Did UK face mil. coups in 1960’s-70’s?
Coups d’Ã©tat are generally headline grabbers and considered peculiarities of the less developed nations in the west, including in Britain, yet western media and governments do not refer to some of them as coups and choose complete silence about others. That is what happened about the alleged 1960â„¢s and 1970â„¢s coups in the UK, which is touted as the mother of all parliamentary democracies in the world.
BBC examined parts of the evidence related to plots to overthrow former British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in military coups exactly thirty years after his shock resignation on March 16, 1976, in a documentary named Å“Plot Against Harold Wilson”.
The documentary presented evidence in the form of interview with other senior figures of the time that Wilson was right to fear military coups by MI5 and senior military officers though it followed the line of legitimate concerns that Wilson was a Soviet spy to justify the spy agencyâ„¢ plan.
Barrie Penrose, one of the journalists, whose evidence was used to make the documentary, wrote in an article for a Radio Times March 2006 edition that “Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s.”
Penrose, who conducted interviews with Wilson after his resignation in 1976 and secretly recorded them with the help of a colleague Roger Courtiour, added that “both were said to involve high-ranking elements in the British army, eager to see the back of Labour governments. Both involved a member of the Royal Family – Prince Louis Mountbatten”.
Among the interviews in the documentary the one by Lord Hunt, who was Cabinet Secretary between 1973 and 1979 and conducted an inquiry into Wilsonâ„¢s concerns that MI5 was bugging the Prime Ministerâ„¢s office, was especially revealing.
Hunt confirmed to the producers of the program that the secret service was indeed taking steps against Wilsonâ„¢s government.
Hunt, however, refused to accept the idea of a coup claiming the MI5 were acting under the suspicion that Wilson is a Soviet spy.
But the documentary tabled a web of interconnected conspiracies to remove Wilson from government using military power to counter his claim.
According to the coup feature, the Earl of Cromartie and a group of Scottish aristocrats with SAS connections planned to set up a government under Lord Mountbatten in 1965.
The following year, Mountbatten was involved in discussion with another group of conspirators who wanted to replace Wilson. Daily Mirror press baron Lord Cecil King planned what he called an emergency government or national government.
Mountbatten, who was the last viceroy of India and chief of defense staff from 1959 to 1965, was also involved with the private armies that various ex-military men, including General Sir Walter Walker, NATO Commander of Northern Europe in 1969-72, and Major Alexander Greenwood, were setting up in the mid-1970s.
Meanwhile, MI5 was leading an operation codenamed Å“Clockwork Orange” to defame Wilson as a Soviet spy and facilitate a military coup.
Collin Wallace, a Ministry of Defense press officer at the time, was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter when he tried to expose the operation while the British government banned the publication of memoirs by Peter Wright, the former assistant director of MI5, in 1986 apparently over fears that he could expose the coup attempts.
The plots to remove Wilson in military coups especially in the mid 1970â„¢s was also confirmed to the producers of the documentary by Lord Chalfont, who was a Labour defense minister and Foreign Office minister.
Å“If youâ„¢re talking about people who had a serious idea of a military coup, yes, they would be fairly senior people,” he said.
However, the documentary did not answer questions on what happened after Wilson resigned in 1976 and whether all those plotting coups suddenly changed minds after his colleague James Callaghan took over as Prime Minister.
It only left one speculating that Margaret Thatcher and her top aides were the real force behind the conspiracies as what she later described as the Å“enemy within” in reference to rebellious workers was identical to view of coup plotter of the 1970â„¢s.
Meanwhile, at least one of the people admitting to discussing a coup with senior officers, former intelligence officer Brian Crozier, was among her advisers.
Later it emerged that Crozier, who drafted a new constitution for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, was invited several times by different members of the Armyâ„¢s top brass to lecture them on current problems where he identified a kind of Å“malaise” within the armed forces.
He later was glad to lecture the Army Staff College at Camberley about the possibility of a military intervention against Å“the enemy” – by which he meant the government.
He later got a letter from the then head of the college General Sir Hugh Beach telling him that Å“action which armed forces might be justified in taking, in certain circumstances, is in the forefront of my mind at the moment ‘and I do hope we may have the chance of carrying the debate a stage further”.
Back in 2006, Penrose concluded his Radio Times article saying that his interviews with Wilson convinced him that Britain was closer to a Å“military government” at the time Å“than weâ„¢d ever be content to think”.
His conclusion is especially revealing for the UK where the government pretends the parliamentary democracy is the inevitable form of an establishment purged from sliding into a military or authoritarian rule in its DNA.
Republished with permission from: Press TV