so often when a king died. These kingly elections were fractious affairs and often bloody ones.

There were Danes in Ireland in 1169 and that had been in Ireland for 300 years. They controlled Dublin. Brian Boru had bested the Danes at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Separatists ignored that this was a very temporary victory. The Danes soon returned.

Irish kings often enlisted Danish aid against each other.

It is the entitlement of any person to believe himself to belong to a distinct nation whether or not this opinion is borne out by historical evidence. Everyone has the right to seek independence for anything they consider to be a nation. That is not to say that every group that calls itself is a nation is one or indeed should be granted independence even if all the members of the same wish for independence.

After 1169 we had many English and Welsh immigrants coming. We also had Scots coming. The Scots were an Irish tribe originally. There was a kingdom that spanned the North Channel.

Many Irishmen had gone to dwell in Great Britain. All sorts of people came to Ireland after 1160 such as Frenchmen, Germans, Dutch and so on.

How Gaelic are the Irish really? If we could isolate the Gaelic genes we would srely find that we are only a small fraction Gaelic. The Gales dominated Ireland for only a few centuries until the 9th century. There have been countless cultural memes that we adopted from all the other migrants who arrived in Eire.

Gaelic nationalism seeks to suppress all the non Gaelic heritage of Ireland.

The GAA banned people in it from playing garrison sports i.e. anything except for hurling or Gaelic football. At their social functions they had only Irish dancing and music. This is xenophobia.

There is nothing bad about playing Gaelic games. Learning a new language is laudable. Demonising another language – the language of the majority is contemptible.

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Suite Francaise

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This is a superb film. It takes a worn theme – France under German occupation – and a tale that has been retold in myriad ways (love across the divide) and reworks them in an innovative and engaging fashion.

I had not heard of a single member of dramatis personae yet they were all excellent. The acting was convincing and the characters were mutlilayered. There were no lazy stock characters. The dialogue is spare. It is not overly effusive nor is it jejune. It is credible and gets the tone just right in terms of expressing high emotion without being stilted.

In 1940 the Germans reach the small town of Bussy. Kristin Scott Thomas is the dowager of a substantial country house. Her son is a Prisoner of War. Liliane is Kristin’s daughter-in-law. Liliane had been married for a few years yet no baby has been born. This is one of several sources of animus between Kristin and Liliane. The love has gone out of Liliane’s marriage some time ago.

The mayor of the town instantly makes an accommodation with the Wehrmacht. AFter all France has surrendered and the French Government has ordered its functionaries to facilitate German rule. The mayor is a an old aristocrat and he is a decent sort and believes he is being a good Frenchman by minimising aggro between the townsfolk and the occupiers. At first the German Army behave honorably. They demand that all French folk hand in their firearms. All weapons or handed it – or so it seems. The German soldiers ask French citizens to write to them with reports of bad conduct on the part of their neighbours. The German Army is flooded with letters by Frenchmen denouncing their compatriots. The Germans successfully divide and rule. They know the local gossip – who is suspected of being a thief and who has been having an affair.

German officers are billetted on families. A handsome young officer moves in with Kristin and Liliane. Kristin thinks of him as an enemy. She does what she has to but it never friendly. Liliane perceives his inner goodness and she is courteous towards him. I shall call him Hans. They grow closer and Kirstin chides Lilian for being civil to Hans.

Rupprecht is a German officer who moves in with Gaston and his wife Mariane. Gaston is disabled and his gammy leg forfended military service. Rupprecht is condescending towards the couple. He openly mocks Gaston about his leg and his inability to fight. Rupprecht soon flirts with Mariane. She rejects his overtures and Gaston bridles at this effrontery by his unwanted guest.

The German soldiers swim nude in a lake. Gaston has hidden an unlicensed firearm in his barn. He takes his gun and hides in the wood. He trains his sights on Rupprecht. I am thinking – no, don’t do it. You will be caught and killed. Gaston relents. At this moment Hans tries to persuade Rupprecht not to harass Mariane. Rupprecht testily dismisses this counsel. ”Don’t lecture me on morals. You were not like that when we were ordered to shoot prisoners.”/ ”I did not shoot anyone.” says Hans gravely./”But I did and with delight.”/ ”We were at war then” observed Hans/ ”we still are” is Rupprecht’s riposte.

Rupprecht sees women as spoils of war. French civilians are still the enemy and merit no respect. Rupprecht stands for a large section of the German Army. One of the most laudable parts of the film is there is not a single allusion to Nazism or Hitler. Most people are not very political. The war is about nationality more than ideology. Rupprecht is the sort who would eagerly go along with Nazism without believing in it or disbelieving in it. He is an opportunist who will follow the majority.

Gaston poaches from the mayor’s land. Caught stealing chickens he tells the mayor’s wife,”the day the Germans leave….” He does not need to complete the sentence. Some upper class French people found German rule congenial. They began to realise that if they Germans were defeated they would suffer and not just due to collaboration..

Hans is more reflective. He has some fairly candid discussions with Liliane. He was a composer and joined the army due to a sense of family solidarity. He is asked if he agrees with the war. ”Lets just say I admire the communal spirit.” He is canny enough not to disparage his government but his attitude is plain. He has striven to find something positive to say about the war – the sense of camaraderie among the soldiers.

Soon Liliane discovers that many French girls have begun relationships with German soldiers. Most young Frenchmen are Prisoners of War or are labourers in Germany. She does not look down on them for acting as their nature inclines them. She comes across one of her neighbours having athletic sex with a soldier in the forest. The 1940s stocking add a frissons of kinkiness to the passionate woodland encounter. The girl feels shamed and runs after Liliane trying to justify her actions. ”Some of them are better people than our men.” She makes a very valid point. Someone happening to be German in the war does not make him evil any more than Frenchmen were necessarily good. Liliane has become increasinly attracted to sensitive and cultured Hans.

The Germans decided to arrest Gaston. As a German truck draws near he runs and hides. His wife tries to delay them. In the barn he is confronted by Rupprecht who has found his gun. Possession means execution. Gaston grapples with Rupprecht and overpowers him – shooting the officer with his own revolver. The others hear the gunshot. Gaston gets on a motorbike and speed s out of there.

That night the Germans scour the woods. Liliane goes out in the middle of the night to find him. She brings him back. She lets Kirstin in on the plot. This patriotic brings the two women together whereas previously they have sparred. Gaston is secreted in a priest hole. The Germans search the house.

Hans’ sixth sense tells him that something is going on. He chooses not to pursue it. He knows that if Liliane is found to have abetted a fugitive she will be killed.

Gaston’s wife is arrested and beaten up. Later she is released. She goes to Liliane’s house. Liliane has not told her where Gaston is because Mariane might be tortured into giving him away. Mariane sees Liliane in her finest dress with her hair in a chignon and wearing makeup. Two wine glasses are on the table with candles. Mariane realises that Liliane is having a romantic dinner with Hans. Mariane inveighs against Liliane as a traitor to her people and her husband.

The  mayor of the town is arrested in the stead of Gaston. He is in charge of collaboration and a German has been killed on his watch. Unless Gaston is given up within 48 hours then the mayor shall be shot in place of Gaston. The Germans calculate that a well respected and local figure will be saved – someone will betray Gaston. In fact some people loathe the mayor because he is an aristocrat and a rapacious landlord. Hans is told by his superior that he will be in charge of the execution.

Gaston is not apprehended. The mayor is lead out to be put to death in the town square. Hans goes through with his duty depsite clearly being disgusted by it. The anguish is etched onto his face. He hesitates but gives the orders loudly and decisively. To make it even more agonising the doctor takes the mayor’s pulse after a volley of shots and indicates that the mayor is not dead. It falls on Hans to give the coup de grace. He comes close and shuts his eyes before putting a final bullet into the mayor’s chest.

Hans stands for a large number of decent Germans who fought in the Second World War because they were compelled to. They did their duty due to coercion. They despised Nazism but were not heroic enough to oppose it. Hans is easily the most complex and fascinating character in the film.

One of the things that is unrealistic about the film is how many German soldiers there are in a small town. In reality it would have been the Vichy Milice keeping order.

Liliane decides to help Gaston escape to Paris. She will drive him and he will be hidden in the boot of the car. One of Hans’ men said the tobacco he smelt in the house was not Hans’. On the travel pass he wrote an order that the car must be searched.

Hans is frightened. He suspects that Gaston will be in the car. Gaston will be found – Gaston and Liliane will be killed. Suspicion will fall on Hans. Did he collude with them? He was living in the house and he approved the travel pass.

Hans rides his motorbike up to the check point – presumably to insist that the car not be searched. But he is too late. The boot was opened. Gaston shot dead the soldier searching it and also shot another soldier before being wounded himself. Gaston has the humanity not to kill Hans who helps them on their way.

It is based on a true story. I wonder what happened next. Did the dead German sentries kept traced to Liliane?

The film has a fast moving and straightforward tale. Yet it kept me guessing. What would happen next? Would they make it?

The characterisation was superb. The facial expressions with voluble. The wardrobe was brilliant. It was true to life. People were never overdressed and the clothes were faded and tattered as they would have been. It was accurate about the moral compromises and human dilemmas behind the war. It was a gripping film and a delight from first to last. Oddly there were no quips in it.

The United Nations.

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For centuries there had been talk of founding an international organisation to arbitrate international disputes. In 1919 the League of Nations was founded. This proved to be ineffectual for several reasons.

In the Second World War the Allies sometimes called themselves the United Nations. The Allies included the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada, India, France, Australia, the United Kingdom and many more.

In January 1945 the Big Three held a meeting at Yalta in the Soviet Union. The Big Three were Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. They agreed that the United Nations would continue after the war. It would not be a military alliance but would be an international body for dealing with disputes.

In July 1945 the United Nations Organisation (UNO) was founded in San Francisco in the United States. The first sessions of the United Nations was held in London at the end of 1945. It was soon decided that the headquarters would be in New York. New York was the biggest city in the world at the time and the most developed.

The United Nations has a charter. The UN Charter says that the UN exists to prevent war. It says that slavery must be outlawed. It also says that countries must only fight in self-defence. The UN can authorise military action. The UN passes resolutions. Some of them are passed by the Security Council and they are binding. Those resolutions passed by the General Assembly are non-binding.

The UN had a security council. There are five permanent members of the UN Security Council. These were the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China. There are 20 non-permanent members of the Security Council. The non-permanent members are voted in and out all the time.

The five permanent members of the security council have a veto on security council resolutions. For example if 24 countries on the security council voted for something but one of the PERMANENT members of the security council voted against it then that resolution would be blocked.

The general assembly of the UN is where all the member states of the UN are represented. There are about 190 member countries.

The general assembly session of the UN begins at the end of each September. Many world leaders some to New York to speak to the general assembly.

In 1991 the Soviet Union broke up. Russia inherited the Soviet seat as a permanent member of the security council.

Many resolutions have been passed against Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. The USA always blocked the security council from passing such resolutions.

There are six official languages of the UN. These are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

There is a secretary-general of the United Nations. He or she must be fluent in at least two UN languages. No woman has so far been elected to this post. Secretaries general serve for a five year term and may be re-elected once. None of them have come from superpowers but there is no rule against them doing so. It is felt that permanent members of the security council already have too much power so weaker nations should get other jobs. Secretaries-general have been Norwegian, Swedish, Burmese, Peruvian, Austrian, Egyptian, Ghanian and now a South Korea.

The UN has various agencies. These include the International Atomic Energy Authority based in Vienna. There is the World Food Programme based in Rome. There is United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund (Unicef). There is the United Nationsl High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). There is the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). There is the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights and so on. These are each based in different cities in different countries. A different person is in charge of each UN agency..

The UN has offices in Geneva and in Vienna.

The United Nations Organisation is usually called the United Nations. The initials UN are more commonly used than the UNO.

The UN sometimes authorises military action. It relies on member states to carry out this action. The UN does not have a military of its own. There has been talk of creating one.

The colour of the UN is pale blue. Soldiers on UN missions wear blue helmets. They go as peacekeepers sometimes. The often position themselves between warring sides. Countries such as Ireland and Bangladesh often send soldiers on UN missions. There has been talk of creating a UN Army but it has never come to fruition.

There have been UN missions such as to liberate Kuwait in 1991.

Countries that are members of the UN donate money to allow the UN to function. Countries have to pay a proportion of their Gross Domestic Product to the UN. The poorest countries are excused.

There are some stateless persons. They are given UN passports. People who work for the UN are also given UN passports. If a Panamanian, for example, works for the UN then her loyalty must be to the UN not Panama. She must do as she is instructed even of the Panamanian Government tells her not to. She must act in the interests of the UN even if this is bad for Panama. The UN employs people from many different countries.

Countries must apply to join the UN. In 1945 Ireland applied to become a UN member state. The Soviet Union kept voting to prevent Ireland from joining. They Soviets feared that Ireland would always support the United States. In 1955 Ireland was allowed to join by the Soviets. Palestine has applied for membership but Israel and the United States stop her from joining. Palestine is a permanent observer of the UN. She can send a representative to watch UN proceedings. Palestinian leaders have sometimes been invited to speak to the UN General Assembly and they have done so. However, the Palestinian leader does not have the automatic right to address the UN General Assembly.

Some people say the permanent members of the Security Council are outdated. Russia is not even half as powerful as the USSR was. France and the United Kingdom are not mighty anymore. Both are members of the European Union. The French and British seats should be turned into a European Union seat. India has lobbied hard for a permanent place on the UN Security Council. Unanimity also makes resolutions very hard to pass. They have to be watered down so much to pass.

The General Assembly gives an equal vote to all countries. The largest population in the world has the same amount of representation as the smallest. The most evil tyranny has the same authority as the kindest government. Some people say this is daft.

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  1. When was the UN founded?

2. Where was the UN founded?

3. Which city is the HQ of the United Nations?

4. What is the colour of the UN?

5. What are the six official languages of the UN?

6. How many permanent members of the Security Council are there?

7. What is the highest job in the UN?

8. What is the General-Assembly?

9. What are some criticisms of the UN? (5 marks)

10. What good does the UN do?  (7 marks)

The United Kingdom in the Noughties.

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THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND in the 2000s.

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THE 2001 ELECTION

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.

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NEW CONSERVATIVE LEADER.

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.

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9/11

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.

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IRAQ

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.

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ARMED ACTION.

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.

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DOMESTIC POLITICS

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.

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THE ROYAL FAMILY.

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.

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WOULD LABOUR SURVIVE?

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.

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AFTERMATH.

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.

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MID TERM.

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.

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THE END OF BLAIR.

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.

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FAILURE OF NERVE

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.

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THE COALITION

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.

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The United Kingdom in the 1990s.

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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.

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THE GULF WAR.

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.

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MAJOR

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.

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MAJOR’S MANDATE.

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.”

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THE ADVENT OF BLAIR

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.

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EUROPE.

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.

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SLEAZE

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.

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BACK ME OR SACK ME

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.

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THE FAG END

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.”

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THE 1997 ELECTION.

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.”

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BLAIR’S 100 DAYS.

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.

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DIANA.

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.

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BLAIR’S ASCENDANCY.

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.

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1999 EUROPEAN ELECTION.

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.

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LABOUR JITTERS

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.

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KOSOVO

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.

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ASYLUM SEEKERS

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.

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FUNDING

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.

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MILLENNIUM

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.

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The United Kingdom in the 1980s.

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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.

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THE S D P

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 choices 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.

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A I D S

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.

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THE ROYAL FAMILY

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.

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THE FALKLANDS.

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.

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THE 1983 ELECTION

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.

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THE AFTERMATH OF THE TORY LANDSLIDE.

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.

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THE MINERS’ STRIKE.

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.

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THATCHER TRIUMPHANT.

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.

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THE END OF THE S D P

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.

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THE COMMUNITY CHARGE

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.

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The United Kingdom in the 1970s.

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THE UK 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.

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WILSON’S GOVERNMENT.

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.

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THE EUROPEAN REFERENDUM.

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.

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THE END OF WILSON.

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.

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CALLAGHAN.

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.

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THE JUBILEE.

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.

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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./…”

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THATCHER.

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.

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