In the pages of the Kremlin’s secret diary, Pavel Stroilov discovers what Labour’s Soviet sympathisers said when they thought no one was listening
It is almost 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall — and still the truth keeps trickling out of Moscow. The Soviets, like the Nazis, were meticulous note-keepers and there is decades worth of material still to be uncovered. At first, only those who went through the filing cabinets could compile the untold stories of the USSR. But now that these records are being digitised, scrutinising them becomes a lot easier. And this is how I came across the extraordinary diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev.
For years he was the Soviet Union’s contact man with the West. But from the 1970s onwards he met the British politicians who went looking for favours behind the Iron Curtain — and recorded every encounter in his journal. He was a deputy in the Soviet International Department (a successor to the Comintern) and latterly an adviser to Gorbachev himself. His diaries in the Gorbachev era have been translated in Washington. But his liaisons with British politicians in the Cold War era have never been made fully public — until now.
They tell the story of a ‘special relationship’ between the British Labour party and the Soviet Communists — stretching out over decades. They show MPs who thought the USSR posed no strategic threat to their country. They show a reverential approach of the party’s leaders to their Russian ‘comrades’; their identifying of Margaret Thatcher as a common enemy to be ‘beaten’; and their frantic pleading with the regime to provide access to, among others, Brezhnev — but only for the sake of appearances.
These are not the sensationalist, publicity-seeking memoirs of a minor aide. Chernyaev’s authority is unquestionable. Svetlana Savranskaya, Director of Russia Pro-grammes at the US National Security Archive (which holds the diary) describes it as ‘the single most authoritative source on Soviet policy-making in the last 20 years of the Cold War’. They have not come to light before because the pre-1985 entries had never been translated.
Chernyaev himself is now aged 88, living outside of Moscow, and pleased that his diaries from this era are being published. ‘Over here there are very few academics or journalists who are interested in my text,’ he said by telephone. ‘This great period in the history of our country has been crossed out.’ Until now.
A COMMON ENEMY
Edward Short, now Lord Glenamara, is, at 93, the oldest member of Britain’s parliament. But in 1973 he was Harold Wilson’s deputy — and en route to Moscow. Chernyaev describes his visit that year, when the Heath government was flailing. Short led a delegation of Labour dignitaries on a visit to the Kremlin, including party chair William Simpson, general secretary Ron Hayward, and a few other MPs and apparatchiks eager for face-time with General Secretary Brezhnev and his Foreign Minister Gromyko — a media coup they hoped would help them defeat Heath. Chernyaev’s entry from 6 June shows he was clearly amused. He quotes them as saying:
‘We came here as a political party which wants to be in power. If you, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, want a Labour government in Britain, help us. We have to be received by Brezhnev and Gromyko. Even if for five minutes. It only matters for us that we saw them and we can tell the press about it. Discussions, of course, would be good. We are even willing to listen to your recommendations on our new foreign policy program. But the main thing is support for the prestige for the Labour party from your side. At the London airport, tens of journalists came to see us off, and they are waiting gloatingly for our return. Unless you meet us halfway, all of England will be laughing at us for a week. And we will most likely lose the upcoming general elections.’
The message was clear: either they deliver Brezhnev or face another four years of a Conservative government. The Soviets saw their chance, and arranged a high-profile reception, but not without slightly humiliating their guests — they were taken to Brezhnev’s empty office.
GENERAL SECRETARY HAYWARD
In any event, Labour won the general election later that year — and this is how the Soviet ‘détente’ with Britain began. Like in Germany several years before, it was based on a party-to-party partnership between socialists of different shades. And a central figure in this was Ron Hayward, the general secretary of the Labour movement between 1972 and 1982. On 5 December 1974, Chernyaev describes in his diary an exciting KGB operation to smuggle him inside the Labour party conference, and then whisk Hayward into the Soviet embassy for a quiet chat. Hayward, once described as the ‘Solomon’ who held the Labour movement together in this period, was feeling divisive:
We came back to the Soviet embassy. Kubeikin (cultural attaché, who is actually the KGB) told us what was going on at the Labour conference. He had turned on the jamming, as the embassy is ‘under fire’ from antenna bugs from every side. We arranged that he ‘confirms everything with Hayward’ the next morning […]
[In the conference hall] we ran into [Edward] Short, the deputy party leader, who had been in Moscow with the Labour delegation in 1973. He stared at us for a moment and then pretended he did not see us. That is very English. Apparently, he instantly guessed these were Hayward’s games. If he said hello, he would have to ‘react’ now or later.
In the evening we were in the Soviet embassy, waiting for Hayward. Kubeikin brought him. Hayward immediately began speaking about the conference, and how he has managed to put more pressure on the right-wingers, on the government. As he told us in Moscow and repeated now, he believed the point of his work as General Secretary was to provide a ‘genuine socialist government’ for Britain. To achieve that, he must break the Labour Cabinet and the parliamentary party’s tradition for disregarding conference resolutions and accepting no control from the National Executive Committee. He has done a lot to increase the NEC’s role and authority, taking advantage of the current left-wing flood in the party — it is unusually steady this time. This is why he has an escalating row with [Prime Minister] Wilson, who was his friend when they were young. (When Hayward began his speech at the first session, Wilson stood up and left the room, to come back just after it finished.)
This is also why he [Hayward] is now committed to developing links with the CPSU.
So Hayward envisioned a real Soviet-style system in Britain: with the Party General Secretary — not the MPs’ leader — at the top. Chernyaev’s diary says he would refer to himself as the party leader. Or, specifically, as ‘the first Labour leader in history who is not afraid to come out alongside communists with the same agenda’, Chernyaev quotes. He even stated later in that meeting that Hayward ‘prepares young people, puts them in the right places, helps them to become prominent’. Such was the backdrop to the civil war that would then engulf the Labour party where the pro-communist faction crushed moderates and Trotskyites.
THE ‘PEACE MOVEMENT’
By the late 1970s it became clear that the USSR could no longer compete on an equal footing in the Cold War arms race, which perhaps explains their support for organisations such as the ‘World Peace Council’. A separate tranche of Soviet secret documents, obtained by Vladimir Bukovsky, claims that the left’s ‘peace campaign’ in the e
arly 1980s was secretly orchestrated from Moscow. Chernyaev’s diary certainly chimes with this analysis. On 7 August 1981, for example, he complains he had a ‘terrible day’ working on ‘fuel for the anti-missile movement in West Europe’ and writing ‘coded cables’ to British Labour and Communist parties.
More recently Michael Foot has successfully sued newspapers who claimed he was somehow a Soviet ‘agent of influence’. But Chernyaev’s diaries show that the former Labour leader was by no means hostile to the Soviets. In October 1981 he led a big delegation to Moscow, to discuss Britain’s unilateral disarmament. Chernyaev notes ‘the Labour party’s metamorphosis: pragmatism, cynicism, frankness…’
‘Dear Comrade Brezhnev’, Foot said while shaking Brezhnev’s hand with both of his hands — this created the right inertia from the start. […] All of them liked each other and ‘parted as friends’. The General Secretary then ordered us to give them presents, which turned out to be pretty expensive.
KINNOCK AND CHARLES CLARKE
All this repeated itself three years later, after Foot was succeeded by Neil Kinnock, and Brezhnev by the completely senile Konstantin Chernenko. Kinnock came to Moscow accompanied by, among others, the young Charles Clarke and Patricia Hewitt. Here is Chernyaev’s account, dated 1 December 1984:
Chernenko just read his brief and listened indifferently to Kinnock’s oratorical response. But then, in spite of all my preliminary work, Kinnock began to harass him with probing questions. The smell of confusion spread in the air. […] The Englishmen realised that they had crossed the line and began to retreat. For they had already received the most important promises they needed for politics at home, against Thatcher.
Chernyaev records how Charles Clarke, then Kinnock’s chief of staff, wanted to mention human rights in the communiqué. However, the Soviets said it was ‘awkward’ to ‘extort human rights’ on the top of such generous disarmament promises.
In fact a year later the party would seek Soviet advice once more, when Neil Kinnock sent his shadow minister for overseas development to the Kremlin. Chernyaev records: ‘We have discussed everything with him. I took it upon myself to promise him (in “preliminary order”, of course) everything they wanted from us, to beat Thatcher and get to power.’
ALEC KITSON AND THE KGB
Politicians like Foot or Kinnock, however, did not have the closest connections with the USSR. In those years, the Labour party was effectively controlled by its affiliated trade unions — and that is where the KGB and the International Department aimed to infiltrate. Today, we know that the union leader Jack Jones, once regarded as the most powerful man in Britain, was a KGB agent for most of his life. He was exposed by his last case officer, Colonel Oleg Gordievsky — the most famous MI6 agent in the KGB. Jones’s trade union — Transport and General Workers (T&G) — was the most powerful one in the Labour party. Its block vote covered 18 per cent of the total at annual conferences, and it effectively controlled dozens of safe Labour seats in parliament. Furthermore, T&G was notoriously undemocratic, with the General Secretary enjoying almost dictatorial power, and its political activity controlled by Jones’s unelected deputy, Alec Kitson. On 5 April 1980, soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Chernyaev saw Kitson in Moscow:
I had prepared all thinkable arguments concerning Afghanistan, but he did not wish to hear them. ‘I don’t need to be persuaded,’ he said, ‘I understand everything without it, but I am “marked”. As “a Soviet agent” and “a traitor”, I simply won’t be listened to. As for you, none of you are ever there to be heard. The embassy is doing nothing. And if there are any Soviet visitors, they are only interested in buying another pair of trousers.’
He was quite drunk already, after seeing Soviet trade unionists. That is why he was violent and rude. There was a ‘fuck’ in about every sentence. I was ironic, joked, tried to insert the prepared arguments. As he was getting soberer, it became possible to get some particular things out of him. So, what we have agreed:
(a) We will send some clever guys to the Scottish Trade Union Congress. There will be an audience arranged for them and they will be able to deliver the Soviet point of view;
(b) He will try to gather trade union functionaries in London, and the same guys will carry out a ‘discussion’ with them;
(c) I will write a private letter to Jenny Little (the secretary of Labour NEC’s International Committee, ‘a pretty bitch, but can do business, and in love with you,’ — Kitson’s words), suggesting an unofficial discussion, either in London or in Moscow, at our level, i.e. the one of party apparatchiks.
By the way, Jenny Little appears in the diary time and again as quite a romantic figure. On 19 November 1977, Chernyaev describes his meeting with Kitson and Little in the Soviet embassy in London: ‘Jenny got drunk, cried, and kept trying to force a kiss on me. It took quite a time to pack them off.’
And this is about a T&G reception on the eve of 1980 Labour conference in Blackpool (6 October): ‘Jenny Little even looks pretty, but she is really too skinny. She tried to seat me down next to Callaghan, but he bypassed me as if I was a column. She herself was embarrassed.’
On the whole, however, the communist infiltration of the T&G is hardly a joking matter: its influence in the Labour party was substantial. The decision to give Gordon Brown his first and only safe seat, Dunfermline East, was made by two T&G officials: Hugh Wyper, the regional boss and a Communist Party member, and Alec Kitson. This is not exceptional. Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Margaret Beckett, Harriet Harman, John Reid — to name just a few — were all T&G people who made their Labour party careers thanks to the union’s backing. And at that time, of course, T&G political backing was within the gift of Alec Kitson. Chernyaev only saw part of the story however. Other documents, still secret, show Labour’s Soviet relationships ran still deeper.
The Conservative Challenge
By Sean Gabb
(Text of a Speech Given to a Conservative Association
On Friday the 16th October 2009)
On Friday the 16th October 2009, I spoke to a Conservative Association in
the South East of England. Though I did not video the event, and though –
on account of the heated and not always good natured debate the followed
my speech – I was asked not to identify the particular Association to
which I spoke, I think what I said is worth recording. Therefore, I will
write down my words as best I can recall them. I have suppressed all the
questions, but carried some of the answers into the main text. Otherwise,
I will try to keep the flavour of the original.
Because of transport difficulties that prevented many people in this room
from arriving on time, I am beginning my speech an hour later than
expected. I am honoured by the Chairman’s apology for the delay. However,
the series of conversations and arguments with which those of us who were
here entertained ourselves while waiting have given me the idea for a
speech that is still on my stated theme, but that I think will be more
interesting than the one I had in mind. Now, this theme – “The
Conservative Challenge” – has been routinely given to speakers at
Conservative gatherings since at least the 1880s. The question that must
always be answered is how we can remain the free citizens of an
independent country in ages that have been progressively hostile both to
individual freedom and to national independence. I did have a plan loosely
worked out in my head. What I will do instead, though, is take some of our
bar room discussions and summarise or expand on them as seems appropriate.
I will do this by giving short statements of what was said to me, and then
by giving my responses.
1. This has been a bad Government
I disagree. Oh, if you want a government that defends the country and
provides common services while keeping so far as possible out of your way,
the Labour Government elected in 1997 has been a disappointment. This does
not mean, however, that the Blair and Brown Governments have been a
failure in their own terms. They have, on the contrary, been very
The purpose of the Government that took power in 1997 was to bring about a
revolutionary transformation of this country – a transformation from which
there could be no return to what had been before. The English Constitution
has never been set down in a written document, and there has never been
any statement of fundamental rights and liberties that was protected from
change by ordinary legislation. Instead, these rights and liberties were
protected by a set of customs and institutions that, being legitimised by
antiquity, served the same purpose as formal entrenchment. It can be hard,
in every specific case, to justify trial by jury, or the rule against
double jeopardy, or the idea that imprisonment should be for a specified
time and no longer, or the right to speak freely on matters in the public
domain. There are principled arguments that satisfy in the absence of
strong passions. But, strong passions being granted, the best argument has
always so far been that these things have always been in England, and that
to change them would be to break the threads that tie us to the past.
It would be childish to argue that the Ancient Constitution was in good
health until 1997, when it was suddenly overturned. Unless there is an
catastrophic foreign invasion, constitutions are not destroyed in this
way. Ours had been sapped long before 1997. To say when the tipping point
was reached, and by what means, would take me far beyond my stated theme.
However, what remained of the Constitution has, since 1997, been dismissed
as a set of “outmoded” relics, and large parts of it have been swept away.
Those that remain have been transformed beyond recognition.
Let me give myself as an example. My first degree was in History. Much of
this was taken up with a study of late antiquity and the early middle
ages. But some of it was given to English history between the seventeenth
and nineteenth centuries. Of course, the Constitution changed within these
periods, and had changed much since then. But I could take up the debates
of the Cavalier Parliament, or a pamphlet written during the American War,
or a case published in the State Trials, and find myself within a
conversation of the English people. I was not in the same position as a
French undergraduate, who, for anything published before 1791, would find
himself in a world of institutions, and territorial names, and weights and
measures, and monetary units, and general assumptions, as alien as those
of a foreign country.
This has now changed. Anyone who, this month, has started a degree in
History or Law or Politics will find himself in the same position as that
French undergraduate. We have new legislative bodies all over the country,
and new principles of administration, and new courts with new procedures
and languages, and new lines of authority terminating in bodies outside
the country. The work is not yet complete. But already, the conversation
of the English people has been made largely incomprehensible to those born
since I was an undergraduate.
Whether the changes can be justified as improvements – or whether they
could have been made with more regard for economy and consistency – is
beside the point. The main purpose of change has been to seal off the
past. That past has been delegitimized in order to strip rights and
liberties of the associations that used to protect them. Not surprisingly,
we find ourselves in a country with a Potemkin democracy, where speech and
publication are censored, where the police are feared, where we are
continuously spied on as we go about our business, where we can be
imprisoned without trial or charge for a month, and generally where we
find ourselves having to deal every day with administrative bodies given
powers that others who have not yet had felt them still cannot believe
On any normal assumptions, the country has been governed very badly since
1997. On the assumptions of the Government, things have gone very well
2. This country is ruled by people who have been corrupted by bad ideas.
Again, I disagree. For centuries now, England has been governed by people
rather like ourselves. Sometimes, they have governed well, sometimes
badly. But we have never had to doubt their fundamental good faith. This
has changed. The people who now rule this country have not been led astray
by bad ideas. Rather, they are bad people who choose ideologies to justify
There are ideologies of the left – mutualism, for example, or Georgism, or
syndicalism – that may often be silly or impracticable, but that are
perfectly consistent with the dignity and independence of ordinary people.
These are not ideologies, however, of which those who rule us have ever
taken the smallest notice. These people began as state socialists. When
this became electorally embarrassing, they switched to politically correct
multiculturalism. Now this too is becoming an embarrassment, they are
moving towards totalitarian environmentalism. Whether in local or in
national government, their proclaimed ideologies have never prevented them
from working smoothly with multinational big business, or with
unaccountable multinational governing bodies.
It is reasonable to assume that, with these people, ideas are nothing more
than a series of justifications for building a social and economic and
political order within which they and theirs can have great wealth and
They tell us they want to end “child poverty” and “build a more equal
society”. In fact, they have employed an army of social workers to
terrorise every working class family in the country – an army of social
workers backed by closed and secretive courts, and that may even be
selecting children for legal kidnap and sale to barren middle class
couples. They have pauperised millions with policies that keep them from
achieving any reasonable independence and subject them to the bullying of
They tell us they want a more “inclusive” and “diverse” society. They have
certainly welcomed the mass immigration that they enabled the moment they
came into office. It has been useful for impoverishing the working classes
– in their attitudes and behaviour once perhaps the most conservative
people in the country. It has also provided much evidence for their claim
that the old England into which we were born has passed away, and that we
need a new constitutional settlement – a settlement much in need of
censorship and endless meddling in private choices. Even so, they make
sure to live in white enclaves and to send their children to private
schools where class photographs look much as they did in 1960.
They tell us they want to save the planet from “climate change”. If they
have made Phillips and Siemens rich from their light bulb ban, they still
fly everywhere and drive everywhere, and light up their own houses and
offices like Christmas trees.
These are bad people. They must be regarded as such in everything they do.
And we must hope that they will one day be punished as such.
3. The country is misgoverned.
Let me go back to my first point. There is no doubt that everything done
by these people has involved huge cost for little of the promised benefit.
We have computer systems that do not work. We have new bureaucracies that
do not achieve their stated purpose. The National Health Service, for
example, has had its budget doubled or trebled in the past twelve years.
Yet the waiting lists are as long as ever, and the hospitals are dirtier
than ever. Medical incompetence and even corruption and oppression are now
everyday stories in the newspapers.
Again, however, these are failures only on the assumption that money has
been laid out for the purpose of improving services. It has not. The real
purpose of washing a tidal wave of our money over the public services has
been partly to raise up an army of clients more likely to vote Labour than
anything else, and partly to give these clients powers that tell everyone
else who are the masters now. On this assumption, the money has not been
wasted at all. It has indeed been an “investment in the future”.
What is to be done?
I often speak about an electoral coup in which a genuinely conservative
government came to power and set about undoing the revolution. This
involves shutting down most of the public sector. I am not saying that
poor people would no longer receive their benefits or medical attention
free at the point of use. These are not in themselves expensive. They may
have undesirable consequences in terms of smothering personal
responsibility and voluntary initiative. But these are problems to be
addressed over a long period during which no settled expectation need be
denied. What I do say is that the bureaucratic machine that bleeds us
white in taxes and grinds us into obedient uniformity should be smashed to
pieces that cannot easily be put back together. It should be smashed
because we cannot afford it. It should be smashed because it oppresses us.
It should be smashed because it is an agent of national destruction.
I once wrote a book about why this should be done and how to do it. Sadly,
it will not be done in the foreseeable future. We shall probably have a
Conservative Government within the next nine months. But this will not be
a government of conservatives. If we want a preview of the Cameron
Government, we need only look at what Boris Johnson has achieved during
the past year as Mayor of London. He has not closed down one of the
bureaucracies set up by Ken Livingstone and his Trotskyite friends. The
race equality enforcers are still collecting their salaries. The war on
the private motorist continues. Rather than cut the number of New and Old
Labour apparatchiks, he is currently putting up taxes. David Cameron will
be no better. He may be forced to make some changes and to slow the speed
of the transformation. The transformation will continue nevertheless.
We need to speculate on the purpose and nature of counter-revolution. It
is useful to know what ought to be our long term purpose. It inspires us
to action in an otherwise bleak present. But we need also to know what
present actions are to be inspired. My advice is that we need, in all our
thoughts and in whatever of our behaviour is prudent, to withhold our
Any system of oppression that does not rely on immediate and overwhelming
– and usually foreign – violence requires the sanction of its victims. We
cannot all have guns put to our heads all day and every day. We therefore
need to believe, in some degree, that what is done to us is legitimate. We
must believe this if we are to obey. We must believe it if those who
oppress us are to keep their good opinion of themselves. I suggest that we
should withhold that sanction. I do not say that, without our sanction,
the illegitimate power that now constrains our lives will fall immediately
to the ground. I do suggest, however, that it will be insensibly
undermined, and that it may therefore collapse suddenly in the event of
some unexpected shock. This is how Communism died in Eastern Europe. It
may be how the New Labour Revolution will die here.
One of the myths, endlessly repeated through what is called “Middle
England”, is that the Police are among the victims of Labour rule – that
they have been forced to act in ways that they find abhorrent or absurd.
But this is only a myth. The Police are no friends to respectable people
in any class or race. When I was a small boy, I was reduced to tears by
what seemed a gigantic policeman in a tall helmet. One glare of his
bearded face, and I was straight off the municipal flower bed where I had
thrown my ball. He spoke to my grandmother before moving to other
business, and that was the end of my transgression.
His sort retired decades ago. They have been replaced by undersized,
shaven headed thugs – frequently with criminal records – who take delight
in harassing the respectable. If you are robbed or beaten in the street,
they will be nowhere in sight. If you approach them to complain, they will
record the crime and send you on your way. If, on the other hand, you try
defending yourself or your loved ones, they will prosecute you. They will
do nothing about drugged, aggressive beggars, but they will jump on you if
they see you smoking under a bus shelter. These people have been given
powers that move them closer to the East German Stasi than to the
uniformed civilians many of us can still remember. They can arrest you for
dropping a toffee wrapper in the street. Once arrested, you may be
charged, but you will more likely be released after being fingerprinted
and having DNA samples taken and stored. We do not know what other body or
government will be given your DNA. We do not know what future oppressions
it may enable. Regardless of any littering charge, you will have been
We should not regard the Police in any sense as our friends. They are not.
This does not mean that we should have no dealings with them. There are
times – insurance claims, for example, where things must be reported.
There are times when the Police are needed, and when they may give some
limited assistance. Even so, we should on no account behave to them as if
they were uniformed civilians. They are an armed, increasingly out of
control pro-Labour militia.
We were all of us born in a country where the phrase “The Law is the Law:
it must always be obeyed” did not seem absurd. Yes, it may not have been
quite as we were told. By and large, however, it was a law made by our
representatives and with our loose consent – or it was made by Judges
rationalising honestly from assumptions grounded in common sense notions
of justice. It is that no longer. For all its blemishes, the old laws of
England were there to stop us from knocking into each other too hard as we
went about our business. Its function was reactive. The function of law
nowadays is transformational. It is there to change the ways in which we
think and live. So far as this is the case, the law has been delegitimised.
And this is how we are to regard uses of the law. At the moment, The UK
Independence Party is being edged towards bankruptcy over some matter of a
political donation. It seems not to have complied with the requirements of
a law made in the year 2000 that effectively nationalises all political
parties – and that may one day be used to control what policies they
advocate and how they oppose measures with which they disagree. Again,
there are complaints about how the BBC has invited the Leader of the
British National Party to appear on Question Time. It is said that the BNP
is currently an illegal organisation because of its internal rules. The
alleged illegality is based on a novel interpretation of a 1976 law, as
amended in 2000, that is itself illegitimate.
There was a time when it was enough for us to be told that someone had
broken the law for us to think ill of that person. But times are altered.
When the laws themselves are corrupt, they lose moral force. It is no
longer enough for us to be told that someone is a law breaker. Whatever we
may think of these parties for what they advocate, they are to be seen not
as law breakers but victims of political oppression. To think ill of them
purely for their disregard of the law is rather like calling Alexander
Solzhenitsyn a jailbird on account of his time in the Gulag.
The Law is no longer the Law. It is a set of politicised commands made for
our destruction as a free people. It no longer deserves our automatic
respect. Yes, the laws that protect life and property are still to be
respected. But it is now rational to inspect every law thrown at us to see
which do bind in conscience and which do not. I know that this is a
dangerous principle to announce. There are many people for whom the law is
a unified thing: say that one part has no binding force, and all parts are
weakened. But this is not our fault. We have not made the law
disreputable. We are simply facing a state of affairs that has been called
into being by others.
I have already mentioned the remodelling of the Constitution. As a people,
we have long amused foreigners with our respect for titles and old forms
of government. I once chaired a meeting addressed by a Member of the House
of Lords. This was before the Internet, and I spent nearly an hour in a
library clarifying that he should be introduced as – let me change the
name – John, Lord Smith of Wilmington, rather than Lord John Smith or Lord
Wilmington. This was all good fun. It also had a serious point. I was
helping maintain one of those innumerable and seemingly absurd customs
that among were the outer defences of our rights and liberties. Our
Ancient Constitution may have struck outsiders as a gigantic fancy dress
ball. But it covered a serious and very important fact. This was an
imperfect acceptance of Colonel Rainsborough’ s claim that “the poorest he
that is in England hath a life to live as the richest he”.
But, again, times are altered. The more gorgeous events of the fancy dress
ball have been retained. But the underlying substance – the protection of
rights and liberties – has been stripped out. This being so, all
obligation of deference has lapsed. I will not defer to the man whose name
has been changed by a sheet of parchment sealed with wax to Baron Kinnock
of Bedwellty. Nor will I call Peter Mandelson other than “Mr Mandelson.
Nor, unless I am in his court, and he is likely to take more against me
than he naturally would, will I address the former Communist Stephen
Sedley as “My Lord”. Nor will I acknowledge his Knighthood out of court. I
am not yet sure if it is appropriate to stop recognising hereditary
honours, or those granted before 1997. But I certainly regard all honours
granted since 1997 as void. They have the same legitimacy as those
conferred by Cromwell during the Interregnum. No – Cromwell was a great
man who did honour to this country and who deserves his statue outside
Parliament. Recent honours have the same status as those conferred by
James II after he ran away to France. They are to be seen as a badge of
ridicule and disgrace on those who have accepted them.
Now, this may seem a pedantic and self-indulgent point. But it is not.
These people should not be allowed to wrap themselves in any remnant of
the associations that once bound us to the past. And they evidently enjoy
playing at nobility. I once did a radio debate with a police chief who had
been recommended for a Peerage by Tony Blair. He was annoyed by my
substantive arguments. He was reduced to spluttering rage when I addressed
him as plain “Mister” and sneered that his title was a sham. Bearing in
mind that it is not illegal to drop their titles, and how it upsets them,
I think it worth doing on every convenient occasion.
And it is part of what I would see as a more general approach.
Conservatives often denounce what is being done to us as a “breach of the
Constitution” . It is really no such thing, because the Ancient
Constitution has been abolished. As said, the fancy dress ball continues
in something like full swing. But “the poorest he that is in England” has
been stuffed. We do have a constitution in the sense that every organised
community has one. Ours says that whoever can frogmarch a majority of
placemen through the lobbies of the House of Commons can do whatever he
pleases. I did hope, earlier in the present decade, that the Judges would
intervene to limit parliamentary sovereignty. The Labour response,
however, was to pack the bench with their own people. Therefore, since it
has been destroyed, or has been suspended, we are in no position to claim
that the Constitution has been breached. The obvious result is that we
should not regard ourselves as morally bound to recognise any of the
authority that is claimed and exercised over us.
And if our people ever get into power through the electoral coup that I
mentioned earlier, I see no reason for recognising any purely
“constitutional” limits to the nature and speed of our counter-revolution.
For example, regardless of the withdrawal mechanism in the Lisbon Treaty,
I would be for just repealing the European Communities Act 1972 as
amended. That would be complete and immediate withdrawal. If any Judges
tried to block this, I would have them removed. I might also be for
passing an Act voiding every previous law made since the first session of
the 1997 Parliament. Otherwise, I would prefer to declare a state of
Emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, and then repeal hundreds
of laws by decree. A slow revolution can take place when those at the top
have the numbers and staying power to take it slowly. When there has been
a revolutionary or counter-revolutiona ry seizure of power, change must be
swift and determined if it is to be a success.
There must be a return to constitutional norms – and the extraordinary
measures that may enable this return must not be allowed to set any
precedents of their own. Nor – let me emphasise – do I hope that our
reaction will involve violence. But if conservatives are to bring about a
reaction, so that we can again be a free people in an independent nation,
we have little positive to learn from Burke’s Reflections. There comes a
point beyond which a constitution cannot be rescued. I think we have
reached that point. There can be no patching up this time, as happened at
the Restoration in 1660, or after the Revolution of 1688. By all means, we
should not innovate just for the sake of neatness. But we shall need to
innovate. We shall need to create new safeguards for our rights and
liberties that take into account the country in which we live.
This means, I increasingly believe, a republican constitution. There is
nothing wrong with the principle of hereditary monarchy. I suspect that
the division of authority and power that took place between 1660 and 1714
contributed much to the freedom and stability of England during our
classical period. The problem is not the institution of monarchy, but the
person of the Monarch.
When she came to the throne, Elizabeth had what seems to have been almost
the universal regard of the people. She has spent the past 57 years
betraying the people. Whatever the constitutional lawyers may claim, there
is a contract between Monarch and people. We pretend to treat whoever
wears the Crown as the Lord’s Anointed. The wearer of the Crown agrees in
turn to act as a defence of last resort against tyrannical politicians.
That is the truth behind the phrases of the coronation oath. The Queen
could, without bringing on a crisis, have blocked the law in the early
1960s that removed juries from most civil trials. She could have blocked
the subsequent changes that abolished the unanimity rule and the right of
peremptory challenge. She should have risked a crisis, and refused her
assent to the European Communities Bill, or demanded a fair referendum
first. She could have harried the politicians of the past two generations,
reminding them of the forms and substance of the Ancient Constitution. She
had the moral and legal authority to do this. Had she spoken to us like
adults, she would have had popular support. She did nothing. I believe she
bullied Margaret Thatcher into handing Rhodesia over to a communist
mass-murderer, and made repeated noises about South African sanctions. And
that was it.
Whatever her failings in the past, she had every legal right to demand a
referendum over the Lisbon Treaty. This had been promised by every party
at the 2005 general election. When the promise was withdrawn, she would
have had public opinion and much of the media behind her in refusing to
give assent to the Treaty’s Enabling Act. Again, she did nothing.
We are continually told about the Queen’s sense of duty. All I see is much
scurrying about the country to open leisure centres – and otherwise a
total disregard of her essential duties. If the Constitution was in decay
before she was even born, she has spent her reign watching all that was
left of it slip between her fingers.
It may be argued that she is now very old and will not remain much longer
on the throne. The problem is that her son will be worse. She has been
lazier than she has been stupid. He is simply stupid. So far as he insists
on using his powers, it will be to drive forward the destruction of
England. His own eldest son might easily be an improvement – but he could
be decades away from the Crown. We are in no position to wait on what is
in any event uncertain. The Queen has broken the contract between her and
us. Her son will do nothing to repair the breach. We live in an age where
hereditary monarchy must be strictly hereditary or nothing at all, and so
we cannot waste our time with new Exclusion Bills or Acts of Settlement.
If, therefore, we are ever in a position to bring about a
counter-revolution, we shall need to find a head of state who can be
trusted to do the job of looking after our new constitution.
I could go further on this theme. I know that many conservatives – and a
few Conservatives – have lost faith in democracy. Undoubtedly,
representative democracy has thrown up a political class that is separate
from the people, and that is increasingly hostile to the rights and
liberties of the people. But I cannot think of a lasting new settlement
based on Caesaristic dictatorship or a limitation of the franchise. My own
suggestion would be to select most positions in the executive by sortition
– to choose rulers, that is, by a lottery – as in ancient Athens, and to
settle all legislative matters by local or national referendum. Most
judicial business that had any bearing on the Constitution could be put
before juries of several hundred people, chosen by the same random process
as criminal juries now are.
But, you will agree that this takes me far, far beyond my stated theme.. It
would make what has been a long speech longer still. I will close by
observing that if you want to be a conservative in an England broken by
revolution, you need to look beyond a rearguard defence of forms from
which all substance was long since drained.. The conservative tradition
may have been dominated since the 1970s by Edmund Burke. But it does also
contain the radicals of the seventeenth century. And – yes – it also has a
place even for Tom Paine. If you want to preserve this nation, you must be
prepared for a radical jettisoning of what is no longer merely old, but
also dead. The conservative challenge is to look beneath the plumage and
save the dying bird.
Director, The Libertarian Alliance (Carbon Positive since 1979)
Tel: 07956 472 199 Skype Username: seangabb