The UK is in the bizarre position of having a government pursuing what today's Guardian describes as "as profoundly mistaken a decision as any that the UK parliament has taken in the post-war era,"* yet that same government is riding high in the polls and winning huge majorities in the Commons, with three quarters or more of the official opposition voting for its Alice in Wonderland policies.
I can't help wondering what the political atmosphere would be like if it were a Labour government which had:
- called a referendum which was important to its own members on the "lunatic left" but not among the top priories of the electorate at large;
- failed to include in the legislation for the referendum any rules to ensure an honest campaign or the usual threshold higher than a simple majority for a decision on a constitutional matter to be valid:
- tried desperately to avoid any parliamentary involvement of the implementation of the result, which most experts (and indeed the majority of MPs) regarded as likely to be highly damaging both to Britain's economy and our international reputation;
- seen its supporting newspapers attack the senior judiciary as "enemies of the people";
- caused important sections to the finance industry, a big cash-cow for the Treasury, to relocate in other countries, with more predicted to follow;
- described any critics of its activities as "enemies of democracy";
- caused a 12% depreciation of the value of the pound, with probably more to follow;
- invited what most Conservatives regarded as a "rogue leader" (Fidel Castro of Cuba, perhaps, or Salvador Allende of Chile) on a state visit;
- had the Speaker of the House of Commons, one of its own, publicly oppose this action;
- had its prime-minister publicly snubbed by fellow European leaders;
- endangered the peace settlement in Ireland;
- caused the potential break-up of the UK itself;
- and all the above with the NHS and care system in crisis: a critical housing shortage, and the young unable to afford to buy what was available; the government's "fixing " of the public finances, promised in the first parliament, postponed to a third: deplorably low productivity; and a record and continuing deficit on the balance of external payments.
In 1967 Labour had devalued the pound from $2.80 to $2.40 (just over 14% - it's now down to $1.25: so much for the "strength" of the British economy), Wilson was upsetting the Americans by refusing to join in the Vietnam War and there were a few strikes. Two newspaper barons, Hugh Cudlipp and Cecil King, arranged a meeting with Lord Mountbatten, a relative of the royal family and mentor of Prince Charles, and others, to suggest that chaos was round the corner, the government was about to disintegrate and that:
[t]he people would be looking to somebody like Lord Mountbatten as the titular head of a new administration, somebody renowned as a leader of men, who would be capable, backed by the best brains and administrators in the land, to restore public confidence. (See here for further and better particulars)
To his credit Mountbatten recognised this as treason and walked away.
I am not suggesting a similar attempt at a coup today, or that the current press barons might be capable of organising one. Even if our MPs are too supine to do their duty we must put up with them until the end of the parliament.
But the incident does illustrate the lengths "the establishment" are prepared to go to frustrate a left wing government compared to the sycophantic support of the present one, seemingly in hock to its "loony right," however demonstrably misguided and damaging their policies.
* Makes a change from my favoured "biggest cock-up since Lord North lost the American colonies over an argument about a tax on tea."