Labour and the Generals 1974-2007

Interesting thread over at the Cedar Lounge Revolution, that has some important contemporary resonances:

Perhaps the most interesting new myth, or narrative, of the Peace
Process is the one which goes as follows: In 1973/4 everything that was
in the Good Friday Agreement was available – this was the great lost
opportunity for Northern Ireland.

The Sunningdale Conference is seen as the high water mark of
potential before the sustained spiral into violence. Sometimes the
‘blame’ for this is landed at PIRA’s door, other times at Ulster
Unionism. This myth links into, but is not identical, to another myth
which argues that everything in the Good Friday Agreement was also
available in Sunningdale. (New Myths of the Peace Process No 1)

I tend to agree with WorldbyStorm that the failure of Sunningdale was overdetermined given that if faced opposition from republicans as well as from the unionist Ulster Workers’ Council, whose general strike ultimately brought down the power-sharing Government.

Another key factor was that the British Army was at best reluctant to confront UDA and UVF intimidation, or to get involved in maintaining public services. This wasn’t helped by the poisonous relationship between the military and the Labour Government of the day, which led the Prime Minister himself to fear a coup.

Some of those tensions are readily apparent in the archives for the period. In the aftermath of the strike, The Northern Ireland Office told the media that the decision to send in the army to take control of petrol stations had been made by the Cabinet in the presence of the Chief of the General Staff. The CGS insisted that he had not been present and the NIO should clarify the matter.

This demand was conveyed in a letter written by his military assistant, Major Charles Guthrie, who would find himself at the centre of military tensions with a Labour Government again more than thirty years later:

The extraordinary attack by five former defence chiefs on Gordon Brown
originated from a day in early July when three of them were approached by
the grandson of Winston Churchill to join a new alliance campaigning for
more money to be spent on the Armed Forces.

Mr Churchill, a former Conservative MP, told The Times that when he was asked
in June to be president of the UK National Defence Association, he turned to
three men to add military weight to the campaign: General Lord Guthrie of
Craigiebank, a former SAS commander and a redoubtable Whitehall player in
his time; Admiral Lord Boyce, the man who asked the Government whether the
invasion of Iraq was legal before it was launched; and Marshal of the Royal
Air Force Lord Craig of Radley, quietly spoken but becoming increasingly
vociferous about the pressures on the Armed Forces. (The Times, 24 November)

Winston S. Churchill is also an interesting figure. In 1974 he wrote to Harold Wilson, claiming that a known KGB agent, Victor Lessiovsky, was staying with Wilson’s friend Sir Joseph Kagan.

David Leigh suggests there may have been a deliberate provocation by the Soviets:

Alternatively, the Lessiovsky story could have been untrue, but into circulation as an MI5 ‘provocation’, designed to encourage Churchill and his Tory colleagues, acting in good faith, to think the worst of Wilson. One argument in favour of this is that Peter Wright mentions Churchill as one of the MPs he wanted to ‘prime’ to stir things up. (The Wilson Plot, p238)

A key theory related to the Wilson-KGB smear was the idea that Wilson’s predecessor as Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell was murdered by the Soviets. Interestingly, the legal advisor to the UK National Defence Association, one Michael Shrimpton, apparently subscribes to this belief:

It’s difficult to fake an illness. It was done in the case of a British politician, Hugh Gaitskill, who was opposed to Britain joining the European Economic Community, and he came down with a tropical disease in Moscow in the middle of winter. Generally speaking you-

AJ: [Laughs]

MS: [Laughs] It was spotted at the time as an assassination, but MI5, although they’d brought in Porton Down, where David Kelly worked incidentally, Porton Down were brought in but Porton Down couldn’t work out how the disease which got Hugh Gaitskill, which is Lupus Disseminata, a very nasty disease indeed – attacks the organs, very similar to Ebola, how this tropical disease had found its way to Moscow, and they couldn’t work out how, what the agent was for getting the Lupus into Hugh Gaitskill. We now know it was probably aerosol, but at the time that technology wasn’t known about in England. (Alex Jones’ Prison Planet)

All very curious.







2 responses to “Labour and the Generals 1974-2007”

  1. Alex avatar

    Major Charles Guthrie, who would find himself at the centre of military tensions with a Labour Government again more than thirty years later:
    …having in the meantime served as Tony Blair’s CDS without any apparent “tension” whatsoever. In fact he was smeared by the Daily Mail as a “traitor” (over the Treaty of Nice) and “Blair’s general”.
    The Gaitskell/lupus thing appears to be lifted from Spycatcher (I’m not fully certain, but it reads almost like a quote); Peter Wright concluded there was nothing in it.
    BTW, the failure of the military to provide an alternative to the Ulster power workers had more to do with the fact they didn’t then and still don’t have a capability to run power stations. Wilson was dreaming with the idea that they could plug a nuclear submarine into Northern Ireland’s power grid; it would have been a substantial engineering project to say the least.
    (To say nothing of the problems involved in bringing a NUCLEAR FUCKING REACTOR to Belfast in 1974.)

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    ‘..having in the meantime served as Tony Blair’s CDS without any apparent “tension” whatsoever. In fact he was smeared by the Daily Mail as a “traitor” (over the Treaty of Nice) and “Blair’s general”.’
    I don’t dispute that. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the institutional memory of that period is there.
    ‘The Gaitskell/lupus thing appears to be lifted from Spycatcher’
    According to David Leigh, Wright generally minimises his own role in Spycatcher. Nevertheless, even on Wright’s account there were MI5 officers who wanted to use the Gaitskell story to oust Wilson in 1974.
    On the UWC strike, if the authorities had moved earlier to prevent paramilitary intimidation, it might never have reached the point where it was necessary to replace the power workers.
    Several of the strike leaders have commented along these lines, and I have an NIO paper from 1975 which reaches the same conclusion.
    When the Ulster Workers Council tried the same tactic in 1977 it was a dismal failure.

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