Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/931/24211

From The Socialist newspaper, 11 January 2017

Fiction review: A Very British Ending

Spy drama gives insight into capitalist coup plot

'A Very British Ending' tells the story of real political events through a fictional spy

'A Very British Ending' tells the story of real political events through a fictional spy   (Click to enlarge)

Tony Saunois

Rarely does a political spy novel contain so much historical fact, written in such a gripping manner as Edward Wilson's 'A Very British Ending'.

Like his other novels, this one, first published in 2015, makes no attempt to mask the author's own socialist political sympathies. For reasons that are self-evident, his novels have received scant coverage in the press and media. They have simply buried it.

This story charts the drama of events which unfolded in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, centred around the attempts of the security services to undermine and overthrow Harold Wilson's Labour government. It is portrayed through the eyes of William Catesby, a dissident MI6 agent, and his boss Henry Bone, who struggle to thwart the plots and coup against Wilson.

Harold Wilson, in 1947, was president of the Board of Trade - the government department in charge of international commerce. He had overseen the selling of Rolls-Royce engines to the Soviet Union, in line with an agreement made prior to his appointment.

Wilson was warned at the time by Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Chancellor Richard Stafford Cripps that this could well become a poisoned chalice. Indeed it did, as Wilson was never forgiven by the CIA, or sections of the British security services, for allowing the deal to go ahead.

Later he resigned from the Labour cabinet in protest at the introduction of prescription charges, which was linked to opposition to increased defence expenditure. For all these reasons, the security services viewed Wilson with extreme suspicion. In fact, as the book explains, they suspected him of being a Soviet agent.

Suspicion

Hugh Gaitskell - the favoured candidate of Labour's right wing, as well as the capitalists, the CIA , MI5 and MI6 - died at an early age, vacating the Labour leadership. This paved the way for Wilson's election as leader.

The real class nature of the Labour right wing is well portrayed in the novel.

In 1956 a house party is hosted by Hugh Gaitskell - or "Gaiters" as his friends called him - in the leafy London suburb of Hampstead. Present is Kit Fournier, CIA agent and labour attaché at the US London embassy, together with other friends from the ruling elite of capitalist society.

"The house was bursting with refined British voices and urbane British elegance... They [the CIA] were grooming the non-socialist pro-American wing of the Labour Party for power - an Oxbridge-led elite that felt comfortable within the traditional ruling circles of Britain.

"There was no way that Washington was going to let its unsinkable aircraft carrier be taken over by mutineers," observes Catesby.

When Militant was attacked by the Labour Party right wing in the late 1970s and 80s, we published a pamphlet exposing the links between the CIA and Denis Healey, who was chancellor and then shadow foreign secretary, and the rest of the Labour right.

The novel runs through the subsequent elections which Labour won in 1964, 1966 and again in 1974 under Harold Wilson's leadership. The background to these events was a massive upsurge in class struggle and strikes.

"Enemies of the state"

At the time, a section of the ruling class and state machine was flirting with the idea of overthrowing the Wilson government - by a military coup if necessary. The Times even ran an editorial headlined "Is Britain heading for a military coup?"

These events are centre stage in Wilson's novel. In real life, tanks and army divisions were deployed to Heathrow airport - on two occasions, without Labour's defence secretary even being informed.

A retired general in the novel mobilises a secret "army" to break any general strike or sabotage by the domestic "enemies of the state". In real life, retired general Walter Walker organised such a force, called 'Civil Assistance', as covered in both Militant and the establishment press at the time.

Discussions within the clubs of the ruling elite and maverick sections of the "secret state" are well depicted and centre on plans for a coup headed by a member of the royal family. In real life it was subsequently revealed that former navy chief Lord Mountbatten and 'dissident' elements in the state machine had considered such options.

As an unnamed press baron in the novel sates: "There is no constitutional problem involved. The oaths of allegiance taken by the military are to the Crown, not to elected members of parliament."

At the time the majority of the ruling class and state machine in Britain held back. They pulled the rug from under the coup plotters, as they viewed such drastic measures as not in their interests at that time.

This is reflected in the novel when an unnamed member of the royal family storms out of a meeting. A banker later does the same, declaring to the general present: "I am not taking orders from you."

The undemocratic removal of Edward Gough Whitlam's left-wing Labor government in Australia using the reserve powers of the monarchy, the military coup in Chile, and many other events are all drawn into the drama.

Correctly, Edward Wilson dismisses the idea propagated in Washington and parts of the British secret state that Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent. "He is not even a socialist, let alone a Communist," comments Catesby at one stage.

In spite of this, Catesby is rather too sympathetic towards Harold Wilson. Although he was the candidate of the Labour left, he reintroduced prescription charges, had attempted to introduce the anti-union 'In Place of Strife' legislation, and more.

Significantly, Edward Wilson challenges the CIA's idea that the aim of the Soviet Union was "world domination" through international revolution. Catesby even invokes Trotsky to refute these claims.

Trotsky

"Catesby stared into the fire. The 'Team B' Americans seemed unaware that Trotsky's scheme for world revolution had been rejected long before Trotsky had been murdered with an ice axe.

"Since then, the Soviet Union had turned into a paranoid inward-looking state. Catesby reflected - and not for the first time - what would have happened if Trotsky had come to power instead of Stalin. And what role, thought Catesby, would he himself have played in such an alternative universe?"

This is a dramatic and highly enjoyable novel based on real events. Edward Wilson, a native of Baltimore in the United States, served in the Vietnam War in a special forces unit. Following this he renounced his US citizenship, and eventually emigrated to Britain where he became a teacher and later a novelist.

A Very British Ending does not disappoint. Even as a work of fiction, it gives valuable insight into how the British ruling class will react to defend its interests when it feels threatened.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 11 January 2017:


NHS in meltdown

NHS in meltdown

NHS in meltdown from spending cuts - demonstrate on 4 March!

Sustainability and Transformation plans - a repackaging of cuts

Worcestershire hospital deaths expose NHS crisis


Socialist Party comments and reviews

Football abuse scandal: Reclaim the game for justice and accountability

Book review: Spy drama gives insight into capitalist coup plot


What we think

Strikes show workers' power


Socialist Party news and analysis

'Cash for ash' scandal set to bring down Northern Ireland government

May slams 'economic inequalities' Tory policies created

Blair's multimillion plans to fight 'populism'

Bosses earn average salary in under three days

What we saw

Them & Us: £500k house party... 50p for rent


Labour Party

Haringey: pressure grows as Labour council cuts

Sick of sham consultations - give us a real fightback

Khan should attack bosses, not workers


Socialist Party workplace news

Tube strike solid in fight for jobs and safety

Support BA cabin crews' strike for fair pay

Sham Royal Mail pensions consultation - action needed

Unison legal battle looks into allegations 'Team Dave' broke rules during general secretary election

Workplace news in brief


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Build the resistance against Trump

Socialist Party national women's meeting

2016: A record-breaking fighting fund year!

Closing of the children's centres could cost lives


International socialist news and analysis

Palestine/Israel: Everyday life under occupation


 

Home   |   The Socialist 11 January 2017   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Review:

triangleFiction: Tombland "The power of common people fighting for justice in the 16th century"

triangleTheatre review: Women of Aktion - the heroic story of how World War One was ended

triangle'Lucas Plan' film tells story of workers who set out alternative to job losses

triangleEnthusiastic response to new podcast

triangleDetermined UCU strikers: We're out to win!

Capitalist:

triangleCorbyn must prepare for a general election

triangle40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles

triangleHillsborough trial: cop changes story

triangleVenezuela: resist the pro-imperialist coup!

Labour:

triangle300 turn out for Corbyn in Nottingham marginal

triangleNewham: women's refuge funds halved - Labour must use the £500m reserves

triangleSouthampton: Labour plans £15m cuts - vote Socialist in Coxford by-election

State:

triangleUnited States: LA teachers' strike defeats privatisers

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

Trotsky:

triangleManchester Socialist Party: Trotsky's 'transitional programme'

Britain:

triangleNorth West Socialist Party conference

Military:

triangleNae Pasaran: a film about working-class solidarity

Soviet Union:

triangleWhat we saw

Army:

triangleExclusive interview with Gazan activist: "The more they kill us, the more the anger increases"

Royal Family:

triangleEd Balls: 'Speaking Out' for capitalism

Revolution:

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Reform or Revolution?

Labour Party:

triangleCorbyn must launch struggle to kick out Blairites and fight for socialist policies

United States:

triangleUnited States: strike ends federal shutdown

Vietnam war:

triangleMay 1968: Police attacks on students spark mass revolt

War:

triangleTheatre: Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

Monarchy:

triangleDuke's car crash: one law for them and another for us

Media:

triangleWorldwide threat to journalists at worst for ten years

Tony Saunois:

triangleThe renewed relevance of Engels' classic Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Stalin:

triangleBirmingham Socialist Party: The struggle against Stalin

Australia:

triangleCWI news in brief

Heathrow airport:

triangleWorkers warned boss of tech failure danger

Labour leadership:

triangleCorbyn supporter wins Welsh Labour leadership

MI5:

triangleBlacklisting of Militant supporters by Thatcher government revealed

General strike:

triangleFor a Catalan republic of workers and the people

Parliament:

triangleAusterity out, Tories out

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments

13/2/19

Letters

The Socialist inbox

13/2/19

NHS

'Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor': comedy and tragedy judiciously mixed

13/2/19

Film

'Green Book' film: a timely reminder of racism in the USA

6/2/19

Theatre

Theatre: Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

6/2/19

Letters

The Socialist inbox

6/2/19

Film

Film: Vice - Dick Cheney - a cold and calculating opportunist

30/1/19

Review

Fiction: Tombland "The power of common people fighting for justice in the 16th century"

30/1/19

Letters

The Socialist Inbox

30/1/19

Exhibition

Exhibition: Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War

23/1/19

Letters

The Socialist inbox

23/1/19

Theatre

Theatre: Rouse, Ye Women to tell story of 1910 chainmakers' strike

23/1/19

Rosa Luxemburg

Non-fiction: The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg "reveals the brutal lengths capitalists will go to protect their system"

16/1/19

Letters

The Socialist Inbox

16/1/19

EU

Brexit: The Uncivil War - an interesting but inaccurate portrayal of EU referendum

16/1/19

Film

Sorry to Bother You: "Socialist film Botox that made me feel young again"

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999