It is set in Britain during the early Eighties with major upheaval, political infighting and subsequent unrest. Thatcher, Tebbit, Foot, Benn, Livingstone, Owen etc. Militant, CND, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, knife-edge Parliamentary votes, the Longest Suicide Note In History given more length & madness, and a whole load more.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
I've just spent about half an hour skimming through it quickly, but I haven't read it all properly - I'll have to do that later when I'm in a more suitable mood. I think perhaps you should copy the text and post it here directly, as well, just in case the link stops working or whatever
Labour governments are always voted in by empty minds, and voted out by empty pockets
The premise seems to be: failure in the Falklands campaign causes the UK government to fall, and the outcome is a huge schism in politics of right and left leading to civil war in the UK. Sounds a bit implausable to me.
It is May 4th 1982. Britain and Argentina are involved in an armed conflict concerning sovereignty of the Falklands and other South Atlantic islands. Shots have already been exchanged and blood has been spilt. This afternoon, following a failed morning attack against the Task Force to do the same thing then, the Argentine Navy’s aviation striking arm – the 2nd Naval Attack Squadron – gets lucky. A pair of Super Étendard strike aircraft slot through the Royal Navy’s air defences to tear low across the water towards the ‘big ships’ present. One of those is HMS Hermes, the largest of the two aircraft carriers from which currently out-of-position Sea Harrier fighters are flying. Launches are made of Exocet anti-ship missiles towards the Hermes: one from each Argentine aircraft before they turn away without the pilots knowing whether they hit anything or not. Only later, long after they reach their temporary home at the Rio Grande airbase on Tierra Fuego, will they find out that the Exocets did their job and they are heroes for their nation.
Contradictory warnings come from the destroyers HMS Coventry and HMS Glasgow over the threat from the Super Étendards and the Exocets. Only at the very last moment, long after the attackers have turned away and the missiles are inbound upon their prey, is it understood what is happening. By then, it is far too late to do anything substantial. No last-ditch defences are employed and the barest of warnings within the carrier is broadcast to her crew. Posted lookouts can only shout a verbal alarm and that is one of sheer panic.
The Exocets strike the Hermes. The carrier will soon be engulfed in flames, burning from bow to stern.
Only one missile warhead detonates – with terrible consequences – but while the second doesn’t, its unspent missile fuel is just as lethal as high explosives. Deep within the bowels of the Hermes are the seats of two initially separate fires which rapidly spread out of control. They join together and rage with fury in the face of every desperate British attempt to bring them under control. Damage control parties and designated firefighters are overwhelmed. Casualties mount rapidly. The smoke, rather than the fire itself, snuffs the life out of those caught in its path. Evacuation begins when it becomes apparent that all is lost but there is confusion and many, many sailors are left behind in an absolutely avoidable tragedy. The loss of both primary and reserve electrical power plunge the interior of the ship into darkness to doom them. The Hermes cannot be saved and is going to burn until there is nothing left for the fires to consume. Hundreds of Royal Navy sailors are taken off her to other ships, including to HMS Sheffield, which is a destroyer that was lucky to escape that aborted attack earlier in the day. Hundreds more casualties are left behind though.
In her destruction, Hermes will take the lives of close to four hundred who sailed off to war with her. Such a loss of life is unprecedented in modern times.
It is exactly three years since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Britain’s first female leader, heading a Conservative majority government, has had quite the ride throughout those. There have been difficulties, challenges and disasters before. Nothing compares to this though. Such a loss of life is unexpected. Thatcher and others among her War Cabinet have been trying to steel themselves for something like this but, at the same time, not really believing that it will happen after earlier successes had in the conflict including retaking South Georgia and sinking one of the Argentine’s own big ships. How wrong they have been in thinking that this wasn’t on the cards.
When the news reaches Downing Street that the Hermes has been attacked, the initial belief is that while there is damage done, it is survivable. This is down to inaccurate reporting rather than any malice. Aiming to stay ahead of the curve, John Nott, the Defence Secretary, has a statement prepared to be released to the BBC stating that the Hermes has been hit and there are casualties. Thatcher doesn’t want the Argentines getting the news out first. Yet, before that can happen, a further report arrives. This tells the true scale of the disaster. Admiral Lewin, serving as the Chief of the Defence Staff (the nation’s senior-most military officer), explains what is meant by the Hermes being set alight as it is. There is a second carrier down in the South Atlantic – HMS Invincible – but she, alone, cannot provide enough air cover to stop the Argentines coming back again with more supersonic sea-skimming missiles and getting her or another big ship. Imagine if one of the troopships, say the converter liner Canberra, is hit… With two carriers in-place, they got through, and it is highly likely that they will return to finish what they started. Lewin recommends that there is a temporary withdrawal of the Royal Navy ships in the immediate area near to the Falklands back now towards safer waters some ways off. Others present in Downing Street, such as Willie Whitelaw (the Deputy Prime Minister & Home Secretary) and Francis Pym (the new Foreign Secretary), disagree with that. They say that will be a public relations catastrophe. Take the fight back to the Argentines, the two men urge, and hit them with all that we have got! Nott shakes his head. He tells them that that is only asking for another tragedy. Back the Invincible must go, but only for the time being. There needs to be a revaluation of combatting Argentine air power against our big ships, he adds. Following that, a new effort can be made and it will be one where the Task Force is reinforced too.
Casualty estimates come in while the War Cabinet waits on the Prime Minister to decide. They take the breath away of those who hear them. Admiral Fieldhouse is leading the war effort from the Northwood Command Centre outside of London and he calls over with those numbers. Four hundred! This includes Admiral Woodward aboard the burning carrier too. Along with all those feared dead as the Hermes is abandoned, there are hundreds more casualties arriving aboard other Task Force ships. These men have broken bones, breathing issues and burns: the burn victims are in a terrible state. High casualties were expected when the fighting moved on land but this is all too much at once. Fieldhouse recommends, as Lewin does, a ‘temporary withdrawal’ from where the Royal Navy has its ships back out of range of the Argentine mainland. If they make another attack soon, in the midst of all that is going on, the death toll could easily reach a thousand.
Nott, Lewin and Fieldhouse are all in agreement that there must be that step back taken. Thatcher listens to her Defence Secretary and the two admirals. She gives the instruction that that must be done. This conflict isn’t over, she says, but we must pull our ships out of danger for the time being to avert a further huge loss of life. A redrafting is done of the statement to be sent to the media to inform the British public of what has happened. There is still the fear that the junta in Buenos Aires will beat them to the punch on that and make a big deal out of what they will surely call ‘revenge for the Belgrano’. The War Cabinet will succeed in this endeavour but, ultimately, that will be of little consequence.
The Nine O’Clock News on the BBC tells the nation of the fate of the Hermes and so many of those who sailed off to their doom with her.
The loss of the Hermes brings about the fall of Thatcher.
During the previous weeks since the Argentine invasion on April 2nd, the British public have taken up the cause of the Falklands in a wave of patriotism unheard of in recent times. That Argentina has dared to do what it has done has brought this about. Thatcher’s Government has responded to the public mood with quite the gusto. In Downing Street, it has been realised that retaking the Falklands is key to long-term Conservative success. Only the day before the Hermes is hit, the tabloid newspaper The Sun ran with the headline ‘Gotcha’. This concerned the attack made on an Argentine Navy patrol boat, yet it became synonymous with the sinking of the cruiser ARA General Belgrano, which caused a great loss of life. While there are many Britons who have in fact shaken their heads at all this in disgust with what is going on, the majority are enjoying the wave of jingoistic patriotism. The nation has been caught up in victory disease where it has widely thought that the – much ridiculed – junta in Buenos Aires is sure to be soon defeated.
News now comes that the Hermes has been hit, there is great loss of life and that the Task Force down in the South Atlantic is in retreat. In an instant, the public mood snaps. Certain victory has been ever-so-cruelly torn away from them. Blame is apportioned not on the Argentinians but instead elsewhere… to Thatcher’s Government. Parliamentarians and the newspapers catch the mood of the nation. This is something that many quickly exploit for their own ends. There is much I-told-you-so about what is said, often from some of those most smug and self-righteous. However, from other quarters, there is genuine shock at the failure that has happened where they feel that they have been deceived by Thatcher into thinking that victory was inevitable. The grave loss of life and the international embarrassment hit these people hardest.
The War Cabinet doesn’t classify the pulling back of the Task Force as a retreat. It is a ‘temporary withdrawal to reassess the situation’ according to an official statement from Downing Street. Royal Navy ships, along with auxiliaries and STUFTs (ships taken up from trade), sail away from the Falklands towards Ascension Island. Brainstorming is conducted over what to do next. Questions are asked over how to challenge Argentine air power and whether work on HMS Illustrious can be sped up even more than it is to get that brand-new carrier down to the South Atlantic to replace the Hermes. Nothing the War Cabinet hears is satisfactory though. Argentine use of their French-built Super Étendards with Exocets has defied expectations and Illustrious cannot be in-place until the middle of August at the earliest, which will be in the midst of the Southern Hemisphere winter! Buenos Aires is by now trumpeting as loud as they can their ‘great victory over Britain’ and there are international allies questioning the wisdom of the UK carrying on the fight. Long has there been talk in international circles of a diplomatic solution – what Thatcher has long called ‘a surrender’ – and that now grows louder.
The Prime Minister is in no mood to give in. Nonetheless, others are of mood to. They are deflated and angry. An end to all of this madness, is their call: an end to needless deaths. It is Thatcher who has led the nation into this mess and it is she who so many now want to see gone. Talk of continuing the conflict comes from Downing Street, which only gives impetus to those who have made their mind up to see her gone. They act to get rid of her.
Sacked from the Government last September as part of a reshuffle was the MP Ian Gilmour. His disagreements with Thatcher had been over economic matters yet also over her style of leadership too. Gilmour wishes for a return to the post-war consensus as evidenced by the Heath Government in which he and Thatcher served before she took the reins of party leadership. An end to her bullying and the economic disaster upon the country she is responsible for is what he says he will challenge her to bring to an end. Gilmour launches a formal leadership challenge. He gains enough signatures – just enough – from a wide variety of MPs to allow for this to be done. Whether Gilmour honestly believes that, when push comes to shove, his fellow MPs will vote for him over Thatcher to serve as Prime Minister is a matter of debate. He’s fired the first shots though and begun a formal challenge. It isn’t something that Thatcher can ignore as it is done in the correct manner. She announces that she will put her name forward on the upcoming ballot and intends to win that contest to remain as Prime Minister.
As the Conservative Party begins a leadership battle, there is a lot of attention elsewhere. The Argentine leader, General Galtieri, now promoted to the rank of First Marshal of the Empire (a grandiose and rather real post) by his fellow uniformed officers, is visiting the Falklands: the Islas Malvinas now. He makes a big show of himself in front of the domestic and world media present. British forces down in South Georgia are attacked by Argentine aircraft with the striking of the HMS Endurance by falling bombs in an air attack. This ship has been at the heart of the conflict since it began with the Argentinians several times failing to sink her in previous attempts. This time it is different. She survives this attack yet is gravely wounded with many more casualties aboard. A repeat attack with more enemy aircraft active in empty skies is feared to be coming at any moment for that ship and those on this island who are now feeling rather alone. Arriving back into Britain are casualties from the Hermes. Some of the earliest evacuees from their lost ship begin to arrive four days later at Wroughton Airfield in Wiltshire for transfer to the nearby military hospital. More will follow them. Parliamentarians who have opposed the conflict since it begun have been emboldened in recent days and the airwaves in the UK are full of them. Thatcher bears their criticism, not the servicemen sent off to fight a war which those opponents of the fighting tear into as her fault. It is said again and again that her government is responsible for all the deaths and injuries incurred. Fleet Street has turned on Thatcher too. Nearly all of the national newspapers call for her to go. Headlines and editorials criticise that the war has fought while others conversely demand that it continue with Argentina not being allowed to get away with this. The Sun demands the bombing of Buenos Aires while The Guardian says that peace should be given a chance after such a grave, wasted loss of life. Whereas there is division on that, there is unity on the central matter: Thatcher has led the nation into this calamity and it is her that seemingly everyone wants to see turfed out of Downing Street.
A back-bench group of Conservative MPs known as the 1922 Committee are responsible for party leadership elections. Edward du Cann is its chairman and he is the face of this internal election in the media storm. When the deadline for others to join passes, du Cann announces that only Gilmour and Thatcher are in the race when there have been expectations in several quarters that there would be more challengers to the Prime Minister. This gives Thatcher a boost yet that is one soon found to be unfounded. Gilmour has attracted more supporters than previously thought. They have come late and aren’t favourable to him yet are seeking to soften her up for a larger challenge. It is a risky strategy, a cowardly one according to Cabinet members speaking off-the-record to the media… with many of them involved in this game though. The ballot comes as MPs vote. According to the contest rules, victory can only come with not just a simple majority of votes but a particular margin of victory: a win by a clear fifteen per cent. Thatcher achieves what many believe she will and gains more votes than Gilmour yet her total is not enough to win outright. There have been a wave of abstentions tipping the scales against her in this secret ballot where much duplicity is at play. In a statement to waiting reporters, du Cann declares that there must be a second ballot a week later. It is one which further MPs can enter if they wish to. That is done. With what seems like a gut-punch, Thatcher sees two members of her Cabinet resign and put their names forward too. Michael Heseltine and Peter Walker both declare they have no faith in her leadership and will run against her in the second ballot; Gilmour drops out after these announcements with his job done. As the case was with him, for these latest two contenders it is all about Thatcher’s style and direction instead of the Falklands debacle that cause them to make this move. They have long-standing complaints but also ambitions too. Heseltine has more about him that Walker does but, once again, Thatcher looks favourite to win. That is only from the outside though. Within her Government, there is turmoil behind the scenes. Cabinet members and backbenchers are saying that they cannot vote for her in a second ballot. They believe she should stand aside, with grace, and allow for someone else to take over. Upon being told, Thatcher and her remaining supporters try to bat this away. The looming deadline for the closing of nominations comes closer. Attempting to hold on, Thatcher tries all that she can. It isn’t enough though. She is suddenly looking likely to go down in defeat to Heseltine.
A late night meeting in Downing Street sees much emotion. Thatcher argues with Cabinet members who say they believe she must step down. After dismissing those with her, and a talk with her husband, Thatcher goes to bed determined to fight on. Morning comes and things feel different though. She has had a change of heart, believing now that the fight cannot be won when everyone is against her. The betrayal from her Cabinet colleagues cuts deep and where before there had been anger, there is now only resignation to the inevitable. Thatcher meets with her closest supporters and she informs them that it is time for her to go. Several urge her to fight on all the way to the end but there are others who propose another route. Heseltine isn’t to their taste and they fear disaster at the next election with him in Downing Street: his long-standing reputation for recklessness is a real fear along with his perceived propensity to err gravely. One of her foremost allies, Norman Tebbit, puts himself forward to continue to carry the torch and follow through with many of Thatcher’s legislative agenda & economic reforms. After some time to consider it, Thatcher gives him her support and so do others too: Cabinet members who might enter the leadership race against Heseltine decide to stand in support of Tebbit. Hours before the midday deadline the following day, Walker removes his name from the ballot – quitting ahead of a feared humiliation – while Tebbit adds his. Thatcher gives a statement to the waiting media from outside Downing Street confirming her resignation as party leader. She will stay in-place until a successor is confirmed but her premiership is effectively over. As to whom she will support, she says nothing in public yet behind the scenes, Thatcher does all that she can to help Tebbit. The Thatcher agenda will continue under him, other MPs are made aware, and he will put out to pasture all of those detractors who forced her from office.
In a surprise, Heseltine decides to withdraw. He sees the support that Tebbit has and realises that this isn’t a fight which he can win, nor even come close to making a respectable finish in. Many of those who had been prepared to vote with him against Thatcher make it known that they will now be supporting Tebbit. Heseltine sees the writing on the wall and, like others before him, withdraws his name right ahead of that upcoming ballot. However, unknown to many, secret promises have already been made to him from key figures that there is a bright future for should be play ball. Tebbit is unopposed and so no second ballot is needed. The following day, Thatcher formally tenders her resignation to the Queen and Tebbit is called upon by the nation’s monarch to form a new government.
Norman Tebbit becomes the new British Prime Minister twenty days after the loss of the Hermes.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
The loss of the Falklands is a mortal blow to Britain. The UK has been humiliated and becomes a laughing-stock internationally for the defeat incurred. Tebbit’s new government refuses to accept the facts on the ground of complete Argentine control of what is now the Malvinas and the official position of his government is that the Falklands will be recovered. The Task Force stays near to Ascension Island though there is a withdrawal made from South Georgia too. This is all said to be temporary yet it is abundantly clear that to all it is in fact permanent. British forces are seen as running from Argentine military prowess. On the diplomatic front, pressure mounts on London to put an end to this folly. Economic sanctions imposed at British request on the junta are violated and Buenos Aires leads – with extensive Latin American support – an effort at the UN to make their conquest official. Eyes turn towards the Americans and what President Reagan will do. Tebbit flies to Washington days after gaining power and meets with the president. He is seeking support, real support from an ally, but he only gets hallow words. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the United States’ ambassador to the UN, has already shown where her priorities lay over the issue: she supports Argentina over Britain due to the need to maintain the Latin American anti-communist bloc. In undiplomatic scenes, thankfully for all involved in private, she and Tebbit clash in spectacular fashion within the Oval Office while Reagan looks on. Kirkpatrick is vindicated in her push for Argentina to have its way and she isn’t backing down. Reagan takes his official’s side, infuriating Tebbit. Talk from the president of Britain ‘seeing sense’ on the matter makes his blood boil. The trip ends in disaster. Kirkpatrick will begin the process of seeing all the hard work done at the UN by Britain back in April dismantled all with the belief that if it isn’t, America’s backyard will suddenly start bowing to Moscow’s whim! The Special Relationship is shown for what it is: one sided.
Throughout the remainder of May and into June, Tebbit’s first weeks in power, the fallout from the Falklands debacle is elsewhere too. There are questions asked from allies about Britain’s military capabilities and intent to defend its global interests. The Soviet threat to the West looms as it long has. Guatemala is still eying Belize, Spain would love to get its hands on Gibraltar and Hong Kong rests uneasy next to China. Fears in the UK come that moves might be made from such nations at a time when Britain has been defeated as it just has. Keith Joseph has been appointed as Britain’s new Foreign Secretary (the third in two months) and Tebbit instructs him to counter this perceived weakness on the world stage that many fear Britain now has. Joseph travels widely in those first few weeks – though missing the Washington trip – across Europe and elsewhere to try to change opinions. He has some success at this yet whether that will be the way of things in the future is yet to be seen. The blow that the Argentines have struck against Britain is something that the whole world is aware of with envious eyes cast towards many isolated outposts of what was once a globe-spanning empire.
The Task Force continues to stay some distance back from the Falklands. While it is away from the waters around those islands which are now Argentinian, they are far from the remains of HMS Hermes. When the fires eventually burnt themselves out the following morning after the twin Exocet strike, there was a search made aboard to see if any survivors could be found yet few were. A few bodies were taken off her but the remains of the vast majority of the huge butcher’s bill couldn’t be recovered. Attempts to take the aircraft carrier under tow failed in the face of instructions from London to make that withdrawal and so the Hermes was left to drift. The sea took her in the end. On the bottom of the South Atlantic she now is, laying on her side. Within, hundreds of bodies of Royal Navy sailors rest. Families across Britain are waiting for a return of their loved ones. The realisation that their sons, fathers, brothers & husbands won’t be coming home for even a funeral causes pain. Newspapers are full of the stories of the grief of these families. There are also war casualties too: those injured who were rescued from the Hermes when so many others were left behind to their doom in the chaos. They’ve been brought home to military hospitals spread across the nation and the country hears their tales as well.
Tebbit makes a speech to the House of Commons at the end of the month concerning the situation in the South Atlantic. Other ministers have spoken before the Commons and to the media but this is different. The Prime Minister speaks of the sacrifices made by the armed forces when fighting against Argentina and addresses the matter of those remains of the dead in the Hermes too: the wreck will be officially designated as a war grave. On the matter of the Falklands, Tebbit calls them by that name: he and his new government refuse to use the term ‘Islas Malvinas’ that is increasingly becoming common overseas. Those islands are British, he says, and always will be. He states that everything will be done at the diplomatic level to see them returned to their rightful owner. However, there is no longer the option of military action to retake them. Tebbit announces that the Task Force is being recalled home. The ships which are near to Ascension Island will be making a return to Britain. The military conflict with Argentina is over with. A full, wide-ranging inquiry is promised by Tebbit into the war and lessons will be learnt. After finishing, the Opposition make calls for an immediate general election while Conservative backbenchers are more than a little angry at how all this has gone: they are stuck with Tebbit now though, someone whom many see as Thatcher #2.
A new government has been formed with Tebbit in Downing Street and it is one which doesn’t include Thatcher. There had been a plan mooted for her to join Tebbit’s Cabinet with her assuming his previous role as Secretary of State for Employment – effectively a job swap – but an issue had come up to put a stop to that: the issue of Heseltine. Thatcher regarded herself as having been betrayed by him when he resigned from the Cabinet to fight against her in his failed leadership effort and Tebbit had supported her anger at that. In forming his government in late May though, Tebbit needs the support of many senior Conservative figures. They might not have wanted Heseltine in Downing Street but it is widely thought that his national popularity (not just among the party organisations yet also with a decent sized number of voters) is something not to be discarded. Thoughts are on the next general election and Heseltine is an asset. The ‘right to buy’ housing scheme has been something he has been at the forefront of in his post as Environment Secretary. When Thatcher gets wind of Tebbit considering bowing to the pressure of the likes of Whitelaw and Pym on this, she reacts strongly. Another betrayal is seen, this time from Tebbit. It isn’t something that Tebbit has decided to do but Thatcher has heard what she has on this matter and reacts accordingly. She will not be joining the Cabinet and will retire to the backbenches. The bitterness towards Tebbit’s supposed treachery will grow in her before later manifesting itself into action.
Tebbit keeps many of Thatcher’s previous Cabinet in government. He reshuffles in places yet few actually depart from their positions of power. Whitelaw stays at the Home Office (though will no longer be Deputy PM) and Geoffrey Howe retains the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Pym has left the Foreign Office – he took over when Lord Carrington resigned at the beginning of the Falklands War – though moves to supersede Heseltine as Environment Secretary. To replace Nott who is one of the few to leave the Cabinet, Heseltine is appointed to the position of Defence Secretary while Norman Fowler takes Tebbit’s old post as Employment Secretary. This government of Tebbit’s is one which many Conservative MPs are told will see no major change of direction from that of Thatcher yet, conversely, they are also promised that things will be done differently. Tebbit has always supported the manner in which Thatcher ran her government with centralised control at the very top. Under his leadership though, there will be differences. The power of Cabinet committees will be restored and consensus will be how decisions are reached. Such a new way of doing things in Downing Street is done by Tebbit to placate many factions and interests who felt side-lined under Thatcher’s perceived ‘Leninism’ approach to leadership. In an ironic twist, Tebbit allowed himself to be talked into that in when forming his government because he had wanted to see Thatcher retain significant influence rather than have her with a limited role. She is on the backbenches now where the reforms to accommodate her are in-place. Tebbit will find out in the next few years what an error he has made here.
In Downing Street, Tebbit soon is involved in confrontations with ‘traditional’ opponents rather than seeing Britain drawn into any further international disputes. The country’s hard left and Northern Irish terrorism are enemies that Tebbit is primed to fight.
In his previous position as Thatcher’s Employment Secretary, Tebbit was the face of incoming legislation going through Parliament. The Employment Act (1982) isn’t his sole work but Tebbit was responsible for it. Norman Fowler has now taken Tebbit’s old job yet there are no significant changes to the act. With the Conservative majority, it looks sure to become law later in the year. The legislation attacks the powers of trade unions. An earlier Act of Parliament two years before already began what the trade unions see as a sustained attack on them by Tebbit and this one only increases the limitations being imposed. They are primed ready to fight it using all means at their disposal. In the Commons, when the issue comes up for debate, Tebbit faces off against the Leader of the Opposition. He and Michael Foot clashed bitterly over trade union powers – abuses as far as Tebbit is concerned – back during the late Seventies before each was leader of their party. The strength of the rhetoric employed by Tebbit back then isn’t repeated now when Labour’s leader defends the trade unions in opposition to the government’s bill, but that doesn’t mean that Tebbit goes easy. This time there isn’t the claim that this key element of the Labour movement are ‘red fascists’ and ‘Marxist totalitarians’. However, no one is left in any doubt that Tebbit’s passion for fighting the trade unions has diminished. In his view, they have done much damage to the nation. He will restrict their powers as part of the continuing Thatcherite agenda of transforming Britain which he has committed to following after her.
The Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army are the primary nationalist armed groups undertaking current actions against the British state. Both groups carry on regardless of the change of leader in Downing Street with their terror campaigns. The IRA pushes forward the timescale of an attack in mainland Britain which they had pencilled in for late July due to wanting to ‘make an impression’ upon the new PM. On June 12th, two bomb blasts rock London. The first targets soldiers on horseback during the iconic Trooping of the Colour to march the Queen’s Official birthday. Last year, some young fool fired a starting pistol towards the Queen. This time, an IRA bomb near to Horse Guards Parade goes off. The Queen is some distance away and unharmed. Many of her soldiers aren’t so lucky and this includes Lt.–Colonel Andrew Parker Bowles of the Blues & Royals who was once an intimate of Royalty. Images on British television screen in the aftermath are of dead horses in the streets – there is a lot of focus on them in the media, more than on dead and injured soldiers – before coverage moves to smoke rising from the nearby Wellington Barracks. The second IRA bomb explodes here were the officer’s mess is blown up and a huge fire rages. A week later, the INLA make a less dramatic attack but one which also is a blow landed right in the British capital against the establishment. They strike near to the Old Bailey where the Conservative Monday Club have their headquarters. This is a private club for the particularly conservative-minded Conservatives though without the influence it once had. Here the INLA plant their bomb with the aim to kill many political figures. The blast occurs earlier than planned and doesn’t achieve the goal of taking the lives of Parliamentarians but there are a few other deaths, many injuries and also a great deal of damage done. Tebbit’s public statements on these acts of terror are impassioned with justice promised to be delivered upon those behind them. Such things have been said before by others in his position in response to similar acts of terror. Tebbit sees things differently from his predecessors though. He believes that more of the same old, tired responses – just words – are needed to fight such a threat to the country he now leads from Ulster terrorism. Those who bring bombs to the mainland, and those who send them, are those he wants to really go after. He sets out to see that done by taking the war home to them as they have done with their war against Britain.
Inner city riots erupt during the summer of 1982. Last year, there had been violent disturbances within ethnically-diverse areas of South London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. A wide range of causes were behind them. It is the same again this year with no one cause setting of what happens in various communities across the country. Protests against alleged (often true) police brutality exist and there is much poverty too. Opportunities for people with regards to social mobility are limited and discrimination is rife. The first disturbance is in Brixton. Hundreds of people loot and burn what they can. Police reactions are strong and met with more violence. In other cities, similar scenes follow. For several nights in a row in each location, there is utter lawlessness. In the daytime, calm returns and there are efforts made to try and clean up the near war-zones that return once darkness again falls. Only by flooding the streets with police and making hundreds of arrests are the riots eventually bought to an end. There are deaths which occur during this. Rioters, bystanders and even a couple of policemen lose their lives. Whitelaw condemns those who are destroying their own communities and makes sure that the Home Office works with the police in a co-ordinated fashion to give them what they need. The loss of life though, especially among the policemen killed in both Brixton and Manchester’s Moss Side, come as a shock to the government and country alike. Each was murdered in what appear to have been deliberate acts to ambush & kill them. In a speech in the Commons, where several Labour MPs plead for understanding about the causes behind this disorder, Tebbit goes on the attack against them and is accused afterwards of implying that those fellow Members support the murder of policemen. Parliament is often said to be a bear pit but with Tebbit leading the government against a backdrop of significant disorder on the night-time streets, emotions run exceedingly high. It is said that his government’s policies are responsible for this and many agree with such charges laid. He and his government furiously deny this.
Taking part in much of the rioting are the unemployed. Figures for those out of work are a record high with young minorities being hardest hit. Overall, three million Britons are jobless. The continuing recession has come with government-directed restructuring of industry putting many on the Dole. Not since the Great Depression have such large numbers of people been out of work. They don’t all riot, Tebbit reminds the Commons. Yet those that do are those who are out of work with no sign of an improvement to their situation. The Prime Minister’s remark made last year before he was in Downing Street following those outbreaks of rioting back then is brought up now in Parliament and among the media. ‘On-yer-bike’ is quite the mis-quote, some would say a deliberate mis-representation, of what he said about the unemployed rioting and isn’t something that he repeats now. However, there becomes a general view that this is Tebbit’s view on them: it is believed that he still stands by his comment to the unemployed to ‘get on your bike’. That isn’t the case at all. Tebbit wants people to work. The cost of unemployment isn’t what he believes that state should be burdened with nor the attendant social problems too. His solution is for people to go out and seek work in a transforming national economy that he says his government is presiding over with success. There aren’t any jobs though, the Opposition say. Tebbit replies that there are, and there will be more once the government’s economic policies bear fruit.
This matter of the millions who are jobless is something where Tebbit’s restored old way of inner Cabinet workings first brings to the forefront how things have changed since Thatcher is departed. While there is public support for the Prime Minister in the Commons, key players behind the scenes make their presence felt. They feel that there needs to be some changes made with economic management to get more of the country working sooner. Tebbit listens to them, as Thatcher would have done. However, as her colleagues knew she wouldn’t have, Thatcher’s successor does what she wouldn’t have and allows himself to be manoeuvred towards making some of those changes. Tebbit is a different creature from his predecessor in his willingness to keep Cabinet unity. Like them, he wants people back working and influential colleagues propose this is the way to doing that. There is agreement reached in Cabinet that ‘subtle tinkering’ will take effect to try to make this happen with regards to the specifics of the government’s economic policy. A major victory for the so-called Wets over the Dries it really isn’t. Yet Howe, Pym and Whitelaw do win significant concessions from Tebbit here.
Moreover, Tebbit agrees with a Cabinet position to not hold an election until 1984. His colleagues get him to agree to try to end the recession and bring unemployment down before the Conservatives make their case for government to the country once again.
The aftereffects of the Falklands War are something felt across the nation. Military loss and international disgrace are important factors for the UK on the world stage yet there is a strong domestic reaction also to what has occurred. Britain is a defeated nation. The seeds of deep political changes begin to be seen.
There is a lot of despair among Britons at the disaster which has befallen the country. To put their feelings on the matter into words is hard. Despair is one term which some will use; others, if pressed, will say they feel shame. Argentina, a third-rate power if there ever was one, has inflicted upon Britain a humiliation. British territory has been taken and the whole world has seen the Royal Navy run away. The Argentines have hardly been magnanimous in victory either. Nothing can be done to reverse all of this. Worse is feared for the future. Emigration from Britain to elsewhere in the world, to the Anglo-sphere countries (America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), is now something that many don’t just idly talk about but begin to set about doing. This is done in great numbers. An end to Britain – an idealistic version of the UK to be fair – is said to have occurred. To those who talk of such doom, they believe that the situation their country is in now is worse than it was during times of political and economic woe back in the Seventies. Tebbit’s government looks unlikely to survive and Britain will soon be ungovernable again.
On the other hand, there are those who see the end of Thatcher’s premiership as a good thing. The populism and subsequent militarism she personified is regarded as being behind has failed. Those on the far left celebrate what has happened. It inspires them to dream of a different Britain, one which they believe is near to coming about. Such socialists, Trotskyists and anarchists have agendas which mean they spend much time arguing among themselves but they are united in being happy about what has occurred. The Falklands War was an imperialist conflict they say, and one which was destined to be lost. Britain should be addressing problems at home rather than seeking to continue upon a global role which is full of unadulterated shame. With Thatcher gone, they look forward to seeing Tebbit out of office too. Existing movements on the far left find themselves with fresh converts from the ranks of the despondent unemployed, especially the young ones who believe they have no future otherwise. In addition, there are new groups forming as well where they spread a message of hatred. That isn’t just of the current national political establishment but against those who have what they don’t have. They’ll take it if they can, righting wrongs with consequences to that be dammed. To them, this is what is fair and just.
Conspiracy theories about what really happened in the South Atlantic are plentiful. The Soviets, the Americans, the French and just about everyone other Johnny Foreigner are blamed for the defeat which occurred. Some of what is said is clear to only the very foolish – there are plenty of them though – that what they are hearing is a load of baloney yet not all of these so-called ‘hidden truths’ are as outlandish. Many people genuinely believe that other countries worked to see Britain lose the war with Argentina over the Falklands. Tall tales of the Hermes actually being sunk by a Soviet submarine, the Americans guiding those Argentine missiles in and there being French pilots in those aircraft strike a chord with certain people. They are in denial over the disaster which their government presided over yet also know nothing of the pure luck that the Argentine Navy had in getting their missile-firing aircraft where they were that afternoon back at the beginning of May. Such simple facts like that are less attractive to the ears of those wanting to hear that someone must have done this to them and their country.
Foreign visitors to Britain in the months following the Falklands War see those riots, the long lines of unemployed queuing up for the Dole and hear comments made about outsiders doing harm to the country. They hear certain new songs being released in the popular music charts concerning the mood that recording artists reflect back to this defeated nation. There are newspaper headlines and letters pages inside that likewise show that the Falklands defeat has taken a heavy toll on Britain on an emotional level. Similar things are seen by ambassadors and other diplomats inside the country on a regular basis who report back home to their own governments the sorry state that the UK currently is in. To think that a couple of Exocets have done this is a concern for those whose interests it is in Britain being an influential player in world affairs. There is a worry over what will come next on a political level for Britain in this post-Falklands era.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
A Labour MP, Dennis Skinner, stands up in the House of Commons late in 1982 and accuses the Prime Minister of purposefully seeking out enemies to fight. This isn’t leadership, it is said, but instead the acts of a bully. This brings about uproar in the Commons. There are shouts of either outrage from the Government benches and those of support from the side of the Commons where the Opposition sits. Tebbit sits in silence with a smile on his face as Skinner continues once the Speaker’s cries of ‘order, order’ have restored what he calls for. The Prime Minister is accused of acting as he does to bring about discord and cause division. Those who oppose Tebbit, Skinner concludes, are either forced into submission or vilified by his allies. This isn’t how responsible politics should be. When given the opportunity to respond, Tebbit gets to his feet and refers to the initial point being raised ahead of this attack. The matter concerns the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Arthur Scargill has said that ‘extra-parliamentary action’ will be something that the NUM will undertake should there be a new round of closing of coal mines in the upcoming year. Tebbit repeats what he said before the intervention and accusation: his government will not hesitate to bring forth further legislation to combat the trade unions in addition to the already passed Employment Act. Trade unions will obey the law, he concludes, the NUM included.
While his fellow MPs have jumped to his defence as they cheer his words, there is unease among the Conservatives. Privately, many agree with what has just been said. Tebbit dragged Scargill and his NUM into a parliamentary debate concerning that bill which has only just recently passed its final stages in the Commons ready for royal ascent. Scargill’s remarks were made some time ago and the Employment Act covers trade union legislation, not the potential closing of mines nor strikes. The Prime Minister is certainly seeking out fights and Tebbit’s actions do make many regard him as a bully instead of a leader. Agreeing with those accusations in public isn’t what his MPs do though. They keep quiet. There are bigger things at stake for them and their party that this style of leadership that Tebbit has.
Other fights that the Prime Minister is having elsewhere bring about agreement from his MPs too, even if they wouldn’t have undertaken them in the same confrontational manner that he has. This issue of the future of the Greater London Council (GLC) is one of them. Lead by another hard left figure – though someone of a different nature to Scargill – in the form of Ken Livingstone, the GLC has control over the nation’s capital. Many of Livingstone’s policies enrage Conservatives within the government and without too: they can unite fully around opposition to him. The GLC is a hotbed of radicalism and far left militarism going back since Livingstone took over in a ‘palace coup’ back in 1981. County Hall, the GLC’s headquarters, is located just across the River Thames on the South Bank opposite Parliament: Livingstone has a frequently-updated billboard positioned there highlighting national unemployment under the Conservative Government. Economic, transport and, especially, social policies followed by Livingstone’s GLC are regarded by many Conservatives as being drafted just to inflame their anger. Declaring London a ‘nuclear-free zone’ and his rabid support from fringe ideologies like gay rights come alongside his open support for Argentina’s capture of the Falklands and the invitation for the president of Sinn Fein to come to the city which where the IRA has bombed. A war of words is underway between Tebbit and Livingstone, one which drags on and on… and on. A couple of Tebbit’s MPs have been urging him to go further than that and bring a legislative end to the GLC. The Prime Minister doesn’t think that is the way to go and there is the chance that at the next London elections Livingstone can be brought to heel. There are shakes of the head by many at that suggestion. They are working on changing Tebbit’s mind here as the numbers grow in support of the position of abolishment rather than waiting Livingstone out.
Across Britain, there are other political opponents with whom Tebbit is in open conflict with bringing about varying degrees of support from among his MPs. The Labour Party is undergoing a long-term internal factional fight between their far left and centralists. Stretching back several years, it has led to the breakaway Social Democratic Party (SDP) from the latter faction yet the former have gained victories such as the control of the party leadership, Livingstone’s GLC and also the growing influence within local government in Liverpool. Militant do not share the exact same ideology as ‘Red Ken’ in the capital, yet their presence nationwide is that of a far left character too. Liverpool City Council – without as many powers as the GLC – is becoming closer to falling to them and finally does so in May 1983. Militant are Trotskyists and their victory in Liverpool is something that Tebbit’s Conservatives have failed to stop despite the assistance of negative media coverage against Militant’s rise there and elsewhere nationwide. Nonetheless, it must be said that while there is much opposition to Militant from the Conservatives, Tebbit and his MPs aren’t distraught at their rise: Militant, and Red Ken in London too, are doing a lot of damage to Labour. Moreover, the Social Democrats is welcomed too among the Conservatives because they foresee vote splitting on the left at the next election by their presence.
The far left is on the ascendancy across Britain with many expressing the view (with others disagreeing it must be said) that this is all in reaction to defeat in the Falklands.
Tebbit has had the gloves taken off when it comes to terrorism from Irish Republicans. It costs his government the resignation of Northern Ireland Secretary Jim Prior in late 1982… something not regretted that much in Downing Street though. Prior sought a different approach but Tebbit is unwilling to see things continue as they always have been. Bombings on the mainland and shootings within Ulster have gotten to a stage where the Prime Minister wants to if not put a complete end to the reign of terror by the IRA and the INLA, then do them grave damage. Intelligence efforts have been stepped by from both the civilian and military authorities with wide leeway given to act more decisively than beforehand. Information gleamed from informers and spying efforts using the most sophisticated efforts allows for a hurting to be put on them. The SAS are in Northern Ireland and they have what many consider to be ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders: it has been said that the Royal Ulster Constabulary have already been doing this at times too so it isn’t something completely new. Military Aid to the Civil Authorities in Ulster allows for the SAS deployment alongside the regular military forces in the Province. Moreover, they work with the infamous Force Research Unit and 14 Intelligence Company to coordinate activities. Ambushes are conducted of terrorist strike teams either undertaking attacks or on reconnaissance missions: few of those sought manage to escape with their lives. At Crossmaglen, a village in the ‘bandit country’ of South Armagh, there are six killed on a miserable afternoon in October. Eight more deaths are recorded (including an innocent civilian passer-by) during another successful ambush against the IRA one morning the following month and this time at nearby Cullyhanna. The SAS are also there when arrests are made of terror suspects not directly involved in attacks themselves but believed responsible for organising and financing them. Once more, there are deaths involved during this where top-level IRA and INLA figures lose their lives. The soldiers present are more than willing to open fire given the slightest provocation whereas elsewhere in Ulster there are more stringent rules of engagement… yet orders coming for London are for those also to be more relaxed, unofficially at least.
There is reaction to this, one with more bombs and gunfire. Irish nationalist terror groups haven’t deluded themselves that they face a weak opponent in Tebbit and respond accordingly to what is an upturn in the British state’s war against them. Through 1982 and into 1983, attacks are made by them in both Ulster and on the mainland regardless of the SAS trying to wipe them out. Tidworth Camp and the commercial heart of Newcastle are those mainland targets for bombs, while in South Armagh especially, there is a lot of armed activity in locations such as Bessbrook, Forkhill, Jonesborough and Newtownhamilton. The IRA is the more active group yet that doesn’t mean that the smaller INLA sits back and lets them take the fight to the enemy alone. The consequences for this are many yet one of the most important is the reigniting of internal factional disputes within Sinn Fein, a party regarded as the political front for the IRA. The dual approach of armed resistance and political organising, the so-called ‘Armalite and ballot box strategy’, is thrown into disarray. The call within the movement and its supporters is for more attacks and less focus on politics at a time like this. Others disagree where they believe there is political advantage to be gained by what Tebbit is doing. To settle this disagreement, rather than talking it out, a wave of violence occurs within the movement. News reaches London and there are no tears shed to the thought of their enemies seeing to murder one another.
Meanwhile, there is no such crackdown against Loyalist terror groups. They don’t set off bombs on the mainland – though aren’t averse to bombs exploding elsewhere – and from their side, there is a willingness to work in secret with the arms of the British state. On an official level, these terror groups are regarded with the same opposition as to the Republicans ones because they are all criminals. However, that isn’t always the case behind the scenes. Actions undertaken against the IRA and INLA by the SAS following the will of London come alongside strikes against leading Republicans, and also Nationalist politicians, conducted by Loyalist gunmen. Collusion is ongoing in this with intelligence information shared at certain times to allow outright murder to occur of enemies to both Loyalists and the British state. The latter can keep its hands clean of this. Neither Tebbit nor anyone in his government is physically signing off on any of this, but they are aware that it is happening and aren’t putting up any more than a token effort to see it stopped. That is why Prior departs from his post and he will not keep his mouth shut for awfully long afterwards as to the reasons behind his departure.
The political consequences within Ulster where Loyalist terror groups are gaining traction effects the divided Unionist parties. The offensive against Republican terrorists has an impact upon the split Nationalists as well. Long-term effects will be seen from all of this.
The UK Budget in March 1983 is delivered by Howe: it will be his last budget due to his unexpected resignation coming later in the year. Addressing his fellow MPs with the government’s spending presented for the upcoming year, the Chancellor expresses disappointment that the country has yet to come out of recession yet assures the Commons that that is soon to come to pass. As part of the budget, it is announced that defence expenditure will be significantly increased despite the squeeze elsewhere. Losses from the Falklands War will be replaced and the emphasis on providing the means to defend Britain and its interests is a key government priority. Heseltine will brief newspaper journalists in the aftermath of the budget that he is responsible for this. His self-promotion knows no bounds. He speaks of jobs being kept, even new ones being created, as the Royal Navy gets new ships: who can oppose jobs? A question is put to him in one of the several interviews he conducts whether there will be a general election this year. The Defence Secretary confirms – off-the-record – that it isn’t happening. The government’s mandate runs out in May 1984 and another year is wanted to repair the poor state of the nation’s finances which the Conservatives inherited from Labour back in 1979.
Having retained her seat in Parliament following leaving Downing Street, Thatcher is still an MP. She is on the backbenches now yet still with a strong following of supporters who, like her, remain aggravated at what they see as the betrayals which forced her out. In light of Howe’s budget, she joins others from the Conservative backbenches as they begin to snipe at government policy. The recession should have been long over by now, it is said, and it is the fault of the Tebbit government that there has been no turnaround in economic fortunes for the country. If only her successor had stuck to the course that she was on… Allies – some would say sycophants – of hers point to the war being waged against Livingstone and the GLC by Downing Street. This should be one not fought before an election, but after a victory at the polls. In recent weeks, there have been soundings coming out from government-ordained leaks that coming legislation due in the Autumn, after the Summer recess, will be presented to abolish the city’s political body. The GLC is regarded as an out of control menace yet there are serious questions raised over the wisdom of timing, not the intent. Real harm will be done to the party’s cause ahead of a general election, it is said: the best idea would be to put it in the manifesto and wait until after the nation has elected them so there is a mandate for action. Joseph and Whitelaw both speak with Thatcher privately in light of all of this. Tebbit has sent them as peacemakers. The efforts of the Foreign & Home Secretaries to have Thatcher lead her supporters to ease off on their government attacks fail though… they weren’t a good choice as mediators considering Thatcher believes that they were at the forefront of deposing her!
The former Prime Minister regards the current one, and so many of those he surrounds himself with in his government, as having colluded to get rid of her and she will keep up the fight against them.
At the beginning of Thatcher’s premiership, back in late 1979, the British Government had committed itself to the NATO Double-Track Decision when it came to strategic nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. The Soviets were deploying a new array of medium-range missiles into Eastern Europe which are regarded as posing a new, deadly threat to Western Europe. Britain, America and Western European NATO countries agreed that they would have a two-fold response. There would be talks with Moscow to try and end that deployment as part of a wider disarmament policy yet, at the same time, there would be a readiness for Britain and other to house similar weapons from the United States in their countries. If the talks succeeded, there would be no basing of American missiles; if there was failure to get the Soviet leadership to play ball, those weapons would be deployed to counter the Soviet ones. Diplomacy has failed and, following what was agreed by Thatcher’s government, Tebbit’s Cabinet commits itself now in 1983 to allow for Britain to be a base for those American missiles. There are already nuclear weapons operated by the US Air Force deployed on British soil – bombs for their aircraft flying from several UK bases – but these new weapons are something else entirely. GLCMs in mobile launchers will be housed at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire and, later on, in Cambridgeshire at RAF Molesworth too. Preparations for their arrival have long been underway at Greenham Common. This hasn’t gone unnoticed and at this military site near to the usually quiet countryside town of Newbury, a protest camp has long been a hive of activity.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is having what has been called a Second Wave for them. CND was able to draw much negative attention to Britain’s nuclear posture during the early Sixties but interest eventually faded away. Now, the deployment of what is known as ‘Cruise’ – the GLCM is a cruise missile, as are many others, but this term is being widely used in political discourse just for this one type – has reignited public feeling. Across the West, there is exceptionally strong opposition to how the Cold War appears to be getting warmer. Tensions with the Soviets are high, Reagan is in office across the Atlantic and now there is a new nuclear arms race. Anti-Cruise has been the goal of protesters across in West Germany and it is the same in Britain ahead of the deployment this year of these missiles. A women’s peace camp is on the edge of Greenham Common. Fleet Street has had a whale of a time criticising those there due to much of their unconventional outlook but the government sees CND as the bigger threat. Heseltine is up for a conflict with CND, more so than even Tebbit is. MI-5 already has a highly-placed spy within CND and there is an awareness that this organisation has serious intentions of not just disrupting the deployment of Cruise, but changing national policy through extra-Parliamentary action. Just like the trade unions and Militant too, the CND is regarded as a serious threat to not just this government but democracy as well.
While many CND members aren’t from the far left – they are ordinary people which the government regards as being unduly influenced by them –, there are other organisations which have gained strength in the past few years full of people who are. Less attention from the organs of the state is on them when there should be a more realisation of the danger that they pose. MI-5 have operations running against the CND and Militant both yet no real attention is being paid to the Worker’s Revolutionary Party (WRP) nor Red Action. The former is too often regarded as a bit of a joke. They are seen as a cult based around the Trotskyist ideology of the party’s leader Gerry Healy. Support for the WRP comes from members of the prominent Redgrave family of actors but the WRPs’ second-in-command, Mike Banda, holds a lot more sway within the group than understood by outsiders: the young recruits drawn to the WRP in recent years from the ranks of the disillusioned unemployed are inspired by him, not Healy. There is a country estate in Derbyshire where the WRP is running training camps for youths to fight the police. WRP devotees have shown up taking part in inner-city riots which continue to plague the country and there has been defence of their actions by Livingstone’s GLC. There are foreign links that the WRP has too in the form of contacts with the regimes of the Arab nations of Iraq and Libya. Saddam and Gaddafi have provided cash in exchange for help from the WRP in spying on exiles from their countries inside Britain. Much of that foreign financing has been creamed off the top to line a few pockets but other money has gone into something else. Banda is on the face of it a Trotskyist but many of his sympathies lie with Maoism and the idea of a people’s revolt. For that, he’ll need guns. Red Action is something different. They are smaller and do not seek attention like Healy’s WRP do. Young, unemployed and disenchanted Britons have been drawn to them too and organised into what is in many ways cell-like structures reminiscent of how a terror group would operate. Red Action have been around for some time, starting out as a violent subset of the anti-racism movement yet expelled by dominant other political groups due to their actions. Now, they have transformed into something entirely different. In something completely unknown outside the de-centralised organisation, to the media or the police/MI-5, contacts have been made with Irish Republican terror groups too. Red Action has lost many of its initial influential members, those known for fighting the National Front skinheads back in the ‘glory days’, and now the organisation is all about doing all it can to bring down the British state, even working with such people as the INLA.
Banda’s eager youngsters – it is said by detractors that some have been brainwashed – show up in riots throughout the summer of 1983. Brixton (again) and Tottenham in London are the scenes of particularly unsettling disorder. Manchester’s Moss Side and Toxteth in Liverpool are likewise once more gripped by violence. The police are the enemy for those out on the streets who attack them while looting and burning everything in sight. The causes of each of these, and many other smaller riots, aren’t always the same and there is nothing coordinated about any of this. Local issues are the instigating factors with racism often a factor. Yet, overall, it all comes back to the state of the country. Unemployment remains high, there are few opportunities for the marginalised to break out of poverty and the reaction to this is violence. As was the case last summer, this August (the hight of the violence) sees policemen killed again. A trio of officers die during the inner-city rioting with each appearing to have been specially targeted for murder. One is stabbed to death; the other two are shot. Responses from the police to the killing of their own is dramatic and critics say afterwards that this only contributes to an ever-continuing cycle of violence. Comments from politicians do nothing to change the situation on the ground where there is this deliberate killing of police officers by out-of-control rioters who are tearing apart parts of the country with reckless abandon. Pre-emptive police action comes when faced with those on the streets. Rioters are savagely beaten by the police and two of them are killed: one in Brixton and another in Bristol’s St. Pauls. Whereas the killings of policemen bring about government attention, when the public lose their lives to police violence, there is the general feeling that they deserved it. A few voices do speak up, but not enough. In Tebbit-land, the situation has gotten this far almost unchecked.
In September, Tebbit’s reshuffles his Cabinet once more. He is thinking of next May when he will have to take his case for government to the polls. There have been difficulties within the Cabinet and Tebbit has had enough. Energy Secretary Cecil Parkinson is shown the door. There is a political factor but the decision for him to be booted out by the Prime Minister comes down to the fact that Parkinson cannot keep his flies buttoned up: there is a girl with child and Parkinson is a married man whose actions are an embarrassment to the government. Francis Pym loses his post as Environment Secretary after failing to make as much of an impression there as Heseltine had done before him and also because Tebbit just cannot maintain a good relationship with him either due to disagreements such as the future of the GLC. Rising stars such as Tom King and Leon Brittan take the Energy and Environmental briefs. Tebbit likes the two of them and believes they can strengthen his top table. Senior Cabinet figures such as Fowler, Heseltine, Joseph and Whitelaw are all staying where they are but Tebbit has an issue with Howe. He’s been at the Treasury since the Conservatives were elected more than four years ago and the economy remains in a terrible state… and the unemployment number is reaching four million! Tebbit tells Howe he is moving him from the Treasury to take up the new position of Secretary of State for Trade & Industry (the ministries are being combined). This is a demotion if there ever was one! Howe walks away rather than accept what he sees as a humiliation. Nigel Lawson has been at Trade and was about to be moved to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury role – a Cabinet post despite being number two at that department – but Tebbit promotes him instead to the senior post. It is a big jump for him and does ruffle a few feathers elsewhere in the Cabinet. Lawson is another rising star though, someone who Tebbit approves of: in terms of fiscal positioning, he’s in many ways another Thatcherite. Howe makes a resignation speech in the Commons after resigning and suggests that his leaving the Cabinet was engineered, alongside the promotion of Brittan & King, as a sop to Thatcher’s wing of the party who sit on the backbenches gaining in strength and daring. Tebbit will bat this assertion away though many believe it to be true.
These political shenanigans take place ahead of a set of overlapping crisis’ about to beset Tebbit’s government this Autumn. They are unforeseen and set Britain on a dangerous course.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
At the high security Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, a daring plan to make a mass breakout is attempted by IRA prisoners in mid-October. Guns have been smuggled in, and a plan of action formed to get many people out and away to safety. Dozens of convicted terrorists seek to escape from the prison for their own ends as well as that of their movement too. The IRA’s leadership wants to land a propaganda blow to the British state. The plan goes awry midway through the breakout. The alarm is sounded in the midst of the escape when guards, some of whom are being held at gunpoint, bravely fight with their assailants. Most of the would-be escapees fail to make it beyond the gates through which they had intended to calmly walk out of dressed in the uniforms of their captors. The trio that do will not get far. Everyone else is stuck inside the walls of the Maze as the response of the authorities make further runs for freedom impossible.
At this point, no one has yet to lose their life despite violence being employed. Calls are made upon the armed IRA prisoners to release the guards they still hold as hostages and give themselves up. For a few moments, that looks possible. However, it is not to be. One of the guards seeks to free himself while his captors are distracted arguing over whether to surrender or not. He’s killed in the struggle and his death will be the first of many. To save the lives of other guards, whose lives are considered to be in imminent danger, and while believing that those inside will be disorganised, a reaction force of prison guards trained to put down disorder rushes in with the goal of ending this all before it is too late. There are police and soldiers outside the walls but they are left out of what happens inside. The prison authorities seek to bring this all under control themselves. Gunfire erupts. So too does fighting between hostages and those holding them captive. There are deaths by stabbing, strangulation and blunt force trauma. A confusing situation comes about during the attempt to take back control and there is even a fire started inside the Maze. It will take an hour before it is all over and bringing to an end the last resistance within. Twenty-one are dead at the scene with another two lives lost in the following hours among casualties taken away from the prison to hospital. Those who are killed are IRA prisoners, non-terrorism prisoners and prison staff.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is Michael Jopling. He took over at Hillsborough Castle from the departing Prior a year ago after moving from the Cabinet’s Agriculture brief. Jopling isn’t a man liked very much by his Cabinet colleagues though he does have Tebbit’s backing, thus why he is in the job. When news breaks of the ‘incident’ at the Maze, the initial casualty count is much higher than it turns out to be. Afterwards, there will be some public scepticism of the figure of ‘only’ twenty-three deaths when first reports said that maybe as many as fifty lives were lost: a cover up is believed to have happened but that is only nonsense. Cabinet finds out about the incident only just ahead of the media yet soon enough, it is all over the airwaves. Jopling is able to inform his colleagues that the incident has been resolved and give an accurate count of casualties though it is all rather a mess. He has done his best in this situation but not everyone sees it that way. That doesn’t just include his standing critics within Cabinet: there are those outside government who believe that Jopling isn’t up to the job. Questions are asked as to how the situation was allowed to come about with pistols ending up in the hands of prisoners, how there was initial success for those would-be escapees in doing what they had and then also who gave the order for the reaction force to rush in without waiting to better assess the situation inside the Maze. Joplin’s answers don’t convince many. Tebbit stands by him though and Jopling will keep his job because he is doing the Prime Minister’s bidding on Ulster.
Splashed all over the newspapers in the following days is the fall-out from this. There is a lot of attention given to the ‘innocent’ dead – guards and those held at the Maze not on terror charges – and the failures to detect the breakout attempt. Joplin comes under fire in editorials. Off-the-record comments are made to The Guardian and The Times by Whitelaw and Heseltine respectively where these two Cabinet ministers, neither an ally of Jopling, blame him for what happened. Home Secretary Whitelaw and Defence Secretary Heseltine have been subject to what they regard as negative press in anonymous briefings by Jopling beforehand when it comes to the war being waged against Republican terrorism. They are getting their own back. Over on the island of Ireland, the Nationalist newspaper An Phoblacht – Gaelic for ‘Republican News’ – has been in circulation since 1970. It has two versions (one either side of the border) with the Irish Republic often acting more in opposition to what is printed within than the British state has done so. The IRA regularly make propaganda statements through An Phoblacht. In the aftermath of the deadly incident at the Maze, that ‘mouthpiece of the IRA’ (according to Tebbit) publishes allegations that there was deliberate murder of prisoners during the escape attempt. They are furious in Cabinet at the lies being told but cannot do anything to stop that newspaper printing what it does: the British government doesn’t have the necessary powers to act. Denials from Hillsborough and London sound hallow in the face of the incendiary accusations… yet it is An Phoblacht which isn’t telling the truth, not Tebbit’s government. When such allegations are repeated in Parliament by a pair of Labour MPs, Tam Dalyell and Tony Benn, both strong supporters of Irish nationalism, the Prime Minister is angry that those have come from An Phoblacht. Then the BBC likewise refers to all of this too. Tebbit makes his mind up that this shouldn’t be allowed to happen in future. He intends to see legislation enacted in the long-run to stop such lies being told by those doing the IRA’s work for them. An attack on the freedom of the press it won’t be yet he knows that his opponents will label it as that. His mind turns as to how to see it done.
Right at the of the month, another ‘British island’ in the Western Hemisphere is subject to an armed invasion by a foreign power. Things are different from the last time around though. This time the military operations underway are conducted by the United States and the island in question is Grenada. Operation Urgent Fury subdues those in power within that Commonwealth nation – Queen Elizabeth II is head of state – during an attack which London is only informed about at the very last minute with objections from Tebbit to American action subsequently ignored.
American paratroopers from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division crush armed Grenadians as well as groups of Cubans encountered on that Caribbean island too. They rescue a group of American students as well… only to find that that party of youngsters isn’t really in much danger from anyone. It is a curb-stomp war in many ways yet the Americans do encounter difficulties, those coming from mix-ups with their own operation rather than anything that the Grenadians and Cubans can put in their way. However, on the face of it, Operation Urgent Fury is a stunning success with American military prowess praised. Reagan gets a rally-around-the-flag effect and it is said in many quarters that this action lifts the nation’s confidence in its military capability to finally eliminate the stain of the Vietnam War. Other issues aside, there are those in Britain who would like to see their own armed forces undertake a military action of their own somewhere else in the world – hopefully with few casualties, of course – to remove the UK’s own terrible despondency in light of defeat in the Falklands back last year.
Those ‘other issues’ are at the forefront in the minds of many though, pushing aside such idle dreaming about restoring national pride. Grenada hasn’t come out of the blue. The elected socialist government there has recently been deposed and then a final, bloody coup d’état by Marxist extremists has brought this all on. Cuba has had a foot in the door on Grenada. Britain and the United States have been engaged in intelligence sharing to do with Grenada and there have been discussions concerning what to do with the situation. The relationship between Reagan and Tebbit hasn’t been the best on a personal level yet there remain strong links below leadership level. Foreign Secretary Joseph has been engaged in an Anglo-American effort to bring other Caribbean nations on-side in an effort to work together. Tebbit’s government has been seeking a diplomatic solution. Now, out of the blue, the American launch their attack. That last-minute warning comes at the most importune time leaving Tebbit no time to react properly. He sends off a message to Reagan, asking the American President to hold off, but no reply comes before Operation Urgent Fury is unleashed. Tebbit and his Cabinet want rid of the nasty cabal who’ve seized power but this isn’t how they wanted to see things done.
Once the invasion is underway, it becomes apparent that American duplicity on this matter is quite something. They’ve gone into Grenada claiming it is a ‘police action’ with the support of Caribbean countries, Commonwealth ones who were supposed to be working for a diplomatic solution, to cover their behinds diplomatically yet the Americans done all that they could to make sure that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London had no idea of it all. Moreover, Joseph informs the Cabinet that the FCO has been side-lined elsewhere too. The Americans are adding to their claims of legitimacy in taking this action because they have an invitation! Paul Scoon, the Governor-General of Grenada who represents the Queen on that island, gave the United States official consent ahead of the whole thing. Tebbit has selected Cabinet members at this evening meeting on October 25th where this all comes out. The Chief of the Defence Staff makes mention of Czechoslovakia in 1968: the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring with ‘an invitation’ too but that didn’t mean it was in any way the right thing to do. No one offers any criticism of this remark inferring that an ally is acting like an enemy. There is only outrage at the American action here. They should not have done this. Britain should have had more of a say in this and Reagan is, once more, showing just what the Special Relationship means to him: nothing.
Cabinet discusses their response. Of course, no one is in the mood to do anything really silly but they agree they cannot sit idly by and do nothing. Joseph wants the governor-general gone after all of this and Tebbit concurs. It is clear that there will be an international reaction on the diplomatic front with the likely consequence sure to be a UN meeting. American action will come under criticism there and, as usual, the United States will turn to its allies for support. Heseltine floats the idea of Britain abstaining in any UN vote – neither he nor anyone else suggests voting against the United States – but his colleagues aren’t so sure about that. They agree that instead of that, there will be no British diplomatic effort to bend the will of other nations in support of a possible UN vote on whether Operation Urgent Fury was justified. This doesn’t satisfy their anger but it is the only thing that can be done. Reagan needs to understand that slavish support from the UK will not come when he acts in this way. For a year and a half now, since the end of the conflict over the Falklands, Britain has been doing all it can to try to repair its international reputation. This has involved working with allies such as the Americans in particular. In what seems like each time, those efforts have been mocked by the Reagan Administration as they do what they want in defiance of British wishes and interests. Now, Cabinet is agreeing to take a stand… even a small one. Ahead of the meeting ending, Chancellor Lawson raises a concern. The upcoming first deployment of Cruise into Britain is less than a fortnight away. American military action in Grenada is only likely to inflame matters with the CND protesters even more. Nods of the head in agreement come but nothing more. Tebbit’s Cabinet cannot see the future.
The name of ‘Awkward Squad’ has been given to a grouping of several dozen Conservative MPs who sit together on the government backbenches in the around Thatcher. From their ranks has come criticism of Tebbit’s leadership since his appointment last May. While this often comes in direct form within the Commons, in many cases it is done behind the scenes too. They are a busy bunch when working the lobby rooms and being active in the media. Repeatedly, Tebbit has tried to bring Thatcher and her supporters on side. There is so much to which they agree upon policy-wise. While a few MPs have come over to the government’s side, the majority have not. These are Thatcher loyalists who will not give unconditional support to the government because they believe she was right and Tebbit has betrayed her legacy in what he has done with the country. Inspired by her, they blame the economic disaster which is the national economy, and thus all the resulting problems from that, on Tebbit failing to follow Thatcher’s economic direction. He will not budge on that – the appointment of Lawson to replace Howe has been dismissed as a stunt – and so they will continue to be at odds with the government. Among the Awkward Squad is Nicholas Ridley. A junior minister under Thatcher at first the Foreign Office and then the Treasury, Ridley was a rising star before choosing to cut short his government career and join with self-described exiles on the backbenches when Tebbit took over in Downing Street. Several articles for media publications have been written by Ridley criticising the government’s direction and these have made an impact. Other Conservatives who don’t necessarily agree with the Awkward Squad on all that it stands for have conceded that Ridley’s remarks on particular points have been apt. Between the incident at the Maze prison and the Americans invading Grenada, The Daily Telegraph prints one of Ridley’s pieces on its letters page. This isn’t an attack on government policy but concerning something else.
In that letter, Ridley talks of ‘the enemy within’. The nation is under attack by problems caused from those who seek to tear it apart. Supported by foreign interests whether they are aware of that or not, Ridley argues that there is a fifth column at work within Britain. These people are against all that decent people hold in esteem, these being the pillars upon which the nation is founded upon: parliamentary democracy, law & order and freedom. Ridley points to the presence among rioters within the inner cities of outside troublemakers who attack and murder the police. He highlights the infiltration of political parties and the attempts at subversion of the democratic process by radicals hell-bent on bringing everything down. Ridley pinpoints a recent example of the enemy within. His letter in The Daily Telegraph runs a few days after violence erupted in London during an otherwise peaceful protest by the CND. They had a large gathering of supporters, hundreds of thousands of them, maybe half a million, in the middle of the capital yet on the fringes there were outbreaks of violence. Police officers on public order tasks – not deployed to meet trouble – were attacked and passerbys molested when violent disorder moved to Park Lane outside Hyde Park. Windows were smashed, cars set on fire and expensive premises looted. These people attached themselves to the CND event and caused much trouble. Ridley states that they had little interest in the cause which the peaceful protesters were marching for but instead were present just to make trouble. These people are the enemy and they have been hiding within.
Two weeks later, there is another CND march. This one is outside of London and instead in the Berkshire town of Newbury. CND has hastily put together a gathering of supporters to protest against the imminent arrival of the first deployment of Cruise to Britain starting at RAF Greenham Common. A leak from out of Whitehall concerning their incoming arrival on flights from the United States has seen the CND organisation’s leadership act fast to put together a big presence. They aren’t expecting the same numbers as their recent event in London achieved, nothing like them in fact, but there is still a desire to make the biggest effort possible. Leadership of CND is split between Bruce Kent and Joan Ruddock. The former is a priest who has been prominent at the forefront of CND for some time now as has the position of General Secretary; the latter is a young progressive (some say communist) activist holding the post of Chairwoman. That Second Wave that the CND is having in terms of support has taken place with Ruddock in the more powerful position of Chair. It has come with much what Kent believes is entryism into the movement though from outsiders (as highlighted by that Ridley piece) who don’t share the long-established values that he champions. Ruddock’s argument is that the CND has always had subsets – Christian CND, Labour CND, Scottish CND etc. – and different views within the organisation are welcome: theirs is a democratic movement. It is those newcomers to CND who turn out too on the marches with ever-growing numbers. Entryism in an organised manner to subvert CND for other political ends is denied by Ruddock and she welcomes all those supporters. Despite this disagreement between the top two figures, they’ve worked together to make the Newbury event as big as it can be. A ‘welcome’ will be given to those missiles that Reagan has sent to Britain and Tebbit has allowed to come. The deployment is a threat to the world and the CND will show just how many Britons oppose them.
The CND event is held on Saturday the 12th of November with marchers gathering inside Newbury. The plan is for them to go down the road to Greenham Common to where the women’s peace camp is. No intent is there present to enter the airbase or do anything illegal but make a peaceful protest as per their legal right to do so. Trains on the Great Western Railway out of London Paddington are full and there are many cars on the M-4 motorway coming from the east & west. More participants than anyone expected head to Newbury on a day with fine weather (for this time of year anyway) to join in opposition to what many regard as America taking the world on a course towards nuclear war by bringing Cruise here to the English countryside.
In the middle of November 1983, Tebbit is involved in the Able Archer 83 NATO war games. Only in later years will the significance of the Soviet overreaction to Able Archer 83 become apparent when it comes to the participation of leaders such as himself in mock nuclear war preparations: no one is aware at the time of the paranoia in Moscow. Busy with that duty, Tebbit is made aware late in the week concerning the CND march towards Greenham Common. Briefed on the matter from Whitelaw, Tebbit is concerned – as his Home Secretary is too – that the event will be the scene of significant unrest. What has recently been seen on Park Lane isn’t wished to be repeated out in Berkshire. The Prime Minister instructs Whitelaw to make sure that there is a strong police presence in the Newbury area to avoid that. The rule of law must be upheld! He leaves the details up to Whitelaw and returns to playing his role in that exercise. Despite the recent fall-out with the Americans over Grenada, Tebbit remains committed to the NATO alliance and showing allies that Britain retains her position as a global power is on his mind. Whitelaw is trusted to be able to handle things. The Home Secretary follows his instructions and makes sure that the CND march will be policed better than the Hyde Park one was. Police forces from across the country are ordered to aid Thames Valley Police as per standing national arrangements. This has been done before in relation to industrial disputes with strikers on pickets and inner-city violence. The police are better equipped to deal with violence than they have previously been too with riot shields and updated tactics. Selective Parliamentary criticism has come where it is said that there has been a ‘militarisation’ of the police yet the ability to counter unrest has continued unabated in spite of that.
A perfect storm comes about on November 12th leading to what is afterwards deemed ‘the Battle of Greenham Common’.
The vast majority of those who gather in Newbury and march up towards the airbase where the Americans are deploying Cruise for the first time are ordinary, peaceful civilians. There are men, women and children present with march stewards deployed by CND to keep order. CND can’t control all those who have made the journey out to Berkshire though. The Enemy Within, as Ridley calls them, turn out in number. They cause disruption inside Newbury and during the walk up to Greenham Common. Arrests are made against those throwing stones and attacking property yet many more of the troublemakers disperse back into the cover of the crowds. There are close to two hundred thousand in Berkshire today, once again far more than anyone expected to be here. The afternoon goes on and there is more of that trouble as the march reaches the edge of Greenham Common. Inside the facility, there are both American and British military forces though none of them are involved in what happens next. The throwing of projectiles and physical assaults upon police officers starts again. A lot of people are involved in this with a large group of those throwing glass bottles and stones in one place. When fireworks are also used as weapons, the order to put an end to this comes. Mounted police officers are sent towards them to bring this coordinated attack to an end. Police horses charge forward. Those they seek to break up flee though with many of them immediately running towards groups of marchers not involved in this. This happens every quickly and, in the confusion, abetted by a firework exploding among them to cause panic, many of those police horses end up among the innocents. Several people are trampled underfoot below the mounted police. In another section of the mass crowds, that police charge is seen by those watching as an unwarranted attack and a reaction is made. Projectiles are sent towards the police lines again and this time riot police move forward. Other people try to get out of the way as the police come forward yet are unable to. Police batons strike those who it appears in the confusion are deliberately standing in the way after being instructed to disperse. As before, innocents are caught up in this rather than those the police are trying to go after. They will be the casualties of the Battle of Greenham Common.
News crews and reporters are covering the CND march on Greenham Common. There is camera footage from here, photographs and witness reports which will fill the media for many days afterwards. The official position of Thames Valley Police, which is put out in a statement, and one supported by Tebbit’s government, is that the police were attacked during disorder and reacted accordingly. It is initially said that those severely injured were all rioters. It is fast understood that most of those hurt weren’t criminals. Moreover, both of the two people who will later die in hospital can’t be said to be rioters either. A young mother and her four year-old son are both trampled by a police horse and they later die from their injuries. Newspapers ask whether they were rioters? Downing Street will afterwards complain that several news organisations manipulated the reporting of the situation, with video footage especially, to tell a false story. This isn’t something that most people want to believe. To them, it is clear that this was a police riot! Ruddock calls it this in a public statement and her remarks are repeated elsewhere. Even Kent, who is still very uneasy at the type of people who turned out in Berkshire, cannot contradict that assessment. Another attendee who will make serious criticism of the police actions is the Leader of the Opposition. Michael Foot’s Labour Party is beset by many problems going into an election six months away. He is also a long-standing CND member too and had an alarming encounter with one of those police horses which ended up inside the crowd. Foot tears into the government days later in the Commons though without using such inflammatory language as Ruddock does.
There is nationwide outrage across the country in the aftermath, especially once that mother and her child are reported dead. Plenty of Britons believe that the police are out of control. Even those who support the cracking down on disorder, and there are many Britons who have disgust at what has been seen over the past few years, cannot defend the deaths of those clear innocents. This is just not right, this isn’t the Britain which they recognise. Anger will fade over time among many yet the Battle of Greenham Common is regarded as a defining moment (a negative one) of Tebbit’s premiership.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
The government’s term of office ends in May 1984. A general election must be held when that mandate for government runs out. The country will go to the polls to either keep the current government in office or see it replaced with another one. Campaign preparations have been going on for some time though neither of the two main parties vying for office are in a brilliant state as the election approaches.
Foot’s position at the head of Labour has been beset by problems since he won the leadership back in 1980. A staunch left-winger, the aged Foot isn’t one for confrontation. His party is full of that internally though as battles have raged between the centralists and those on the left like he is… and then those even further to the left such as Benn and Militant. The following year witnessed a breakaway party forming from several centralists in the form of those Social Democrats. A couple of dozen MPs departed and the shiny new Social Democrats won media support. Foot has held on in the face of infighting and accusations of entryism made into Labour by the far left in the form of Militant but also Socialist Workers Party activists. Figures such as Benn hold much sway over the heart of the party despite not being in the Shadow Cabinet. Thatcher’s fall gave Labour a boost yet not one which has held strong. Internal and external criticism of his leadership has come aplenty. In March last year, the Bermondsey by-election was lost to the Liberals as a result of the state of affairs which the party is in: to see that seat long considered to be entirely ‘safe’ then lost was a bitter pill for Foot to swallow. There was a backlash there against the turn which the party has taken with those from the far left gaining such an influence. Foot’s detractors say that Labour should be riding high in the opinion polls and getting ready for government but, instead, many voters are turned off by Labour policies adopted due to the power that the far left has within the party. Foot has been trying to keep it all together and present Labour as a party of government.
The Battle of Greenham Common causes quite the strong reaction with regard to Labour’s fortunes. Foot’s presence there that day allows him to witness what he sees as an attack made on CND supporters by Tebbit’s government. His continued criticisms of the police’s actions and his blaming of that on the Home Secretary win him praise… rumours which make it to the newspapers say that his post-Greenham performances made sure that no one mounted a challenge to his leadership as it had been mooted there might have been. He has found himself a cause which many people support: that the government is unfit for office. Holding onto this support is difficult though when the newspapers are full of the activities of troublemakers within the party. There is also the manifesto which Foot will be taking the party into the upcoming general election on the back of. This is not one which he and the leadership have written. The party conference held at Brighton last October saw the adoption into the manifesto – named ‘A New Hope for a New Britain’ – where all motions arrived at during conference voting, no matter what, have formed that manifesto. Foot sees this as internal party democracy. He has committed himself to it though and Labour will fight the election on the back of it. So much of it has been written by the Militant-infiltrated Labour Party Young Socialists and will turn off many potential voters but that manifesto is what Labour will go to the polls behind.
Louder talk has come in recent months within the Conservatives of a possible leadership challenge to Tebbit from his own MPs. No one has made such a move but there have been those rumours that it was considered. Tebbit has stayed where he is though despite events in Berkshire, the economy and all the other problems which the nation is enduring under his premiership. The Conservatives are just as disunified as Labour, yet in their own ways. Staying in power keeps a lid on many of the divisions breaking out into the open. However, there have been arguments that have made it into the newspapers and onto the airwaves though. Opponents of Tebbit’s leadership on the right – those around Thatcher – and his critics of a centralist persuasion too have not always remained silent. They point to the failings of his government by not righting the wrong which is the loss of the Falklands. The dire state of the nation’s finances is another matter along with all of those millions out of work. Much more should be made of Labour’s woes too! As the election approaches, this calms down somewhat. The thought of being out of power and seeing their country led by the socialists, even communists, who are running rings around Foot is more of a concern. The manifesto which the Conservatives will fight the election on is put together and it has a lot of support.
Election strategy is formed by Conservative Central Office are there is planning done as to how to defend where there needs to be defence and where to go on the offensive to win seats in favourable constituencies. The Social Democrats are gaining ground in traditional Conservative seats – the defences will be here – and there are likewise good signs that many Labour seats can be turned blue with the right effort made to go after them. The Conservatives aim to not just keep the majority that Thatcher won for them in the 1979 election but to increase that. Talk is present that an economic turn-around is coming soon with internal messaging being that this should be talked up in the months and then weeks leading up to the election. While outsiders regard the economy as a Conservative weakness, Central Office sees it as something that the party can win the election on as long as the game is played right. Law and order are another strong point with regard to messaging. The hope is that public disgust over Greenham Common will fade and the blame will be put on left-wing troublemakers: those whom the Conservatives can tie to a sign of what will come if the voters should choose Foot over Tebbit. A key message for the election will be ‘look at how terrible Labour is’: something that not everyone agrees with but those who do voice that concern, don’t have the numbers nor influence to rid that from how so much of the election strategy is being built around.
Labour and the Conservatives aren’t the only two political parties in Britain. Only one of them has a shot at forming a government yet smaller parties head into the 1984 general election knowing that they will have a role to play in what comes after the nation has gone to the polls.
The Liberals and the Social Democrats have agreed to form an electoral pact: the Alliance. In by-elections such as Bermondsey, the Social Democrats have stood aside while elsewhere the Liberals have. For the general election, the two parties have agreed to maintain their separate identities but not run against each other following still ongoing consultation on which constituencies each has a better shot at winning. The thinking behind their pact is to maximise the chances at gaining seats. In addition, should a hung Parliament occur where neither Labour nor the Conservatives gain a majority, then they will have real influence in that as well. David Steel leads the Liberals while the Social Democrats are headed by Roy Jenkins. Steel’s Liberals supported Labour under Jim Callaghan before Thatcher won Downing Street. His party is an old one, which a few decades ago would alternate with the Conservatives in forming governments before Labour came along. The Liberals stand for old-fashion liberalism and argue that they represent the sensible middle-ground of British politics. Steel’s pact with the Social Democrats initially met criticism within his party but it has borne fruit and looks likely to continue to do so come this May. Jenkins is one of the ‘gang of four’ who left Labour three years ago. A few of his MPs have won by-elections (as he has done) but the majority are defectors from Labour – and a lone Conservative too, who defected back in 1981 – who departed their former party aghast at the far left political direction that party has taken. The Social Democrats are inspired by how social democratic parties on the Continent function. Centralism, grown-up politics is how Jenkins wishes for Britain to have with the Social Democrats at the very heart of that. His MPs aren’t always with him on every decision though, especially his deputy David Owen. Support for Tebbit taking on the trade unions has come from Social Democrats MPs when the official party position has been to oppose that. The idea of the Alliance isn’t seen as the best solution too. The majority of those MPs who defected from Labour are going to stand again in the same constituencies in the upcoming election with internal party fears being that many of them might lose. Better reports are coming from elsewhere, in traditional Conservative seats, that candidates in them for the Social Democrats have much promise. On-the-ground activists and party members are more for Owen than Jenkins. So much of this is patched over as the election approaches though. The Social Democrats aim to use the benefits of the Alliance to win big in May. Polling suggests huge support which, while unfortunately spread out rather than concentrated in key areas, is only good news for the Social Democrats.
Nationalists in Scotland and Wales are preparing for the election. The Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru have representation in Parliament already and hope to build on that if they can. Difficulties are many for them though and any seat increases look marginal. Public mood in their home countries isn’t for either of them to win any more than a token number of seats. Things are different in Ulster with the mainland parties not contesting seats in Northern Ireland. The biggest party is the Ulster Unionist Party and when, like the Liberals, they gave support to Callaghan’s Labour in the late-Seventies, of the many concession wrung out were for there to be an increase in seats inside Ulster. For this general election, rather than twelve, there will be elections for seventeen seats. The Ulster Unionists are intending to take all of those new ones alongside the many they hold. The Democratic Unionist Party, as well as other smaller unionist ones, will challenge them on the Protestant side of Ulster’s sectarian divide for them though. There are two large nationalist parties in Ulster: the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP: which has an unofficial alliance with Labour on the mainland) and Sinn Fein. The increase in seats is one factor behind each of them aiming to make gains in the election while another is what is being portrayed as ‘Tebbit’s war on Catholics’. The latter party are behind this propaganda campaign yet the SDLP don’t have their hands clean with regards to the message being put out that London isn’t just in a conflict against the IRA / INLA but support for Loyalist terror groups too. All six parliamentary parties contesting seats outside of England head towards the election looking for what victories they can win in these troubling times.
Early in 1984, Argentina is back at war again. An attack is made against Chile with Marshal Galtieri sending Argentine military forces into action at the very bottom of the South American continent. It is an unprovoked strike, one which takes Chile by complete surprise in its daring. A long-standing dispute over islands at the entrance to the Beagle Channel – a sheltered passage for shipping linking the Atlantic to the Pacific – is supposed to have been settled some time ago. Mass demonstrations within Argentina against Galtieri and the continuing rule of his oppressive junta call for another ‘successful’ foreign adventure though. Chile is an enemy for seemingly all Argentinians and Galtieri believes this will unite his countrymen against them rather than towards him. It worked before… yet not this time. The Argentine people don’t do as expected and the Chileans will not cooperate either with the plans of Galtieri. Fighting back, Chilean air & naval forces inflict defeat after defeat upon the Argentines as well as supporting a ground attack into the Argentine half of Tierra del Fuego. The airbase at Rio Grande from where those Super Étendards carrying Exocets flew back in May 1982 is taken by the Chileans. A long, full-scale war between the two countries looks likely to occur. Chile has the upper hand but it might not always stay that way with Argentina getting ready to make a cross-border move at several points through the Andes to march on Santiago. Protests against Galtieri grow and the defeat inflicted in Tierra del Fuego becomes known about among most Argentines. The junta totters on the brink of collapse. Foreign interference comes too. The Americans work with other South American nations to try to bring an end to the fighting and Chile is keen to see this happen. They have defended their own territory – those small islands below Tierra del Fuego, plus Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams elsewhere – and now hold Argentine soil: to see an end to the fighting will mean that they will emerge the winners. The United States is rebuffed by Galtieri but not by other generals: everyone agrees that if Galtieri go, that doesn’t mean that the left-wing opposition has to take power. Deposed in a palace coup, the First Marshal of the Empire is out of office and sent into enforced retirement. The Chileans, eager to end this, especially following an air raid on Santiago which causes many deaths during the time Galtieri is near to bring brought down, agree to take part in an American-arranged ceasefire following Argentine accession too.
That fighting goes on for five weeks between February and March. During that time, Britons take notice. Calls are made for the country to get involved in the conflict and to side with Chile so that the Falklands can be liberated from their long occupation at the hands of the Argentines. Nearly a third of the pre-war population has left the islands, to be replaced by ‘settlers’ including a huge garrison, but there remain Britons there and Argentina is on the back foot under Chilean military attacks. Tebbit’s Cabinet discusses it. There has been military spending since the Falklands and proposals are made to see if a second Task Force can be put together. Two aircraft carriers are in Royal Navy service with upgraded Sea Harriers as well as a helicopter-based AWACS system; there has also been much work done with ship-based missile defences. Yet, Argentina has re-armed as well following the end of sanctions. A real fight would be on the cards. The Americans put an end to such ideas. They throw everything at ending the Argentine-Chilean conflict and Foreign Secretary Joseph, who has already met with General Pinochet in secret to open talks on possible cooperation, is told in no uncertain terms that the United States will not support any British attack against the Malvinas. This humiliation is in some ways rendered moot by the end of the fighting but by then there has been a lot of talk in Britain about doing this. The government is criticised on one hand for ‘missing a chance’ (there wasn’t much of one to be honest) and also for preparing to reignite a conflict that could have seen hundreds more British deaths once again.
The same day that that conflict ends, there is a double murder in Cheshire. Two police officers on patrol are shot at close range outside the usually quiet town of Macclesfield. They are discovered in the early hours by a local woman out walking her dog who stumbles upon this unsettling scene. Cheshire Constabulary can find no motive for their murder nor have any suspects. They follow every fleeting lead yet come up empty every time. Many theories are floated around from the officers stumbling upon their killer or killers about to commit a crime to a targeted attack made by someone whom either of them might have arrested in the past. It is admitted that they might have just been unlucky though, that someone was out to kill policemen and these two were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A pistol is discovered a week later in a roadside ditch several miles off. Forensic tests show that it is the weapon which was used to commit the murder but there are no fingerprints to use. This weapon was reported stolen in a robbery from a home in Warrington (a local man has a license for it) in February but that is where the trail goes cold. That theory of a targeted yet still random attack is one which Cheshire Constabulary stick with. They do believe that someone murdered their policemen just because of the job which they did and the uniform which they wore. There is believed to be unknown person, or persons maybe, still wandering around with an intent to kill uniformed public servants with ultimate motives behind that yet to be understood with the fear that this isn’t criminal but instead, it is about politics. On March 21st, an explosion goes off late in the day at a military base in Herefordshire. Bradbury Lines, outside Hereford and home to the SAS, is attacked by the INLA using a ‘proxy bomb’. A civilian security guard employed by the MOD leaves home that evening to go into work with masked, armed men back at his property pointing guns at his wife and son. There is an explosive device hidden within his car and he is told to drive it into work or his family will be killed. When the explosion occurs, it is only a partial detonation: faulty wiring saves the security guard’s life and those of personnel at Bradbury Lines. When police officers arrive at his home after being told by the distraught security guard of his fears for his family, they are found tied up but alive. While those missing hostage-takers and would-be bombers were disguised and have gone, the wife tells the police, and later MI-5 investigators as well, that she is certain that one of them, and maybe a second, weren’t Irish. The others were, but there were people in her house putting on a fake Irish accent: they sounded Northern to her and she’s certain they were young English people in her home threatening to murder her fourteen year-old son.
The INLA and Red Action have just committed their second ‘joint action’ in three weeks.
On April 6th, Parliament is formally dissolved ahead of the election four weeks away. This marks a start to official campaigning though that has been taking place unofficially for some time now. The very next day, on a rainy Saturday in Central London, a huge gathering of people assembles. With the support of Livingstone’s Greater London Council to allow for it to happen with necessary permission, the People’s March For Jobs takes place. Hundreds of thousands of attendees participate in several coordinated marches through the middle of the city leading to a final gathering at Trafalgar Square. They are demanding jobs for them and others. In addition, banners carried by participants call for action on other matters such as a cessation of the deployment of Cruise into Britain, withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland and an end to inequality & injustice. When the marches have brought everyone together, speeches are made by various leading figures to restate these aims.
Those behind the organisation of this event belong to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). While the SWP stand candidates for elections, they are not a Parliamentary force. Instead, this is a protest movement and one which is often able to successfully put together ‘fronts’: temporary alliances of political interests standing under a banner of unity. The People’s March For Jobs is something long in the making. The small but active SWP have been helping to bring people out for last year’s CND events and they have also organised other events too. This is their biggest success yet. A steering committee, made up for all sorts of political figures, is the official behind-the-scenes set up for this front yet the SWP have their people where they need to be to control it. Deals have been struck between what would normally be political foes – the SWP isn’t especially close to Livingstone; he prefers the tiny yet loud Worker’s Revolutionary Party – to make all of this work: the GLC’s leader will be one of the speakers where Livingstone will demand that the GLC not be abolished as the Conservative’s manifesto calls for. The interests of the SWP are served by the People’s March For Jobs. They have volunteers on-hand to give out banners and provide stewards to keep the marches following the agreed route. A huge showing of opposition from the ordinary people towards the government is the goal for the SWP with this event and they believe they have that with the weight of numbers. Throughout the day, the numbers of marchers continue to grow. The attendance figures easily pass half a million with all sorts of people, from varied backgrounds and from across the country, having travelled to London today to take part in this peaceful protest. However, it will be another mass gathering of opposition to the government marred by violence.
Late in the day, towards the end of those impassioned speeches undertaken by keynote speakers, there is trouble just away from Trafalgar Square. Over on Haymarket – along the route for one of the marches between Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square – riot police serving with the Met.’s Special Patrol Group are sent in to stop criminal damage being done to commercial properties there by troublemakers who have attached themselves to the protest. Special Patrol Group detachments were in Newbury last November when Thames Valley Police was supported by the Metropolitan Police and it was they who were at the forefront of that so-called ‘police riot’ there. Supported by mounted officers on horseback, riot police engage those committing violent actions. A series of shots ring out. Two officers and a horse are hit. Panic ensures as people flee in several directions and there are casualties caused by a stampede. Camera footage is plentiful of this. As to those shot, one of the policemen dies and the other will be in hospital for some time; that police horse will need to be euthanised too. No one knows who is responsible for this with the gunman, or gunmen maybe, being unidentified. Overspill towards Trafalgar Square from the Haymarket shootings occurs with people fleeing in that direction and riot police following. Actions undertaken by Special Patrol Group officers using their batons against protesters is caught on camera down Pall Mall and through to Charing Cross. More police officers then disperse large sections of the gathered crowd. There are injuries but thankfully no more deaths. Still, many observers will regard this as yet another unwarranted attack on innocents by the police, at government direction, to silence their demands.
As polling day moves closer throughout April, disputes between the political parties vying for office take place. While campaigning for their own election, politicians and their parties attack others as well. The Labour Party is behind a story run on the front pages of The Daily Mirror (a Labour supporting newspaper) where there are claims that a ‘private army’ has been formed with the name of GB84. Allegedly, GB84 has the backing of the government and the security services with plans to commit ‘extra-Parliamentary acts of disruption’ should Labour win the election. Moreover, it is hinted in a piece in The Daily Mirror that GB84 has already struck with them being responsible for the shootings on Haymarket as part of a ruse de guerre to blame Britain’s left for violence. Downing Street denies this and so too do several Conservative MPs running for re-election who are named as supporters. It is said that this is a dirty trick, one which Labour declares that the Conservatives have done to them when The Sun (who have endorsed the Tebbit) runs a frontpage piece called ‘Benn on the couch’. This concerns Tony Benn where an American psychiatrist analyses the Labour MP from afar. It is a smear complete with allegations of planned actions by Benn should Labour win: he will apparently do what Livingstone done with the GLC to take over the party leadership the day following the general election in what The Sun says will be a coup d’état. Ties between Benn and Militant, plus Scargill’s NUM, are highlighted along with suggested links to him and the SWP’s actions in seeing (smaller) street protests post April 7th. Benn and Labour deny this with the MP himself stating that he doesn’t support any move to change government policy via violence in the streets… leading to a backlash against him from many of those involved in those protests who had believed he was on their side. Benn is a self-described democratic socialist and he supports democracy, not all that unrest and claims of refusal to follow the legitimate outcome of what the voters decide.
The fear of a Benn-led government following a Labour victory is something that the Conservatives use elsewhere in their attacks either directly or through proxies such as that newspaper. Benn isn’t even in the Shadow Cabinet but he is the face of Labour’s manifesto for many Britons. Labour can criticise Tebbit as much as they want, with good responses, but more voters are alarmed at the possibility of Benn in Downing Street than they are of Tebbit staying there. The Social Democrats follow the Conservatives lead here with Benn being something projected to be a ‘vote-winner’ for them too. Late in the campaign, they play up the possibility of a Benn government as well with the knowledge that many voters will vote for them in constituencies where the Conservatives are weak against Labour to stop Foot from gaining power and being removed from the leadership in this hypothetical scenario that the newspapers are talking up. Labour focuses on its manifesto, especially the domestic portions of it concerning the social change that it promises to bring to many people. Foot is out campaigning though with his age and frailty showing, Shadow Cabinet members take on more and more of that as the weeks go by. Benn himself is fighting hard to stay in Parliament following the redrawing of constituencies for this election making that a real challenge. He stays in Bristol East fighting off strong efforts from both the Conservatives and Liberals to unseat him. Yet, at the same time, Conservative-supporting newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times both run articles during the campaign criticising Tebbit for putting Britain in a situation where Benn and the far left – Marxists and Trots! – are as close as they are to gaining power. They say his tinkering with the economy has brought about a depression, not a recession as the Prime Minister says, where there is now the chance that Labour is close to power. Foot is derided as the worst leader that Labour has ever had yet opinion pieces in each newspaper then pose the question that if he is that bad, and is ahead of Tebbit in many polls, then just how bad must Tebbit be?
That manifesto which Labour are running on is a long document. A New Hope for a New Britain contains those domestic pledges for the policies which Labour will enact should they win power – one of the most controversial being a referendum on the fate of the monarchy – yet there are many other components concerning foreign policy. So much of this is decried by the Conservatives, and the many newspapers which support Tebbit’s leadership (with misgivings though), as more of the ‘loony left’ as personified by the politics of Benn and Livingstone. It calls for a British withdrawal of international organisations such as NATO and the EEC too. Unilateral nuclear disarmament, ending the Cruise deployment by the Americans as well as closing all United States military bases in Britain, ceasing military deployments in Ulster (at once) & West Germany (gradually) and also granting independence to all remaining ‘colonies’ such as Bermuda, the Caribbean islands & Gibraltar have all likewise been put in that manifesto as demanded by the party conference last October. This is all attack material for Labour’s opponents to make use of with claims that it is entirely irresponsible with every hairbrained idea put in it by young socialists and Trots who’ve infiltrated Labour. In reply, the Conservative’s record in government and their manifesto comes under fire from the opposition parties. Defeat in the Falklands, claims that America has made a puppet of Britain in foreign policy terms and fears that Tebbit is exposing Britain to nuclear war with Cruise are how those counterattacks are made. On the domestic front, the utter dire state of the national economy and the mass unemployment has all happened under the Conservatives. The terrible situation in Ulster and Tebbit’s plans on media restrictions have to be defended by senior Conservative figures and they struggle in that just as senior Labour people do with regard to their own party’s foreign affairs commitments. Tebbit wants to talk about getting people into work, more privatisation and law-&-order but this is a struggle in the face of everything else going on.
The countdown to May 3rd enters the final week. Polling numbers reaching the media and secret internal party ones cause celebration and alarm in equal measure. The numbers are all over the place. Smiles turn to frowns with each new one arriving. Millions of Britons have yet to make up their minds on who they will vote for. Underhand measures are used by the Conservatives to get seemingly positive economic news out to the public despite election rules banning what can and cannot be said during the period of purdah. Labour campaigners are accused – but not caught – of handing out leaflets containing lies about opposition candidates in certain constituencies where things are remarkably close. The SWP puts together another People’s March For Jobs event with this one held in Manchester. It is far smaller than the recent London one and, thankfully, doesn’t see any violence to it. The Conservatives and the Alliance both complain that the SWP are acting as a front for Labour here with speakers at the post-march gatherings stating that they will do everything they can to make sure Labour keeps to its promises on jobs & the economy once they are elected. One newspaper makes a claim that in the event of a Labour victory, to save Britain from communism, there will be troops on the streets with the British Army taking over; another newspaper says the Americans will invade! There is a shooting incident between the British Army and the IRA in South Armagh on the last day of campaigning with a trio of dead IRA gunmen the result of that encounter. In addition, on that same day but in something which doesn’t make the news, Kent Constabulary arrest a pair of young men in Maidstone: they are held on terrorism offenses after guns are found in their rented property yet neither of these two are Irish. They are members of an underground cell who refuse to talk to the police when detained to give any explanation either as to where they got those guns or what they planned to do with them.
To the polls go British voters on May 3rd. Campaigning ceased at midnight and today is all about getting out the vote before then waiting for the election results to come. That they begin to do starting much later that night and into the early hours of Friday morning.
The results and thus the outcome aren’t what anyone has predicted will be seen once the night is over with.
Once the final results from the six hundred and fifty constituencies are in, the final tallies can be seen for what it all means. Tebbit’s Conservatives have won two hundred and ninety-eight seats (down 41), just ahead of Labour under Foot taking two hundred and ninety (up 21). The Alliance has managed to have forty MPs elected – twenty-one Liberals and nineteen representing the Social Democrats – but they have won many votes that have been effectively wasted with them not being concentrated enough to turn those into more seats. The Scottish National Party has three MPs and Plaid Cymru has another two. Across in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists have won eleven seats but the Democratic Unionists have underperformed in taking only two: the Ulster Popular Unionist Party (UPUP, in many ways a one-man show) has won another seat. For the nationalists, the SDLP has achieved victory in two seats while Sinn Fein has gained one. That victory for the latter has come at a time of internal disputes between the party’s politicians and the IRA leadership yet the voters have – narrowly – allowed the party to win representation even when the party maintains an abstention policy.
Britons have spoken. In that, their voting sees a Hung Parliament as the result. No party has a majority and either the Conservatives or Labour will have to work with others to form a government.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
That was all very interesting and enjoyable, until the last paragraph. With a climate of opinion like that, with a hard-left Labour Party (which was itself divided between the leadership and the far-left insurgents, and the manifesto written by infiltrators at the conference) and ongoing rioting and civil strife, there would have been a Conservative landslide. Loads of ordinary Labour supporters would have switched to the SDP in order to stop a lefty apocalypse, or directly to Conservative. Labour having a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on the monarchy would have lots loads of votes. When there is rioting an police violence, ordinary people blame the lefties even when the police are out of control.
I was expecting it to end with the Alliance getting loads more votes than Labour, but still only a few dozen seats, and an even bigger Conservative landslide than the real one in 1983. No way would a Michael Foot Labour Party have been able to get 290 seats in those circumstances.
Labour governments are always voted in by empty minds, and voted out by empty pockets
That was all very interesting and enjoyable, until the last paragraph. With a climate of opinion like that, with a hard-left Labour Party (which was itself divided between the leadership and the far-left insurgents, and the manifesto written by infiltrators at the conference) and ongoing rioting and civil strife, there would have been a Conservative landslide. Loads of ordinary Labour supporters would have switched to the SDP in order to stop a lefty apocalypse, or directly to Conservative. Labour having a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on the monarchy would have lots loads of votes. When there is rioting an police violence, ordinary people blame the lefties even when the police are out of control.
I was expecting it to end with the Alliance getting loads more votes than Labour, but still only a few dozen seats, and an even bigger Conservative landslide than the real one in 1983. No way would a Michael Foot Labour Party have been able to get 290 seats in those circumstances.
That's the halfway point of the story. Despite previous comments, it isn't a civil war UK tale but one of politics. My thinking there differs on how you have the outcome of the election. There is a very good chance I am wrong: I was a toddler at the time and the political landscape is something I can only look back on and speculate. In the time since I wrote it a year ago, I have considered upping the Alliance seat share but, alas, have not. They'll grow though. I'll try to post the rest of the story later.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
Tebbit’s Conservatives have ‘won the election’. Such is the message which comes from Downing Street sources to the public via the media in the aftermath of the final set of results coming in and the seat tallies being totalled. There is no majority which the Conservatives had gained though, but a plurality. That isn’t enough for Tebbit to be able to create a government though it does give the Conservatives the right to be the first to try and form one. Through the Friday after polling day, aided by civil servants trying to stay apolitical yet dealing with party politics, Tebbit retains his post as Prime Minister while efforts are underway for him to remain in such a role for good. Brittan and Lawson head up the Conservative’s negotiating team as they make contact with the two parties of the Alliance, as well as the Ulster Unionists too, in an effort to form a government. Up for discussion is the possibility of other parties joining the Conservatives in a coalition or, providing supply-and-confidence (voting for money bills and against any motion in the Commons of no confidence) to Tebbit staying in Downing Street. The Environment Secretary and the Chancellor get nowhere though. While the Ulster Unionists are open to discussions, to see what they can get, with their numbers there isn’t enough to keep Tebbit in Downing Street. As to the Liberals and the Social Democrats, they will not back Tebbit remaining in post. Though not directly asked, the leadership of each of the two Alliance parties make it clear that they will not give support to any other hypothetical Conservative leader at this time either. The rebuff is evident: they aren’t open to seeing the Conservatives stay in office. Their explanations are short though the reason is made clear. Tebbit and his party are responsible for the dire situation that the country is in and therefore there can be no way that the Alliance parties will do business with them.
The Alliance is already talking to Labour. Meetings are held that lunchtime. Steel and Jenkins send Cyril Smith and David Owen on behalf of their parties respectively and they meet with Denis Healey and Roy Hattersley: two men serving as Labour’s deputy and shadow home secretary. Fruitful outcomes are arrived at within this initial contact. The Alliance are open to providing confidence-and-supply to a Labour government. They have conditions though and those concern a refusal to go along with all that is in the Labour manifesto. Owen is firm on this when talking with Hattersley but Smith also makes it clear too that the Liberal Party will never vote for many of those policies should they come before the Commons. Both the Liberals and the Social Democrats oppose so much of that manifesto! Their leaders and those on their negotiating teams are also thinking about what will come next: they foresee another general election soon, probably later this year, and are affirming their stances for when that comes around. Nothing is yet agreed though. Tebbit stays where he is and there is yet to be any official deal done to see him replaced. Further meetings are due with negotiators going back to their leaders for consultations ahead of formal talks tomorrow. Tebbit is busy in the meantime. Being rebuffed so forcefully at once doesn’t faze him. He is convinced that the Alliance will not work with the far left dominated Labour, especially not the Social Democrats who only a few years ago broke away from Labour because of that. There is a serious economic issue going on though which distracts him and also Lawson too. A run on the Pound is ongoing while there is also a significant capital flight underway. International markets and domestic investors are fearful that Labour are soon to take power. They are acting in panic ahead of that. Major financial damage is done within the space of a few hours while there is political paralysis in Britain.
In Cabinet Office meetings starting early on the Saturday morning, a deal is thrashed out between Labour and the Alliance. Tebbit is just along the road up in 10 Downing Street but he has zero input in what is going on where the Liberals and the Social Democrats agree to support Foot in forming a government. The Prime Minister finds out after the fact that the Ulster Unionists had one of their senior MPs, Harold McCusker, in the Cabinet Office too. While not involved in the deal, the Ulster Unionists know what is going on and have received many assurances from the others present on matters concerning Northern Ireland. The Conservatives have been cut out of everything. Tebbit is informed at midday that a final agreement has been made. The Alliance will back a Labour government – with many, many conditions – and Foot has enough support to be take on the position of Prime Minister. Lawson and Whitelaw tell him this and strongly suggest to Tebbit that he should resign. The Queen is in London and they believe that he should go and see her.
A final attempt is made by the soon-to-be former Prime Minister to stay in power. He places calls to Steel and Jenkins, warning them of the danger to the nation of letting Labour in. They each politely decline his request to reconsider. Tebbit is told by the two of them that the best thing he can do, so as to keep his reputation, is to accept the inevitable and give up. Still, Tebbit stays where he is as the day gets later with the Prime Minister having a crack at trying a different route by securing individual support from members of the Liberals and the Social Democrats rather than talking to their party leaders. There is contact made with Owen and Tebbit’s hopes are raised but the Social Democrats’ deputy will not go against his party… and he can in no way guarantee that many of his fellow MPs, so many of them new in Parliament and not former Labour ones who left because of the madness in their former party, will follow him. By the time Tebbit’s round of phone calls ends, it is night-time. The Prime Minister will sleep in Downing Street once again: he’s still here and refusing to budge.
The Queen goes to church on Sunday morning yet remains in London at Buckingham Palace. Tebbit wants to put off a meeting with her until Monday: it is Sunday after all. Alas, that isn’t to be. Advisors to the monarch inform her that there is a new government ready to be formed and Tebbit should no longer stay in-place. This is already making the Queen look bad. The Prime Minister is called by officials and asked whether he needs to see the Queen today… they are indirectly calling him over to the Palace. He knows now that the game is up. He isn’t told directly to come to see the Queen and resign, but that is what this means. Cabinet members and party grandees tell him to do the decent thing: ex-PM Ted Heath is one of those imploring him to give in. Eventually, at four p.m., a car takes Tebbit to Buckingham Palace where he does the honourable thing and resigns from the position he has held for the last two years.
Michael Foot, seventy years old, a committed and passionate left-winger, is Britain’s new Prime Minister. The Queen calls for him to come and see her later that evening. He has been in London since Friday morning, at Labour Party HQ on Walworth Road in Southwark, surrounded by party figures and supporters. There has been much impatience but now the time has come. Talk had been that it might have been Monday before Tebbit left Downing Street at there was a lot of fury at such an idea. He’s gone though and taking the short drive to Buckingham Palace next is Foot. When seeing his monarch, Foot is asked to and subsequently agrees to forming a government in the Queen’s name. It isn’t mentioned by either of them that a much-publicised part of the manifesto that Labour have been elected upon calls for a national referendum to abolish the monarchy. That’s left unsaid, along with many things too including the fact that Labour’s leader has had to wait as long as he had when it has been clear for some time that only he could form that government.
Ahead of this, Foot hasn’t been the only one impatient at the delay for Tebbit to go. Pre-arranged several weeks ago, and still allowed to take place despite the violent events of April 7th, during May 5th (the Saturday) another People’s March For Jobs gathering in the centre of London took place. The organisers – without acknowledging any hubris of theirs – assumed that Labour would win the election in their planning and decided that Foot would need a reminder of their cause. Moreover, the steering committee behind this have built a movement and unwilling to give it up at this time. The Socialist Workers Party people and those others are wanting to keep going, to not let all of this dissipate. Many people showed up, plenty of them celebrating the sure end of Tebbit’s premiership. They protested though at him staying for the time that he did. Riot police and mounted officers on horseback spent the day and night waiting for further outbreaks of violence but they didn’t see them. There were just the chants for Tebbit to go, and to go now. Now he has and those who’ve been out on the streets expect that after Labour has ‘won’ the election, they will keep their promises.
Britain is under new leadership.
The next morning, Foot addresses the nation as its Prime Minister. He promises a sea-change in society. Hope is the message which Labour has won power on and Foot says that Labour will now deliver. While the text of the speech when later read by those who don’t hear it comes across well, the actual delivery doesn’t sound too great. Many Britons already have an impression of Foot – good, bad or indifferent – but those who don’t, have one now. It isn’t one that makes them think that this man is eager to lead the country nor can inspire anyone. There are many newspaper articles today concerning the outcome of the election. The Conservative’s failure, Labour’s victory and the future for the country are all discussed in print just as they are on the airwaves too. Three particular pieces, one in The Guardian, another in The Daily Express & the third in The Sun, are of note. Owen’s comments made to a Guardian journalist and what Smith has to say to in the Express will inflame those on the country’s left. Each practically boast of the role that their parties will play in limiting Labour’s ability to carry out its manifesto commitments, especially the ‘mad ones’ according to the Social Democrats’ deputy leader. Leon Brittan talks to the nation’s best-selling tabloid and calls the partnership which has put Foot in power an ‘Alliance of the Losers’. It can’t last, he says the Sun journalist, and the Conservatives will be ready to fight the next election that is certain to come very soon one Parliamentary pressures tear this agreement between Labour, the Liberals & the Social Democrats apart.
Meanwhile, there is further turmoil on the markets. Sterling gets a thrashing at the hands of overseas speculators. Financial assets are being removed from the country too with not just investors pulling their money out where they can but individuals withdrawing contents of savings accounts and even safety deposit boxes from banks. Peter Shore is the new Chancellor and he has a truly terrible first day at the Treasury. Everyone is convinced that Britain is going down the economic blackhole to ruin… and so act in the fashion to actually make that happen less they be the last one standing. Healey is at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He is the new Foreign Secretary (as well as party deputy leader) and his first day at work involves spending seemingly every minute on overseas phone calls with opposite numbers as well as foreign leaders. Allies and friends are in a confused state where they fear the worse in relations with them now that Britain has elected a government regarded as far left. As Shore is, and much of the top-level of the Labour Cabinet, Healey is not someone who agrees with the stated party policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament nor the withdrawal from NATO and the Common Market. Such things were voted for by majorities at the last party conference though, even without the support of those such as the new Foreign Secretary. When those whom he speaks to ask him whether Britain is suddenly about to abandon all of its international commitments, Healey tells them no. That isn’t the case at all. Those policies might have been in the manifesto, but Healey tells those worried overseas that such things will not get through Parliament should the new government put them to a vote.
On Wednesday, the newly-elected forty-ninth Parliament begins to assemble. Oaths of allegiance to the Queen are sworn by MPs: the lone Sinn Fein MP, Gerry Adams from Belfast West, is absent in doing this and thus will not be taking his seat because he will not swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. There are new faces replacing old ones. The election last week threw up some surprises all over the place with unforeseen voting patterns: much of that down to boundary changes for this general election where nine out of every ten seats were either new or modified. The Social Democrats only has half a dozen of the same MPs which it went into the election with after Labour retook so many of their previously-controlled seats back; Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams, with Jenkins & Owen in the ‘gang of four’ back in 1981, have lost their seats. The Social Democrats now has a slew of newbies who won in allegedly ‘safe’ Conservative seats and old divisions don’t necessarily concern them. Nineteen wins and eighty second-places in the many constituencies contested is a good result for the Social Democrats yet it doesn’t fully paper over the internal party issues now apparent. There are a large number of young Labour MPs, so many of them radicals who other Members raise a smile when observing them seemingly bemused by their surroundings. Nine of them are Militant members and several of them are seen with Benn (re-elected after winning the closest of close three-way races in Bristol East)… who hasn’t launched that coup to steal the Labour leadership as pre-election claims said he would. Conservative MPs arrive with frowns and forlorn looks. They have been forced from power and many are still in a daze at the suddenness of it all. Their party won several new seats where the campaign went as planned yet disasters occurred elsewhere and this is the result. The new government is affirmed later in the day when MPs vote in support of it during the Speech From The Throne. The Liberals and the Social Democrats show their support for Foot’s Labour with the SDLP – two members from Northern Ireland – also doing so though without any formal arrangement. When the role of Speaker (the previous Speaker retired ahead of the election) and his three deputies are given out, and the not seated Sinn Fein MP taken into account, it appears to outsiders that the new government has an effective majority of eleven: 328 to 317. However, a closer count sees that one re-elected Conservative is absent today. Ralph ‘Bonner’ Pink, chosen a few days ago to remain representing Portsmouth South in the new Parliament, has died overnight. There will have to be a by-election and ahead of that, Foot has a majority of twelve, fourteen if the unofficial arrangement with the SDLP is counted. That is enough to see him in office, but is he is power?
That is a legitimate question. Foot may hold the role of Prime Minister and should be ultimately responsible for the reins of power but there are many others who are grabbing at them too ready to steer things their way. The new government finds out just how difficult power is to yield. That economic damage done right at the very beginning of Labour being back in office is real. It isn’t something that can be fixed easily. The Bank of England and civil servants make it clear that the ideas banded about by members of the new government, joined by vocal outsiders, will do no good. Their suggestions are the ones which are followed, the decisions of sensible people in this matter of great national importance. Everything is done with respect yet it is fast understood that shouting slogans and following dogma matter for naught where ‘real money’ is concerned.
Before the week is out, the government proposes an emergency budget. It is something worked on ahead of the election by Shore but now with the necessary additions in this time of sudden economic crisis. The Chancellor would like it to proceed at pace and it has support from the Alliance. However, Shore cannot push it through Parliament at enough speed. These things take time and during that, while having slowed down, the attacks on Sterling from overseas and the withdrawal of money out of the UK continue. Into the following week this continues with MPs debating aspects of the bill presented. Political point-scoring is done aplenty though there are those with genuine concerns. Labour cannot keep its MPs on-side with this too. More than a dozen are opposed to Shore’s economic measures on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough, that it isn’t what they want to see. A few Liberal MPs and more than a few from the Social Democrats think it has in fact gone too far and is too overreaching. The Conservatives seek to delay it in their opposition to Foot’s premiership. The government has to throw everything it can at finally, after much delay, getting a vote arranged. Deals have to be cut with opponents on each side to see enough support ahead of a Division in the Commons and then a final vote.
The Summer Recess is some time away. There is much which the new government aims to do during that time. Labour has manifesto commitments which Foot and other senior figures wish to see implemented. There is an understanding that a lot of it will take time with hard battles to come. Therefore, they begin with what they are sure they can get through Parliament. Cabinet members announce bills concerning a nationwide jobs plan, a minimum wage for workers, the reversal of some of the privatisation pushed through by Thatcher & Tebbit, ending the selling off of council housing and new equal rights guarantees. None of these are covered by the Labour-Liberal-SDP agreement that allows for Foot to be in Downing Street: that agreement is for the Alliance to support bills on a case-by-case basis. While they are somewhat controversial, they aren’t as likely to cause as strong reactions as have been seen in response to other items in the Labour manifesto from those who allow for Foot to be in Downing Street. Labour MPs themselves criticise the action taken here though by the government. Benn and Skinner are at the forefront of questioning why Foot will not bring forth the promised rolling back of Tebbit’s trade union legislation and also the commitment to begin the process of dismantling the House of Lords (to replace it with an elected, democratic upper house). Let them dare try and vote such things down, Skinner goads Downing Street… with seemingly everyone else knowing that they will. Prominent Militant-supporting Labour MPs such as Terry Fields, Dave Nellist & Pat Wall demand that the government begin the process of following the manifesto promises on the Lords to start with then the monarchy referendum: there were some shameful scenes in Parliament during the recent State Opening by the Queen. The socialists Eric Heffer & Bob McTaggart bring up American nuclear weapons and the Common Market; newly-elected Jeremy Corbyn joins with Bob Cryer & Martin Flannery is demanding action on the situation in Ulster; Michael Meacher and Reg Race urge for the government to take the police to task for all of their brutality against minority communities and peaceful protesters. Outside of Parliament, the influential Labour Party Young Socialists – they have a real voice within the party due to their large numbers – apply pressure themselves for Foot and the Cabinet to stick to the manifesto which they were elected on. Begin re-nationalising all what has been privatised, they demand, and reverse all the damage done during the Thatcher-Tebbit era just as has been promised to the party and the people while the election campaign was underway.
Outside of the Commons, without needing votes from other parties to act, the government is undertaking what Foot regards as important work. Defence Secretary John Silkin has issued instructions for new rules-of-engagement for soldiers operating in Northern Ireland including putting a firm stop to SAS shoot-to-kill operations. He’s also spoken with the Americans about halting their exercises from out of RAF Greenham Common with Cruise deployments into the countryside. Hattersley is at the Home Office and he has had the country’s senior policemen brought to see him. The Met. Police’s commissioner has been hauled over the coals – so says an off-the-record briefing given to The Daily Mirror – and the Association of Chief Police Officers has been told that the new government will abolish the National Reporting Centre, which has been used by the previous government to intervene in political matters, with haste. These are important tasks which the government has addressed as urgent. There is outrage at this from the Conservatives and parts of the right-wing press… but also from the vocal far left as well. It isn’t enough! Calls for action come from this latter quarter, not talks about doing something! Nukes out, they shout, and abolish the police state too. They’ve thought that the time for their voice to be heard has come yet find that those in Downing Street and in the top posts at the ministries are not doing as they demand. Labour ministers aren’t seen as representing ‘real Labour’: they are establishment figures who activists and the angry young cannot trust. The anger at this is not understood for just how violent the reaction will be down the line.
Foot isn’t one for confrontation. He would like to avoid all of this but does what he has to and talks to critics. Healey, Deputy PM as well as Foreign Secretary, tells him that those MPs aren’t about to join with the Conservative opposition to vote against the government so they can be politely ignored yet the Prime Minister doesn’t follow that advice. His meetings are held in Downing Street and also at Chequers too… more than a few people invited to see him refuse to go to the latter place. Wall, elected in Bradford North, is a revolutionary and will not go to a country mansion reminiscent of the ruling class such as Chequers. Nothing good comes out of any of these at all. The Prime Minister cannot meet the demands of those pushing for what they believe is real change, where the radical agenda that Labour has been elected upon will deliver. They are told that the Parliamentary arithmetic isn’t there for all of that but he wishes to do what he can. Only if the Liberals and the Social Democrats agree can the government act, he reminds them. Without meaning too, the placid Prime Minister seems to infuriate them by his admission of inability: he’s seen as the puppet of others and the victim of an establishment stitch-up. Moreover, Healey and the other ministers in Cabinet have less and less time to listen, too busy getting on with the important business of government.
No one is listening to those on the outside. Ministers talk of responsible government and smug remarks on the television & in the newspapers come from leading members of the Liberals and the Social Democrats, those who boast that they are stopping the insanity feared from taking place. Many of those who want what they are promised begin to look for another outlet to get them what they want.
Tebbit remains as Conservative leader. He isn’t formally challenged by his fellow MPs in the aftermath of the election though there is some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring on that note. Several of his colleagues would like him to resign now that Foot is in Downing Street. No one takes the final step though in going up against him. They look at the situation with Labour in power as they are at the mercy of the Liberals and the Social Democrats. Internal Labour divisions once they have power are there too, something played up by Conservative-supporting newspapers. To Conservative eyes, it looks certain that there will be another general election this year: this echoes the feelings of the same from the Liberals and the Social Democrats. Tebbit tells his MPs that he won them the election and can win once again, this time with a majority once the voters get a taste of the far left. Those who listen don’t want the voters to see Conservative division when all attention of on that going on is with Labour. Stalemate develops in what could have been a Conservative civil war where Tebbit’s supporters, Thatcher’s Awkward Squad & the unaligned moderates all agree to wait this out. The enemy that is the far left Labour will be defeated first before ‘friends’ are turned upon. There is support for a future leader in Heseltine, or maybe either Brittan or Lawson, down the line yet consensus is reached to wait until at least Christmas before any move might be made against Tebbit… if the government lasts that long! The Conservatives are banking on the Alliance of the Losers tearing itself apart before then. The smart money is on this to come with the Social Democrats walking away eventually when they have enough of Labour’s madness. Jenkins forced Owen to break off contact with Tebbit when efforts were made for a Conservative-SDP-Ulster Unionist partnership straight after the election and Owen is known to still be angry at that. He is a young ambitious man, someone who Jenkins only just beat to the party leadership the other year. Should Owen try again, Tebbit and many of his colleagues believe they he will succeed and Labour will be forced from office with the Social Democrats under new leadership.
That vacancy in Parliament with Portsmouth South not having an MP is seen as an opportunity by Tebbit. Bonner Pink died right after winning re-election there in the face of a strong challenge by the Social Democrats against Labour more than him. Without any sense of shame, the Social Democrats have been fast to begin unofficial preparations for a by-election there to add to their tally of seats in the Commons. Due to Parliamentary convention, when an MP dies or resigns, the party which he or she represented is the one to move the writ of election in Parliament. Sometimes this is done with haste, other times not: it depends upon many circumstances and those don’t include the wishes of the voters. The Conservatives do so in mid-May and a by-election is scheduled for four weeks hence. The plan is to tie the local Labour and Social Democrats candidates – the latter specially – to what is going on with Foot’s premiership. Portsmouth is a military town and negative comments made from the several national Labour figures about the armed forces will be made use of as it was to get Pink re-elected on May 3rd. Infighting between those forming the voting block which keeps Foot in power is to be exploited too. Unlike the Alliance between the Liberals and the Social Democrats, Labour will run against the Social Democrats in Portsmouth South. Getting a Conservative MP elected in the vacant seat is an important objective but, more than that, Tebbit wants to see his opponents tear lumps out of each other. He hopes this will damage Jenkins’ leadership of the Social Democrats to a significant, hopefully fatal degree.
Polling day comes around and on June 14th, the Conservatives win. The Social Democrats candidate takes second place some distance back (further than on May 3rd) with Labour pushed into third. Those two spend the entire campaign fighting against each other as well as with proxies from their national parties as well. In public, the Conservatives celebrate ‘cutting the government’s majority’ but in private, they know they have won a far bigger victory. Anti-military statements from far left Labour figures alongside a local backlash against Social Democrats for being in position supporting a government with those people as MPs – something pushed hard by the Conservatives – pays off big: the Alliance of the Losers message helped too. Gossip coming from out of the Social Democrats tells Tebbit that Owen’s camp blame Jenkins for this defeat in what could have been a winnable seat if the Social Democrats wasn’t keeping Labour in power. John Cartwright and James Wellbeloved approach Jenkins and tell him that what has just been seen in Portsmouth South is being felt nationally. Activists and voters (many of the latter traditional Conservative supporters) are up in arms at the Social Democrats supporting a Labour government. Those two MPs think there will be another election soon and the Social Democrats will be massacred at the polls when the public turn on them.
Meanwhile, other internal political squabbles and resultant underhand plots are underway within Labour. The Greater London Council has been saved from abolishment by the general election result. Livingstone has claimed victory for that, taking credit which isn’t his in what is typical shameless fashion from the man. There is a Labour government in office but it isn’t one which he has good relations with on a personal level. The senior people at the top of Labour have criticised GLC actions many times and there is the issue of the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. Hattersley, Healey, and Shore consider the WRP to be violent thugs responsible for Labour failing to win the general election in an outright fashion; to Livingstone, it is those young radicals who’ve been battling fascists & the police (sometimes the same thing), and helped get Tebbit out of Downing Street. Even with the GLC saved from extinction, Livingstone wants more. He is just as unhappy as so many others to see Foot captured by the establishment. Far more savvy that the youngsters who form the ranks of radical protesters, Livingstone understands why Foot cannot do all that is needed. However, he does think that he can do more than he is. He wants to see pressure applied where it is needed to force that.
When the SWP (opponents of the WRP, not friends at all) put together their People’s March For Jobs campaign, their front organisation was joined by Livingstone. The SWP welcomed this with the knowledge that the many faces on the steering committee which had directed things, the better: it confuses the picture for critics of what it is all about. Livingstone has been fast to gain influence though, more than the SWP would have expected even of a deft political operator like him. He has the power and reach to direct the future for the movement during late June, cutting deals with all sorts of people and applying the right sort of pressure. It is suggested by others that the People’s March For Jobs changes into the People’s March For Justice. Several of those Militant-backed Labour MPs – such as Wall – have too joined and they call for the movement to grow in scope so no longer it is just about jobs but social justice, even criminal justice in the sense of half a dozen young activists being held on remand since the violent events of April 7th. Their freedom is demanded: no trial, just immediate release. They are declared to be ‘political prisoners’. The new Attorney General, Arthur Davidson, refuses to meet with a People’s March For Jobs delegation who arrive unscheduled to see him with a petition about them. This is a stunt which he recognises but will not play ball with. This new movement is about more than that though. Social justice means many things to those who back the SWP, Livingstone, Militant and a wide collection of others. They want what was promised in the Labour manifesto with regards to addressing poverty, minority rights, unfair laws and so much more. They want it now! Livingstone says that the GLC will grant the movement permission to undertake organised protests in London in the upcoming months. He doesn’t think that the name People’s March For Justice accurately reflects what this movement is all about though: he suggests a better one, something more catch-all.
On June 30th, the maiden People’s Front protest takes place. Keep your promises, the message is, and don’t betray us.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
The first protest gathering of the newly-named People’s Front goes off without a hitch. Attendance isn’t the same as many of the People’s March For Jobs gatherings but the organisers put that down to a combination of bad weather and a lack of understanding among the ordinary public as to what they are all about. Rain and negative publicity are said to be behind ‘only’ eighty thousand people turning out in Hyde Park at the very end of June. This is still a large number though. They all are here to support the cause that the organisers want to draw attention to. A carnival-like atmosphere is somewhat present. There is music and plenty of comradery among attendees. No trouble is reported and while there is a police presence, it isn’t overly strong nor regarded as aggressive. Keynote speakers address the crowds during the early evening, when the weather gets better. A mix of the well-known and unknown talk to the people present but also the attending media too. The call is for the government to honour its promises made during the election campaign: they were elected by the people and these are the people’s wishes. Demands are issued by those speakers where they focus upon the many controversial aspects of A New Hope for a New Britain: abolishing the Lords & the monarchy, nuclear disarmament & no to Cruise, leaving the EEC & NATO, and reforms of trade union law & the police too. Moreover, a lot of what Foot’s government has already begun to do in Parliament, such as beginning to reverse some of the worst aspects of Conservative privatisation and bringing forth legislation to ensure the rights of women & minorities too, is said to be not good enough. The actions of the Liberals and the Social Democrats in blocking what they have – boasting of doing so too! – comes under fire. There is a lot of passion in these speeches from angry people. Many in Hype Park today are angry too. Today isn’t the day to riot though. There is a Labour Prime Minister and a lot of the feeling here is that, with a gentle reminder, he will come around and make sure that what the people have been promised is delivered.
Another People’s Front march takes place a fortnight later. The weather is better and the attendance is higher. Much of the same said before is repeated. This one takes place in the form of a march through the middle of London rather than a static event. Parliament Square – not so busy on a Saturday – is where the march concludes and speakers on the main stage gather to get angry while holding their microphones. An unofficial divert takes place early on during the march where several thousand people break away from the event at the start and head towards the US Embassy. They cover significant ground on their way and effect traffic. These are dedicated hardcore protesters from various small far left and anarchist groups co-operating on July 14th to show up in number outside of there. They have come for trouble, without intentions on that fact hidden. The Met. Police intercept them on the way there as the crowd of people go through Belgravia towards Grosvenor Square. It is ordinary officers sent in here. On the orders of the Met. Commissioner, riot police with the Special Patrol Group aren’t involved in this less there be political fallout. The police come under attack and there is property damage. Several officers and protesters are injured in a series of confusing, spread out clashes which go on for a while. This is officially nothing to do with the People’s Front. Those who broke away defied event stewards in a co-ordinated fashion where they went out to seek trouble. Regardless, the violence once more seen on the streets of London will be blamed on all those who come out protesting. Newspaper attacks and negative comment from politicians comes in the following days. In addition, images in several newspapers, such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, show some of the banners on display during the organised and peaceful march. There were a couple which stated ‘Kill all Tories’ and ‘the Queen for the Chop’. Comments from the steering committee of the People’s Front made through a spokesman to The Morning Star (a small but vocal left-wing newspaper) claim that those images were staged. Pat Wall has been defending the People’s Front in the House of Commons and on the following Monday – when those pictures run – he blames ‘fascists and capitalists’ for all trouble seen and claims ‘an establishment stitch-up’ with regards to the fuss over those banners seen among march participants.
Another two weeks go by. Parliament is soon to break for Summer Recess and on July 28th, the People’s Front hold another march. The stated aim is for a reminder to be sent to MPs before they go away on holiday as to the strength of feeling from the British public. The attendance numbers rise again: they easily top two hundred thousand. A longer march takes place then before with feeder marches to the main one which goes through Central London to Parliament Square again. One of those smaller marches begins in the East End of London on Commercial Road. Intended to be of less importance than others, this changes four days beforehand. A young British-Asian man is murdered in Tower Hamlets in a racist attack by skinhead thugs: this is a multi-racial area with many recent ethnic tensions. For many years, the SWP has been at the forefront of combatting racists with battles against the National Front (NF) celebrated by them. It is decided that the march on the Saturday will include more anti-racist banners than usual and participants will pay tribute on the way to the murdered teenager. Many of the People’s Front more prominent figures join with the East End feeder march, making sure that this is mentioned in press releases too so no one will miss it. Rumours come ahead of the march starting that the NF has its own gathering but these are untrue. Through Tower Hamlets the march goes, escorted by the police, and on the way to the very centre of London by way of Britain’s financial hub which is The City. They don’t reach there. When the front of the march is at the end of Commercial road, near to Aldgate East Underground Station, they find the police have closed the road to them. Questions, complaints and shouts are met with the instruction to look up in the sky at all that smoke… something’s burning.
The NatWest Tower up ahead in The City is alight early this afternoon. The country’s tallest building, owned by the National Westminster Bank, is burning furiously despite all the inherent fire management & suppression systems with this four year-old structure. London Fire Brigade crews are quickly on-hand and the Met. Police close roads around the wider area for safety reasons. It looks like arson to those first on the scene and they are glad that it is unlikely than anyone is inside on a Saturday afternoon. The risks are that there could be a collapse though, especially since this is a serious fire that has a hold of the entire building. Across London, over in Fitzrovia, there is police activity around the Post Office Tower. This is the capital’s second largest structure and there has been an arson attempt here today too in what is surely a coordinated series of attacks. Those trying to break in and set it alight have been arrested though with two young men in custody – a woman was seen fleeing and not caught – along with petrol cans and paraphernalia for forced entry. They’ve been caught by chance here. Each refuses to answer any questions on the street nor when taken to the high security Paddington Green police station. Neither man is identified and it isn’t clear why they, and those who’ve set alight to the NatWest Tower too, would want to do such a thing as this. What is their goal? Who sent them out to make these attacks?
Before MPs go away for the summer, during June and July when Parliament is sitting, there are several bills which go through Parliament which the government gets its way. Their majority is challenged though. Militant-supporting Labour MPs abstain here and there in a careful, co-ordinated fashion to apply pressure on the government: if they were voting with the Opposition, this would make things even more difficult but they won’t do that with Tebbit still as Conservative leader and on the attack. Benn doesn’t join with them in abstaining to see votes passed in the Commons by the tightest of margins – party whips have a devil of a time – but he instead continues to criticise government ministers as they appear to be more and more captured by the system and the establishment. However, when making an appearance on the BBC, Benn argues with his interviewer that this isn’t about personalities but instead about policies, positions and above all the politics of the establishment in trying to stifle democracy. He isn’t fighting his fellow MPs, he says, but the system. Jenkins comes under severe pressure from within his party to keep them in-line too. There is a rebellious mood there following the disaster in Portsmouth South for the Social Democrats. Owen is flexing his muscles, urging for the party to make sure that there is clear separation between them and Labour in the minds of voters. He repeatedly assures those who will listen that this is all going to fall apart some time before the end of the year and the Social Democrats need to be ready to fight an election without the baggage of the madness of a far left dominated Labour. While the bills which are passed in the Commons are important, and are applauded by critics of the Thatcher-Tebbit era, none of them remain enough for so many voices of discontent. The People’s Front are holding their marches demanding more than all of this. The national economy is still suffering from the damage of early May and there remains the issue too of large numbers of Britain’s unemployed. The National Back To Work Scheme which Parliament approves, Foot’s much heralded jobs plan, has been tinkered with and watered down in places to get it voted upon. Implementation is going to take some time and, despite what Secretary of State for Employment John Smith hints at, millions of people suddenly aren’t going to be working.
Comments are made in Parliament during early July about worrying events out in Ulster. Conservative and Labour MPs raise the issue of Ian Paisley (leader of the Democratic Unionists) and his remarks on the ‘Third Force’. This is a paramilitary group – which Paisley says is a defensive militia – which first made an appearance back in 1981 with claims that it numbered tens of thousands of armed men. Paisley says that the Third Force has never gone away and it is now expanding. Should the ‘Labour Marxists in London’ try to give Ulster away to the Republic of Ireland, Paisley says that the Third Force will stop that. There is no manifesto commitment that Labour has to do such a thing. Pulling troops out of Northern Ireland is there, but not unilaterally turning over the Province to the Republic along the lines of other British possessions in the world. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Eric Varley responds to these urgent questions by stating that the rule of law will be applied in Ulster. There will be no illegal gatherings of armed militia allowed. Paisley isn’t in the Commons when this happens but his fellow Democratic Unionist MP is. Peter Robinson defends the Third Force as patriots and also says that the wish of the people in Ulster is to stay within the United Kingdom. They will not be dragged out of Britain against their will. Enoch Powell, once a Conservative and now an Ulster Unionist, still a racist too, speaks up for Ulster’s wish to remain part of Britain before going onto talk about American conspiracies to break up the United Kingdom. His conspiracy theory is met with yawns as he goes far off the important subject at hand with this potential for widespread civil strife in Ulster.
Foot is also absent that day in the Commons and for the rest of the Parliamentary term. The night before his seventy-first birthday, he takes a painful fall. The Prime Minister has been spending much time at Chequers due to coming down with summer flu beforehand. After getting over that, he takes a tumble ahead of going back to Downing Street. He has broken his left leg – ‘put your right foot forward’ comes a gag from a satirist; another asks whether it was Benn or Healey who gave him a push – and is lucky not to be any more seriously hurt. He is taken to hospital though and does leave there in a wheelchair. The nation seems to have little sympathy for the man, even his own party couldn’t much care. Appearances by the Prime Minister have been few and far between on the campaign trail ahead of the election and since then too. Unkind comments come about him being an old man on the verge of death. He has long walked aided with a cane after a terrible car crash in the Sixties and is also blind in one eye as well: this has made him the subject of much cruel mockery. Him being at Chequers for all the time he was when ill before this latest incident has been criticised by opponents even with the knowledge that he was quite unwell. This latest incident only confirms the view that many have, and express too, that he is unfit to be Prime Minister in more than just the political sense. In a wheelchair and needing rest, Foot is out of sight and to many, the nation looks rudderless.
Hattersley meets with the head of MI-5. The Home Office has responsibly over Britain’s domestic intelligence service though not day-to-day management. The Director General is John Jones, a career spook, and he briefs the Home Secretary on a range of important matters which concerns his organisation. The murder of two policemen in Cheshire and the failed bombing at the SAS headquarters have been linked together with the INLA in league with far left British militants. MI-5 is playing catch-up but making progress, Jones says, in trying to get to the heart of this cooperation and smash it. Hattersley is told too that there is an emerging, worrying threat from several extreme groups on the far right. Column 88 and the English People’s Liberation Army have spent some time organising where they have youthful recruits willing to commit acts of political violence. MI-5 infiltration has taken place and measures have been taken against each yet they seem to be aware of this and are increasingly starting to operate in a cell-like structure reminiscent of true terror groups. Jones assured Hattersley that the pre-election talk of GB84 is nothing more than a silly piece of propaganda: there is no vast right-wing conspiracy with a secret army ready to try to take over the country. Those tiny extremist groups are where the real threat is though where they are on the far left (working with the INLA) and the far right. As to Northern Ireland, the IRA is on an unofficial slowdown of operations. MI-5 has people within them too and the word coming out is that in light of the election result, the IRA leadership seems to be reflecting on how to proceed. Jones warns the Home Secretary that they haven’t gone away and are still active in Ulster, but there has been a break put on terror attacks against Mainland targets by them for the time being. How this will play out in the long run is anyone’s guess. This meeting takes place ahead of the arson attacks on July 28th when it is those domestic extremists which Jones talked about who strike. The People’s Front is discussed though. Contrary to what some Conservatives, and a few newspapers too, have alleged, there is no foreign interference with this movement: it isn’t a Soviet proxy. MI-5 have their eyes on it – Jones pointedly doesn’t say where there are undercover officers or informers within but Hattersley takes note of the non-comment and draws his own conclusions – and will carry on monitoring it less it become a threat to national security. Politically, MI-5 is neutral but they are aware of the desires of outsiders to influence this domestic movement for their own nefarious aims.
Parliament breaks on Tuesday July 31st. Discussions between the parties which form and support the government are due to take place over the summer. The official Labour position is to talk to the Liberals and the Social Democrats to see where comprise can be met in getting more of their agenda through the Commons in the new Parliamentary session. That is thought to be what the summer will be about. However, with the weather looking good and youngsters out of schools & universities, the People’s Front aim to dominate the agenda with more protests and marches planned. They want to carry on applying the pressure to get their way. They’ll try to do this by filling the streets of the disadvantaged and angry in not just London but other British cities too.
The burning of the NatWest Tower, and the failed effort to do the same at the Post Office Tower, are nothing to do with the People’s Front. Their protest on July 28th continues without one of the feeder marches making it, lowering the numbers of participants overall, yet still very well attended. Waiting another two weeks to have another one – they cannot get permission for more regular events – isn’t good enough for the SWP-dominated steering committee though. They fear losing momentum. The People’s March For Jobs held smaller events outside London and so the People’s Front copy that approach. The London ones will remain the biggest yet this gives the opportunity to keep the movement in the public eye and also make it a geographic spread so it feels more national. Protests are organised for Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield to take place on Saturdays and Sundays. These are exclusive People’s Front organised events but others are planned too as the movement expands. Militant contrive to arrange for a protest up in Liverpool and say they will go it alone if the People’s Front doesn’t participate: Militant gets its way. Alan Thornett’s Workers’ Socialist League – a small Trotskyist group in Oxford – is affiliated to the People’s Front and there will be an event in that city. In Glasgow, the Marxist Matt Lygate, not that long ago released from prison for armed robbery to fund a small Marxist group there, puts together enough support for a protest in Scotland’s largest city with the People’s Front backing the Workers Party of Scotland in arranging that. CND are also involved and they plan for another protest at RAF Greenham Common as well as one in Suffolk near to RAF Lakenheath where US Air Force aircraft fly from with – reportedly – their own nuclear bombs.
This expansion of the reach of the People’s Front happens fast and often with confusion. The movement is rapidly moving beyond the direct control of SWP figures such as Tony Cliff and Chris Harman. Livingstone’s input is significant, so too is that of Wall as well. Groups such as CND as well as those ones of Thornett & Lygate have affiliated to the People’s Front. So have the Communist Party, the New Communist Party and Socialist Action: all small groups enjoying a surge in support in recent years post-Falklands. Cliff and Harman have kept others out though. Class War, the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Gerry Healy’s WRP are not welcome. Affiliations, especially those from the CND, bring in money to organise and also dedicated protesters to motivate others. Stopping some of the others though is important because they are considered a threat to the movement. It is feared within the SWP, and thus the People’s Front leadership, that the WRP might have been behind those arson attacks. They also bring unwanted violence. The Revolutionary Communist Party are regarded as either a MI-5 sting operation… or just completely crazy. As to Class War, they justify this prevention at joining by its actions at the beginning of August where a small band, led by Ian Bone, travel to the affluent Henley-on-Thames and go attention seeking. On a Bash The Rich protest march, they parade with banners stating ‘Meet your future executioners’. Coverage in the newspapers and on the television news links Class War to the People’s Front regardless of the SWP keeping them out.
Actions such as that one and then what it seen with street violence up in Glasgow when Lygate’s mob is given too much freedom to operate bring with it more and more negative press. The SWP do not normally worry about such things – they are used to it – but they realise how damaging this all it for their movement. The People’s Front is looking like the biggest success that they have ever had: it is more popular than their various anti-racist fronts in the past. Angry youngsters, the disadvantaged and minorities are showing up at their events in huge numbers but so too are ordinary people en masse. They tell themselves that the pressure is really on Labour MPs to force the government to abide by their promises. Note is also taken of statements made by senior trade union figures. These people control the Labour Party – cash and block voting at conference – and they are worried that Foot’s government has lost the public by refusing to follow manifesto commitments. If they are worried, the People’s Front really is something and they don’t want to waste what they have.
Scuffles in Glasgow on August 5th are followed by real violent scenes in London on the 11th. The People’s Front has brought out protesters to gather in London’s Hyde Park again. Event stewards are present and keynote speakers are centre stage. The familiar theme of calling upon the government to listen to them is what this is all about. Trouble erupts on the outskirts though when, unannounced, groups of skinheads enter the open space from the Marble Arch area. The police present don’t react in time and hundreds of them, some carrying weapons such as clubs & knuckledusters, start fighting with anyone in their way. The National Front have been long planning to do this. Their argument is with ‘communists’ but there are many ethnic minorities in the crowd too. Also here though are many young Worker’s Revolutionary Party members. The WRP may be official banned from People’s Front events, but Livingstone had made sure than such restrictions are only on paper: these are his allies who are also willing to fight fascists. There have been warnings before that the National Front – along with the new British National Party too – are keen on disrupting People’s Front protests under the guise of attacking communists and here they are to do just that. A lot of people are hurt and there are some crazy scenes of chaos recorded by the media. The newspapers in the following days will tell a story blaming both sides much to the fury of the People’s Front. The Birmingham march a week later sees another attempt by the National Front to show up to attack the People’s Front. West Midlands Police are on alert for them and handle things far better than the Met. did.
Spokesmen from the People’s Front as well as other public figures on the left apportion blame for the violence which has come towards GB84. This organisation is something that no one has yet to prove is real. Its purported aims, according to those who say it does exist, is to discredit the People’s Front movement and then, ultimately, bring down Foot’s government so that the Conservatives can retake power. Wall is at the Birmingham event when the National Front show up and is hit by a thrown glass bottle causing him injuries which he proudly shows to a BBC news crew & photographers from The Morning Star too. This is the beginning of a capitalist coup, he declares: the National Front is just being used by them as proxies while there are other things going on behind the scenes starting with ‘the establishment’ burning the NatWest Tower in a false flag operation. Days later, Lygate is arrested in Scotland. He’s been planning to have another march in Glasgow under the People’s Front banner despite the intentions of him and his core supporters not being fully aligned with those of the wider movement. Special Branch officers detain him on anti-terror charges. They have others in custody from the Workers Party of Scotland who have bomb-making material with them when a flat in Gorbals is raided. Lygate’s solicitor claims he is innocent and this is another frame-up where the ‘unaccountable organs of the state’ are at work.
The police presence at Birmingham is criticised despite its role in stopping a mass outbreak of violence there as seen in London. Likewise, when there are large numbers of policemen monitoring the CND protest in Berkshire when they go back to Greenham Common and Militant have their People’s Front backed march in Liverpool. Negative remarks are made about the police being nearby ready to ‘riot themselves once again’. On Saturday 25th, the People’s Front have one of their fortnightly events in the capital where there are several feeder marches starting from various parts of London leading to another big gathering in Parliament Square. Home Secretary Hattersley has discussed policing for the event with the Met. Commissioner. Trouble from neither the National Front or any WRP thugs will be tolerated but neither the Special Patrol Group nor dedicated riot police will be deployed unless the situation gets really out of hand. There is some trouble with regard to the march coming up from Lambeth in South London though this seems to be the works of low-level criminal elements where gangs of youngsters infiltrate the mass numbers of people to commit street robberies and steal from shops. Skinheads don’t show up and far left troublemakers keep their heads down. It is hoped that maybe at following events in London and elsewhere – the People’s Front has many more planned – there will be no further violence seen.
Foot spends the summer either at Chequers or back in his South Wales constituency. The Prime Minister has his leg in a cast and makes use of his wheelchair. An infection to do with that fall he took towards the end of July sees him take another trip back to the hospital in something unannounced by Downing Street but leaked to The Sun. Healey denies that he has been the ‘acting Prime Minister’ when asked and assures the media that the health of Foot is good. While physically not in a great shape, Foot still has his wits about him. He knows all about the People’s Front and while dismissive of their leadership, believes that the vast majority of those out protesting are being duped. The reason why his government cannot do all that was promised during the election isn’t about a lack of will or establishment conspiracies to curtail democracy. Instead, it is all down to Parliamentary numbers! He has much in common with the wishes of so many people out on the streets though and does want to see many of the demands which they are marching for met. It is just impossible to do at the current time… though he is making the effort to do what he can. Benn comes to see him for talks and he has long telephone calls with both Jenkins & Steel too. The leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party then pays a visit in mid-August to Chequers. With three seats in the Commons, the SNP aren’t a powerful force but are nothing to be scoffed at: those trio of seats could be very important in any close vote should Liberal or Social Democrats rebels refuse to follow their whip. Gordon Wilson and the Prime Minister talk about Scottish Devolution. What happened back in 1979 is brought up with the SNP wanting another opportunity for Scots to have a referendum on devolution including a Scottish Parliament with real legislative powers. This wasn’t something in the Labour manifesto and Foot is aware that many of his MPs, the Scottish ones especially, will not want to see anything like that. He cannot give Wilson any more than a promise to take soundings among Labour MPs to see what they are willing to back; this is nowhere near enough for Wilson to be able to make a promise to support the government if needed as a quid pro quo. Each man comes away empty handed despite a good personal exchange.
With the two Alliance parties, there is a summer of discontent among the ranks of MPs in each. Back in May when the Liberals signed up to support Foot’s Labour, they did so for two reasons. One was to get Tebbit out of Downing Street while the second reason was because talks between Smith and Healey brought forth the agreement for there to be a government review of how ‘fairer’ the election system could be. Proportional representation is what the Liberals wanted and while they know it will be hard to get, they want the process to start. MPs such as Clement Freud, Simon Hughes & Michael Meadowcroft demand that Steel makes sure that this gets going starting in September. They’d been led to believe that it would have already begun and, instead, they are hearing that Labour MPs are trying to kill off such a thing with the knowledge that in the long run it will do their party no good. Chief Whip Alan Beith and the senior MP David Penhaligon each tell Steel and Smith that the mood among the party outside Parliament is also for there to be no delay on this. Steel relays back to his MPs that he will be applying the pressure on the government as he heads off unrest in the ranks here. It is only a temporary fix though: he knows that Labour will be slow to get moving and his MPs want something concrete for their support keeping Labour in office. Smith is certain that that will never happen too and remains convinced that there is another election coming up when everything is sure to fall apart. He begins to wonder if this issue will see Steel ultimately gone and maybe his time for the leadership is now on the horizon… Two MPs from the Social Democrats who hold Scottish seats, Charles Kennedy and Robert Maclennan, approach Owen in light of a leak that comes about Foot meeting with the Scottish Nationalists to talk about another devolution vote. Like so many in Labour who hold seats north of the border, they see the prospect of any sort of Scottish Parliament – even a weak one – as a threat to them in the long run as well as the United Kingdom as a whole. The SNP sits on the Opposition benches in the Commons while they in the Social Democrats keep Labour in power: Foot meeting with the SNP in secret angers them. Owen is more than pleased to feed their discontent and reports back to them after he talks with Jenkins. Their party leader is unconcerned about Foot’s double-dealing. Two further MPs fall into the Owen camp as he prepares for what is sure to be an upcoming need to make a formal challenge to Jenkins’ leadership of the Social Democrats.
MPs from these two parties, in addition to Conservatives, all look at what is going on with the People’s Front and their marches which lead to violence. Questions are asked about the government’s ability to ensure law-and-order and there is criticism of the role which several Labour MPs – Militant-backed ones – have with all of this. It all looks very un-British. Not just them, but there are Labour MPs who don’t like it either. Benn from the left criticises the SWP trying to subvert democracy while Robert Kilroy-Silk, a right-leaning figure within Labour, clashes with his fellow MP the radical Jeremy Corbyn where it almost comes to fisticuffs between them. Another Labour left-winger who, like Benn doesn’t support the People’s Front yet doesn’t necessarily believe they are any sort of threat, is Michael Meacher. In an interview with The Daily Mirror, Meacher somewhat echoes comments made the month before from Enoch Powell about plots from the Americans interfering in Britain. Powell was talking about Ulster while Meacher says now that the Reagan Administration in Washington is enraged at the idea of ‘British Withdrawal’ from NATO and so has agent provocateurs directing street protests to de-stabilise Britain before backing a military take-over in the UK, supported by their own forces if needed. Similar ideas have been said before, back before the election with a rumoured ‘Operation Crown Jewels’ (the name is unlikely!) supposedly certain to take place if Labour was elected.
Meanwhile, MI-5 achieves a breakthrough in uncovering those behind some of the recent domestic terror acts. The two men caught trying to set the Post Office Tower alight are identified as belonging to that Red Action group which is known to be working in cohorts with the INLA from Northern Ireland. They’ve gone old school with a programme of ‘propaganda of the deed’ by making public statements such as arson of iconic targets. Special Branch conducts armed raids on several locations in London and the Midlands and nab a few people as well as a haul of weapons. Homemade explosives are the most worrying find yet MI-5 find too many guns. These have been stolen from those who legally own them during organised rural robberies. It is clear though that they have only nibbled at the fringes of all of this though. These terrorists are active in cells without any contact with each other. They are others out there with weapons and sure to be making plans. In addition, in a separate line of enquiry supported by an informer, the Column 88 group on the far right gets MI-5’s more attention when it is clear that they are splitting into cells as well while stocking up on arms. None of this is good news that Director General Jones has to deliver to Hattersley. The Home Secretary wants more done to crush such people when told but MI-5 is being overwhelmed in trying to keep tabs on all of these groups out there seemingly set on acts of political violence. Years of growth by those on the far left and the far right has taken place and now in the summer of 1984 they are a real threat to national security.
On the night of August 27th, the constituency home of the Conservative MP Julian Amery near Brighton goes up in flames. He, his wife & children are absent from there as it burns down in a petrol-driven fire. Sussex Police investigate the arson though cannot pinpoint any suspects to go after. Amery, a well-known figure on the right, gave an interview to The Sunday Telegraph the day before with scathing criticism of the People’s Front coming from him. His remarks about the characters of organisers and the motivations of participants were rather inflammatory. This isn’t the first time he, and other prominent Conservative MPs too, have done so but no one saw a reaction like this coming. His house is burnt to the ground. The attack on his home looks as if it is an act of political violence to the police and also MI-5 too when Sussex Police’s chief constable contacts them for assistance. Who did it and for what goal are the questions asked with answers to those not yet forthcoming.
In what is regarded as not directly related to that arson attack, yet once again surely an act of political violence, Peter Tatchell is murdered the very next evening.
Australian-born, Tatchell is a major public figure on the left with a strong interest in gay and minority rights. He ran in that by-election in Bermondsey which Labour lost last year where he gained the national profile he now has: it was a campaign marred by gutter politics and controversy. Shot twice in the back of the head on his doorstep in London’s Elephant & Castle area, his killing is in no way any sort of plain criminal act. He’s the victim of a political assassination. By whom though? The fire at Amery’s house makes the news but the Home Office makes a request for broadcasters and newspapers not to run the story of Tatchell’s death for the time being. The D-Notice is only advisory has no legal power to it. The Morning Star opts to ignore it because of what the editorial staff decide is the clear public interest. A picture of Tatchell speaking at the People’s Front protest a few days before is on their frontpage the morning after his death with the headline ‘Murdered By Fascists’. Once the D-Notice is broken, other media outlets follow. There is quite the shock among many nationwide that this would happen. Tatchell is a controversial figure and not widely-liked yet his killing causes outrage throughout the country. It is a cold-blooded murder that upsets people who usually wouldn’t give someone such as Tatchell pause for thought. Foot is told about it ahead of the news breaking. His negative remarks concerning Tatchell when he was running for Parliament brought much of that national attention upon Tatchell. The two of them have never met either. Still… this was a Labour politician. The act of political violence is condemned by Foot in a statement released by his spokesman once the D-Notice has been broken. He finally says some nice things about the man.
Britain has seen political violence in the past and dealt with Irish Republican terrorism too. These two events are still quite the shock though. For them to be done points to the worrying situation that many regard the nation as currently being embroiled in. David Owen is interviewed by The Guardian in a piece which runs on the Thursday. Some allege that it is a leadership pitch, something which he later denies is the case at all. The number two man in the Social Democrats talks about how Britain has got in this state that it is in where the polarisation of politics has allowed the extremes on both the left and the right to flourish. It all goes back to the defeat in the Falklands War, he says. A broken national will has led to this situation. What allows it to continue is the inability of the government to take a stand. The street protests which are happening are said by Owen to be one of the many undemocratic events taking place in this country. Just as Amery did, Owen tears into those at the top of the People’s Front. He also criticises the Home Office for ordering police forces to take a softly-softly approach when trouble has broken out at these protest marches where calls are made to defy the will of Parliament. As to violent groups, Owen says that they need to be tracked down with justice given to those who partake in this violence. That government is supported by his party’s votes in the Commons, Owen among them. He questions whether the Social Democrats should continue to do so in the face of a weak government that does nothing to stop the ongoing madness that is being seen along with the loss of innocent life as well. The government isn’t up to the job and is also not being held properly accountable too.
That same day, a man walks into a South London police station and confesses to the killing of Tatchell. He says the gun used is at his house. Armed police officers go there (just in case there is someone else inside) with Met. detectives and find National Front pamphlets as well as an array of Nazi memorabilia. There is no gun though. A questioned neighbour says that she believes the suspect in custody was home the night of that murder too. Interrogated, the man retracts his confession. It is realised that he is a fantasist – as well as a racist – and hasn’t done what he says he has. He’s wasted police time and distracted them from their important inquiry into this murder for whatever inane reason he has. There are no other leads though, not at this time anyway. Elsewhere, Merseyside Police today intercept a hidden cargo aboard a lorry coming out of the city’s docks. This is an intelligence-led operation to successfully stop the transit of explosives destined for the IRA which have just come in from overseas. Arrests are made in the aftermath though what exactly these explosives were going to be used for – to blow up what – isn’t yet known. So much for what MI-5’s head recently told the Home Secretary about them taking a step back from their war against the British state.
On the morning of Friday 31st, Foot leaves his constituency home and heads towards Chequers for the weekend there, making a trip he has done several times during the nearly four months of his premiership. He will be having more political meetings there. The assassination of Tatchell is to be discussed alongside the burning down of Amery’s house. The Prime Minister will meet with the Home Secretary and senior officials. He has plans to meet with Benn too with Foot aiming to see if there is way that the two of them can work together to neutralise the People’s Front and the anti-democratic feeling it represents.
Despite not at his physical best, his mind is as sharp as ever. He knows these are problems to be solved and he hopes to do his best with that. Yet, Foot doesn’t make it to Chequers.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
Just after midday, the small motorcade coming from Wales and approaching Chequers is taken under fire. There are three cars and two motorbikes toward which hundreds of bullets fly in rapid succession. From a concealed position outside the official country retreat of the Prime Minister in the heart of rural Buckinghamshire, a heavy machine gun rakes fire down the column of vehicles halted by an abandoned car parked sideways across the road at a narrow point. Both police motorcyclists are struck and thrown from their bikes while the marked police car, the black Range Rover with specialist protection officers inside and the Government-issue Jaguar carrying Foot’s party are hit as well. The tripod-mounted M2 Browning is a British Army weapon, one stolen from storage several weeks ago with no knowledge yet that it is gone. Huge 12.7mm bullets – .50 Calibre ammunition –, armour-piercing rounds mixed with anti-personnel ones, do terrible damage to the vehicles and their occupants too. The gunfire goes on for just under a minute before the weapon jams: it hasn’t been well enough maintained. One of the two men operating the machine gun then gets into a kneeling position after picking up the second weapon he and his comrade have with them. This is also stolen from the military though it has been reported as missing with a MOD enquiry already underway. With a whoosh, the M72 rocket races towards the stricken motorcade. It strikes the Range Rover, not the Jaguar at which it was aimed, but there is still a satisfying explosion and resulting fire. The two men now go running. They discard those weapons and flee towards a waiting vehicle hidden a few hundred yards off. One of them trips and twists his ankle but his comrade pulls him onwards with fierce encouragement.
They have to get away from here!
The dead and injured are in the road. The main entrance to Chequers is just up ahead and people come from there to first see what is going on and then try to provide assistance. A passing motorist stops his own car and rushes forward to help with shouts of “I’m a doctor!”. The motorcyclists are both clearly dead and so too are most of those in the police vehicle: one young policewoman from the Thames Valley Police marked car is pulled out alive but she is bleeding terribly. A horribly burnt armed officer emerges weapon-drawn from the Range Rover alive too. As to the Jaguar, it has dozens of holes in it. There is armour-plating yet that hasn’t been effective against what it has been engaged with. The driver and protection officer from the Met. Police in the front are dead and so too is a political aide in the rear. Both Foot and his wife Jill are alive though: he is in a far worse shape than she is. The Prime Minister has been hit by a trio of bullets. His right arm is near sheared off while there are two holes in his belly – and two more in his lower back: exit wounds – from where he has been struck by those machine gun bullets. None of these are survivable injuries as they come with extreme blood loss and major internal damage. Ambulances are on their way, so too more policemen, but nothing can be done for the Prime Minister. He is already unconscious by the time he is removed from the car and dies beside the road a few minutes later. His wife and the two surviving police officers both go into ambulances when they arrive to take them to hospital but the burnt officer dies on the way there.
A blanket is placed over Foot. His time on earth, as a husband and father, a politician and Prime Minister, is over with.
Not too far away, Michael Banda is listening to chatter on police radios using an illegal device to overhear what is going on. Gerry Healy is leader the Worker’s Revolutionary Party but Banda commands its self-described militia. The WRP’s militia has spent years in readiness for doing something like this, striking a blow against the state. The party’s head has no knowledge of what is happening today though. He would never have approved this! This is all about Banda as he lights the spark of what he is sure is a revolution about to come about with Foot eliminated in such a fashion as this. There are only another five people in the know. Two of them are the gunmen, both young and still-serving Territorial Army soldiers secretly dedicated to the WRP cause. Another trio of youngsters, two men & a woman, who’ve been through Banda’s training camp in Derbyshire and also been to Libya this year with him as well, have been acting as spotters for this. They have tracked Foot’s convoy from his home to here in Buckinghamshire where it is spotted like it is on a regular routing and have used callboxes on the way to keep in touch. All of them are going off into hiding now while sworn to secrecy and with those keeping them out of sight – more devoted foot soldiers of the coming revolution – not knowing why they will shelter them but willing to do so regardless because Banda says so.
Banda has seen what Red Action has been doing and topped them! The SWP and their comedy show that is the People’s Front can go do one! He’s done what no one else would dare to and, driving away, tells himself that this will be the success he is sure it is.
In his secondary role as Foreign Secretary, Denis Healey is in Paris this evening for an official diplomatic event at the Quai d’Orsay with the French and other European allies. Urgently contacting the Deputy Prime Minister is Robert Armstrong calling from London. Armstrong is the government’s Cabinet Secretary though not a politician: this is a civil service post. Healey is told that Foot is dead. Healey is about to ask whether it is Foot’s health that has seen him lose his life – this has been something discussed beforehand for what consequences could come from that – but Armstrong interrupts him to say that it is an assassination. Whether it is the act of a foreign government or something terror related, he doesn’t know: all he can say is that the Deputy PM should return home without delay. I will do, Healey tells him. The French President is informed what is going on and François Mitterrand does all he can to help with that. A protected French motorcade rushes Healey to a military airport outside Paris where Healey’s RAF jet VIP transport arrived earlier in the day and has been waiting to fly him home tomorrow. Things have changed with that now. A flight takes Healey back to Britain and he lands at RAF Northolt to the west of London. He would usually travel by car to Whitehall afterwards. However, due to the intervention of Defence Secretary Silkin acting on military advice, there is a helicopter waiting for him there at Northolt and arrangements have been fast laid on so it can deposit him on Horse Guards Parade to the rear of Downing Street. It is late afternoon when Healey gets there and he is wished away from the Wessex helicopter upon touchdown while all around the area there are soldiers from the Irish Guards called out of Wellington Barracks to provide emergency security.
There is a brief Cabinet meeting – not everyone is here but no waiting around is done – and a trip over to Buckingham Palace where the stunned & visibly moved Queen asks him to take Foot’s role. She’s come down today from Balmoral upon being informed of what has happened and briefed by her officials, who are in contact with Armstrong at the Cabinet Office, that only Healey can form a government in her name. Then, the Prime Minister makes a statement to the nation at Eight. What happened earlier out in Buckinghamshire is something the country isn’t aware of until now. Prime Minister Healey (this is no Acting role as some might later assume it is) tells them that Foot has been murdered alongside police officers. A few details are given on that though not many. Reassurance is given to the nation. Britain isn’t under attack and this appears to be a criminal act instead of an opening war strike. Those who’ve done this, Healey sternly says, will be hunted down and justice will be done. He promises to talk to the country again in the morning and before the short broadcast ends (it is on the BBC and ITN where they have cut into regular Friday night scheduling) he asks the country to pray for those killed and injured today in such an infamous act. Healey has meetings with MI-5 and military chiefs afterwards before finally going to sleep in the early hours. It isn’t in Downing Street where he rests his head but instead across in one of the ministerial flats in Admiralty House due to security concerns. There is a lot of worry in Whitehall that the shooting near Chequers might only be the first strike and so Healey is kept hidden while there are armed policemen nearby and soldiers on the streets.
While the new Prime Minister sleeps, and stunned Britons do as well, chief constables across the country are awake and receive emergency instructions coming from the Home Office. There are to be arrests made. Suspected Irish terrorists and domestic radicals are to be detained. There is a wider programme for wartime internment, which would require a longer lead time, but this is something else being done on a more limited scale to that. Up to a hundred people – rather than a couple of thousand if this was a Transition to War scenario – are to be arrested without charge starting at dawn and held for an undetermined period of detention. Off-duty officers across the country are called-in and get ready to move once it starts to get light and they do so on the Saturday morning.
The Cabinet voted for Healey to take the post of Prime Minister due to him being in the elected position of deputy leader of the Labour Party. That vote was unanimous and then the Queen formally requested that he formed a government. In the long-run, Healey will need a vote from his party to stay in-place yet he is where he is for now. Britain isn’t like America nor France with a line of succession to the role of head of government: the post is a political one to be held by whomever can command the majority of support to do so. Early on the Saturday morning, after taking a call from President Reagan and ahead of a conference call with senior Commonwealth heads of government, he meets with Merlyn Rees in Downing Street. The former Ulster Secretary and later Home Secretary in the last Labour government, he’s had a junior little role in the current Cabinet as Welsh Secretary but Healey appoints Rees as Foreign Secretary as he himself vacates that role. This isn’t done with Cabinet approval, something that isn’t needed. Healey cannot do the two jobs at once and doesn’t want to cause disruption with a big reshuffle at this testing time: he knows Rees has real government experience and can leave the Wales Office without much upheaval. This ruffles some feathers among other members when they hear about it though. The Foreign Office is one of the top posts and Rees has jumped the line. It is done though with Healey moving fast in an emergency situation like this. He speaks on the phone to Jenkins and Steel following the Commonwealth call. The leaders of the Liberals and the Social Democrats agree that there is to be no change in their party’s support of the government. In addition, a call is also made to Tebbit as well. The Conservative leader offers his condolences and volunteers to help with whatever he can with him: Tebbit says he will put politics aside at a time of such national need as this. Back to the country Healey speaks again, this time at Midday. He doesn’t add much more to what was said the night before but this is done to reassure Britons that there is a stable government in-place and there is no need to worry. Healey thinks he’s done a good job with this and that the nation will respond well. The public will respect his calm demeanour, he tells himself, and his party’s MPs will understand too.
How wrong he is.
Thames Valley Police are responsible for policing in Buckinghamshire. They cover a wide area and are a large force. The Met. are tasked to assist them with the matter of the investigating the killing of the Prime Minister (and ten more people too; the others will be forgotten about by so many) and finding those responsible though. MI-5 are also involved with further support available if needed from other elements of Britain’s intelligence services too. Weapons and the hiding spot of the killers are located. Their egress route is revealed and a local who is spoken to tells of a vehicle which she can describe. With the trail hot, the police have something to work with. They are soon closing-in on where they believe at least one of the attackers to be hiding out. Outside of the town of Bicester – across in Oxfordshire and near to the American airbase at RAF Upper Heyford – there is a small house where the police follow their breadcrumbs to. The exact identity of those inside, including whom the killer of the Prime Minister might be, aren’t known but Thames Valley Police are certain that they are correct here in this being the hiding spot. Firearms officers from that force and also those from the Met. are ready to go in. Back in London, Healey talks with Hattersley and Silkin. The three of them agree that this is something that the armed forces should handle. The weapons used outside Chequers were military-grade and no one has any idea of what the civilian police might encounter. This might be the IRA or the INLA, it might be domestic radical terrorists or it might be something else entirely.
The SAS are called in with the necessary protocols followed so they can provide Military Aid to the Civil Authorities as per standing arrangements. An assault is made on the house late in the morning and there is gunfire directed at the soldiers who crash through the doors & windows. Shots are returned and three lives are lost, including that of the suspected assassin from yesterday. The SAS say they took out threats to protect themselves when the police and MI-5 complain they have no one to question. Of course, there is physical evidence to make use of but a live suspect in custody would be better. With everyone dead, this will not look good in the long run. Some will say that this is a cover-up with anyone who could talk silenced… The investigation carries on after this incident though more leads aren’t immediately forthcoming.
The People’s Front have two pre-arranged marches today which take place in Bristol and Sheffield. Neither of them are cancelled despite the events of the previous day. There is a far smaller semi-official one arranged by Welsh activists meant to occur in Cardiff but the organisers there believe their fellow citizens in the Principality would be angry should that go ahead. While not a Welshman, Foot was liked well in South Wales where he was an MP. Regardless of their feeling out there, the national steering committee stick to the People’s Front events for these two English cities. Cliff, Harman and Livingstone all oppose Healey succeeding Foot. He isn’t to their liking at all. They believe that Foot might have been brought around – he showed no sign of that though – yet neither of them has any delusion about someone like Healey giving in unless he really has to.
The only way to change things is by action on the streets with masses of people protesting, not relying on someone’s supposed good nature.
Up in Sheffield, Pat Wall is one of the keynote speakers when several marches all combine right in the heart of the city around Peace Gardens and Hallam University. There are far too many people than there safety should be in this small space. Stewarding is inadequate and there are fears from some people of a crush is possible if something goes wrong. The number of participants anticipated was far too low yet even then, yesterday’s events have increased the turnout today. People from Sheffield, as well as from further afield, come out to Stop The Coup. Wall makes that chant over the microphone and it is one emphatically picked up by the crowd of people. He has tapped right into the mood of those who have turned out in Sheffield. They believe what he says when the Labour MP declares that the ‘capitalist class’ has ‘unleashed its killer goons’ to put an end to a ‘people’s government’. He urges then to resist this attempt to silence democracy and protect the values that they voted for: those values being the will of the people. South Yorkshire Police’s chief constable, Peter Wright, isn’t there in the middle of Sheffield but he is receiving reports from officers on the ground during speeches such as this and then other remarks from further speakers claiming that Foot has been killed. He worries that there could be rioting and severe public disorder in response. Riot police teams – who were also in Newbury last year like Met. Police officers were to ‘engage troublemakers’ at the bloody CND march – are on standby to go in. Wright waits for the situation to get out of hand. It doesn’t though. There is no violence and, luckily, there isn’t any injuries despite the large number of excited people in Sheffield today. The city has had a lucky escape.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary have called out special constables overnight and these reserve police officers are in Bristol today when the People’s Front have their protest here. The action was taken by the force’s chief constable following the news that the country’s elected leader had been killed and there were to be arrests made of suspected terrorists & radicals including a few in the constabulary’s operational area. There has been a worry that the march through the middle of the city could bring about trouble too so the thinking is that the more officers, the better. Tony Benn, one of the city’s MPs, is present when the march reaches Castle Park. He isn’t one of those speakers up on the improvised stage though as his negative feelings with regard to the People’s Front have been long made. He is here because he fears violence and seeks to stop it. That is a fool’s hope. The police are ready for trouble and are sent in, hard too, at the first sign of it. One of the speakers, a local activist with a penchant for the hyperbole, says similar things to what Wall is saying up Sheffield (that isn’t co-ordinated though) about Foot being murdered as part of an establishment ridding itself of opponents so they can return the country back to where it was under Thatcher and Tebbit. This invigorates a small sub-section of the crowd, mostly anarchists gathered together. One of them throws a glass bottle towards the nearest line of policemen watching the gathering. Forward the first line of policemen go… soon followed by more. Riot police attack members of the protest with batons and shields. There are deliberate attacks made upon Black members of the crowd. Bristol is a city with a large Afro-Caribbean population and the scene of several riots in ethnically diverse portions of it in recent years. Assaulting Black Bristolians is what Avon and Somerset Constabulary have done before and it is what they do again today. Someone else in the crowd launches a firework towards the police with the aim of forcing them back in fright. The opposite occurs. They come forward in even more numbers, parting the mass gathering of people. A young woman is accidently pushed by fellow protesters into the River Avon (its banks are against the park) as people flee in terror though she will be rescued by someone else who has turned out today to support the demands of the People’s Front and oppose too this coup underway in Britain. He gets her out of the water leading to a budding romance! As to Tony Benn, he leaves Castle Park as the gathering is broken up without achieving his aim of stopping the violence he corrected feared when radicals seek street action to challenge democracy.
Newspapers in Britain throughout Saturday and Sunday have back-to-back coverage of the assassination of Britain’s Prime Minister. Nothing like this has been seen before – who can really say they know anything about the killing of Spencer Perceval in 1812? – and the media reaction is to dominate coverage solely with this one issue. On the Sunday, there is coverage of the People’s Front’s marches though that is tied into the Foot story. Dramatic headlines and questioning editorials are ten a penny. Whereas Wall said in Sheffield that the establishment murdered Foot, it is said in print by other MPs that instead it appears that this was the work of extremists on the far left who started with the burning of the NatWest Tower, struck at Amery’s house and then have assassinated Foot. Nicholas Ridley is interviewed by The Sunday Mail and blames a group called Red Action: few people have heard of them but he says the intelligence services and the government have. Fellow right-wing Conservative MPs such as George Gardiner and Harvey Proctor, both who have spent months criticising the People’s March For Jobs / People’s Front, repeat this claim and state in remarks to other newspapers that such extremists aim to bring down the British state: Gardiner also suggests that there is ‘foreign influence’ in the campaign… and by that he means Moscow. A journalist from The Sun is ejected from Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire when aiming to get pictures of Foot’s wife for Monday’s issue. Across the country, people fall into one of two camps on the views on the assassination of the Prime Minster: he was either killed by the left or the right.
Those police raids early on Saturday netted a wide range of terrorism suspects but several are released through Monday and into Tuesday. The net was cast too wide when orders for the detainment of extremists went out. Standing legislation for a potential wartime scenario wasn’t followed – instead, it was an order-in-council – and the rush to do that has seen many ‘innocents’ held… if some of them could be called that. Others are still held though including many Irish Republican suspects despite it being clear that the murder of Foot wasn’t the work of the IRA, the INLA or any other offshoot. As to the others, the holding of political extremists comes with controversy. The Morning Star once more breaks a D-Notice on this and then Tony Banks, the Labour MP for Newham North West, speaks of it during a live radio interview with the BBC. Banks – whose remarks on this are cut during a re-broadcast of part of his interview later in the day – does so because one of his key constituency party staff is being held by the police. He won his seat at the election in May after the previous MP was de-selected by a local party heavily criticised as being overrun by Militant types but in his short time in Parliament, Banks himself has shown no sign of being a troublemaker. He’s angry at the enforced detainment of his staff member with no information available as to where he is being held and when he will be freed. This has happened to many people now where no one – family nor solicitors – is given any information. Fingers of blame and outrage are pointed at Healey and Hattersley for doing what is called an undemocratic act. Apart from the Northern Ireland related detainees, in the case of those who were arrested at the weekend, MI-5 -led and police-conducted interviews yield little real results. These people are being held to see if they can shed light on acts of recent politically-influenced violence, especially the murder of Foot and those with him on Friday. The new Prime Minister receives several briefings on this but isn’t given anything solid. A number of very nasty individuals are in custody. From them, there is no direct tie to that though. Healey wants to know who killed his predecessor and to make sure that there will be nothing like this again, but he isn’t given that reassurance. There is grave concern in him, and others too, that there is more to come.
On the Wednesday, there is trouble on the streets of Glasgow outside the building where Lygate appears before the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland’s largest city. Scots law differs from that in English & Wales not just in names for procedures & institutions, but terrorism is still terrorism in the eyes of the law north of the border. Associates of his were arrested in possession of bomb-making materials and Strathclyde Police’s Special Branch can link him to them and the property where that was found. This is an early stage hearing which Lygate is called to where his barrister speaks on his behalf. Supporters from the Workers Party of Scotland have gathered outside, some of them with People’s Front banners. There are placards being held by a few of them which are daubed with the tagline ‘Stop The Coup’. A policeman moves to arrest a protester he says spat at him. From this comes fisticuffs and the use of batons. Nine arrests are made and several ambulances attend the scene. Camera crews and photographers – tipped off beforehand that there is likely to be drama – capture images of the violence. It is made out by the media to be a bigger deal that it is and on ITN News that night, there is emphasis in the broadcast on the shouts made too again to Stop The Coup. In what angers the Prime Minister and several Labour Party officials, one of their MPs makes an inflammatory statement in the same broadcast. George Galloway, elected in Dunfermline East after beating to the punch an academic & journalist named Gordon Brown for the Labour candidacy, defends Lygate’s Marxist group and makes insinuations (not direct claims) that this is a police stich-up of an innocent man. The Whip’s Office will contact Galloway afterwards to admonish him but he isn’t deterred by this. He says he will continue to speak his mind and he also questions Healey’s assumption of the party leadership. Galloway isn’t the only one doing that.
As the deputy party leader, Healey has stepped into Foot’s shoes as he is entitled to as per Labour’s own rules. By extension, this has made him Prime Minister too because, despite Labour coming second in the recent general election, a Labour candidate such as Healey has the support of the Liberals and the Social Democrats – plus Ulster’s SDLP if need be as well – to command a majority in the Commons. Neither Labour MPs, party members nor the trade unions with their powerful block votes put him in Downing Street. It was they who elected Foot to the leadership four years ago and who (twice) have voted for Healey to be his deputy. The party rules say that should the leader resign or die, then the deputy should take over… but on an acting basis pending a leadership election. So, when is that election going to be then? It is something wanted by many. Cabinet members and party officials are saying that, of course, there will be one. A special conference will be arranged and the matter of the leadership will be put to a vote following the party’s electoral college system. It’ll take time though and, at the minute, Healey is where he is at this time where it is less than a few days ago that Foot has been murdered. For MPs aplenty, that isn’t good enough. They aren’t given the time frame they demand. There is anger about what Healey has done with all of those arrests made of ‘innocents’ joining the long list of grievances against him. Healey is focused on Foot’s upcoming funeral, which is scheduled for Friday, and also the ongoing worrying national security situation. Several of his MPs are already telling anyone who will listen that when it comes to it, they will vote for someone else in particular. There is already widespread party backing for this person among members and the unions have already shown some support too. In the opinion of many observers, who put those to the airwaves and in print, it could be possible that Healey’s time in Downing Street might not be that long and Britain could have it’s fourth Prime Minister of the year: Anthony Wedgewood Benn is who the smart money is on to be that new leader.
There are a good few dozen political parties and press groups on the far left of British politics in 1984. None of them have had electoral success. If you want to get elected, it is best to do so through the Labour Party. That is why so many of them have, or tried to, affiliate to Labour. The plethora of organisations often have similar names with the outsider oft confused as to which stands for what and which the latest en vogue one this week after the latest round of internal feuds leading to splitting. To those within them, the distinction between them is of great importance though. They believe that theirs is the only legitimate movement. Of the many, affiliated to both Labour and recently the People’s Front too is the Socialist League. Their headquarters is an independent bookshop in Islington, that home of trendy politics. They are an organisation which value secrecy with open recruiting not done and a hiding of membership less Labour do what many within that behemoth of an electoral force have long been calling for and proscribe them. It has been put to Ken Livingstone this year by a journalist as to whether he is a member or not and he refused to neither confirm nor deny his membership. A newspaper is put out by the Socialist League and it is Socialist Action which brings attention to this group among those on the political left. Regardless, it is still an obscure publication with its content being editorial-like opinion articles and letters rather than any news in the traditional sense. Last weekend, printed ahead of the Foot assassination yet released the day after that event, within the (few) pages of Socialist Action there was focus on the political future of schools in Britain under the current Labour government. The manifesto which that party was elected on pledged to abolish fee-paying independent schools including grammar & religious schools too in favour of wholescale state education. Like so much promised, this hasn’t been delivered on with no sign of that to come. Labour figures have said that it is impossible to attain the votes for it should the matter come before Parliament and they thus have the priority of getting passed in the Commons what they can. Several writers in Socialist Action criticised this with one of them taking aim that those holding this up outside of the government in the form of Roy Jenkins and Cyril Smith. The Social Democrats leader and one of the Liberals loudest voices (Smith has no official spokesman role within his party) both went to grammar schools to benefit from what so many other Britons didn’t.
At the end of this particular piece, remarks are made about the personal characters of each man. Socialist Action alleges that in his younger days, Jenkins had homosexual affairs and this continued too even when he entered politics as he had a relationship with someone who rose high like he did in the government. With Smith, it is said that he continues to indulge in illicit sexual encounters with young men. From out of nowhere, with no discernible connection to the matter of schools, these allegations are made against two every well-known public figures. It’s a political attack made to damage each man.
Smith is informed about this and makes sure that his solicitor becomes involved. He’ll sue for libel against Socialist Action should it repeat these and do the same to anyone else too. There is discomfort higher up in his party because the memories of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal are still fresh and Smith’s sexual proclivities have been brought to the attention of the party leadership before. Steel has been told that Smith might have, at the very worst, ‘smacked a few bare bottoms of young lads’: he doesn’t know (neither is it said in that article) that he enjoys raping underage boys. It is hoped within the Liberal Party that this will go away. In comparison, Jenkins does nothing like what Smith does. He believes that no one will take notice. The Social Democrats’ leader is wrong though. There are whispers among other politicians and journalists that this is true about him with that once fellow Cabinet minister who it is said he was involved with – now deceased though – named too. The current affairs focused satirical magazine Private Eye decides to run with this its next issue. The editorial decision is justified on the grounds that it will make good sales. Lawyers are consulted though and care is taken what Private Eye says here: coded language is to be used because they don’t have access to the same first-hand sources that Socialist Action do. Word comes to Jenkins late on the Thursday night that when that magazine runs the next day, what was said in the obscure Socialist Action will be repeated in the better-read Private Eye. He is a married man, a party leader and he believes he is someone whom the public respect. Jenkins tries to get the magazine to not print what they are going to without any success. He is at Foot’s funeral the next day and there are certain looks and whispers which he takes notice of. Later that night, he is told that The Daily Mirror is going all-out tomorrow with this story. They will not be as cautious as Private Eye has been. The whole world will know his secret.
He resigns his leadership of the Social Democratic Party late on September 7th. A short statement is put out by the party headquarters to this effect. No reason is given as to why this is the case though the nation will find out why the next morning when The Daily Mirror hits the newsstands. David Owen is the party’s deputy leader and assumes the leadership upon Jenkins’ resignation. He’s wanted to head the party for a long time and that has included running against Jenkins in a failed attempt two years ago. He never imagined gaining the leadership in such a manner as this though. Jenkins gave him little notice of his upcoming resignation though did tell Owen why he was going: others in the party’s higher echelons were told he was leaving ‘for personal reasons’. There has been pressure on some time for Jenkins to go though. This particular situation came out of the blue yet his eventual resignation has thought by many to be on the cards. Owen has been angling for the leadership and there has been much open dissent within the Social Democrats since May when Jenkins ensured that MPs were whipped into putting Foot into Downing Street. It is being said by many within that the Social Democrats have gotten nothing from this. They were formed in opposition to Labour’s hard left! Now they’ve given them the reins of national power!
Mike Thomas was one of those Labour MPs who left that party to join the new Social Democrats when it was formed in 1981. He was defeated in Newcastle East this year by Labour as it retook that seat like it did with the majority of those in the hands of defectors. Staying in the Social Democrats, Thomas has turned on Jenkins with a fury and gained party influence. The well-known actor & comedian John Cleese is a public supporter of the Social Democrats and the effective use of him as someone to help with voters is down to Thomas. Jenkins’ position hasn’t been directly threatened by Thomas’ internal party games but a lot of the groundwork has been laid to that, eventually, a challenger to Jenkins could have wide support. That challenger was meant to be Owen. He has been secretly preparing for a second attempt at the leadership before this issue with revelations about Jenkins’ private life has come from nowhere. Now Owen is where he has always wanted to be. He’s in charge of the Social Democrats and he doesn’t want the party to continue to support Healey’s Labour. Many, many of his fellow MPs share that feeling that they shouldn’t be backing Labour.
At that funeral earlier today where both Jenkins and Owen attend, it is a who’s-who of the British political establishment. Foot is cremated in North London with a religious service which he might have personally objected to. There is extensive security considering how he died and the noted personalities at his funeral. Alongside the domestic political figures attending, many of them including former prime ministers, Vice President Bush is here representing the United States and on behalf of the Queen there is Prince Philip. In comments which will bring controversy afterwards, Wall will give an interview saying that the Monarch ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to attend the funeral of her Prime Minister… though he himself didn’t go when so many other Labour MPs did. The Queen rarely goes to funerals but officials from Buckingham Palace did consult with her other whether it was appropriate for her to attend. It was Healey who ultimately came down on the side of her not going with the Prime Minister agreeing with the standard principle on the Monarch’s non-attendance of funerals as being something to make sure that it doesn’t distract from grieving by family and friends. Wall just makes a cheap shot against the Royal Family with this. While his comments upset many who hear them, elsewhere in Britain there are people who do agree with his sentiment if not so much the tone. Why hasn’t the Queen gone to the funeral of Foot!?
Eric Heffer is another attendee. A noted left-winger, this junior minister in the government is a big beast within Labour. He arranges for Healey and Benn to talk during the wake, doing so in the vein of a peacemaker. He’s aiming to smooth over divisions within the party at Healey’s assumption of leadership and intends to stop it going further. There is success it seems. These two men speak amicably and Heffer toasts his own achievement. The thing is though is that he is barking up the wrong tree with this. It isn’t Benn causing problems within the party over what Healey has done in the past week. Benn hasn’t called for him to go either. It is others who support Benn causing trouble. Heffer’s actions have no effect upon the coming storm. There are MPs and party members who want Healey gone and they couldn’t care, even if they knew, about two colleagues sharing kind words about a departed friend. The ball is already rolling on that note. Tebbit and Owen are both at the funeral as well. The Conservative ex-PM and the Social Democrats’ deputy leader (he takes power that night but cannot see the future) attend because, regardless of political affiliations, this is the funeral of the nation’s murdered leader. The two of them have a conversation too. It is a brief one out of sight of many people but significant in light of that later resignation of Jenkins.
Those remarks made by Wall are controversial but they don’t attract as much negative coverage in the media afterwards as the actions of the Worker’s Revolutionary Party do. Outside of the crematorium and behind the lines of police, the WPR ‘pickets’ the funeral of Foot. A small but loud group of activists shout the chant ‘Stop The Coup’ as loud as they can. Attendees to the funeral try to ignore them but press photographers take pictures and camera crews record their actions. Again and again, they make this chant. When questioned by a journalist from The Guardian about their motivations, a dedicated spokesperson steps forward to put out an agreed upon message on behalf of the WRP in case the media couldn’t understand what is being vocalised. The WRP is here protesting against the ongoing coup d’état within Britain that has begun with the Foot assassination. The country is being taken over by those going against the democratic will of the workers & people and so the WRP is here to help stop that. None of those on the protest are ‘in the know’ about who really was responsible for the killings in Buckinghamshire last weekend though. Not at the protest, yet willing to speak to a Mirror journalist when questioned later tonight at a London showbiz event, is Vanessa Redgrave. The actress and her brother are well-known supporters of the WRP, especially willing to steadfastly back its leader Gerry Healy against all detractors. She defends the actions of the WRP earlier in the day and repeats the ‘Stop The Coup’ message herself.
Reaction to both Jenkins’ resignation and the funeral of Foot are widespread across the newspapers on Saturday. However, The Daily Telegraph leads with an interview with Tebbit. He calls for Parliament to be recalled in light of the murder of the nation’s prime minister and other terrorist actions. MPs are on their holidays with the Summer Recess not due to end for many more weeks and the Commons will then return near to the end of October (the 22nd). Bring MPs back now, Tebbit says, at this grave time. He goes onto pay his respects to Foot with remarks about his successor’s long and distinguished political career. There is an admittance that the two of them were far from friends, considerable political opponents it must be said, but Tebbit declares that the murder of Foot is a national tragedy. The country has gotten itself into a terrible state where to allow for the prime minister to be murdered like he has been. Parliament must be recalled.
The People’s Front have another protest arranged for today. This has been in the pipeline for several weeks but it is one that the government has tried this week to see cancelled. Hattersley at the Home Office has failed to do so though. Livingstone took charge of the legal defence against the attempt to see the gathering banned by making sure that the right strategy and people were employed in stopping the Home Office’s try at an injunction from going ahead. Protecting the public order was the government’s reasoning but, in the end, the High Court didn’t agree in a last-minute decision handed down late yesterday. Throughout the legal challenge, the People’s Front has ploughed ahead with preparations regardless of the arguments in court. It would have been difficult to stop everyone from turning out even if that decision had gone the other way. The gathering is made to the north of the heart of London, this time up on the open space of Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill. Not having the protest marches going through the middle of the capital and here instead had been key to getting the right outcome in the legal battle. Transport links are reasonably good to get people to Hampstead Heath and Livingstone’s GLC has made arrangements with several councils to help facilitate the event. There are extra stewards laid on (again to help get those judges’ permission) and there is a ban on alcohol. It is meant to be a peaceful event without any violence.
Healey has, through the Whip’s Office, instructed Labour MPs not to attend the latest People’s Front event. Regardless of that demand, Pat Wall stands up to the microphone and makes a chant to the several hundred thousand people gathered on Hampstead Heath: “Stop The Coup!” He’s one of ten MPs from Labour in attendance in defiance of their party’s acting leader Diktat and excites the crowd with such a call. It is one echoed by them. This was done last week by him up in Sheffield in an impromptu fashion but today he knows exactly what he is doing and the people have heard this before. He shouts it and the crowd shout it back to him. He’s really got the mood of his audience. They lap this up just like he does. Other speakers say what leaflets and placards do when they likewise declare that the coup must be stopped. Britain is apparently on the verge of being taken over the a ‘hard right, racist dictatorship’. Only by turning out in opposition in huge numbers can this be stopped. Stop The Coup!
While officially not welcome, there are WRP activists at this People’s Front event. Near to a thousand are at Hampstead Heath and they stick together in large groups. They are here to defend the protesters from the police it is said. What they do instead is attack the police. Officers from the Met. Police have been deployed on public order duties. They aren’t here to stop the protest nor harass participants unnecessarily. In a deliberate fashion and with coordination, the groups of WRP volunteers throw projectiles first and then punches towards the police. Responses come and brawls begin. There are photographers and cameramen present when the attacks on the police start though much effort is made – not with the greatest of success though – by the WRP to make it look like ‘the innocent’ were attacked by an out-of-control police hellbent on stomping down hard on protesters defending democracy. Then come the gunshots. Just like what occurred back in April on Haymarket, a couple of shots ring out from unknown gunmen who cease fire with haste. Policemen are struck along with an innocent bystander this time too. Utter chaos erupts in response. Banda, who ordered this, isn’t here on Hampstead Heath as his devotees join him in trying to continue to start a revolution. He has already written the press release which goes out straight afterwards accusing the police of shooting protesters and hopes that they will work well with the media footage.
At the end of that press release, the WRP co-opt the People’s Front newest slogan of ‘Stop The Coup’ too.
Britain is seemingly gripped by violence. To some, things look they are completely out of control. That would be an exaggeration though. However, across the country, there are more people than are turning out at these protests who believe that a coup d’état is actually happening. The Foot assassination is widely regarded as the beginning of an undemocratic takeover of national power. Detractors claim that this is foolish and anyone who believes that is a deluded, paranoid idiot. The funny thing is that those who fear the worst are sort of correct… just not in the way that they fear. There doesn’t have to be tanks on the streets for a change in power to occur. This is Britain after all where nothing like that seen overseas has to happen here. Democracy of the parliamentary kind is dominant in Britain and through that a big change is coming.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
In rather unusual timing, late on Sunday a statement is released from Downing Street affirming that Parliament will be recalled from its Summer Recess. There has been two days of open speculation and behind-the-scenes drama as to whether this will take place with the Prime Minister initially rejecting what Tebbit called for. However, he’s found that so many of his own MPs, and then later Cabinet members too, believe that it is the right thing to do. Already leaked, Downing Street is only confirming what is unofficially known. The press are told that Parliament will reopen on September 17th: just over a week away. Yet, the very next morning, this date is changed. It will be this coming Thursday (the 13th) instead. The first date hasn’t gone down well and Healey has, once more, submitted to Cabinet will on this matter. It had been first said that many MPs will be on their holidays overseas and it will take a week for them to return. The vast majority aren’t though – the Foot assassination and the end of the school holidays has seen to that; plus the upcoming party conference season – so the date is changed under pressure. Healey has no idea that he has walked into a carefully laid trap by Tebbit on this.
The recall of Parliament is done so that MPs can discuss the ongoing national emergency regarding to domestic terrorism. For Healey to recall Parliament due to this has meant that he has had to admit that the situation has become one of a crisis. The Prime Minister hasn’t wanted to but the clamour from friends and foes alike has forced his hand. Assassinations, shootings and disorder have taken place. He is in Downing Street because his sitting predecessor has been killed. An unprecedented situation has developed and Parliamentarians want action. However, it isn’t the case that they all want to come back so they can get on with each other and agree: not at all! There are MPs who want to see stern measures brought in and stronger action taken to bring this unrest to an end. Others desire to see the opposite and believe that what has been done so far with those security measures brought in via orders-in-council without Parliamentary approval need to be if not ended then at least legitimised with votes in the Commons. Banning the People’s Front marches is on the agenda for so many Parliamentarians, especially after the death in hospital of a policeman shot in North London at the weekend; in contrast, a small but vocal group of other MPs are determined to protect the right of protest in the face of that opposition. MPs are working on questions to ministers – to be honest, speeches for public consumption in a lot of cases – and already briefing press contacts. Hattersley is expected to come under fire but he believes he can defend the government’s actions. As Healey will do, the Home Secretary will ask for support across the Commons from all those who want to preserve parliamentary democracy from the forces of the unruly mob.
With regards to national security, there is a second raid on a rural house in the English countryside looking for the assassins of Foot. Late on the Monday night, SAS soldiers are once more deployed on the mission despite the fact that last time all those in their way lost their lives. Bedfordshire Police officers stand back when the secretive commandos raid a small property in the village of Stevington to the north-west of the town of Bedford. A tip off has come that the second gunman can be found there and it has been judged by MI-5 to be of merit. The house is empty. The SAS find no one waiting for them with guns this time nor anyone else hiding when they tear the place apart looking for a concealed hidey hole. However, only minutes after the raid, a pair of Bedfordshire Police officers come across a young man seen stumbling from woodland about a mile away. He’s bleeding from a stab wound to the chest and in a frantic state. These officers are here to establish a cordon radio in what they have while moving to secure the man. A second man comes out of the trees behind the first with this one carrying a large knife. Using force, the knifeman is knocked down and handcuffed before he can use his weapon again. The victim is soon in an arriving ambulance and on the way to hospital. This is no coincidence. Those in the house in Stevington had fled ahead of the SAS raid and the police have encountered these two. Information phoned in anonymously to Bedfordshire Police’s anti-terrorism hotline had spoken of these two men in that house and given descriptions of them along with details on the role one of them played in killing the country’s prime minister ten days beforehand. These pair are with the wounded man being one of those operating that machine gun near to Chequers on August 31st. MI-5 and Special Branch will have a lot of physical evidence at the house but they also now have two live terrorism suspects to talk with. The matter of that woman who made the phone call is also something which they want to get to the bottom of too. After stalling, the investigation into the murder of Foot and those with him now has new steam.
This isn’t something that is going to be making the newspapers the next morning. Everything is hush-hush here with another D-Notice in effect with regards to the hunt for Foot’s killer. Another story, a political one, is about to make to make the biggest of all splashes and end with a riot.
Those following the chant made from Wall call what happens on September 11th the ‘Tuesday Coup’. Ridiculous hyperbole this is but they have been shouting Stop The Coup for more than a week and now they are faced with this. The Guardian leads with an exclusive story this morning stating that the new leader of the Social Democratic Party is intending to take his MPs out of its confidence-&-supply agreement with the government. Owen is said to be willing to support a possible Conservative government and leave the Healey-led Labour hanging in the wind. The Guardian has only off-the-record remarks to support this story but are certain enough of its accuracy to make it the lead story in today’s edition. Journalists from that newspapers join those from other publications, plus television camera crews, outside of Owen’s London home waiting for him to come out. He does so when on his way to the Social Democrats’ offices but has no comment for the media. Elsewhere, comments are sought from further MPs within his party, the Liberals, the Conservatives and Labour. More success has had with these endeavours. The story has truth to it.
Along with party officials who aren’t MPs themselves, including ex-MPs such as Thomas and the party’s president Shirley Williams, Owen goes to the Social Democrats’ headquarters in Cowley Street for a late morning meeting. The media are kept outside. There are questions asked over who tipped off The Guardian but no direct answers are forthcoming… everyone knows it was Thomas though. They are here at Owen’s request and he tells them that he intends for the Social Democrats’ parliamentary representation to do just what is being said in print this morning. Healey’s government isn’t something that should any longer be supported with Social Democrats votes to keep it in power and he wants to see support switched to ‘an alternative’. Maclennan asks him who that alternative should be and the reply comes that it will be one led by Tebbit and his Conservatives. Owen explains that he has had preliminary talks with the former prime minister about this and a deal has been proposed. The Social Democrats will join with the Ulster Unionists so as to make up the numbers to form that government. It will not be one where the Social Democrats will be silent partners as they are with Labour first under Foot and now Healey though. There will be a real voice for the party’s MPs in the new government where Tebbit will provide two, maybe even three, Cabinet seats in exchange for allowing him to make a return to Downing Street.
Quite the spirited discussion comes from those at the meeting. Everyone knows that there will be a strong backlash against them, one coming from many quarters. The Alliance with the Liberals will be dead. Voters the next time around might not have as much trust in the Social Democrats. Putting Tebbit back in Downing Street when only a few months ago the Social Democrats was willing to work with a far left dominated Labour to do anything to get him out of there will be quite the spectacular U-turn. These arguments against doing this come with comments from Owen and others about what will happen if they do not. Thomas tells them that they have a stark choice between Tebbit or Benn. Healey is sure to soon lose the Labour leadership to Benn when their party gets around to a leadership election. Does anyone here want to see Benn in Downing Street? Would he ever leave if he got there? Imagine Nellist or Wall at the Home Office! The party’s chief whip, Cartwright, suggests that they arrange for a vote on this matter. He senses the mood following it sinking into many that they have to act to stop Benn – the face of the far left from which so many of the original Social Democrats like him fled Labour from – and a democratic decision on that will be needed. Thomas tries to get them to vote now but Williams cuts down that silly idea. There isn’t much time to waste but she will not allow for a vote today. Parliament returns on Thursday though so it will have to be tomorrow when the Social Democrats makes its mind up. They have a day and a bit to think this over with a vote due tomorrow on whether to support the move made by Owen to transfer their support and thus, by extension, bring down the government.
Owen is invited to see Healey later that day. He comes to Downing Street while being followed by reporters and photographers. Before he got here, a small group of People’s Front activists had shouted abuse at him when he left Cowley Street: they’d reacted fast to get people there and are already moving to do more too. The Prime Minister and the Social Democrats’ acting leader have a friendly chat. Owen is asked if what is being reported in the press is true. He confirms that it is his desire to see the Social Democrats no longer support Healey’s premiership, something which will have to be decided by his party though. He is implored to change his mind and Healey tells him that Tebbit cannot be trusted with the country again. Regardless, Owen will not backtrack on this. When he is gone, Healey is back on the phone with Steel once more (they’d been talking before Owen came) and he also places a call to Jim Molyneaux too. The Liberal’s leader affirms his party’s support for Healey’s premiership but from the Ulster Unionists, there is nothing that the Prime Minister can achieve by trying to bring them onside. Molyneaux doesn’t tell him that he has already struck a deal with Tebbit yet Healey will find that out tonight. Steel visits Owen as he aims to keep the Alliance together. Owen tells him that if he wants to do that, the Liberals should join with the Social Democrats in seeing Labour removed from office. Under them, the country is in a worst state than it was in May: the certainty from Owen that Benn will soon take the reins of power in Labour is also mentioned. Steel won’t budge and neither will Owen. They are at an impasse here and the Alliance meets its death.
The Social Democrats votes the next day to follow Owen’s suggested course with regard to what its MPs will do in the Commons. The vote isn’t unanimous though and among those who don’t agree is Maclennan. He pledges that he will not vote to put Tebbit back in Downing Street… yet he is only one of the nineteen MPs (including the absent Jenkins who casts his vote by proxy) that the Social Democrats have. Eighteen votes in the Commons will no longer be for a Labour government. Owen joins Williams in a press conference arranged for that afternoon at Four. It is one well attended by the media. The announcement is made that the Social Democrats no longer support the government. The latter states that control has been lost of law and order nationwide and a change is needed. In response to a posed question from a journalist with The Daily Mail, the former says that should a motion of no confidence be tabled in the Commons when Parliament returns tomorrow, it will be one which the Social Democrats will cast vote in support of that. Owen is asked if this is an invitation for someone to do just that and he smiles…
During that last day before MPs are back, Healey fights to stop the attempt to depose him. He and several high-level Labour figures contact MPs from the Social Democrats to try and get them to back the government. They don’t have any luck though, even with Maclennan who is far from keen on all of this. He indicates he might abstain instead. The majority of these MPs aren’t ones with long service in the Commons who might have old ties to Labour despite the schism which saw the Social Democrats formed three years ago. So few of those defectors from Labour who might be counted upon to hate the idea of putting a Conservative right-winger like Tebbit back in power survived this May’s general election. Trying to get newly-elected MPs from the Social Democrats to split off from their party’s vote-approved decision is impossible. There are further problems. Steel finds he might not be able to keep his own house in order with several MPs from the Liberals wavering over whether they too wish to continue to support Healey’s premiership and there is talk of them supporting any vote to depose Healey as well. Only from the SDLP does there come any support: their two votes will hardly be enough to avert what is coming! Outside of all of these political shenanigans, none of this is going unnoticed by those who since the Foot assassination have been shouting Stop The Coup. Unofficial gatherings in the name of the People’s Front take place – a couple of hundred people at the very most in each the various incidents – at several locations and times. The Social Democrats headquarters sees people outside and so does Owen’s family home too; another group of people are outside the currently closed Houses of Parliament. The Met. Police respond but while there is a lot of anger, there isn’t any violence. The concern is that there will be though when this drama comes to the conclusion it is heading towards.
Parliament returns on Thursday morning without much of the usual pomp and ceremony. MPs are back from their holidays early and return to Westminster where there is a lot of visible security about. They have been recalled to discuss the situation which has brought about that being in-place yet developments in the past few days with the Social Democrats means that the potential for the fall of the government is imminent. In the Commons, Speaker Bernard Weatherill works with the government to set the agenda of proceedings but he is informed that the Conservatives wish to lay down a motion of no confidence. It isn’t something that can be ignored nor pushed to the back of the agenda, not when there is a hung parliament and the Conservatives have a plurality in numbers. Weatherill decrees that this will take the priority the rules set by convention demand that it does.
Tebbit puts down the motion. It declares that the House of Commons has no confidence in the sitting government. MPs can vote aye to agree or nay to disagree with this. They are invited to speak upon the merits of the motion and then the decision is taken that there will have to be a vote on this. It will be held tomorrow morning, Weatherill says. In the meantime, the matter of security is what the Commons turn to. Those questions are asked of ministers and statements are made. Proceedings in Parliament aren’t televised though they are recorded for sound. The words spoken by MPs go out across the country as several radio channels opt to broadcast live what is being said. Healey and Hattersley both respond on behalf of the government against alleged incompetence in accusations made by Tebbit and also Shadow Home Secretary Heseltine of utter incompetence. Left wing figures such as Benn and Wall are heard across the country too when Weatherill calls upon them to speak; so are Amery and Gardiner from the right as well. Steel and Owen are given the opportunity to speak when called upon with the latter being repeated interrupted. The Speaker instructs Fields and Nellist to both keep silent to no avail. Each man makes the shout of ‘Stop The Coup’ when the Social Democrats’ acting leader is trying to address the Commons concerning his belief that mass public protests need to be better policed at this time of national emergency. These two Militant-backed Labour MPs will not let him speak without interrupting. Weatherill is forced to ‘name’ both of them in an effort to silence each man yet they will not be quiet. Other far left MPs with Militant come to their defence. Weatherill is forced to announce that there is ‘grave disorder’ within the Commons Chamber and force an adjournment. This is a temporary measure meant to bring calm once MPs have had the time to cool off. After an hour, MPs are brought back. The Speaker has achieved what he has sought to: the disorder is over and the Commons can return to the matter at-hand of why they have been recalled.
Led by Wall, those Militant MPs are now outside rather than within the Commons. There is a crowd of people within Parliament Square around them. This isn’t a People’s Front event but instead a gathering organised by Militant itself. To even the most unbiased of observer, this is something pre-arranged. Those MPs deliberately forced Weatherill to act. There are claims to those waiting for them that they have been deliberately thrown out of the Commons – where voters have sent them! – as part of an establishment stich-up when they were protesting against the coup underway in Britain. Owen is denounced as being a key part of that where he is working to ensure that the will of the British people is subverted. Fields holds up today’s copy of The Sun newspaper. The headline reads ‘Welcome back, Norman!’ with an image of Tebbit on the frontpage. For this MP in particular, that publication and its editor Kelvin Mackenzie have for some time now been regarded as an enemy. The British public remember the headline of the day of the general election where The Sun was backing Tebbit: it ran ‘We Can’t Have This Old Fool Running Britain’ in reference to an unflattering image of Foot pictured. The tabloid had backed the Conservatives then and tried all it could in the days afterwards to urge other MPs not to put Foot in Downing Street. The problem that Militant has with The Sun are further frontpage attacks on them since. Mackenzie has gone all out against them with some particularly nasty personal attacks made. Now it is openly welcoming what looks like an imminent return of Tebbit as part of the continuing support for Tebbit’s Conservatives. Wall takes the newspaper from Field and sets it alight in as much of a dramatic fashion as he can muster. He then makes his familiar shout: Stop The Coup! The pace of events has gone on regardless without those MPs inside the Commons. Hattersley confirms changes to policing procedures with regard to protests and the Home Secretary says too that there are moves underway to ban upcoming People’s Front marches arranged for this weekend. The shooting incident last Saturday has been the last straw for the government. Later, the sitting in the Commons ends for the day but MPs are due back on the Friday morning.
Weatherill has scheduled Tebbit’s motion as the first order of business and it goes ahead. There is near full attendance in the Commons from MPs with only a very few missing. How the vote will go isn’t in doubt. Tebbit’s motion that the Commons has no confidence in the government passes with three hundred and thirty-five votes to three hundred and four. The Social Democrats (minus one abstention) votes with the Conservatives (ex-PMs Heath and Thatcher join in as everyone sets their differences aside) and so too do the Ulster Unionists, three Liberals (ignoring their party orders) and all of the smaller opposition parties apart from the SDLP. That support from the SDLP for Labour has come with the votes of eighteen Liberals… and no one else. There had been overnight efforts to gain support from MPs from the Social Democrats defying Owen and also to try and bring the smaller parties from Scotland and Wales onside. In his failed effort to do that with the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid, Healey has driven those few Liberals away and seen a trio of Labour abstentions too when it comes to supporting their own government. It is quite the mess with regards to where the ayes and nays have fallen… and will create even more mess in response.
The British constitution is famously – or infamously; it depends upon your point of view – something unwritten. Everything relies upon convention, what has been done before. The last time that a government lost a vote of no confidence was under Callaghan (a tight 311 to 310) with the result of that being him going to see the Queen and requesting a dissolution so that a new election could be fought. However, Callaghan could then have instead resigned and, should there have been a majority of support among MPs, a new government could have been formed without an election. In light of the result today, Healey doesn’t necessarily have to do either. There is no legal requirement for him to act at once. To do such a thing is unthinkable though. It would cause a constitutional crisis and imperil democracy. His government has lost its support despite all efforts to try and keep it as per agreements made back in May. The Queen is at Buckingham Palace and waiting for him due to arrangements made between her officials & government civil servants ahead of the vote occurring this morning. Healey takes the short trip there after leaving Parliament. In conversation, the Queen and her Prime Minister discuss what to do in light of it. Healey suggests that he should follow that example of Callaghan and make arrangements for a general election. This is questioned as to the wisdom of doing so when he is only the acting leader of his party and there are preparations underway within Labour to appoint a new one. Healey says that that process can be sped up and he believes that instead of the usual four weeks between a dissolution and an election, the timeframe could be extended to six weeks, even seven if needed.
The Queen shakes her head at this. She points to the Lascelles Principles. These are unofficial guidance but regarded as convention when it comes to a government being formed in her name in a situation where numbers are tight within the Commons. Parliament is still viable & capable of doing its job and there is too the certainty that another government under a different prime minister can govern. Healey’s suggestion of dissolution isn’t what she thinks is best. The Queen doesn’t ask him to resign though. She instead asks him to see if he can manage over the weekend to find a way to regain the support his government has lost. If he can, a motion of confidence could be called to affirm that. If not, the Queen believes that then they can discuss any resignation of Healey’s government. What she doesn’t want to see is a general election when there is no need for one at this time. This is advice given to her by unelected officials but she does agree with it.
In Downing Street, Healey meets with his Cabinet and senior party officials when returning from the seeing the Queen. There are journalists outside waiting with impatience and protesters who’ve come up from Parliament Square too. Noise can be heard from the latter in the background: everyone here knows that they are still shouting Stop The Coup. Those here are informed as to what was said at Buckingham Palace. There is a bit of disquiet at the Queen directing events yet, still, it is understood that this is in reality coming from civil servants such as Armstrong and others. What she says is correct too. There is a viable opposition in Parliament which can be formed. Labour is in no state to at once fight an election. While it doesn’t seem likely that it can be done, a few days more have been given now to try and reverse the outcome of the vote in the Commons today. Maybe the tide can be turned… Healey knows that there are others who might in this situation say that they would refuse to do as the Queen asked him to do and try to force an election regardless. Healey is reminded by the party’s General Secretary Jim Mortimer of the terrible state his party is in though with no cash on-hand to fight with, low poll numbers and a divided party. Then there is the fact that Labour came second in May’s general election though and has only been in government at the mercy of others. Tebbit’s Conservatives will likewise return to power under the influence of smaller parties and there will likely be a general election soon enough. Time is needed to be prepared for that. Whether it is he or possibly Benn who leads Labour into that, he doesn’t know. That will be a matter of democracy, just like the efforts he will now make over the next few days to try and avert the inevitable end of his extremely short premiership. His speechwriter drafts a statement for him to make and, once that is done, he goes outside to talk to the media. The Prime Minister calls for MPs to support his leadership at this time of crisis. He says he can get the job done with that. He urges the public to respect the democratic will of Parliament too.
All day, the numbers of protesters who’ve gathered in Central London grow. No official march or organised event is underway but people are showing up on Whitehall as well as down in Parliament Square. There isn’t the feeling among that the Healey has of the future being Que Sera, Sera. Angry and motivated, they make their presence feet with their feet and voices. They are trying to stop the end of the Labour government even if the decisions taken by it during its existence are ones which they have protested against. The thought of a return to the premiership of Tebbit terrifies them though. They believe they have voted him out and now he has wormed his way back in! Word does filter among those on the streets of the capital that Healey has not yet gone but that ‘not yet’ bit is understood to mean that it is certain to happen. For several days now, the upcoming fall of the government has been all the talk in the newspapers and on the news after Owen’s action: it is delayed but not called off. The only thing that can be done is thought to be to protest against this and eventually they can bring it to a stop. Politicians will have to listen to them in the end!
When there is property damage done and the obstruction of traffic gets to an unacceptable level, the police move in. The Commissioner of the Met. Police, Kenneth Newman, has had a terrible couple of months. There have been officers murdered and many others hurt in rioting and violent disturbances across the city. London has been hit with domestic terrorism with the Met. on the receiving end of that. At the same time, the government has been telling him to not go in hard while criticising him when there is that disorder that a strong initial reaction would have nipped in the bud. Newman was the verge of resigning in disgust – doing so publicly too – until that political surprise came on Tuesday. He’d been quietly hoping that Tebbit would be back in power today and is just as surprised as everyone else by what Healey says on the steps of Downing Street where he has been granted several days by the Queen to try to reform support for the current government. Of course, the Met. is meant to be apolitical yet these things affect him, his organisation and his officers. This evening, Hattersley backtracks on everything he has previously been saying about the police ‘not encouraging violence’ and the Home Secretary instructs the Met. to crack down hard. The Met. is a bit short-handed at the moment with officers available for public duty tasks due to preparations being made to lend out personnel to attend planned People’s Front marches elsewhere in the country tomorrow but Newman calls in extra officers from elsewhere in the city. He is too allowed to use the controversial Special Patrol Group for riot control when a petrol bomb is thrown by a protester to burn out a – hastily abandoned – police car in the middle of Whitehall. The crowds are broken up and order is restored. It takes some time and there are some ‘difficulties’ but the Met. have done as tasked… bashing many heads while doing so.
While big political developments have been going on in the past few days drawing public attention, there has been a quiet but severe break among those at the top of the People’s Front. A clash of personalities has erupted among this organisation’s steering committee. The SWP consider it theirs but have allowed a high-level presence at the top from other groups on the far left. This hasn’t included the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. No matter how much Livingstone has tried to bring them aboard on an official level, Cliff and Harman have pushed back. Attendance at protests from the WRP has been growing though in size and visibility. Cliff believes that the shooting by unidentified gunmen on Hampstead Heath last week towards the police – wounding two and killing another – was their work. No more is he willing to tolerate them unofficially. Harman supports this position and so too do both the Communist & Revolutionary Communist Party officials (usually these two are at each other’s throats: here they have cordial agreement) allowed a say in directing events too. Livingstone denies that that was their work and blames agent provocateurs ‘from the security services’ and wants them at this weekend’s planned protest marches to apparently defend attendees from racist fascists in the National Front who are reported being ready to turn out in opposition. Defeated, Livingstone has been expelled from the steering committee. While there is a good reason for this, it is something that will damage the People’s Front. His control of the Greater London Council has ensured that their marches in London have gone ahead. He’s gone now though, thrown out after defending people whom Cliff and Harman regard as murderers.
Losing Livingstone’s influence in London is a blow to the People’s Front but what comes late on Friday – while there is rioting ongoing in London – is worse. The Home Office sought to but failed to ban the Hampstead Heath march last weekend: the High Court now approve the move from Hattersley to put a stop to the two marches planned for tomorrow. At Plymouth and Manchester, judges in London say that there can be no public gatherings organised by the People’s Front under their name nor that of a proxy. Paul Foot, nephew of the murdered Michael Foot and who is a prominent SWP supporter as well as a journalist with The Daily Mirror (currently on compassionate leave), is due to speak down in Devon as one of the headline speakers there in what was his uncle’s home town. Meanwhile, the Manchester event is meant to see Cliff and Wall take centre-stage. Now these will be illegal if they take place. The barrister arguing the People’s Front case argues that the timing is extremely late with so many preparations underway. Nonetheless, those judges say the protests cannot go ahead as the violence seen in North London is cited as key in their decision. Instructions come for the People’s Front to do all they can to make sure that everyone involved knows that there is cancellation too. Cliff does the opposite. He’s interviewed on the BBC with his reaction to the court decision sought. The SWP’s leader claims that those judges are acting in the interests of the establishment to allow a coup to take place in Britain robbing people of democracy. He uses the platform given by a live broadcast to state that supporters of the People’s Front should gather in London tomorrow at Trafalgar Square. By turning out in numbers, they can avert the disaster coming with Tebbit once more back in Downing Street. The BBC will not repeat what Cliff says in that live broadcast when news reports later comment on the court case. They do though run remarks by Wall talking about ‘radical action’ needing to be taken and his suggestion that the workers of the country should take part in a general strike in opposition to the political stitch-up ongoing. He also says, once more live on air, that before that they should take to the streets tomorrow. Both calls by these two men are heard by people across the country either themselves or third-hand. Nothing official is arranged yet it is guaranteed that there will be people on the streets of the capital tomorrow with no arrangements in-place to organise nor guide them.
Meanwhile, MI-5 is looking for Michael Alexander van der Poorten… better known as Mike Banda, the Worker’s Revolutionary Party’s number two man. A raid by armed police takes place in Derbyshire against that country estate from where the WRP has their ‘training camp’ (a property several years ago purchased by Corin Redgrave and gifted to WRP use) but they find no one there they are looking for. Instead, it is on fire with the entire place gutted by the morning. Several homes in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire likewise receive this attention too. Police officers have SAS personnel waiting in the wings to be brought in yet those soldiers are unneeded by officers seeking arrests. No real opposition to the searches and detentions made across the other properties throughout the middle of rural England comes though. There is just surprise from these WRP figures instead of anyone rushing for weapons. Banda is nowhere to be found despite intelligence-led operations on addresses where he is thought might be. He’s gone into hiding and so many of his dangerous devotees are also spending tonight out of sight ahead of following instructions as to what to do tomorrow. Despite what the organs of the state security have been told in interrogations of those caught in Bedfordshire bringing about these actions, the revolution promised by Banda to his people is going to be attempted. He’s going all out against the state and aiming to burn it all down.
Parts of Central London burn the next day. Deliberate acts of arson take place against a selected range of targets chosen for their symbolism. There are small teams of gunmen on the loose among ongoing major disorder in the city. The long-promised revolution has begun!
The historic Westminster Hall within the Parliamentary Estate goes up in flames and will burn to the ground. It has survived much in hundreds of years it has stood including wars, revolution and terrorism. Today it is destroyed when armed men force their way into and set it alight when their planned attack elsewhere is thwarted. The smoke will engulf the Houses of Parliament and onlookers will fear that the fire is far worse than it is. It’s bad enough though. This act of arson is right at the heart of democracy and those who do it came remarkably close to getting into the Commons Chamber to destroy that place instead. There is a fire at the Treasury building on nearby Whitehall too. Windows are smashed and petrol bombs thrown inside. The separate fires link together and begin to spread. No firefighters are initially able to get near the building allowing for half of it to be destroyed before the fire is tackled and put out later in the day. Following shootings and a hostage situation at Broadcasting House in Marylebone, that building is also set on fire. Flames fast take hold throughout due to multiple planned seats of the fire and there is quickly an uncontrollable inferno that will take many lives. Like Westminster Hall, the BBC site at Broadcasting House will be completely destroyed.
Wearing balaclavas and carrying pistols as well as petrol cans, small teams of volunteers who’ve pledged their lives for this are active in London trying to burn down more than they do. They have hopes to get into Buckingham Palace, Downing Street and New Scotland Yard on Broadway as well. For several different reasons, neither of these targets meet the flames of the revolution as planned. Worker’s Revolutionary Party attacks to destroy further symbols of the British establishment fail at these and the attack against the Houses of Parliament only meets that partial success it does. At Broadcasting House, ahead of the fires being lit, there is an attempt to force radio news presenters to read out a prepared statement live over the airwaves. An unarmed security guard and a young – and foolishly brave – producer lose their lives while other BBC staff throw their hands in the air. Unseen, an experienced technician ‘pulls the plug’ on all outgoing transmissions from the building though. The fire at the Treasury is supposed to be 10 Downing Street yet crowds on the streets and the police response to that stop entry to there. Moreover, while the fire was lit where it was, one of those involved doesn’t manage to successfully throw the glass bottle of petrol properly and instead accidently sets himself alight: what a horrible death he has. Outside of Buckingham Palace, two of the four volunteers are killed in an exchange of shots with soldiers and the other pair run for their lives. They have come up against armed soldiers willing to shoot and who can, unlike them, shoot straight too.
Banda’s efforts fail. He doesn’t achieve what he wants. The fires which are lit are far from satisfying and will not bring about the revolution of the workers which he has promised his flock of young, passionate devotees. Yet, among the failure, the ongoing situation in the middle of London which both helps and hinders his efforts does give him some hope for the future. While those fires burn, other parts of the nation’s capital are being torn apart in a riot unlike no other one seen beforehand.
Estimates on the day say that up to half a million people have turned out. This is a gross exaggeration and the true number will be closer to three hundred thousand rather than five. Regardless, this is a lot of people who’ve come from across the nation at short notice to turn out on the streets of London and Stop The Coup. There is no one to organise their participation in this protest with no coordination done with the police nor local authorities. A trio of football teams in the First Division – Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur & West Ham – are playing home games today with fans using the same public transport system that all of these protesters are. The crowds gather in various locations, not just Trafalgar Square where many of them have heard that a march will begin from. People’s Front stewards aren’t present and also missing are SWP activists handing out placards to people to carry. There are select groups of troublemakers who stick together, oft with one or two of them carrying a loudspeaker. Call are made for action. Demands are shouted and then direction is given on how people can achieve those. With their feet, the people who’ve turned out on this sunny Saturday afternoon can assert their will as to who should run the country. Who will that be? Those trying to send thousands of people at a time in different directions. Utter chaos ensues.
One of the big crowds of people move from around Marble Arch and into Mayfair with the direction for them being the US Embassy. The attempt back in July to march on that location when part of a People’s Front gathering then was hi-jacked by anarchists is repeated. There were a few hundred people then. This time there are nearly fifteen thousand going that way. Chants of Stop The Coup come from the protesters going there with the claim being have made that the Americans are behind the current British political crisis. Met. Police officers trying to stand in their way are pushed aside by the weight of numbers moving down multiple small streets in the direction of Grosvenor Square. As is the case two months ago though, the crowd is halted before they can get there when the police reaction is – finally – strong enough to hold them back. Lines of riot police and mounted officers block access down several streets. From behind, the surging crowd push on though, crushing those out ahead who can see what is stopping them whereas those behind cannot. Unable to go forward nor backwards, people move sideways. Fashionable homes and office buildings line these streets along with a few shops. Forced entrance is made into them with looting and destruction soon being caused rather than the initial intention being to stop themselves being crushed. In among everyone else, there are people present who came to London to do something like this rather than just to make a political protest. They do what they are here to do and, in response, the police come forward due to this property damage. Their reaction comes from not understanding why this is happening. They see a riot and break it up without an overview of the true situation of a crowd of people in panic. Injuries and then deaths occur. Certain elements of the crowd attack police officers who they regard as using unreasonable force being used against others with them. A large section of Mayfair is thus engulfed in violence.
Moving away from Victoria Station, another large crowd are directed up Broadway with a destination being the Houses of Parliament. There are the ‘usual’ chants among them and also those with their loudspeakers in use to encourage them to go that way. Met. Police officers – including some of those recalled from their planned Manchester mission when it was confirmed that the People’s Front march there was cancelled – stop them from getting far and try to disperse the illegal gathering on the streets. Scattering, many of those people end up through the Petty France area near the Home Office and behind Wellington Barracks. Mounted officers move forward to break up the largest concentrations of people once projectiles are being thrown towards them and there is ongoing property damage. The vast majority of the people have no involvement in any of this violence yet the determined few are spread among them. Orders from above tell the Met. Police officers that they are to stop violent disorder and that they do. As is seen up in Mayfair, this comes with deaths and injuries though including several people trampled below police horses. Physical attacks upon those animals see several rear up in fright & pain and the unfortunate get caught in their way.
From Trafalgar Square, a large group of protesters head towards Admiralty Arch with the intention of marching on Buckingham Palace via The Mall. Newspapers this morning have all been mentioning the Queen and it is believed by many that she has played a role in this ongoing crushing of the democratic will of the people with a change of government. Some of that coverage was negative and other bits positive. She lives down there, a man with a loudspeaker tells them, and let’s go visit her fancy house! Following the Foot assassination, in something which has brought much fury, there have been soldiers on London’s streets. None of them have involved themselves in public order tasks but they are out in the open in certain locations to provide a visible deterrent to terrorists. Among the police officers below Admiralty Arch, there are soldiers there. The crowd doesn’t go through them but rather moves away to the right up towards Pall Mall and into St. James’. On every road available, small and large, there are people moving in every direction without a single purpose. Some try to head back to Trafalgar Square while others have intentions of looping around that blockage at Admiralty Arch and making it to Buckingham Palace. There are many who just want to stay still for the time being while they decide whether it was worth it to come to London today. There are groups of far left activists here who’ve failed to lead the people where they wanted to. Power to the people is what they want to see but it is hard to get the uninformed to understand this! They act themselves in fewer numbers but with more of an idea what they want to do. St. James’ is home to locations associated with the establishment such as gentlemen’s clubs (cigar rooms, not strippers) and expensive shops which cater to the rich. These are attacked. Cases of mistaken identity occur in many instances yet elsewhere the desired places are reached. Doors are broken down and windows smashed. Graffiti is daubed and damage done. Parked cars, especially expensive looking ones, are given a going over too. A few fires will start but these aren’t intentional acts. The police response comes soon enough and those taking place in this riot flee rather than stand their ground. St. James’ is being torn apart.
A second large gathering of people away from Trafalgar Square goes south down Whitehall. The road is closed to traffic and pedestrians after yesterday’s trouble but that thin line of police there is overwhelmed. Urgent calls are made for assistance yet it is too late for the officers there. Most fall back or move aside in organised fashion yet a few officers alone or in pairs are caught among the crowd with physical assaults made upon them leading to the death of one unlucky officer. Down Whitehall the crowd surges, right towards Downing Street. They get in the way of a WRP armed arson team – on what would surely be a suicidal mission – without noticing. Ministries and historical buildings are bypassed with the entrance to the centre of the British government being the goal to where activists with loudspeakers take them. There are no gates at the entrance to Downing Street. Even with armed attacks from Irish Republican extremists for many years and recent domestic terrorism, there is only a waist-high barrier of bollards and railings to stop vehicles with police officers usually assigned between them. Warning of the mass of people comes late but the reaction from the police officers and also soldiers on duty here is fast. They move two police vans in the way and position themselves behind this impromptu barrier. Batons and riot shields, rather than the guns available, are used to stop the passage of people getting through the gaps. The crowd tip over one of those police vans – killing a protester caught in the way – but this doesn’t help their passage forward at all. Smoke is now coming from the Treasury where that arson attack has been made and this deters further action. The forced invasion into Downing Street is halted. Reinforcements arrive and once more riot police & mounted officers soon start to disperse the crowd in both directions along Whitehall. Protesters throw projectiles towards the Ministry of Defence building and smash windows at the Ministry of Health yet they have been stopped here from getting where they wanted to.
From all across London, and later in the day from further afield as constabularies in the Home Counties send aid, police officers converge upon Central London. Those big events come alongside widespread outbreaks of rioting and other disorder. Some of this involves football fans with hooligan firms getting into fights with what they regard as ‘communist street protesters’. Sirens wailing and smoke from fires fill the air. At the train stations of Charing Cross, King’s Cross & Victoria there is violence and general property damage. Looting takes place from people who’ve come into the capital to do that rather than protest. This spreads the later the day gets and into the night into many of the impoverished inner-city areas as well. Few people hear the gunshots near to Buckingham Palace though those who do will tell everyone they can of them. There are other shootings elsewhere though where further WRP volunteers, plus a pair of domestic terrorists from Red Action as well, fire weapons at the police. What has happened inside Broadcasting House is unknown to those not there while the flames & smoke from that fire on the Parliamentary Estate attract much attention. The big crowds of people break up into many smaller ones. Plenty of people try to go home, finding that difficult to do as the transport system shuts down due to disruption. There are criminal elements about who are reacting to the situation seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of people or property. Fire engines have bottles and stones thrown at them as police cars do but ambulances don’t suffer these attacks yet they do find many roads impassable though.
A revolution this is not: just one big riot with deaths and destruction aplenty.
This morning’s newspapers had those comments on the role that the Queen played yesterday – with not all of what is printed being true – but there was also much coverage of yesterday’s political developments. Publications such as The Daily Mail and The Sun carry headlines calling on Healey and his government to resign so that Tebbit can return to Downing Street. The Daily Mirror and The Morning Star proclaim that Healey needs the support for the people to ensure he can stay in power to preserve democracy. Other newspapers, the better quality broadsheets, have less dramatic frontpages without partisan tints and instead have focused on the peculiar political situation with a government losing a vote of no confidence yet staying where it is. The calls made for people to come to London by Militant’s best-known MP and the SWP’s leader have either small or zero mentions. None of the numbers on the streets of the capital nor the violence which is seen was expected by journalists. The general public might be split politically yet the overwhelming majority of British people have no interest in taking part in protest marches. That isn’t for them even if quite a few have sympathies with the declared causes, but not the actions, of those who have been doing so for months on end now.
On the radio and the television news there comes coverage of what is going on across London. A lot of what is reported is inaccurate but it is clear anarchy. The general unrest that has long been talked about if things got crazy politically is taking place. Britons do not like this. Many sympathies for the cause of what the People’s Front have been calling for now evaporate. Shock and anger come. How is this all being allowed to take place? Who is going to stop this?
That same question is asked this evening by Healey. The Prime Minister is at Chevening down in Kent. Like Chequers, this is a country residence gifted to the nation by a benefactor for use by senior government ministers. Healey has made use of it while Foreign Secretary & Deputy Prime Minister and has been here following Foot’s assassination. The place is well-protected with armed police officers on-site and a reaction force of soldiers based in Canterbury only a short heli-lift away. He’s informed throughout the day as the situation gets out of hand. Calls to cabinet ministers are made alongside incoming ones from officials in the civil service & the armed forces. Events at Broadcasting House, Buckingham Palace House and Westminster Hall take most attention due to their seriousness though as the hour gets late more attention is paid to the collapse of public order throughout large areas of London. Commissioner Newman admits that the Met. Police has lost control of the situation. They are being overwhelmed even with assistance starting to be provided by neighbouring forces. He’s had officers murdered in violent physical attacks and even shootings. Prompted, he asks for military help: the situation has got that bad that only soldiers on the streets can avert what Newman fears – and the Cabinet agrees – will be major loss of life if this carries on into the night. There is an operational plan that the armed forces have at-hand and one which Silkin urges the Prime Minister to follow.
After much deliberation, and with a heavy heart, Healey orders Operation CANNONBALL to commence. The government – a Labour one at that – sends soldiers up against its own people.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
Back during April when the general election campaigns were in full swing, the investigative journalist Duncan Campbell posted a story in the left-leaning New Statesman concerning a revelation that in light of a Labour victory, there was the possibility that the British Armed Forces had a plan of action to take to the streets to help maintain order. He used a well-placed source and had spoken to others who confirmed this. His story was mangled during electioneering by political forces out to use it for their own end. The so-called ‘Operation Crown Jewels’ was seized upon by all sides to attack the other claiming scaremongering or warning of impending doom.
Campbell – who had the operation’s real name, not that silly one promoted by a Labour Party staffer – was left to watch helplessly as everything was twisted beyond recognition. The story became something it wasn’t with a reputed military takeover being what people were talking about for a couple of days. That wasn’t what he’d written of. Instead, he had uncovered preparations for the largescale use of military aid to the civil power in the event of widespread public disorder: this wasn’t about an attack on democracy. The Conservative’s campaign team rubbished the notion and condemned it as a Labour-supported dirty trick. However, the then Tebbit Government knew that there was truth to what Campbell wrote. The MOD and Defence Secretary Heseltine did authorise advanced planning for soldiers to be deployed in the face of street protests which could bring about anarchy on the streets. This started before the election as the People’s March For Jobs and CND campaigns were bringing people out and violence had been seen. There were staff exercises on paper and in radio simulations so that, if called upon in a legitimate fashion to act, there could be military support for the civilian authorities if a breakdown in public order became that bad. When John Silkin took over Heseltine’s ministerial brief following Foot replacing Tebbit, the new Secretary of Defence was informed about these plans. He understood the need for them to be made even if he didn’t agree with the idea. During his time in office, Silkin has allowed for the planning to continue during the continuing acts of violence associated with People’s Front marches and domestic acts of terrorism. Everything has been hush-hush with the information kept between senior uniformed officials and a small cabal of ministers including Healey and Hattersley as well as Silkin too.
Crown Jewels has never been an operational name for one of these contingency plans. There are several of them, including one which has been in effect for the past fortnight since Foot was assassinated: Operation GRINDSTONE has seen the visible military presence in Whitehall and around Buckingham Palace to deter terrorism. The others are CANNONBALL, FOXHUNT, SNOWFLAKE & THREADBARE. Each is tailored to a different situation concerning London and other major urban centres to be implemented should significant levels of violence break out with the police being unable to control that. The plan is for soldiers to flood the streets where disorder is occurring and aid the police in enforcing public order. Curfews and quarantines are parts of several of the plans though not in each one. Weapons to be used and rules of engagement vary too. None call for an overwhelming use of force. What these plans are all about it protecting the public rather than oppression. Long experience with military operations in Ulster has taught the British Armed Forces much about how – they should at least – respond to mass rioting, terrorist attacks and such like. The planners have had confidence that what they have drawn up is flexible and suitable should the worst happen and the ever-growing violence seen in recent years increases to a level where soldiers are needed. No one is keen and eager to see any of this needed though. It has been the hope of those involved since inception that none of this will ever see the light of day and the plans can be filed away in the archives for some historian to one day marvel over.
On September 15th, the order comes for CANNONBALL to move from paper to reality though.
Operational command for the military operations to aid the civilian authorities in the capital comes under the leadership of the British Army’s London District. The headquarters is at the historic Horse Guards… with rioters right outside there on Whitehall! A flash alert to be ready has come in the preceding hours but the go-order is still a surprise for those involved at London District and then at the various garrisons throughout the wider London area where sub-unit commanders are told to take their men out onto the streets. Deployment plans are issued and rules-of-engagement made firm to junior officers and men. At Four in the evening, CANNONBALL begins.
Soldiers from two battalions of Foot Guards move out of Chelsea Barracks in trucks and spread throughout Central London. The Grenadier Guards & the Scots Guards are ‘public duty’ rolled but that involves mounting ceremonial guards and taking part in parades. They are soldiers though and are being deployed into a hostile area. The Irish Guards, currently on GRINDSTONE duties, see the rest of their men sent out from Wellington Barracks too. The Royal Green Jackets have men at Hyde Park Barracks (the Knightsbridge side) and they begin additional CANNONBALL tasks. These infantry-trained soldiers are joined by personnel from the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Corps of Signals – all combat support troops – moving out of various sites in and around London too. There are military bases all over the place and from out of them come soldiers heading towards assigned sectors. British Army helicopters are soon in the evening skies too with their task being to provide communications relay as well as observation. All told, CANNONBALL begins with close to six thousand troops. There isn’t a tank in sight: this isn’t that type of mission!
The Met. Police provide directions as to where the worst of the reported trouble is. London District HQ is officially supporting them despite this being a military deployment and so they are the ones ultimately calling the shots. The soldiers within the middle of London are carrying their rifles, with bayonets attached too, but are only to open fire in the most extreme circumstances. Their physical presence will deter the need for that as per the plans drawn up for their use. Such thinking is proved correct. Whereas the police have been in visible retreat and are far outnumbered, when there are lines of soldiers making a show and careful march along major thoroughfares, the crowds disperse away from them. Projectiles are rarely thrown and only the very foolish try to get in their way. Should the protesters on the streets have stood firm and refused to move, things might get difficult. This doesn’t happen though. Across Central London, the anarchy comes to a rapid end. Those attacking property, the police and onlookers disperse. The intimidation factor of CANNONBALL works a treat. Westminster is secured and so too are neighbouring portions of the middle of the city. It does come with a very nasty incidents though.
A platoon of the Scots Guards moving across Lambeth Bridge towards the South Bank after marching down Horseferry Road towards the Thames have shots directed against them from afar. Someone uses sighted rifle and one guardsman is severely injured. Return fire is held though unless a target can be identified. When one isn’t, the guardsmen move onwards over the river with a low-flying helicopter now above them as they enter South London. In St James’, where the Irish Guards are on foot through that ravaged area, a petrol bomb is thrown towards one of their platoon when they are near to the arson-hit Reform Club (one of those gentlemen’s clubs deliberately targeted by Red Action today) and two gunshots ring out. Guardsmen take carefully-aimed shots against another man aiming to likewise throw another petrol bomb and he is killed without anyone else hit. When the Grenadier Guards secure Parliament Square, they exchange shots with several people who it later is discovered were those who fire-bombed Westminster Hall. Sergeants keep their men in order with that return fire well-directed as others manoeuvre into position for a final assault against a pinned down opponent. It is a case of poorly-trained wannabe revolutionaries armed with pistols against disciplined and well-equipped professional soldiers with automatic rifles. There can only be one winner. Four people – one of them it turns out later is wholly innocent – are killed in these exchanges.
Central London is secured within the space of a few hours. Those Foot Guards units and the Royal Green Jackets soldiers do excellent work. They take control with only the bare minimal of force used in nearly all incidents apart from the shots fired in St. James’ and near Parliament. Elsewhere, in the absence of bullets or bayonet tips being used, the stocks of the SLR rifles are employed where necessary against the skulls of a few diehard revolutionaries. There are a number of people who will not disperse, who refuse to do what anyone sensible does and run away, and so the soldiers employ ‘minimal force’ as per their standing orders. Reports back to London District HQ update the commander – and thus Healey at Chevening – that the riot in the middle of the capital has been put to an end. The anarchy is over with. There is quite the terrible toll though. There is extensive damage all over the place. Including those landmarks known about, rioters have attacked County Hall – home of Livingstone’s Greater London Council – and places such as Westminster School & the cinemas in Leicester Square. They’ve seemingly broken as many windows as they can find and attacked cars, buses and taxis at random. Train and Underground stations have been smashed up in acts of wanton violence. Looting of shops has been especially bad up Regent’s Street but extended elsewhere too including the sex shops in Soho as well. Hotels along Park Lane and nearby have been subject to much vandalism in their lobbies. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square has been struck though the damage isn’t as bad as first feared. The list goes on and on… and on. Firefighters are assisted by the soldiers in trying to supress some of the worst blazes raging but the number of fires ongoing is at this time uncountable. Moreover, there are bodies in the streets of policemen and civilians. Dozens of deaths have occurred, all for seemingly no purpose.
CANNONBALL operations are more about Central London though. As the rioting there goes on throughout the day, trouble erupts elsewhere across London in impoverished inner-city areas. In these places it is about criminality rather than political protest. Those troops from artillery, engineering & signals units are deployed as infantry outside the better-known parts of the city in trouble hit areas to the north, the south, the east and the west. The Royal Green Jackets later redeploy to aid the efforts in North London with soldiers sent to Hackney, Harringay and Tottenham. Men from the Royal Artillery out of Woolwich Barracks are reinforced by the Grenadier Guards before midnight too on anti-riot duties through South London.
Waves of destruction hit large parts of London. Television images during the day of rioting in the middle have been watched by youngsters and criminals elsewhere. It has been said that the police have been overwhelmed and are pouring into Westminster. Troublemakers have come out on a nice day to join in with the anarchy with the belief that they will not be stopped. Muggings, random physical attacks and looting has been ongoing. None of it is concentrated in a (relatively) small area as seen near to the centre of the city. Neighbouring areas around where riots do occur escape all of this. The Armed Forces now find themselves stretched more than anticipated and it is in these places where there is real use of force employed by those on CANNONBALL tasks. They have to do so when faced with attacks made against them and the police who they have come to aid. Shots are fired at them and are returned. More gunfire is directed skywards in warnings than is sent towards armed civilians yet when the latter does occur, those in the way of bullets fired by those in uniform come off the worst from these encounters. Nineteen civilians are shot tonight by soldiers with ten of them losing their lives. The Armed Forces lose a trio of their own men to add to police deaths of more than a dozen as well… gunfire also kills four innocents during crossfire too. The sun going down and the urban environment contribute to these deaths. There is also the use of those bayonets attached to rifles. CANNONBALL instructions are for them to be employed as part of intimidation instead of having to open fire. On a few occasions, the soldiers jab at rioters who are fighting them rather than shooting them. The stab wounds from these are quite something but is justified as ‘reasonable force’ in place of gunfire.
Bringing soldiers out onto the streets when they have with such haste, though following those standing plans, has been ordered by the government in part because they don’t want the rioting to continue into the night where it is feared it will involve a greater loss of life. This is achieved within Central London but the scale of the unrest elsewhere in London has spun out of control far beyond the worst expectations. It will be after midnight before it all finally comes to an end. The situation is exasperated by other factors including football fans leaving stadiums and pubgoers out for a night out despite all that has been going on throughout the day. The death toll climbs all night. Men from the Parachute Regiment coming up from Aldershot (entering London District control) deploy into areas of South London where there is the last of that rioting and there are also Royal Military Police units brought in across the East End. These extra soldiers join with the expanding police presence as neighbouring forces aid the Met. with riot teams too. Combining, the weight of numbers clears concentrations of rioters and criminals away from where they have gathered. They start going home if they haven’t been arrested, some with ill-gotten gains but others carrying injuries. Hospitals are where many others who’ve been on the streets during today end up. CANNONBALL plans have included military medical units but there aren’t many of them and their task has been to treat wounded soldiers and help in Central London rather than assist the NHS outside the middle of the city. A&E departments at multiple hospitals are scenes of near pandemonium where soldiers are sent to in the early hours to help put down trouble using their presence rather than bullets. Drunks are the real problem here: the looting during the day has seen many participants steal alcohol and then consume that before taking a trip to the hospital.
It’s all over long before the sun comes up on the Sunday morning. CANNONBALL has been a success. Order is restored to the streets of London, be they those the streets in Westminster or Peckham. The cost is one hundred and fourteen lives lost throughout the preceding day. Now, the ramifications will come.
Denis Healey goes to see the Queen on the Sunday morning. She is at Windsor Castle and the Prime Minister travels there in a road convoy – going along the M-25, not through London – from Kent will heavy security. It is only two weeks since Michael Foot was assassinated and the threat level against Healey is judged high enough to see a large, well-armed escort. There are a few soldiers out and about in Windsor (men from the Coldstream Guards) though they are less visible than the police presence. Windsor was untouched by yesterday’s violence but the failed effort by those seeking to be revolutionaries to try and burn down Buckingham Palace justifies their presence. Other soldiers from the Windsor area – more Coldstream Guards and the cavalry with the Life Guards – are in West London this morning along with other 5th Airborne Brigade elements now reinforcing the London District in the post-riot security situation. As to Healey, once he reaches Windsor Castle and has a private audience with his monarch, he tenders his resignation.
This is accepted by the Queen. When she last met with Healey on Friday following the vote of no confidence lost by his government, he sought from her a dissolution of Parliament and a subsequent general election. On advice of officials from the Royal Household as well as the nation’s senior-most civil servants, the Queen declined that request. She gave him until at least Monday to find a way to win another vote. Yesterday changed everything though. Parts of London have burnt down in a mass riot, more than a hundred people are dead and, as a last resort, Healey has had to order troops onto the streets to restore order. He knows full well that what has happened is ultimately his responsibility. The Liberal leader, David Steel, has been in touch this morning and told the Prime Minister that he and his MPs will no longer back a Labour government either following Saturday’s events. There was only the slightest chance of holding on but without the Liberals, it is completely impossible. It’s all over for Healey and his government. Upon accepting the resignation of his government, the Queen asks Labour’s acting leader if he can recommend someone else who can form a government seeing as Parliament is still capable of doing its job in her opinion. This isn’t something which he has to answer nor advice she has to take but it is done out of both convention and respect. Without missing a beat, Healey tells her that the former prime minister, Norman Tebbit, can command a majority of support in the House of Commons to form a government. He suggests that she ask him to do so, with haste too. The country needs leadership, he says, and it can no longer come from him.
Waiting on the call, Tebbit is fast on his way to Windsor once invited. He is brought into see the Queen and she asks him to form a government in her name. Tebbit accepts. He’s back!
Upon returning to Downing Street, Tebbit forms a (partial) coalition government. The Conservatives still have a plurality of numbers in terms of MPs but remain short of that elusive majority. Rather than rely upon other parties in a supply-and-confidence agreement, Tebbit brings them on-side as best as he can. David Owen from the Social Democrats and also the Ulster Unionists’ Jim Molyneaux take official roles in the government though Steel declines for the Liberals to do so. The position of First Secretary of State, effectively the Deputy Prime Minister, is given to Owen while Ian Wrigglesworth takes the post of Secretary of State for Trade & Industry; Molyneaux is granted the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. While the Ulster Unionist’s leader has what is generally a sinecure position, this still ensures him and the two Social Democrats’ MPs seats in the Cabinet and Molyneaux will be in many ways a minister without portfolio. Further appointments are left to Conservatives so as to not create Cabinet friction with any more ministerial briefs issued than Wrigglesworth’s but these are all real seats at the table for those who are keeping Tebbit in position. Using those positions is a political fudge and Tebbit does it to make sure that there aren’t many Cabinet dramatics. This is all meant to be temporary anyway: the new Prime Minister has no intention of this being the case for a long period, not at all. Furthermore, a further four MPs from the two parties are given important junior ministerial roles beneath Cabinet level too at key ministries. One of them is the Social Democrats’ Charles Kennedy, elected in May for the Scottish Highlands seat of Ross, Cromarty & Skye. His time spent at the Treasury will propel his political career exponentially. These placements ensure that Molyneaux and Owen have a hand in government business with trusted MPs of theirs in-place so that they themselves aren’t just figureheads in sinecure roles alone at the top where Tebbit can cut them out of things.
Or so they think…
Sticking with his Shadow Cabinet makeup, Tebbit appoints Michael Heseltine to the Home Office and at the Ministry of Defence, Tom King takes over. Other senior ministerial appointments see Nigel Lawson return to the Treasury, Keith Joseph back at the Foreign Office and Norman Fowler once more as Employment Secretary. Only four months ago, each man left those government departments upon the outcome of the general election but now they have returned to them just as Tebbit is once more Prime Minister. Changes elsewhere in the Cabinet have been made with the Conservatives back in power yet, in so many ways, it looks as if the past months have been nothing more than a brief interruption for them. The message sent is that things will go on as before with Tebbit’s government. Heseltine and King set about ensuring that the order on the streets of the capital restored stays that way with the Home Secretary also calling the MI-5 head to see him: he wants to know about those armed revolutionaries and how they have managed to do all that they have! Lawson is tasked with trying to fix the state of the nation’s finances following what is regarded as Labour mis-rule. Joseph is tasked to try and restore Britain’s international relations while Fowler is given the job by his Prime Minister of tearing up the last government’s flagship jobs scheme that Tebbit & he both agree was a stepping-stone to communist-style full employment. Tebbit is back!
Mike Banda is arrested and detained. At Heathrow Airport, immigration officers stop him from leaving the country while trying to fly out on a forged Indian passport. He’s wearing a crude disguise and trying to make his way back to his native Sri Lanka the day after failing to topple the British government using guns, arson and terror. Banda is to be held in detention without access to a lawyer while treason charges are pending. There are others accused of domestic terrorism offences also being held but he is the biggest prize among them all. Those ‘kids’ of his who he sent out to bring down the state died en masse but the ones who survived have been talking and, added to what is already known, the guilt of the mastermind of the failed revolution is beyond doubt in the eyes of the authorities. There are other arrests including Gerry Healy, the WRP’s leader, and the top people in the SWP leadership: Chris Harman and Tony Cliff. Less-known but important figures from the far right are also detained but this round-up of those on the far left is bigger. Elected politicians such as Ken Livingstone and Pat Wall are left alone though. Healy, Harman and Cliff will all be released in the following weeks as there is scant evidence against them for doing anything illegal yet their time in custody will be controversial for a long time to come. Princess Diana gives birth to a daughter today too. Younger sister to her older brother, the new-born girl (she’d been officially named in the next few days: Princess Victoria) is third-in-line to the throne. The news is something that the government and the Royal Family will hopefully cheer the nation up… everyone loves royal baby news!
Operation CANNONBALL is still live. Paras and Gurkhas are inside London along with Foot Guards units and the Royal Green Jackets. Away from Britain’s capital, other military units are standing ready to deploy from their garrisons into urban areas as per CANNONBALL plans too. It will be a real stretch if this is needed to be done (troops will be flown in from West Germany and Ulster) yet should more rioting erupt on the scale seen yesterday, further British cities will see soldiers supporting the police is dispersing the mob and even exchanging gunfire with anyone else who want to try revolution. There is none of that though. British cities away from the capital don’t follow that example. The situation isn’t ripe today like it was yesterday for an outbreak of mass public disorder. Central London itself is locked down. Soldiers are out on patrol to maintain a visible presence giving the police some rest. Every single officer, plain-clothes detectives donning uniforms too, has been involved yesterday and last night in public order tasks leaving the Met. drained. They’ve brought in officers recalled from annual leave and even staff from Hendon training college too, but it’s still a big task for them. There remain bodies to be removed from certain places and firefighters are busy dampening down some of those locations hit by arson attacks too. The general mess left in the wake of the riot is something that a clean-up needs to address though and what a task that will be!
Outside of the heart of the city, those reinforcements from the 5th Airborne Brigade are deployed into riot-hit inner-city areas where there remains a big police presence too. North London, South London and West London have those armed men on the streets; the situation is less tense in the East End. The rioting and mass criminality is over with but military support is still requested by the police unless it erupts again. Where countless places exploded in rage yesterday, none of that was about politics like it was in Central London. Ordinary people just took advantage of the disorder. There are temptations aplenty for those who might seek them with shopfronts smashed open. Looting is the fear today with the worry that if that starts, things will get worse. High streets, commercial areas and business premises need to be monitored and patrolled to make sure that doesn’t occur. Standing tight rules-of-engagement mean weapons will only be used if there is a threat to life so looters won’t be shot on-sight as the fear might be… but those behind CANNONBALL won’t mind if potential criminals are deterred by such a thought. This doesn’t happen though. All of that steam let off before the rioters went home doesn’t reappear. It is apparent to those looking out of their windows and seeing the news on the television that what they got away with late yesterday cannot be repeated now.
Sunday evening sees Tebbit on the television talking to the British public. If anyone was in any doubt that he’s back, that is now gone. A short statement is made by the smiling Prime Minister to the nation where he informs the nation about what happened yesterday and the political consequences of that. He calls for national unity and asks that the country support the efforts of the government in ensuring that law-and-order is maintained. In doing so, Tebbit makes it clear that the soldiers ordered onto the streets yesterday were done so at Healey’s orders. Of course, he supports that decision and they remain there now he is once more in Downing Street but that is put out there. Tebbit is preparing for the future here. In the meantime though, the Prime Minister talks about the lives lost yesterday and in the preceding few months. This time of chaos must end now, he says, so that Britons can live without fear of political violence. No more will it be tolerated and Tebbit once again asks the public to unite as one to face down those who wish to see the country ripped apart.
Afterwards, Tebbit says to close allies that he regards this as one of his best speeches, a Churchillian moment if there ever was one. He’s back in power and determined to carry on where he left off yet would like a mandate to do that, an electoral one that is.
The National Executive Committee is the ruling body within the Labour Party. It meets in the aftermath of Healey’s resignation as Prime Minister among an intense backlash against his actions. There is a clamour within the party for action to be taken against him. He pre-empts this and notifies them that he is resigning with immediate effect from his post as Deputy Leader. This leaves Labour without an acting leader weeks away from their party conference. Healey goes further than this in his requesting from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be appointed to the position of Crown Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds. This is accepted and Healey is no longer an MP either. The legal fiction of ‘taking the Chiltern Hundreds’ has been done by MPs before him so as to leave the House of Commons due to there being no other method of resigning as an MP apart from ‘accepting an office of profit under the Crown’. Out of Parliament Healey goes though his (now former) party are more concerned as to how he has left them rudderless at such a time as this. They are meant to meet in Blackpool starting October 1st and are already in the process of delaying that by a week so that there can be a leadership contest ahead of the conference leading to an announcement then in the Lancashire resort. Healey is clearly not in the race to succeed Foot but he has left the party in a dire state by walking away. The NEC doesn’t appoint anyone else to fill the gap at the very top and instead arranges things themselves. Nominations for the leadership, deputy and the shadow cabinet open on September 18th and close two days later. Hurried hustings are arranged and everything else is sped up with how the component parts of the electoral college system for those elections will take place. These procedures are only a few years old and give trade unions forty per cent of the vote, constituency parties thirty per cent & MPs in the Commons a further thirty per cent. There have been arguments within Labour for some time to make the leadership contest ‘one member, one vote’ but that has come to nothing: this recent electoral college system has been a compromise all about making things more democratic with regard to the will of the party yet it has many detractors. There are MPs who want to run for the leadership yet know that they will get nowhere in the face of union block voting and also the radicals who make up the membership of all of those hundreds of local parties.
Three candidates run for the leadership. Tony Benn, Neil Kinnock (having served as Education Secretary through the Summer) and Peter Shore (the recent Chancellor) make it onto the ballot. At a time like this, the end result has never been in doubt when it is announced in Blackpool. Shore is in a distant third while Kinnock makes a very decent run to gain a strong second: he was one of the few in the Foot Ministry to really shine. Benn wins though, fulfilling the fears that many inside and outside of Labour have long had that he would take the leadership. His acceptance speech takes place on the last day of the conference. Benn promises that the party will stick to its course and he will ensure that that is democratic socialism. Throughout the year, Benn has been a critic of the People’s March For Jobs / People’s Front but he now praises what they were trying to achieve. The new leader states how he deplores what was done on September 15th where a Labour government sent British troops onto British streets to attack demonstrators who were seeking for the party to honour its promises. He makes no mention of the ongoing anarchy that day nor all of the murders committed but instead focuses upon how those soldiers were sent out. It was an act worthy of a corrupt tin-pot dictatorship! This brings him wild applause from many in the conference hall yet at the same time there are contrasting expressions from others here who do not agree how Benn has framed this argument. Healey’s actions haven’t won him praise yet it is recognised by a good portion of the party that they were a ‘necessary evil’. It would be better if Healey was here to defend himself, or that could be done by either Hattersley or Silkin (here but staying out of the way), yet that isn’t to be. Those who don’t agree with how Benn is framing things with regard to the position on what happened with CANNONBALL don’t have a single, unifying figure to speak up on their behalf. Benn’s comments are feared by them to be used against Labour. Nothing has been declared but another general election is regarded as a certainty and they worry that the Conservatives will do all that they can to portray Labour as a party of extremists tied to those murdering attempted revolutionaries.
That is exactly what is done a week after Benn’s coronation when the Conservatives meet in Brighton. Gathered down at the other end of the country, their conference is nearly ‘interrupted’ by the IRA. Anti-terrorism officers with Sussex Police intercept a truck-bomb intended to blow up the Grand Hotel which is being used by attendees. Thankfully, what would surely be a mass of casualties is averted. Unity is the message of the conference in contrast to Labour’s division, something which has been played out much in the press recently. However, there are many behind-the-scenes problems within the Conservatives. The Heath and Thatcher wings of the party are still in dispute with how Tebbit has run things. He is blamed for the election result back in May which saw the Conservatives forced from office to allow for those mad few months of Labour rule. Whispers of replacing Tebbit are still rife. Nonetheless, nothing like that gains any traction in public at Brighton though. Tebbit gives his leader’s speech on the final day and during that he makes a surprise statement to those inside the event and elsewhere. The Prime Minister announces that he intends to seek a new electoral mandate this year – an election before Christmas – to ensure stability for the country. Of course, this isn’t up to him but he aims to get his way.
That Tebbit does. The Queen gives her approval when asked a few days later, changing her opinion on the need for one from which last month she said that there wasn’t. Civil servant’s advice is once more the key factor but Tebbit goes all out in bringing her around too… especially after making such a public declaration of intent beforehand. November 15th is the day chosen, a Thursday in mid-Autumn. Concerns over the weather negatively effecting turnout don’t play out though it is hardly the nicest day for people to be out voting. The results come in later that night and into the early hours of the Friday morning. Once more, the Conservatives win the most seats six months after doing so before yet this time they gain a majority. What a majority it is too! In a landslide, Tebbit’s party wins four hundred and four seats. One hundred and twenty-nine seats are won by Labour with Benn thus losing more than half of his MPs. However, the story of the night is the surge by the Social Democrats. Owen takes them up to eighty-two (from nineteen in May) with nearly all of those wins as he quadruples the Social Democrats total with almost all victories coming at the expense of Labour. The Alliance with the Liberals is officially dead and Steel’s party win only twelve seats (down nine) yet there has been some cooperation between these two former allies in hundreds of seats. Once everything is sorted once Parliament is opened and MPs sworn in, Tebbit has a working majority of one hundred and fifty-nine: in agreement struck in the face of Labour opposition, the Social Democrats gain one of the Deputy Speakership roles in the House of Commons. This is put together by the Conservatives to aid themselves as outsiders in a war between Labour and the Social Democrats over who really forms the opposition to Tebbit.
In Bristol East, Benn comes extremely close to losing his own seat. He was lucky to win back in May and even more fortunate now: the Conservative candidate comes within three dozen votes of forcing him from Parliament. Aside for his own near misfortune, Benn has just presided over an absolute failure by Labour. They haven’t had such a low number of MPs in the Commons since 1931. Massive divisions over CANNONBALL and their opponents focusing on law-and-order has destroyed them. Attempts are made in the aftermath to force Benn out. He hunkers down though, determined not to go anywhere. He will not resign and will continue to fight for his vision of what the Labour Party should be. There were many MPs from the party’s centralist and moderate wings considering defections to the Social Democrats or sitting in the Commons as Independents should Tebbit have not called the election straight after Benn’s leadership election. To at once join the Social Democrats, who they fought against on November 15th, doesn’t seem to be the best idea yet the option of withdrawing from the Benn-led Labour remains. Throughout November and December, that will be done by thirteen of them. Benn’s supporters react by accusing them of treachery and also making sure they maintain a grip on the NEC and other elements of the party bureaucracy to keep him in power. This only alienates more MPs. In addition, Labour is losing the support of more than just MPs. There are party officials and members who fear that Benn will lead the party into long-time decline more than just this one awful election result. The reaction to questions raised and criticism made is vicious counterattack against those who speak up. From the Conservatives and the Social Democrats, there is only glee. They watch with smiles as Labour tears itself more and more apart without any more of their ‘help’.
Contained within the Conservative manifesto which they have just won their landslide on is a pledge to create a Ministry of Security following electoral success. Discussed by the party ahead of the election following comments made by Tebbit and Heseltine in Brighton, the new MOS is meant to be responsible for ensuring that political violence doesn’t once more rip apart the nation. It will oversee the work of domestic intelligence and also be responsible for the operations of a new National Security Force. The latter is to be a type of gendarmerie as seen in France and elsewhere. The intelligence work and the gendarmerie will make sure that domestic terror groups will be unable to operate as they have done in the lead up to the events of this year and also that there is a national force capable of reacting to any major civil unrest. A Cabinet-level post is issued for the minister responsible for the MOS when the department officially begins its duty at the start of 1985. With his massive majority, Tebbit’s wish to see this new security ministry in-place is fulfilled. There are a number of MPs who abstain, even vote against it though. None of that stops the forward progress but this is the beginning of something bigger. The implications seen by many of a state overreach into the privacy of Britons coming from the MOS is what the opposition to it is about. Growth is feared from this ministry where what is done in the name of ensuring democracy might blur the lines between freedom and oppression. Such an idea is rubbished by the government but the critics will not be silenced.
Tebbit’s premiership in 1985 is defined by his fight with the miners and the Greater London Council. Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers were one of the few trade unions to give much support to the People’s Front and helped bankroll much of its operations when other fundraising sources were unavailable. Scargill has affiliated himself strongly with the Benn-led Labour too. When the government begins a process of closing uneconomical pits nationwide, Scargill forces a strike. It isn’t one which the NUM has had a ballot on though. Opposition from other miners come to Scargill’s action and, with behind-the-scenes government support, there is a breakaway union formed to aid miners who continue to want to work despite ‘Scargill’s strike’. The National Security Force makes its debut where those semi-militarised police combat illegal flying pickets and MI-5 – under the authority of the MOS despite protests against such an absorption – work to undermine the NUM. As to Benn, he doesn’t give them the expected slavish support which Scargill wants. Benn does back the strike just not as strongly as Scargill demands. They are on the same side but have different views on how to proceed, especially since Scargill continues to act in a manner which Benn fears will bring about major unrest. Tebbit crushes the miners eventually. Scargill and the Labour leader have a major break in friendship over the Prime Minister achieving such a victory against a cause which the far left should have been united as one over. After the miners, Tebbit moves onto another opponent. Livingstone still leads the Greater London Council and is a constant thorn in the side of the government. His defence of the People’s Front – even when participants at their last event ransacked and ripped apart County Hall – is one thing but more than that are his continuing social programmes within the nation’s capital. The government pushes through legislation to abolish the GLC with the claim that it doesn’t offer the democracy which more localised institutions can. Livingstone fights the government on this and, like Scargill, loses the battle. Tebbit seems all-conquering and unassailable.
However, the following year sees the fall of Tebbit. It comes unexpected, just as Thatcher’s did. There is a dispute in Cabinet when it comes to an agreement with the Republic of Ireland in progress over the future of Ulster. Heseltine and Tebbit argue but there are wider matters between them too concerning the Home Secretary’s longing for the leadership and the Prime Minister’s desire to nip that in the bud. A reshuffle sees at attempt to have Heseltine moved back to Environment Secretary (where he was right before Thatcher’s fall) but he quits instead. He also initiates a leadership challenge. Heseltine has more supporters than Tebbit realises. His arrogance doesn’t allow him to see the situation growing about his own lack of support until it is too late. Tebbit loses the premiership in May 1986, twenty-two months after his triumphant return to Downing Street. Heseltine’s premiership moves away from some of Tebbit’s policies yet retains many others. The MOS stays the force that it is with Heseltine using the National Security Force against a near-riot by protesters who take to the streets of London on the last days of the Greater London Council. Livingstone claims they are nothing to do with him but he is ultimately behind it. Heseltine will not start his premiership by seeing a repeat of the outbreak of violence which necessitated CANNONBALL two years past. The new Prime Minister begins to move Britain closer to Europe though, away from the Atlanticism tilt favoured by Tebbit regardless of all the shameful excesses of the Reagan Administration in foreign affairs that Britain has long had to accept since the Falklands.
Heseltine goes to the country in April 1988. The Conservatives win once more. Their tally is three hundred and seventy-two (down thirty-two from the dazzling heights of late-1984) but it cannot be said that Heseltine has failed: those loses now were won when they were by tight numbers. The story of the election is what happens between Labour and the Social Democrats though. They swap places. The new Official Opposition is the Owen-led Social Democrats with Benn’s Labour pushed into third place. Securing one hundred and thirty-five to Labour’s ninety-eight, Owen has taken his seven year-old party into second place. The night is one of satisfaction for many when, after a recount, it is confirmed that Benn has lost his own seat. Twice he has rejected offers to move elsewhere to a safe Labour seat and now he has paid the price for that misjudgement. However, there are no longer than many safe Labour seats after this general election: Benn has burnt the Labour Party down. The Social Democrats have replaced Labour as the leading force on the left of British politics. They have the activists, financial backing and public support which Labour lack. They look professional and act responsibly whereas Benn has continued to take Labour to the extremes. One thing of note about the Social Democrats is that now they no longer passionately argue for voting reform in terms of Proportional Representation as they did when they were shiny & new and part of the Alliance with the Liberals. First Past The Post suits them now very much and will do so in future. Benn finally goes from the Labour leadership now that he is no longer an MP and elected to replace him is Pat Wall. Militant have expanded their control over Labour in the past few years and now one of their own is at the top of the party. Benn drove many away but Wall will only increase this. In response, breaking away from their electoral alliance with Labour is the Co-operative Party. For decades, the two have been one-and-the-same in the public mind with the difference between them hardly noticed. They are centralists with half a dozen MPs who have tried to stick to what they believe are Labour and Co-operative principles yet cannot do that under the cult of Militant. Merging into the Social Democrats, maybe the Liberals, is something considered for the future but for the meantime, they sit as an independent party force in the new Parliament following the most recent general election. Wall seems content to have them gone and will continue to burn down his party with the policies following and positions adopted in the face of the voter’s stunning rejection of it.
As the years go onwards, further away from the events of 1984, there remains much dispute about what exactly happened during that time of national political troubles. Conspiracy theories are aplenty concerning the assassination of Foot where people involved in that ended up dead. The first gunman was killed soon afterwards in a raid conducted by the SAS while the second was later caught alive by Bedfordshire Police. Before he could stand trial, he committed suicide in prison though. It is said that someone did the suicide to him. Banda too dies. His illness while in custody is sudden and then he too can no longer talk about what really happened with the murder of the then Prime Minister. The position of the authorities is that they know what really happened and these are just unfortunate coincidences. Other questions are posed about the arrest of Lygate (charges were eventually dismissed) and the death of Peter Tatchell shortly before Foot was killed. Not an MP nor in any position of power/influence, this well-known left-wing activist was killed in a murder blamed on right-wing extremists. They have not been identified, either the killer or who orchestrated that. The ‘why’ with regard to his murder is something that no one can give a proper answer to either. There are people who claim that there were agent provocateurs active on the day of the rioting in London where they were acting to discredit the People’s Front too. No one has ever offered any proof that GB84, who it is said these people belonged to, but the belief that there are many things about that day which do not make sense persist. Regardless, the government considers the matter closed and refuses to delve into what are said to be ‘baseless conspiracy theories’ which ‘dishonour the memory of the innocent dead’.
Heseltine wins another general election in 1992 while the Social Democrats continue to cement themselves as the Official Opposition when their tally breaks the barrier of two hundred seats that May. Wall died eighteen months beforehand, throwing Labour into chaos by his sudden demise due to a heart attack. Taken over by an MP from Liverpool named Dereck Hatton, the now Socialist Labour Party wins less than fifty seats in the Commons. They are in disarray but Hatton refuses to see the truth of the matter that he is killing that historic party. Talent has long started going elsewhere away from Labour with the Social Democrats joined by incoming MPs who have defected or could conceivably have run under the Labour banner if that party wasn’t the mess of Militant which it has become. Benn is back in Parliament after winning himself a seat in a by-election three years beforehand and retaining it this time around yet he no longer is the political force that he once was. No one calls themselves a ‘Bennite’ anymore: ‘Militant’ is the latest fad on the far left. Heath, Thatcher and Tebbit all leave Parliament at the 1992 election. This trio of former Conservative prime ministers stand down in their constituencies. Heseltine has changed the party from how it was under each of them as he’s moved to the centre ground on so many issues. The growth of the Social Democrats, once so aided by the Conservatives as it damaged Labour, has seen them closing in upon government with each election. It is argued by many prominent politicians and newspaper columnists that Heseltine is really a social democrat at heart… others will seriously dispute that!
Four years later, the Social Democrats are now led by Charles Kennedy – after Owen retired in 1992 – and he wins the general election that May. Heseltine has miscalculated in having a general election this year when he could have waited until 1997. Kennedy reaches Downing Street on the back of a public despite for change after so many long years of Conservative government along with his party’s ambitious social programmes. His looks like a government ready in waiting whereas the Conservatives don’t appear capable of governing. The reason for the defeat suffered by Heseltine is Europe. His closeness to the ‘European Project’ in Brussels is what has brought him down. The general election campaign is disrupted by prominent MPs of his arguing over Europe when they really needed to have just kept their mouths shut and fight it out once the election was over. What those Europhobes get it what they really will not like: a Social Democratic Party government determined to have stronger relations with Europe than anything Heseltine would have had. The own goal is one of utter foolishness. That election sees the Liberal & Co-operative Party – a merger made in 1991, not just an electoral alliance – win third place behind the Conservatives. As to the Hatton-led Socialist Labour Party, they return eighteen MPs to Parliament. While not irrelevant yet, it is clear that they soon will be. There is no way that they can come back from being pushed as far back as they are now. The party of such electoral champions such as Attlee and Wilson, of figures such as Bevan and Jenkins (in his prime), is near finished.
This government led by Kennedy will in 1999 allow for the release of secret information back from 1984. Once the Social Democrats follow through with the campaign pledge to finally get rid of the Ministry of Security and also secure victory in the courts against efforts to keep revelations from fifteen years previously secret, they will allow the British public to find out some hidden truths about that time. Included is video footage shot doing CANNONBALL of soldiers shooting civilians that had long been hidden with it said that these particular incidents in Peckham and Tottenham didn’t happen like it has been rumoured they did. Now that lie is shown for what it was. The secrets spilled are in some cases quite spectacular though there are other matters uncovered not as dramatic as it thought they might be. Therefore, regardless of the truth coming out, there are some people who still don’t believe all that they are told. The conspiracy theories will never go away.
Coming to you LIVE and unfiltered from deep in the Redwallshire.
Now I am imagining that in 2021 in your timeline there is a geek who has written a fantasy alternative history, starting with the point of divergence being that Thatcher wins the Falklands war and ends up staying in office for 11 years with a big majority for all that time.
Labour governments are always voted in by empty minds, and voted out by empty pockets