For our own good the establishment has long shielded us from a surfeit of the truth. Adam Macqueen has explored miles of shelving of newly declassified official papers and harvested delicious proof of the vanity, oddity, stupidity and occasional wisdom of politicians.
Prepare for astonishment at the news that Cabinet Minister George Thomas told Harold Wilson that he feared that Prince Charles was a terrorist. Marvel at the chilling chutzpah of Bob Boothby seeking an Order of Merit after he had already bagged a knighthood and peerage for his energetic services to cuckoldry and sodomy. Tremble at the hopelessness of our preparations for nuclear war that abandoned almost the entire nation to ‘perish horribly’.
Smile at the pedantic sycophancy that recorded the Prince of Wales\s appendages in 1922 as “ Right Hon, KG, KT, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, GCVG & GBSSC. Be uplifted by the news that, ‘The Queen has lovely handwriting even when she’s poorly. Great big letters, open loops, a confident roundness to her vowels.’
Gasp at the trivial pre-occupations of leaders during world crises. Churchill at war but fretting about maintaining the number of the Gibraltar macaques and naming them accurately. The cabinet of 1954 obsessing on the disintegration of youth morality corrupted by American-style comics including Captain Marvel. Our ambassador in Germany in 1937 reported his ‘appreciation of certain qualities of the Nazi regime’ including ‘the moral value of service’. At the height of the blitz in 1942, the Army was called in as national emergency to provide housemaids to polish the PM’s cutlery at Chequers.
Macqueen reveals with delightful panache, insight and wit a thousand secrets that delight and challenge credibility. Were these people really running the country? How did the nation survived rule by vain shallow blundering leaders?
A few unexpected heroes emerge. Clem Attlee charted the threat of nuclear weapons in 1945 with admirable foresight, ‘.. this invention has made it essential to end wars. The new World Order must start now’. Before Margaret Thatcher became the Milk Snatcher and Iron Lady she was the Milk Saviour and the Ironing Lady.
Our national neurosis of secrecy allowed Governments, Civil Service and Royalty to conceal their excesses. Knowledge of recent history has been
denied sharp focus, colour and context. Even the nation’s leaders became exasperated. Anthony Eden protested when he was told that he was denied sight of his Downing Street papers until he reached the age of 110. Harold Wilson fretted that he could not answer criticism of his premiership without checking his correspondence. The 30 year rule left him defenceless.
We live through a brief window of transparency opened by Tony Blair. Now he scourges himself as an ‘irresponsible nincompoop’ for his Freedom of Information Act. Chilcot draws near. Others too seek new denials of information.
The Attorney General vetoed publication of lobbying letter by Prince Charles because; they ‘could damage the Prince of Wales's ability to perform his duties when he becomes king’. If there are concerns, shouldn’t his future subjects know?
More revelations please Mr. Macqueen, before a rattled executive reverts to burying beyond our reach more miles of truths.