Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hail to the chief

As a 1970s teenager, my major preoccupations during the said decade were girls and punk rock. But since becoming more politically aware, I’ve always been fascinated to read about intelligence service intrigues against the democratically elected - and still recognisably Labour - government of the period.

Even at the time, groups like the Workers Revolutionary Party speculated that certain layers of the establishment were making clandestine plans for a military takeover.

Much of their case was built on extrapolating isolated remarks in books by military men, and hints dropped in editorials in The Times. But the cranky nature of that particular sect made it easy enough to dismiss the idea as a bad case of far left paranoia.

With the 'Spycatcher' and Colin Wallace revelations in the 1980s, the evidence suddenly became a lot more persuasive. Robin Ramsey and Steve Dorril did an excellent job gathering the strands together in their 1991 volume 'Smear'!, presumably long out of print.

Now the passage of time has obviously robbed the topic of most of its sensitivity. So the BBC is to broadcast a drama documentary on the alleged plots against Harold Wilson next Thursday. It should make for fascinating viewing.

One of its claims will be that IRA victim Lord Mountbatten of Burma had been lined up as Britain’s military ruler in waiting. So I should confess here that I actually met the man, albeit very briefly.

In 1973, I finished third in form three alpha of Wellingborough Grammar School, and was allowed to choose a book for Mountbatten to present to me on prize day. I must stress that this was a one-off performance, as I soon evolved into a semi-permanent truant, leaving me perpetually at the bottom of the class.

I think he even shook my hand as he handed the award over. Its sobering to think that if history had taken a different course, I could now be talking about my early acquaintance with Britain’s caudillo.

Oh, and another thing. I bet a military dictatorship would never have allowed the whole punk rock thing to happen. Fascist pigs.

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