A real threat: A very British coup

By Rob Sewell

In his 1987 book, Spycatcher, Peter Wright confirmed that Harold Wilson, the former Labour prime minister, was the victim of a destabilisation campaign by elements in the British security services.

Wright claimed that he was approached by two MI5 colleagues, who had a plot to get rid of Wilson. “Wilson’s a bloody menace and it’s about time the public knew the truth,” they said. “We’ll have him out, this time we’ll have him out.”

Prompted by the CIA, they put around the story that Wilson was a Soviet agent, in the same way today they say Corbyn was a Czech spy. This cover story allowed MI5 operatives to burgle the homes of Wilson’s aides, bug their phones, and spread propaganda in the newspapers.

The establishment were paranoid about a ‘red’ threat – again as with Corbyn. As a result, MI5 and military top brass plotted a coup, involving the planned seizure of Heathrow airport, the BBC, and Buckingham Palace. Once Wilson was deposed, Lord Mountbatten, uncle to Prince Philip, would become acting prime minister. The Queen would then come out in support of the new ‘law and order’ government.

This plot was confirmed by different sources. The former intelligence officer Brian Crozier described how army tops “seriously considered the possibility of a takeover”. Unbeknownst to prime minister Harold Wilson, military manoeuvres took place at Heathrow, allegedly directed against an unspecified “terrorist threat”.


Five weeks after Wilson resigned, he spoke to two BBC journalists about the plot. One of them, Barrie Penrose, spoke about some of the details.

“Our establishment, from the intelligence services down to parts of Fleet Street, were paranoid about the threat of communism. So paranoid it seems, they were prepared to believe a prime minister of Britain was an active Soviet spy.”

“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,” explained Penrose. “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.”

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Penrose concluded: “You may ask how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears… in answer to the question ‘how close did we come to a military government’ I can only say – closer than we’d ever be content to think.”

These threats from sections of the ruling class and the state were very serious. It was also reported that Tony Benn was threatened with assassination if he ever became the head of a Labour government.

There were other warnings about a threatened coup. General Sir Walter Walker, a former leading figure within the command structure of NATO, expressed his alarm, calling for “dynamic, invigorating, uplifting leadership…above party politics” which would “save” the country from “the Communist Trojan horse in our midst.”

Another individual, Colonel David Stirling, the founder of the elite SAS regiment, created “Great Britain 75”. Composed of ex-military men, the group’s task would be to take over the running of government in the event of civil unrest and the breakdown of government.

According to Peter Wright, MI5 would use their contacts in the press and the trade unions to spread around the idea that Wilson was considered a security risk. He claimed it was a “carbon copy” of the Zinoviev letter which had helped to bring down the first Labour Government in 1924.


Without doubt, a Corbyn-led Labour government would face a similar threat. We should recall one article published in the Daily Telegraph, which explained how “only one week after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, a serving general of the Army warned of a direct and public challenge if a future Prime Minister Corbyn jeopardised the country’s security.”

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The ruling class detest the idea of a Corbyn government. They will do everything in their power to discredit and bring it down. If they plotted to overthrow the Wilson government, what would they do to a Corbyn one?

The top judges, police chiefs, heads of military, heads of civil service, etc. are all part of the upper echelons of the British state. While only 7% of the population have attended private school, this rises dramatically to 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of Whitehall permanent secretaries and 50% of members of the House of Lords. In this way, they are groomed for their elite role as determined defenders of the capitalist system.

The monarchy is also part of the establishment. It too would be used to engineer a ‘constitutional’ crisis, as happened in 1931, when they assisted the collapse of the Labour government and its replacement with a National government. Bear in mind, also, that the army does not swear its allegiance to government or Parliament, but to the Crown.

The monarchy was recently drawn into suspending parliament on behalf of Boris Johnson. This episode gives a glimpse of how the monarchy will be used in the future – in times of crisis – to act against a Labour government.

This is a stark warning to Labour. Rather than appealing to the Queen, as if she was above politics, they should be exposing the real threat posed by the Crown’s prerogative powers. The Labour movement should campaign to abolish these feudal relics.

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It would be the height of naivety to assume that half-measures and soothing words would pacify these people. Nothing will placate them. They are driven by the defence of capitalism: power, prestige and profit.


We need to defend our democratic rights, won in struggle by the working class. We need to defend a Corbyn Labour government from such attacks. But Labour will need to rise to the occasion and fight back.

To begin with, it should carry out a purge of the armed forces, civil service and the judiciary, who exist to protect and serve the interests of the capitalist class. It should sack the judges, generals and police chiefs, and elect in their place those committed to genuine socialist change. They in turn should be placed under the control and oversight of democratic workers’ committees. In this way, workers should be involved in the democratic running of the state and society.

This must go hand in hand with a bold programme to carry through the socialist transformation of society, by taking over the land, banks, finance houses and major industries, placing these under democratic workers’ control and management. Only then can we rid ourselves of the plots of the capitalists and their agents to subvert the democratic will of the people.

Published at https://www.socialist.net/a-real-threat-a-very-british-coup.htm