It feels like things are coming to a head.
Talk of a coup may be overblown, but the Prime Minister has indicated that he may refuse to abide by an Act of Parliament – you know, the one that will receive Royal Assent tomorrow, which forces him to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50, should he have failed to reach a deal with them on how we leave on the 31st October.
An article in the Mail on Sunday today reveals that the Army is already stockpiling fuel and will distribute it (presumably to strategic locations where it can be accessed by those with the proper papers) in the event of a disruption to supplies caused either by a crash-out Brexit or industrial action in response to it, or both. Last week’s Private Eye led with the story emanating from leaks of Operation Yellowhammer: that in the event of a crash-out crisis, Local Government officials would be drafted in to work in Whitehall – presumably after the remainers have been purged – and the Army would be called in to run local authorities. The Army – or more specifically the Territorial Army, as what remains of the regular Army will be busy defending food dumps and escorting fuel convoys and providing a defensive perimeter around strategic locations. Oh and not forgetting a rapid deployment to Northern Ireland.
Let that sink in. Territorial Army members (some of whom no doubt already work in local Government – many of whom do not and wouldn’t know one end of a local council from the other – think Mark Francois) will take over Local Government roles. This is not a drill.
We already know that the Army Reserve, as it’s formally known, has been placed on standby since January. Thanks to the Yellowhammer leaks, we now know what it is expected that they will do once deployed.
Talk of a coup may be excessive, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit – the Prime Minister’s preferred option – the Army will be on the streets and in the council offices.
This reminds me of a strange story I heard, about a time not so different from now, when the country was wrestling with the knotty question of whether to stay in the European Union, or the Common Market, as it was known then. The time is 1974. Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson is in power, having seen off Ted Heath the year previously. Harold Wilson was a socialist though I would suggest nowhere near as left wing as Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell. He was a popular leader in the country – he presented an affable front which played well with the electorate. And Labour’s policies at the time created a country where inequality was at its lowest in the 20th century (and 21st).
But there were rumours that Wilson’s soft socialism (and the power of the unions at the time) hid far more malign intentions, of aligning with the Soviet Union – the old “reds under the beds” trope was still a big thing in the 70s. A small group of very right wing operators, led by SAS founder David Stirling, came together under the banner of GB75, to topple Wilson. One such character was General Walter Walker. Walker toured the country raising the spectre of a Communist take-over under the disguise of Wilson’s Socialist Government. He was recruiting for a group called Civil Assistance and claimed that at its height it had 100,000 members. The plan was that when Wilson had been toppled, should there be any civil unrest, the self-appointed members of Civil Assistance would take control of strategic locations – electricity sub-stations, telephone exchanges, council offices – the smaller scale infrastructure which a much larger Army, as it was back then, would have been stretched to cover.
You may find this difficult to believe, but it’s true. I heard an anecdote from an acquaintance who confirmed that people he knew, landowners, members of the elite even, were members of Civil Assistance. They made it clear that trouble makers would also be rounded up at the same time.
Something else also happened. The Army turned up, in force, at Heathrow Airport – a training exercise apparently – in June and July 1974. Wilson had not been informed – it was reported that he believed a coup was in progress. We now know that he was in the early stages of developing Alzheimer’s disease and this may not have helped his paranoia. Shortly afterwards he resigned. The Wilson Plot has been rejected as just another cold war conspiracy theory. Perhaps it is.
With the ascension of Margaret Thatcher to the leadership of the Tory Party – in Feb 1975, there was new hope for the far-right wing of the Tory party and the plotters diverted their attentions elsewhere. Wilson resigned, suddenly, a year later.
There is no known equivalent to Civil Assistance being organised at the moment, though I think we can all imagine people who would jump at the opportunity to get involved. To save the country from Communism as in 1974? Well there are plenty who would make the same claim about Corbyn the Communist – or indeed make absurd comparisons between the EU and Soviet Russia.
What else do we know? We know that Dominic “Colonel Kurtz” Cummings has indicated that he has plenty more shock tactics up his sleeve. Described as a revolutionary on the right, Cummings, it would seem, would like nothing more than seeing the existing structures of society swept away, with a new order created along his own ideological lines. I don’t think there’s any doubt he is a dangerous individual in a position of great power. Times have moved on and Cummings doesn’t need a volunteer army of 100,000 Civil Assistance members. Look no further than how he used Social Media to manipulate the 2016 EU Referendum Campaign. Only now he has the apparatus of Government at his fingertips. Watch him carefully. Perhaps Cummings is aware of the history of 1974-75 perhaps not. But we should all be alert to the possibilities in the coming weeks.