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Harold Wilsons Minority Queens Speech

28 Jun

…and its dodgy advice.


There never seems to be a situation in British Politics that we haven’t been in before. In 1974 Harold Wilson was given the opportunity to lead a minority Government. Of course Wilson had been in opposition in February 1974, however like Teresa May Harold Wilson was confident of passing a Queens speech. Wilson did not seek agreements with any of the minor parties, and it is likely none would have been keen to do so. The Queens speech was set for 12 March. Wilson understood that his tenure leading a minority administration was likely to be short, and that much of the manifesto commitments wouldn’t be enacted. However, he also didn’t want to table a mini queen’s speech. Indeed, Wilson wanted to act big and put much of the legislation down even of it wasn’t going to get passed into law. The electoral cycle continued! (and Teresa May seems to be following by tabling a 2 year Queens Speech). Most of the Cabinet expected another election by the end of the year.

Heath as leader of the opposition warned that they would seek to defeat the government on the speech and force Wilson out of office. Wilson was adamant that he would seek a dissolution if this occurred.

The Civil Service though gave Wilson quite a lot of duff advice. Robert Armstrong advised that if Wilson lost a confidence vote the Queen might send for a senior figure to form a Government ( Jenkins/Whitelaw) . Armstrong and Crowther Hunt (his Minister at the Cabinet Office) argued against resigning in the event of defeat. Indeed, Crowther Hunt wrote the first draft of a note to the PM on the train into work on the morning of 15 March.

Crowther Hunt saw 2 alternate courses of action if a Conservative amendment was carried. Alternative A was to simply ignore the vote and Alternative B was to call a confidence vote. If defeated in the confidence cote Crowther Hunt advised Wilson stay put and ask for a dissolution. He then uses some fairly dated commonwealth examples of the risk the Queen would have in saying no. Namely that if Heath couldn’t form a Government (which he couldn’t) there would need to be a dissolution anyway. Crowther Hunt thought the Queen would be acting constitutionally improper to call for say Whitelaw or Jenkins to try and form a Government, given the accepted practice of electing party leaders. Crowther Hunt thinks the only way the Queen could refuse would be to call a Round Table Conference to seek all-party agreement, but even then he sees it as a precursor to dissolution.

Crowther Hunts memo then gets the Armstrong tinkering and is slightly expanded for Wilson. Armstrong adds 2 other alternatives as a subset of the defeat on a vote of confidence, namely forming a “broad based” Government and advising the Queen to appoint Heath as PM. These are then instantly dismissed as not being what Wilson is interested in. Armstrong though doesn’t give up, he adds a paragraph that says the Queen would be looking to avoid another election and that she might take soundings amongst good Tories. She would be reluctant to so so with Labour as it “would be hazardous in the extreme”. Crowther Hunt notes his view that the Queen wouldn’t call someone else to form a Government but Armstrong is less certain. Perhaps he’s hoping rather than being rational? There’s even a suggestion that the Queen might then enter into a complex game with Wilson testing his nerve around the dissolution versus a Whitelaw style Government. Wilson would need to consider his position in relation to the “Government of National Unity” a favourite idea for many in the early 70s.


4 days later Armstrong came back with a confession. After being pressed by Crowther Hunt on the precedents Armstrong realised he had cocked up. His understanding ( i.e. advice) to not resign after losing a vote on an address was based on a misunderstanding. He was using the precedent of Peel being defeated on an amendment in 1834, who didn’t resign on that but on a later defeat on an appropriation resolution (supply in modern DUP terms). Defeat on the amendment have been seen as confidence after all. His draft note on this claims both he and Crowther Hunt believe this doesn’t change the earlier advice. The final note only relies on Armstrong being confident on this manner.


The actual speech featured a youthful Neil Kinnock as one of the 2 star opening turns, Nigel Lawson wondered if Zetland might declare UDI and the ever popular Dennis Skinner wondered of the Liberals had gone off streaking.


In the end Heath didn’t call for a division on the speech but instead the amendment to the vote was defeated by 295 to 21 with the Conservatives abstaining. On 18 March.







Harold Wilson

21 Mar

Everyone it seems will be going a bit wild for Harold Wilson this year. 100 years just passed since his birth, 40 years will soon pass since his “mysterious’ resignation and the EU Referendum puts Wilsons 1975 affair on everyones list of things to quote.  Harold Wilson will always hold a special part in my affections. Growing up he seemed like a mythical creature, a Labour party leader who won elections, 4 of them no doubt. A leader who was funny ( not as funny or witty as I imagined when I later looked into it but compared to the 80s ), a Leader who walked away from it all and may or may not have been spied on by his own state. Wilson got me interested in politics, what it is,what it could be and how crushingly depressing it can be.

You have to realise that growing up in the 80s as someone with something resembling left wing tendencies, watching the spy catcher affair unfold, just made me want to understand who this Harold Wilson guy was. I have to say my initial readings probably came through the lens of Tony Benn who on balance would be classed as a lesser fan. And spy catcher ? I boiled that down to two possibilities. Firstly the secret state were bonkers or secondly Wilson was a danger. The two I admit some years later could have been possible at the same time. I also admit there are more questions than answers with the Wilson plot. Personally I see the secret state has having had the same sort of emotional tizzy that the right wing press has been having ever since. That they ran these “black ops’ against him because the more mundane truth was hardly frightening. I also struggled to understand why anyone would like HP sauce. Was this Harold or Harold the image? Some rumours suggest he didn’t really smoke a pipe as much as he portrayed, joe Haines suggests otherwise. He understood image before spin doctors.

When I finally read an objective book about Wilson I also found more questions than answers. What was his relationship with Marcia about ? Why did he resign when he did ? What was his mental deterioration really like ? Was he really a right wing boy scout trapped in a slightly leftish political party. By this time I had left the political spectrum somewhat and found Wilson still as fascinating as ever. Pimlots biography(it was this I bought at University and read straight through in a cold January in Birmingham)  points to plots and semi scandals, mishandling and more poignantly missed chances. The failure to make Labour the party of Government. Was Wilson to blame ? Hardly. For all the professed advantages of any other rival they were all stuck in a factional war that led to the SDP.

I am sad enough to own a copy of “Final Term” an awful book but one I never fear from looking at. Unlike Gordon Browns “Beyond the Crash”- a fearful book which is awful to look at. A book with 13 appendices.The first lists the Governments achievements in the 74-78 term, its quite impressive when you read through. Theres no grand theme and certainly no revolution, but basic stuff that made peoples lives just a bit easier. Thats quite an epitaph.


Political Gold from Wales

13 Mar

Just pure gold , how all Party Broadcasts should be …

Northern Ireland 1974

14 Jan

The two Elections of 1974 saw the establishment of a pattern within Northern Irleand that was to dominate for the next 20 years. It was clear as Britain went to the polls in 1974 that Northern Ireland elections were now to be considered an anomaly, something different. Unionism the creed from the 19th century was dead and gone as a unifying party policy. There was a willingness from the Conserrvatives to put a clear line between them and the Unionists.

Feb 74 saw Harry Wests UUP stand in 7 seats and win them all. The dominant force in Unionism. However Mr Paisley and his DUP stood in 2 seats and won 1. Vanguard, a new Unionist grouping stood in 3 seats and won them all. The SDLP the only main voice for Nationalism ( not Republicanism !) won 1 seat, a gain. Faulkners pro assembly Unionists were routed.
In terms of the vote Unionist won 11 of the 12 seats or 91 % of the seats on 365,000 votes out of 525,000 cast or 69% of the votes cast. And there rests a great problem brewing in the wings. The SDLP needed 160,000 votes to get 1 MP the UUP got 1 MP for every 33,000 votes !

October 74 it all got very strange in Northern Ireland . Enoch Powell came and marginally delivered, he brought nothing like the personal support his party had hoped for ( see Heffer ) . On the back of the Ulster Workers strike , a kind of Edwardian reposnse to Westminster moves,the UUP lost a seat to an Independent Republican. Harry West who 8 months earlier was offered a deal to support Heaths defeated Government was now out of Parliament. The UUP increased its vote share mainly at Vanguards expense who oddly were the main winners of the count retaining their 3 seats but dropping to just 62,000 votes.

Within 3 years Vanguard had gone , its MPs all became UUP.2 were re-elected in 1979, though one was killed by the IRA in 1981 ( Robert Bradford )

Election night coverage is worth watching here because Enoch clearly fumbles his words and says Arse when supposedly talking about his Arsenal. The two ronnies do Enoch Powell. Its at about 6 minutes 20 seconds …

By 1979 Vanguard had gone and the DUP moved firmly into the harder Unionist position. The UUP vote stayed similar but again they lost a seat , then down to 5. The DUP picked up 2 to sit at 3 and increased the vote from 59,000 to 70,000. A range of independent more unionist than a unionist unionist party(parties ) picked up 2 seats. Again Nationalist/Republicans held 2 of the 12 seats  whilst securing 27% of the vote. Republicans weren’t turning up to vote ..interestingly in the 2015 election Nationalist/Republicans secured 48% of the vote and 38% of the seats.

A lot has happened since then.


By Elections 1974-79

2 Jun

Following on from my earlier post about Harold Wilson losing his majority. Some interesting things from those 30 By Elections.

1. Labour defended 20 of the 30 seats which seems disproportionate.
2. Of those 20 they held 13 of them, lost 6 to the Conservatives and 1 to the Liberals. The 6 includes Walsall North which they won at the October 74 election but didn’t hold due to Stonehouses defection (s).
3. The Conservatives defended 9 seats and gained a further 1 from the Speaker.
4.The National Front did alarmingly well at some of the polls. Often came third and managed over 8% of the poll in Birmingham Stretchford ( Roy Jenkins old seat).
5.The World Grid Sunshine Party stood in Rotherham in June 76. They later ( Great Grimsby 77) became the Sunshine Party.
6. The City of London election of Feb 77 included the ” Christ,Crown,Country,Commonwealth, Christian Constitution” candidate as well as the ” Christian Outreach to Britain, Anti-Pornography” candidate. What did they know about London ?
7.Malcolm Muggeridge Fan Club candidate got 30 votes in Great Grimsby, Blair almost won it for the Conservatives just missing out by 520 votes. Robert not Tony.
8. At Birmingham Ladywood the Socialist Unity candidate punched the NF candidate at the count.
9.Bournemouth East in November 77 saw the New Britain Party get 4.6% of the vote. They were a racist party with links to Patrick Moore the astronomer and more recent links to UKIP members.
10. Lambeth Central in April 78 had Jeremy Hanley and Corrin Redgrave on the ballot. The count must have been like an opening night gala.

How Harold Wilson lost a majority…Walsall 1976.

31 May

Harold Wilson’s fourth Government was elected in October 1974 with a majority of 3. Early exit polls predicted a majority of 150..but you can’t trust the polls hey!.
The Government survived 4 and a half years, a change of Prime Minister, A referendum ( or 3), and a confidence and supply agreement, but ultimately fell when it lost the confidence of the house in 1979.
Losing a vote of no confidence seems such an indictment, worse than resigning, A slap in the face. Indeed it hadn’t happened in over 50 years prior to that and hasn’t happened since. It’s amazing it lasted that long.

Even with the Lib Lab pact, a confidence and supply agreement which gave the Labour party the Liberals votes in exchange for some luncheon vouchers, a look at the budget 15 minutes before everyone else and a few signed pictures of Michael Foot.

The agreement ended in 1978 when everyone expected Callaghan to call an election not do a song. Incidentally Bernard Donoghue told him, on Joe Haines advice, that the singer was Vesta Victoria…but he ignored them and said it was a Marie Lloyd song. Such were british politics in the late 70s.

The Government faced an eye watering 30 by-elections and lost seats in 7 of them. ( In 64-70 they lost 15 seats so some improvement). In addition they lost 3 seats to defections ( 2 to Scottish Labour and 1 to the Conservatives !) and Stonehouse defected prior to the seat becoming vacant and lost. He spent his time on remand as a MP for the English National Party, which was more of an English Parliament Party rather than a BNP type affair. His defection and subsequent seat loss, well a by-election becomes necessary once remand becomes the real thing, finally sent the Government into a minority.



Wilson leaves his famous ” sorry there’s no majority left note to his successor…”

The Walsall North By Election in November 1976 was a strange affair. The English National Party did not contest the seat, one of the few times a party hasn’t defended a By Election. The Conservatives gained 17% of the vote from 1974 and won handsomely. Apparently the electorate hadn’t been too happy with Stonehouses behaviour over the last few years, what with faking his death and all that. There were a plethora of candidates for them to choose. The former local Mayor Stanley Wright came third with 11% of the vote and the National Front came fourth with over 7%, both ahead of the Liberals. The Ecology Party stood a candidate, claimed to be its first by-election candidate. Bill Boaks also stood for the ” Air,Road.Public Safety White Resident ” party. Boaks was bonkers and probably a racist. He sat in a deckchair on the A40 , tried to have Mrs Atlee arrested and pushed a trolley of bricks across zebra crossings…all in the name of road safety. His later years saw him work closer with Lord Sutch and in Walsall he secured 30 votes. In Hillhead in 1982 he got 5. He died from head injuries sustained in an injury when he was getting off a bus…clearly he was right to campaign for road traffic safety after all.

Walsall 1976 to May 1979 was a long time. Callaghan inherited the minority and ran with it, I suspect Cameron will hand something similar over in time…

Xmas Spectator 1974

6 Jan

Normally at this time of year I am getting through the Xmas issue of the Spectator. In fact it normally takes me until Easter but early January is when I knock off the more interesting articles…to ease my brain back in. I say normally as this year due to a lack of incoming resources and an over limit credit card I never got one. If the Spectator fairy is listening9or reading) its never too late ?

I did however find the wonderful Spectator archive online. It is a treasure and I hope to spend more time looking. I found the Xmas issue for that gloriously topsy turvy year of 1974. Many commentators keep bringing parallels between 2015 and 1974, so what better way of catching up. Of course it wasn’t a proper Xmas issue , no short stories or bumper quizzes, but a wonderful microcosm of the world it inhabited.

The editorial raises some Christian issues..I quickly glossed it.

The letters are as always outstanding. A rather sarcastic one on school behaviour and a very 1974 letter on Armagh’s position in Northern Ireland as a self governing area with no self government.

Patrick Cosgrove longs for a revival in the oppositions fortunes and a new leader to ease the depression. There’s a couple of anti common market articles, a strangely dated article ” What should Alistair Burnett do with William Hickeys column in the Daily Express “. The George Gale tells us he is never wrong in predictions and that Wilson will be gone by 78 and will remain above politics during the referendum. Half a point to George I fancy. There’s an article on the rise of female Santa’s, including one in a silver bikini. The article of Deciduous hedges is pure Spectator any era. Then there’s Enoch Powell reviewing William Rees Moggs book or rather reviewing himself in it. Russell Lewis drips pure monetarism onto a page and before you know it its a fool and his money questioning our fascination with Gold rather than Dog Licences ( oops I forgot to pay that this Xmas as well ) and a final page of City Diary which is a very 1974 Spectator attack on that bogeyman Tony Benn.


All in all a wonderful read !




Thorpe and the lost weekend…

5 Dec

British politics has attracted some odd people over the years. None perhaps odder than Jeremy Thorpe. Remember this , as some MPs are currently trying to avoid the real issue ( as he did as well ) , as Menzies-Campbell is talking of his “ enforced resignation..” as Clegg is reminiscing, even as more scandal and tales may come out, remember Thorpe is one of the most scandalous and devious leaders there ever was.

I predict many will try and sidestep the issue that Thorpe was in trouble because of his sexuality. He wasn’t then and isn’t now. There’s more to it than that. There had been a rather Father Ted-esq incident of electoral expenses resting in his account, a directorship of a failed bank , the potential cover up of Smith, the sexual relationships …and then the conspiracy to murder charge. Thorpe in his awful memoirs concentrates on the legal performance, never really addresses the charge and it reads like a dull law report. The rest of the book reads like a dull memoir.

Thorpe played a role in one of the oddest episodes of 70s politics though. British politics lost weekend in March 74. Heath in Number 10, hoping to cobble a majority together with the Liberals, while Wilson (whose Labour party had the most seats) sat outside. Patiently telling anyone that he wouldn’t form a coalition with anyone else and leaving Heath to “swing in the wind”.

What went on between Thorpe and Heath however is unclear. Thorpe claims to never have asked for coalition and never raised offices. Heath heard something different. That gossip of old, Clark writes of an offer of the Home office. He also believes the special branch dossier would have been clear about Thorpe’s personal life. What is clear is that Thorpe asked for PR but had no real strategy for achieving it. Steele, who was his chief whip ( and was more guarded in his own memoirs on Thorpe’s personal issues), knew nothing of Thorpe’s visit to Number 10 until he heard it on the radio …and also that he was going too.

A more rounded view of the negotiations, and it is clear they were, comes from the Armstrong memorandum. Robert Armstrong head of the private office and key contact with the Palace. Armstrong gives a tale of broken telephones, lunches at the giulietta romeo in Soho, more lunches, the wonderful “it was not a happy occasion “comment about a leaving drink. However the real thing is that the Liberals were completely underprepared in how to negotiate or what to negotiate for, had no strength or proposals and the Conservatives understood the stark reality that without the numbers you’re doing something other than “swinging” in the wind.

Heath was clearly advised by Armstrong to offer a cabinet post to Thorpe and maybe one other this was offered and Thorpe discussed the favourite 70s parrot of a grand coalition.

Thorpe backtracks after the meeting and puts electoral reform above the economy and wants Heaths head as the price of coalition. Heath doesn’t give much ground in the next meeting but offers the wet lettuce of a speaker’s conference on electoral reform.  And there it ends…Thorpe had no blueprint and no mandate from his party. How different 2010 seems in comparison.


Alan Clark The Tories

Jeremy Thorpe In My Own Time

Davis Steele Against Goliath

Robert Armstrong’s Events Leading to the resignation of Mr Heaths Administration March 1974 from the National Archives.

Peter Hennessy Muddling Through.

The October 74 election..

11 Oct

Was it really 40 years ago? Of course it was , mathematics is simple and I was not aware of the election so I will stop the pretence. October 74 , the clangers election..

but if you want more trivia

  • The Labour party advocated for abolishing the TV licence …how did that work out then ?
  • Ian Paisley , worried about Enoch Powell’s presence in Northern Ireland upped the anti. He accused the Irish Government of being communist guerrillas in a meeting in Belfast ( with Powell ).
  • Not to be outdone Powell called the Conservatives ” like Hitler ” in a further speech.
  • John Duffin a Labour candidate had to have 20 stitches to his head after falling off a ladder while putting up posters in Tavistock. It would never have happened to Clive Dunn.
  • Bread subsidies rose (haha) in the election period to keep half a pence off the price of a loaf.
  • 2256 candidates stood a record.
  • Harold Wilson gave his oddest quote ( at the time anyway before the spider stuff ) when he told David Frost that ” Old hags …I haven’t seen any around for some years now…”
  • Alan Beith won his constituency for the third time in 11 months and each time as an ultra marginal.
  • Ballot boxes on the Holy Island were cut off by the tide , guarded by a policeman overnight and counted the next day. No 3g back then.
  • Dick Taverne lost his seat to Margaret Jackson ( Beckett) and Eddie MIlne and Chris Mayhew 2 other defectors lost.
  • Ladbrokes offered 6-4 on Labour winning the next election , and that it would be in 1975 against Willie Whitelaw’s Conservatives….0 out of 3 aint bad.

In the fascist toilet …part two

21 Jul

It used to be a touchstone issue when I was younger. You knew someone was a complete and utter arse if they said anything along the lines of ” Enoch Powell was right ..” and often people seemed to. It was a code you see for being a racist , but they just wanted to appear intellectual about it. Of course whenever you heard ( and maybe still occasionally do hear ) this , it was a red light to me. Oh was he right about what ….his views on Airey Neaves murder , which when recently raised by a TV programme caused daily mail outrage ? His mad views on the Health system you don’t remember that , his views on Northern Irelands role in the UK , yes he was sort of proved wrong on that , is it his views on the monetary system ? his homosexual poetry …odd how people got uncomfortable about that. Many of Enochs ” fans” would be quick put off by..volcano shafts and his secret ?? No , was it his views the crucifixion ? No okay its racism isn’t it ? No matter how much Simon Heffer et al protest Powells rivers of blood speech is racist.

Powell became a byword for the issue of immigration. His supporters not understanding really what he had said ( here i agree with Heffer ) just latched onto it . Of course he was hopelessly wrong, in fact pathetically wrong. His logic was built on error , which was a contradiction to the didactic Powell and as many have pointed out he was just trying to mobilise a mass. Roy Hattersley correctly terms him ” the alf garnett of british politics ” except Garnett we hoped was a figure to laugh at , Powell had serious supporters. And he still does , Nigel Hastilow a Tory parliamentary candidate used the phrase ” Enoch Powell was right ” in a leaflet in 2007, and David Starkey seemed to be exploding his own ” volcano shaft ” in 2011 saying the riots proved him right , despite the total lack of race contained within them.

Of course he was wrong , he predicted that by 1985 the black man would have the whip hand in this country. Not only an appalling use of language for a group of people subjected to 400 years of slavery , but not tru..look athe Cameron Cabinet all those whip hands are very white…

Anyway , Powell was as close to a fascist senior politician the british have seen for many years. His dark desire to be killed in uniform makes him sound more like Milosevic than Churchill. Indeed his linguistic dances on the heads of pins and his appeal to only speaking what is presented to him makes closer to those antagonistic Yugoslav politicians of the 80s and 90s than his fans would admit.

The 70s. One day I will write a book about british politics in the 70’s. Not the sort of Sandbrooke book but one that looks at the way political culture was smashed , bashed , removed and rebuilt. Where ideology went down the toilet and the Right flushed the chain. The path to Thatcher was paved with so many mistakes and the rewriting creates heros out of villains and vice versa.

In Simon Heffers biography he requotes the story , given by Powell that Powell met Wilson half a dozen times in the toilets at Westminster to discuss the tactics around his speeches during the Feb 74 election. In fact it is even narrowed down to the toilets in the Aye lobby. Haines destroys this theory of the meeting of bladders in his ” glimmers of twilights”. The timeframes don’t make much sense , the ability for 2 senior politicians to discuss business in the toilets was impossible and discusses the tactics employed by a Journalist in making the contacts through Haines not Wilson.

Ah well , Powells fans would like to believe his preeminence in the 74 election and continue to portray this myth…Powell pissing in the Fascist toilet while the leader of the opposition listens intently and thanks him kindly.