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The Top 10: Good Coups

From Childeric III via the Carnation Revolution to recent events in British politics

John Rentoul
Saturday 20 August 2016 11:02
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‘The Last of the Merovingians’ by Evariste-Vital Luminais shows Childeric getting his hair chopped
‘The Last of the Merovingians’ by Evariste-Vital Luminais shows Childeric getting his hair chopped

This list began when Daniel Hannan, commenting on the failed coup in Turkey, said “coups are never – never – an answer”. Tom Doran disagreed, and nominated no 4. Here are my favourites, in chronological order.

1. Childeric III, deposed as king of the Franks in 751 by Pope Zachary at the behest of Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne. “Surely the only coup on your list to involve a haircut,” says Stian Westlake. Childeric had his hair cut off (painting by Evariste-Vital Luminais, above) as a symbol of his loss of power.

2. General Monck, 1660. Cautious, guarded and militarily competent, the former royalist who was appointed governor of Scotland by Oliver Cromwell finally took London and restored Charles II. Nominated by Peter Welby and Zagros. ‏

3. Glorious Revolution, 1688. “But was that a coup, a revolution, or an invasion?” asks Colin Rosenthal. All three, I say, which means we also have to accept nos 5 and 7. Also nominated by Dan Jackson and John Duffield.

4. Carnation Revolution, Portugal, 1974. Dictatorship of Marcello Caetano overthrown by dissident military units, without violence and with support from the people, who put carnations in the barrels of their guns. Thanks to Tom Doran.

5. Idi Amin, Ugandan dictator overthrown by Tanzanian invasion in 1979 after a failed mutiny by his own troops.

6. Paraguay, 1989. Andrés Rodríguez overthrew his former patron Alfredo Stroessner, who had been dictator since 1954, and ushered in a period of relative liberal democracy, as David Mills points out.

7. Panama, 1989. US invasion deposed Manuel Noriega and installed Guillermo Endara, who had won an election that Noriega refused to accept. John McDonnell (not that one) says: “If I can’t have Gandalf replacing Saruman, I’ll have the US-backed coup in Panama in 1989.”

8. Romanian Revolution, 1989. Fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu over Christmas when armed forces switched sides from the dictator to the people. Suggested by Steve. ‏

9. Re-instatement of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, 1997, after 12 years. Nominated by Spinning Hugo.

10. The Chicken Coup, 2016. Leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn launched by Angela Eagle after a vote of no confidence in the leader by Labour MPs. Corbyn, who had always advocated annual leadership elections, welcomed the democratic accountability with enthusiasm.

An honourable mention for Anna Rhodes, who nominated the Kornilov coup against the Kerensky provisional government in Moscow, 1917, and for William French and Peter Metcalfe, who nominated the Stauffenberg Plot, 20 July 1944. Failed coups don’t count.

Rhys Needham asked, “How about one that replaces someone utterly ghastly with someone merely ghastly?” He nominated Equatorial Guinea in 1979, when Francisco Macías Nguema’s nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, overthrew him.

Finally, two of my correspondents suggested “the one with Yeltsin on the tank”. But Boris Yeltsin, who was president of the Russian republic as the Soviet Union was dissolving in 1991, was helping to foil a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.

Next week: Words That Describe Themselves, such as awkward, curt and languid.

Coming soon: Most Obscure Titles of Politicians’ Memoirs, starting with Blue Remembered Years by Ian Lang and Westminster, Wales and Water by Lord Crickhowell.

Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop, is available as an e-book for £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

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