When MI-5 Spied on and Plotted to Overthrow a British Prime Minister.

It all seemed much too good to be true.

Harold Wilson via Wikimedia Commons

ack in 1988, a very popular novel was adapted for the British screen, titled: “A very British coup”. The plot was about a fictional left wing prime minister, whose government was being destabilized by the secret services. This novel was written by a former Labour member of Parliament — Chris Mullin — who came up with the idea, during the deputy leadership contest of 1981, when Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, a renounced aristocrat and born again socialist ran for office.

Only in this case, the overthrow of a left wing government, was much more than the figment of a writer’s imagination; It was something that Britain came quite close to in the dark days of the late 1960s and the 1970s.

As I have written in great detail, in a few of my previous articles, the British economy tanked especially badly in the 1960s and 70s, under the premiership of Wilson (64–70), Heath (70–74),Wilson (74–76) and Callaghan (76–79) with the three day week, going off to the International Monetary Funds for a loan, devaluation of sterling and the unions, bringing the country to its knees, over the course of a very cold winter.

Harold Wilson, had confided in two BBC journalists — Barrie Penrose and Roger Courtiour of his concerns, of being spied on and his government undermined by the security services in the late 60s, in the aftermath of the devaluation of the pound.You could argue that it was all rather gentlemanly, when compared to the United States, where, the approach of blowing a president’s brains out, was taken, instead.

The Harold Wilson Plot courtesy of the BBC and YouTube

But these claims weren’t necessarily taken seriously, at the time. Subsequent events, however, countenanced the views of the late British premier, of the secret service, keeping a file and bugging the devices of Mr. Wilson, as well as using propaganda in spreading misinformation that the head of government and his secretary were employees of the Soviet KGB and IRA sympathizers.

The Plots

In 1968, a powerful media mogul by the name of Cecil King, had a meeting with Lord Mountbatten — Uncle, to the recently departed Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the presence of a writer — Hugh Cudlip and a senior government minister — Solly Zuckerman, listing out the problems bedeviling the country and asked if Lord Mountbatten would be interested in taking over as the head of government, to which, Prince Phillip’s uncle said no, stating that it would be tantamount to treason.

Despite the negative outcome of the meeting, Cecil King, pressed forward with the idea and William Rees-Mogg, the then editor of The Times newspaper and father of arch Brexiter — Jacob, wrote an editorial, supporting the change of government, and in its place, a national government of Conservatives and Liberals.

The Labour government lost the 1970 elections and the plots dissipated, only to resurface in 1974, when Harold Wilson returned to power. This time, the secret services, doubled down in the efforts to undermine the government of the day by taking a number of steps.

First was to have the army occupy Heathrow. The official line was that it was doing so, to guard against a surprise attack by the IRA. However, Wilson’s political aide and close friend, stated that it was a show of strength and a dress rehearsal by the secret services.

The threat of a coup d’etat was corroborated by political figures on both sides of the political spectrum and further scholarship does support the view expressed by the former British premier.

Whether these plots were responsible for his shock resignation from government in 1976, we will never know.

When I wrote about the very possibility of a coup d’etat, in France, a number of readers disagreed politely and a few, violently.

Last Michel Barnier, the European Union bureaucrat gave an interview in which he said that immigration to France should be suspended, if France was to avoid having the same outcome as Britain, when it voted to leave the EU.

The statement made by Monsieur Barnier, can be seen as efforts to outflank the extreme right, who seem to have the support of senior army officials and ex officers or it can be viewed as the ramblings of an extremely ambitious middle aged man, who has major designs on the top job itself.

What all would be readers on this article on this platform and elsewhere must appreciate is that in 1948, the United States was prepared to bring in troops to Italy to overthrow the Communist government, Spain, under General Franco was a dictatorship until 1976. And the threat of a military overthrow in Spain, loomed large in the 1980s, prior to joining the EU.

Given the economic precariousness brought on by the pandemic, tempers are frayed, emotions are running high and people are all too willing to believe the subterfuge being reported by establishments owned by oligarchs, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.

Now more than ever, if democracy is to survive fake news, globalization, the oligarchs and the far right, we must be ready to fight to the death, for nothing less than full commitment will do.

Thanks very much for reading.

A lifelong bibliophile, who seeks to unleash his energy on as many subjects as possible

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