How Wilson planned to invade Rhodesia

JOHN RENTOUL

Behind the public triumph of Harold Wilson's first full year as Prime Minister, papers released today reveal the difficulties facing the Labour government in 1965.

The 30-year state papers made available at the Public Record Office in Kew reveal that Wilson considered a far-fetched plan to invade Rhodesia after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and that the Government all-but abandoned the concept of the five-year national plan. They also show how Labour abandoned its manifesto commitment to prevent rail closures.

After UDI in November, contingency plans for invading Rhodesia were drawn up by Ministry of Defence planners, despite Wilson's aversion to making war on "our kith and kin". The papers show, however, that the planners warned against using the most extreme option because "the consequences of failure would be appalling".

Wilson also made an informal approach to Lord Mountbatten to fly to Rhodesia to rally loyal support. In his reply to the Prime Minister, Mountbatten made clear his support for the plan, which was eventually vetoed by the Queen.

Other papers reveal that Wilson had no basis for making his famous prediction that the rebellion could be ended "within a matter of weeks rather than months". Intelligence assessments indicated that the Rhodesian regime could probably survive economic sanctions indefinitely.

On the domestic front, Wilson was faced with a minor sterling crisis in July, which was used as a pretext for dropping "certain schemes of social importance", such as the abolition of NHS charges.

"If the government intended in any case to postpone these projects for a time, it would be well to announce this now in the context of the economic difficulties," he told the Cabinet.

By the time the draft of the first five-year national plan was discussed at full Cabinet, on 3 August 1965, the utopian idea of "scientific planning" seemed out of touch with the harsh realities of the economic situation. Although it was published after a low-key Cabinet discussion - which marked the end of George Brown's ambition to assert the power of his Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) over the Treasury - it was the first and last national plan.

The papers also reveal Labour's U-turn over rail closures, and the Cabinet discussions about ways they could "put the government's policy in better perspective" by deliberately arranging some closures to be proposed which they could reject.

The scribbled words "I should like Marcia to see all these in future" on the cover of a folder of confidential Cabinet papers, shed new light on the Prime Minister's relationship with his personal political secretary, Marcia Williams. The memos which followed Wilson's request show the depth of suspicion Marcia aroused in Downing Street officials, and they contradict her later protestations that she did not see classified or secret documents.

Document highlights, page 4

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line IT Support / Senior Engineer / Support Analyst

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor