Martin McGuinness is dead

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Martin McGuinness 1950-2017. Getty Images

Former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has died, aged 66. Along with Ian Paisley, McGuinness was one of the two key figures in making the Northern Ireland Good Friday peace agreement work. The partnership of Paisley, a hard-line Unionist preacher and McGuinness, a former-IRA leader was unlikely but somehow worked in a relationship that was so friendly at the end the pair earned the nickname The Chuckle Brothers. These tribal warriors both surprised us as men of peace and brought the province back from the precipice of deadly conflict and made it boringly normal.

Born in Derry in 1950 McGuinness grew up in a city with a long history of sectarian violence. He was educated in Catholic schools but it was Unionists and the British that made him a republican not the Christian Brothers. Derry was predominately Catholic but ruled by Protestants in a gerrymander across provincial and local council boundaries. He spent school holidays on his grandmother’s small farm across the border in Co Donegal and the difference was palpable. “Even at a very young age, I could never understand why, when you went over that line, you were supposed to be in a different country,” he said in a 1998 interview. “Coming back to the North again was always like coming back under a big black cloud.” When aged 15, he was interviewed for a job in a Protestant-owned firm and he said it came down to two questions. “What’s your name? What school did you go to? And out the door.”

Derry Catholics suffered discrimination in other ways. They lived in crowded and inadequate housing and suffered massive unemployment. Decades of resentment blew up in the seminal rebellion year of 1968. A new breed of charismatic leaders like Bernadette Devlin and John Hume demanded change and universal civil rights. Derry was the focus of groups such as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Derry Housing Action Committee aimed at fixing sectarian injustice. However many Protestants saw them as a front for republican organisations and many marches were banned. By the end of the decade tensions in Derry had broken out into violence with the 1969 Battle of the Bogside one of the key starting points of the Troubles. McGuinness, then 19, would later admit that Battle had hardened his republican attitudes.

McGuinness did get a job as an apprentice in a Catholic-owned butchery but butchery elsewhere convinced him his service lay elsewhere. By then he had joined the Provisional IRA though they were not very active in Derry. Most violence in the early days was between soldiers and stone-throwing youths. Matters escalated in 1971 when a British Army soldier was killed when his vehicle was petrol bombed in the Bogside. When two rioters were shot dead in July it was the cue for an IRA campaign in the city. The government introduced internment without trial in August 1971 directed almost exclusively against republicans and 21 people were killed in three days of rioting across Northern Ireland.

McGuinness worked his last day at the bacon counter on 8 August 1971. As internment began he went on the run rarely sleeping in the same bed twice. By 1972, he was second-in-command in the city as Bloody Sunday unfolded in the city. He always denied claims he was involved in bomb handling on the day and the 1990s Saville Inquiry found “he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”. Regardless “the Butcher’s Boy” gained notoriety while the Provos bombed Derry commercial centre methodically, with far less civilian casualties than Belfast.

McGuinness was never convicted of any offence in Northern Ireland but served time in the Republic. In 1973, he was convicted by the juryless Special Criminal Court, after being arrested near a car containing 110 kg of explosives and 5000 rounds of ammunition. Like many republicans, McGuinness refused to recognise the court but declared his membership of the Provisional IRA : ‘We have fought against the killing of our people… I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it”. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment at Port Laoise.

He claims to have left the IRA when he was released in 1974. He joined the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein eventually becoming its best-known face after Belfast boss Gerry Adams. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont in 1982. He did not take his seat but was involved in irregular contact with the British government. As the war dragged on towards an unsatisfactory stalemate the Army used its intelligence unit to infiltrate the IRA in Northern Ireland but the Republicans continued to have success with its operations on the British mainland. The bomb with the largest economic impact was the 1992 attack on the Baltic exchange in the City of London. Three people died but the £800m damage bill eclipsing by £200m the entire damage of the conflict to date and raised the prospect of devastating the British economy. The British made coded messages to the IRA that if they were prepared to call off the violence, anything might be possible.

In 1997 McGuinness was elected to Westminster as the MP for Mid Ulster and in April the following year he was Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, ending years of violence. Following its agreement he was nominated by his party for minister for education in the power-sharing executive. Suspicions between republicans and unionists dogged the new body with many talks failing. However when McGuinness helped secure IRA arms decommissioning in 2005 a significant roadblock to peace was achieved. His success helped him lead negotiations during talks that paved the way for the 2007 St Andrew’s Agreement. It resulted in the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a new Northern Ireland Executive and Sinn Fein’s support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, courts and rule of law.

In May 2007 McGuinness became deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, with former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley elected first minister. While the disagreements about the status of Northern Ireland never went away, the pair forged a remarkable partnership successfully bringing investment and business confidence back to the province and a sense of optimism.  When Paisley died, McGuinness held back the tears as he said “Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.” McGuinness, like Paisley, proved to be just as astute in peace as he was in war.

Dial M for Murdoch

imageThe book Dial M For Murdoch by British politician Tom Watson and journalist Martin Hickman is a frightening read. It is frightening not only because it described a state of affairs where politicians, media and police colluded to hide criminal activity but because the crimes it describes have been almost completely forgotten and the criminals still act as if nothing has changed and they are still in charge.

As the authors say in the introduction, the book describes how a global news company exerted a poisonous and secretive influence on British public life and when exposed, it used its power to bully, intimidate and cover up with help from its allies at the highest levels of politics and the police. Yet the authors’ hope the scandal would force the perpetrators to clean up their act hasn’t eventuated. While the scandal ended with public inquiries, the humbling of Rupert Murdoch and the death of the News of the World (NotW), it hasn’t fundamentally changed the government or Murdoch’s behaviour nor has it chastened the rest of the tabloid pack in Britain who remain a mostly unaccountable right-wing rabble.

Tom Watson is a Labour Party MP who attracted the ire of Murdoch’s empire. His mistake was to plot against Murdoch favourite Tony Blair, an action that earned him the lasting enmity of Rupert’s powerful attack dog Rebekah Wade, who rose from a secretary to editor of the NotW in a decade. The Sun called him a “treacherous lump of lard” and a “mad dog trained to maul”. The NotW went further and raided his message bank as they did with many others.

It was the fierce level of competition Murdoch inspired that encouraged this behaviour, even pitting their own reporters against each other for the perfect tabloid scoop. The NotW had deep links into the police with Wade even admitting to a 2004 parliamentary inquiry they routinely bribed the force. But it was a successful model with the Murdoch tabloids making money and the NotW having a reputation as a muckraking award winning bastion of investigative journalism.

But its methods were vile. Some like chequebook journalism were well known, others like “blagging” confidential records or paying corrupt officials for private data were less well understood and there was no appetite to expose it by police forces anxious to have cordial relations with Fleet St. It took the involvement of the royal family to start the unravelling.

In 2005 Prince Charles’ staffers were alarmed when they saw very detailed gossip about his sons appear in NotW. They came to the conclusion the tabloid could only have got their information from phone hacking. They contacted Scotland Yard who began Operation Caryatid. The Royal revelations were appearing in NotW column Blackadder written by Royal editor Clive Goodman. Scotland Yard compared Goodman’s columns against the phone numbers they knew were being hacked and built a case against him. At the same time senior police officers were wining and dining with then NotW editor Andy Coulson.

Operation Caryatid made a breakthrough when O2 told them about a blagger wanting to change royal phone codes. He was private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who Goodman kept on a weekly retainer to hack voicemails on an industrial scale – not just the royals. Yet police made the decision to restrict the case to “less sensitive” witnesses. In 2006 Goodman and Mulcaire were arrested with no effort made to widen the inquiry to other journalists despite circumstantial evidence. Instead police gave Wade a full briefing on what they found because she was mentioned in Mulcaire’s files. Unsurprisingly Wade did not wish to make a complaint against her employers. They didn’t tell the many victims named in Mulcaire’s files and neither did the phone companies (except O2) for many years.

In 2007 Goodman was jailed for four months and Mulcaire got six for illegal invasion of privacy. NotW editor Coulson had to stand down in the scandal but the paper hid behind the “bad apple” defence. Goodman was sacked but was furious as he believed he was just a scapegoat and threatened to appeal publicly. Mulcaire admitted in court hacking football union leader Gordon Taylor and now Taylor was threatening to sue. His lawyers had gained police evidence including a Mulcaire email “for Neville” believed to be for NotW journalist Neville Thurlbeck.

Yet Murdoch had bigger fish to fry setting his sights on Dow Jones Wall St Journal and British pay TV and throwing his support behind the Tories under sympathetic new leader David Cameron – and his new press secretary Andy Coulson, formerly of NotW. Taylor was paid off for almost half a million pounds, a record, on condition of silence.

In 2008. Guardian journalist Nick Davies became aware of the scale of the illegality at News through a police contact. He scoured NotW for stories that might have used intercepts as a source.  In 2009 he broke his story saying Murdoch had paid a million pounds to settle legal cases like Taylor’s that threatened to reveal evidence of criminality. He had found the For Neville email and quoted a police source saying thousands of phones were hacked. Labour was outraged saying Cameron should sack Coulson but police refused to reopen the case. Murdoch himself denied it, saying if they had paid out Taylor he would have known about it. The Times counterattacked rebutting the Guardian allegations and calling Davies dysfunctional. News lawyers admitted to Watson at a parliamentary inquiry James Murdoch had approved the Taylor payout.

But at the end of 2008 the Press Complaints Commission exonerated NotW saying no new evidence had emerged. The Guardian’s stories had not lived up to their “dramatic billing” the PCC decided. Scotland Yard urged the paper to drop its hostile coverage as “over-egged”. But the Guardian persisted and discovered Mulcaire had accessed the inbox of 100 customers of Orange, O2 and Vodaphone. They were supported by Watson’s parliamentary culture committee which accused News of hindering their inquiries. NotW accused Watson of shamefully hijacking the committee.

After the May 2010 election Cameron became PM and Coulson his press secretary despite Coalition partner LibDem reservations. Just as he did in the Blair years, Murdoch had a private audience in Downing St with a plan to take sole ownership of BSkyB. But the storm clouds were gathering. People who appeared in Mulcaire’s files like Sienna Miller and Steve Coogan began legal action though could not prove they were hacked. The Guardian shared their files with the New York Times which quoted a disgruntled News journalist saying Coulson knew of the hacking which spread well beyond one reporter. News claimed the Times was carrying out a vendetta because of its rivalry with their Wall St Journal. Coulson “emphatically” denied wrongdoing.

Watson raised the matter in parliament, especially on the news Scotland Yard had deliberately ended the investigation despite extensive evidence. Watson was warned by News they would target him if he didn’t back off but with media refusing to publish his allegations he put them on the blog Labour Uncut. When LibDem minister Vince Cable threatened to refer the News takeover of BSkyB he was undone by a sting from undercover Telegraph reporters and resigned. New Tory minister Jeremy Hunt was more compliant to Murdoch.

Four years after the arrest of Goodman, Met Police finally interviewed his boss Andy Coulson. They announced there was no new evidence but didnt reveal the key evidence they had all along. Miller took her case to court revealing News editor Ian Edmondson knew of the hacking and he was immediately suspended by his employers. Coulson resigned in January 2011 despite claiming he had been punished twice. The Met launched a new inquiry into hacking. A senior Met officer admitted to Watson they never looked at all the Mulcaire files. With evidence growing, the BBC finally started to take an interest. Yet Hunt continued to back the BSkyB bid despite growing reservations.

News set aside 20m quid for payouts to settle with a growing list of victims as they tried to pick off civil claimants before their day in court. The pressure was building on what Rebekah Brooks knew, despite her closeness to Murdoch. But the tables turned on July 4, 2011 when Davies revealed a new hacking victim: murdered school girl Milly Dowler. Davies overreached by claiming NotW deleted messages from her phone to make room for others, giving false hope to her parents she was alive. But the impact was devastating and News had to admit it was a “great concern”. Social media went berserk and even the PCC admitted it was misled. Advertisers threatened to leave NotW and News’ share price plummeted.

With news emerging of Murdoch papers’ corruption of police, the noose tightened. On July 7 NotW called an all staff meeting which read out a James Murdoch email admitting they had misled parliament. At the end was a bombshell: the paper would close down after that weekend. Coulson was arrested and it was open season on Murdoch in parliament. With BSkyB shares in freefall Murdoch finally got the message and withdrew his offer. A week later Wade resigned and Rupert and James were summoned to give evidence to the Culture Committee.

Murdoch’s memorable phrase was about his most humble day of his life but his evidence was accurately satirised by Private Eye as “we are sorry we have been caught”.  His feeble defence was they had only recently found out the problem and would only admit they had been “lax”. By then Wade had been arrested and the Met Police chief was forced to resign. Wade also fronted parliament but claimed she couldn’t remember authorising payments for hacking. Cameron claimed not to have discussed BSkyB with Murdoch, but Labour couldn’t press too hard. After all, they had been in bed with the Dirty Digger too in the Blair years.

At the end of that summer News announced profits of $982m mainly from television and Murdoch was awarded a $12.5m bonus. As they hived off their troublesome newspaper business, it was back to business as usual, the Murdochs holding on to power against rebellious shareholders thanks to their powerful voting shares. While the PM distanced himself, his education minister Michael Gove still had stars in his eyes. “Murdoch is a force of nature and a phenomenon,” he said. “I think he is a great man.” The Sun on Sunday would soon fill the NotW gap and while the Leveson Inquiry brought many embarrassing revelations, they were soon forgotten in the relentless 24 hour news cycle. It did not take long for Murdoch papers to resume their role as kingmakers. As Watson ruefully concluded, the empire stood shaken and ostensibly apologetic for a while,  but it is still there and Rupert Murdoch is still in charge. British – and Australian – media remain in his thrall.

Dark Paradise: A short history of Norfolk Island

norfolkAs Dark Paradise author Robert Macklin reminds us, all nations lie about their past. Whether it the Turks lying about a genocide of Armenians, Japanese ignoring war crimes, Americans glossing over their slave owning Founding Fathers, or the Israelis invoking ancient Hebrew lore to justify savage oppression of Palestinians, nations across the world have turned history to their agenda. The British, says Macklin, are past masters at whitewashing their past with a cheer squad of intellectuals heaping praise for the way they brought civilisation to the world, while ignoring the pillaging of Africa and the attempt to turn China into a nation of drug addicts.

The Australians have learned well from their British forebears and the predatory conquest of an entire continent has been hidden behind concepts of British law and order. Macklin’s tale is about the savagery that underpinned the Empire’s expansion into a small neglected corner of Australia: Norfolk Island. The Island was the first place that empire expanded after Sydney and its story incorporates three fascinating strands: the dark strain of convictism, the aftermath of the mutiny on the Bounty and the sexual predations of the High Anglican Melanesian Mission.

Captain James Cook discovered Norfolk, though not on the same voyage as his 1770 journey up the east coast of Australia. It was on his second voyage in 1774, a vain journey to find the fabled Terra Australis Incognita, when he arrived at the north-west tip of the island. It was a short stay but its significance lay in the discovery of wild flax which Cook believed was a natural raw material for canvas sail. The great pine trees that dotted the island also looked perfect for masts and spars. Britain had neither commodity and was forced to import them from Russia. “The discovery may be both useful and valuable,” Cook wrote.

It took the upheaval of the American Revolution for Britain to turn its attentions to the south Pacific, and not for sails but for jails. Within 18 days of the First Fleet arriving in Sydney, Governor Arthur Phillip dispatched Lt Philip Gidley King to establish a settlement on Norfolk with a group of 15 convicts, five free men and two marines. They arrived on the island on Leap Year Day and took five days to negotiate the reefs to a safe landing.

King had his eyes on the flax and pines, and also on one of the six convict women in his new colony. He was unaware – and it would not be discovered until the late 20th century – the island was previously colonised by a small group of seafarers from north New Zealand or the Kermadec Islands using double-canoes. Between the 13th and 15th centuries they survived on fish and birds before mysterious disappearing either voluntarily or by violence induced by an imbalance of the sexes. They left behind the New Zealand flax and the Polynesian rat.

The latter were joined by European stowaways from King’s ship and together they ruled the ecosystem of the island. King’s plans had a more immediate enemy. The island’s pine trees were too brittle for masts and spars while King’s men did not have the technology to convert flax into canvas. Sexual tension replaced early enthusiasm, with men outnumbering women three to one. King codified 11 commandments into laws including the need to “behave devoutly” and the more puzzling “no exchange of clothing”. The rats and hot winds played havoc with cultivation and the colony survived on fish. A convict rebellion was narrowly defeated by the actions of an informer.

Meanwhile, another British actor in the Norfolk story was in the south Pacific. Lieutenant William Bligh, a protégé of Cook, was sailing to Tahiti in 1788 in command of HMS Bounty. Bligh’s orders were to turn the island into a slave state in the service of Empire. Aboard was Fletcher Christian, a midshipman Bligh promoted ahead of longer-serving hands. The pair were attracted to each other, though it is doubtful they consummated their relationship.

Despite this, Bligh found constant carping fault with Christian’s work. The easy Tahitian morals were a profound shock to the straight-laced British crew and Christian’s plotting against Bligh may have begun there. When they went to Tonga, a huge row erupted over missing coconuts and Bligh punished him before inviting him to dinner. In a state of confusion Christian plotted with others to desert, a plan which evolved into mutiny. He led a group of nine armed with muskets, bursting into Bligh’s cabin and putting a knife to his throat. The following morning, the Bligh loyalists were gathered together and put onto a cutter for an improbable 3600km journey to Timor, while Christian set sail for Tahiti. Facing a hostile reception and worried about British ships, they departed with 500 pigs and 25 Tahitians going first to Tonga and arriving at Pitcairn in 1790. The island had fertile soil, fresh water, tropical fruits and most importantly was utterly remote.

Bligh returned to Britain and was acquitted at a court-martial. King was also sent back to Britain while the martinet Major Robert Ross commanded Norfolk. The convicts seethed under tiny rations and draconian punishments for minor infringements. King returned as Lt-Governor to find 700 people on an island riven with violence and theft. Flax-dressers were brought from New Zealand to make canvas with no success. The Rum Corps philosophy spread to the island creating a caste system.

On Pitcairn life was no more idyllic. The colonisers divided into two murderous groups treating the Tahitians like slaves while Christian withdrew into a solitary life. The Polynesians rebelled killing five of the nine mutineers before the tables turned and four of them were killed. The main effect was to rebalance the sexes and a relative peace broke out.

Peace was the last thing on the new Norfolk ruler’s mind when King became governor of NSW. His replacement, former Governor John Hunter’s nephew Captain William Kent was delayed at sea, so Major Joseph Foveaux came over from the Rum Corps. Foveaux got wealthy by pressing convicts into slave labour on his Sydney farm and he took sadistic ideas of discipline to Norfolk. Humiliation and agony were his tools of trade and he wasted no time establishing a regime of cruelty, which he kept secret from the mainland by censoring mail.

Foveaux was selective in his punishments, ruling with informers who got off lightly while some were routinely sentenced to 200 lashes as a mere “feeler”. Others were kept in tiny dark isolation cells in water pits for 48 hours unable to sleep or even crouch for fear of drowning. Women were treated as slaves and bought and sold freely. Doctors and clergymen on the island tried in vain to ease the punishments before a fellow major took exception at Foveaux punishing his soldiers without a proper court martial. Foveaux was sent to England but exonerated and came back to Norfolk with a promotion. New arrivals got 25 lashes to show authority and whenever a foreign ship was sighted, Irish prisoners were herded up into a timber building with orders for it to be set alight if the ship landed. It was ill-health that ended his horrible reign and he returned to England in 1804 as an asthmatic.

William Bligh was now governor in Sydney, but again the subject of mutiny this time by landholder John Macarthur. When Bligh attempted to stop the rum trade by arresting Macarthur, his officers sided with Macarthur and put Bligh under house arrest. Colonel William Paterson arrived in 1809 to relieve Bligh. By 1810 American whalers had told the world of Christian’s mutineers on Pitcairn while life was generally quieter on Norfolk. The last convicts were removed in 1814 and the island was turned loose to 12 fierce dogs.

That year Samuel Marsden arrived from the London Missionary Society to convert the people of the south Pacific, with New Zealand as his base. In 1824 Norfolk was re-established as an outpost of the “ne plus ultra of Convict degradation”. New governor Ralph Darling enthusiastically ordered the withdrawal of all women to make the island a place of “extreme punishment short of death”. In 1826 a revolt held out for several weeks before its leaders were caught and hanged in Sydney. Another martinet James Morriset arrived in 1829 and he got round the official limit of 300 lashes by imposing the sentence multiple times. Morriset had uncontrollable rages towards his prisoners with a total lack of interest in running the settlement.

In Pitcairn a new arrival named John Buffett took over teaching and eventually controlled the island before falling foul of alcohol. Another charlatan missionary Lord Joshua Hill arrived claiming to be sent by the British. He denounced the older settlers and appointed a cadre of sub-rulers to enforce his own rule until he too was violently deposed. The islanders were anxious to become part of the British Empire and when Captain Russell Elliot arrived in 1838, he produced a “constitution” Britain would eventually recognise in 1887. The island was a regular stop of whalers but became an outpost of the Church of England under George Selwyn.

In Norfolk, there was temporary respite with the kind reign of Alexander M’Konochie. M’Konochie was convinced punishment was counter-productive and allowed prisoners to be treated humanely. They could earn freedom by labour and good conduct and the lashings stopped. However Governor Gipps would not extend this treatment to repeat offenders on the island, an injunction M’Konochie disobeyed. Once word got back to Sydney he was recalled and the brief reform era ended. The island continued as a gulag of terror until closed in 1855.

The empty island suddenly appeared as an attractive proposition for the Pitcairners outgrowing their tiny home. An 1855 poll found 153 out of 187 in favour of the move and they sailed west to Norfolk a year later under a founding document auspiced by Queen Victoria, though some returned after a short while. In 1863 there was another split and another 27 settlers returned to Pitcairn. Those that stayed fell under the power of Selwyn and his Melanesian high church mission. The mission farm became profitable and the island became a benevolent church dictatorship surviving on free labour or “field hands for the Lord”.

In 1897 Governor Hampden issued an order-in-council annexing Norfolk to any federal body which NSW might join. However Norfolk was not included in the new commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Numbers dwindled in the 20th century and by the 1930s the island was in crisis. An airstrip was built in the Second World War and a radar station, and the war proved a spur to development. By the 1960s tourism was on the rise but so were tensions with Australia over taxpayer funding. Norfolk made money by printing stamps but by 1975 a High Court decision ruled the island was irrevocably part of Australia and should be included in the electorate of Canberra. The Pitcairners lost their special status and a Norfolk Island Territory Assembly was given powers to raise revenues and taxes.

To this day, the tension between Pitcairners and non-Pitcairners remain about obligations to racial discrimination laws. The dysfunction of Norfolk government has been a running sore for Canberra, while Pitcairners emphasise their special status. In June Canberra took direct control of the island ending 36 years of direct rule much to local disgust and mass protest. Governance consultant Gary Russell, a member of the New Zealand UN Association, says he believes Australia cannot continue to act without consulting the founding document. “Even the Crown in England kept reminding the Australian state governments when they kept changing petitions,” he said. “’Have you consulted with the people of Norfolk Island before you instigate these changes?’ and of course this has not happened over the last 160 years.” Macklin’s Dark Paradise has not yet seen the light.

Maralinga: The shame of Australian nuclear testing

Australia's first nuclear explosion in October 1952 at Monte Bello Islands off the north-west coast of WA.
Australia’s first nuclear explosion in October 1952 at Monte Bello Islands off the north-west coast of WA.

With the world remembering the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs in Japan, reading Frank Walker’s book Maralinga proved a timely reminder of Australia’s own nuclear shame. In the 1950s Prime Minister Robert Menzies colluded with the British government to turn Australia into a giant nuclear experiment and its nine million people into guinea pigs.

Britain had been frozen out of the American nuclear testing program for good reason: many of its intelligence officers were double agents working for the Soviets. Britain needed a site for its post-war testing program and Australia’s remoteness, friendliness and utter compliance fitted the bill. The site chosen was the Monte Bello Islands off the WA coast. On September 16, 1950 British prime minister Clement Attlee cabled Menzies to see if Australia would agree to the testing and for British “experts” to conduct reconnaissance of the islands. They wanted to drop the bomb in October 1952, and expected winds would take the radioactive cloud out to sea. Attlee said the area would be contaminated for “three years”.

Without consulting anyone, Menzies responded with an enthusiastic yes. There was no Australian oversight and Britain had total control of safety. After winning an election in 1951, Menzies finally announced the news to the public in February 1952 saying there was no danger to the public, but did not say where it would happen. There was no debate, instead the mood was one of excitement and the press speculated on the likely site (most assumed it would be at Woomera rocket range in SA). Parliament passed a bill to deny Australians entry to huge zones of the country that might be used for testing.

Menzies painted a rosy picture of equal partnership but Australians provided labour and land only. There was a third secret use of Aussies: as lab rats for British nuclear experiments. Australia’s leading nuclear expert physicist Mark Oliphant was barred from the program for having the temerity to be “appalled” at the atomic bombs’ impact on Japan. Australia’s head scientist was the Briton Ernest Titterton who helped developed the US bomb. Titterton was an ardent supporter of nuclear weapons and his biggest fear was they might be stopped.

The ageing British Navy frigate HMS Plym was donated to be the carrier of the first atomic bomb in Australia. It sailed from Britain with the frame of the bomb while the radioactive core was flown to Australia. WA newspapers had wind of something big happening at Monte Bello as British and Australians built buildings and structures for the test. The nearest mainland town, Onslow, was packed with journalists as the big day approached. The day itself depended on wind conditions when it was blowing north-west towards Indonesia (which wasn’t a concern). At 8am on October 3, 1952, officers sent an electronic signal to spark the explosives around the plutonium core.

The 25 kiloton blast disintegrated the Plym and created a seven meter deep crater in the seabed. Witnesses saw a blinding electric blue light and many reported seeing the bones of their hands.  The 4km high cloud formed a Z shape rather than the more familiar mushroom cloud. While the wind initially took it west, it changed direction and took it back towards the mainland. Under strict secrecy, Australian and British soldiers were ordered into the blast area to pick up pieces of the Plym and put them into drums. They wore no protective gear and were not tested for radiation.

The bomb was front page news, all positive. The West Australian praised Britain’s skill in providing “a reliable shield for the Commonwealth”. Sailors on the HMAS Macquarie saw thousands of dead fish in the water, some were scooped up and cooked. A day later the captain got orders not to eat the fish. Many on the Macquarie later died of cancer and many families also had health issues. It was a similar story for crews of other vessels sent to the scene. Confidential documents warned some degree of risk had to be run to get the full value of the test. Fallout spread across northern Australia reaching Cairns and Townsville on the east coast.

Menzies approved further testing on the mainland. The area chosen was Emu Field, 650km north-west of Woomera. The date set was 12 months from the first test on October 15, 1953. RAAF crews were told they had to fly into the mushroom cloud without protective gear to find out what went on inside. They were told it might bring sterility and were offered the chance to turn it down. None did. When the bomb was detonated on the ground, the RAAF men were in the air 20km away and the explosion nearly tore the planes apart. They turned towards the mushroom cloud and took photos. When they went inside the cloud, it was like entering a tornado. They were “entering the gates of hell”, as one airman put it. Under British orders they were told to enter the cloud a second time.

When they finally landed, they were greeted by scientists in space suits breathing with oxygen bottles who wouldn’t come near the pilots. Instead they wanted the canisters attached to the planes and flew them direct to England. The pilots realised they were lab rats. They were forced to continue the mission to track the radioactive cloud across Australian which drifted east. One pilot said the cloud stayed over a Queensland town for five days as it rained but would not reveal the town for fear of being jailed. As at Monte Bello, soldiers had to enter the bomb zone without protection to conduct clean-up operations while Geiger counters “went berserk”.

Northern SA is the home of the Yankunytjatjara people. Around 170km north-west of Emu Field, 11-year-old Yami Lester heard a huge bang in the distance. The following morning a big black cloud rolled in like a dust storm. Lester told the 1985 Royal Commission it frightened his people and he could feel sticky dirt from the black mist. People felt sick and had sore and watery eyes. Many died in the following days. Lester became blind but doctors dismissed a link with the bomb. It was an experience repeated across the north of the state. But Aboriginal people did not have a vote in 1953 and no one cared about their plight, nor the plight of Australian military personnel in harm’s way. Menzies hailed the bomb a great success. Progress was too important, as was Australian toadying to Britain.

Iran and the West: a tale of oil and Mohammad Mossadegh

Mohmmad,Mosaddegh2Iran’s nuclear deal has big ramifications for the county’s other major source of energy: oil. Iran has the fourth largest proven reserves of oil in the world but production has halved since 2011 when US and European sanctions took hold. Iran faces many challenges to double its output back to two million barrels a day, not least due to its ageing infrastructure, but the country has long history in the oil game and was the first country in the middle east to drill for oil in 1901. But Iran also has a long history of interference from the west and if suspicious Americans look back in anger to the hostage drama of 1979, Iranians look back further to the way the Americans and British sabotaged their young democracy in 1953.

Iran had been of massive interest to the Allied Powers in the Second World War and the site of one of that war’s most famous meetings. In December 1943 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met on a sunny Tehran morning to discuss how to divvy up the post-Nazi world. They pledged to work together “in war and the peace that will follow”. After the photographers searched their faces for smiles on the veranda, the three great men retired to a hall for a more private conversation. Before they discussed weighty matters of empire, Roosevelt asked Churchill what became of Iran’s former Shah Reza, adding, “if I’m pronouncing it correctly”. Churchill told Roosevelt he became a Nazi and denied Britain and Russia the use of oil and a supplies railway. They invaded Iran in 1941 and Shah Reza was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi. The father moved to a comfortable life in Johannesburg where he died not long after the Tehran conference. Roosevelt’s question showed up US ignorance of Iranian affairs.

Yet the choice of Tehran to hold the meeting was no accident. Iran had been zone of influence for Britain and Russia since a 1907 treaty shared the country’s spoils between them. The terms of the 1907 and 1941 conquests allowed Iranians to rule as long as they did not act against their powerful guests. An officially neutral Iran was of vital strategic importance to both. Roosevelt was happy to let the two fight it out over Iranian oil while the US maintained control of the bigger fields in Saudi Arabia.

The turmoil of the 1917 Russian revolution left Iran almost entirely a British colony. AIOC, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (then nationalised by Churchill, now corporatised as BP) was Britain’s main supplier of oil. Another Churchill decision, to convert the British Navy from coal to oil in 1913, saw AIOC become one of the world’s leading producers supplying Britain in two world wars. In 1947 it reported an after tax profit of £40 million and gave the young Shah’s country just seven million. It reneged on a 1933 deal with his hard-nosed father to provide the workers with better pay, more schools, roads, telephones and job advancement. The young Shah was a playboy and had little interests for his people’s problems but as long as he kept control of the military, Britain didn’t care how badly his country fared.

Mohammad Mossadegh was less sanguine. He knew Iranians chafed bitterly about their abject poverty. Born in 1882, he was a parliamentarian for over three decades, implacably opposed to foreign influence. In a wave of fervour, he was elected Prime Minister in 1951 with a mandate to throw AIOC out of Iran, reclaim the oil reserves and end the British influence. Mossadegh was in his seventies and in the manner of Proust, did much of his business in bed. But when he nationalised Anglo-Iranian, he became a national hero. Shortly after, Iran took control of the refinery.

The British were outraged. British Labour prime minister Clement Attlee was conducting mass nationalisation of British assets but would not grant Iran the same licence. His government declared Mossadegh a thief and demanded he be punished by the UN and the World Court. When neither would support Britain, they imposed an embargo that devastated the Iranian economy. Mossadegh was unmoved and said he “would rather be fried in Persian oil than make the slightest concession”. Mossadegh became a third world hero and delighted his admirers further when he ridiculed Britain at the World Court saying it was trying “to persuade world opinion that the lamb had devoured the wolf”.

Time Magazine made him their man of the year in 1951 saying he “put Scheherazade in the petroleum business and oiled the wheels of chaos”. They called him a “strange old wizard” in a region where, importantly, the US had no policy. Attlee warned President Truman not to interfere with the dealings of “an ally.” The US complied but would not support a British military invasion of Iran.

Events changed dramatically when Britain and the US turned to the right. In autumn 1951 the old warhorse Churchill denounced Attlee in several speeches on the election trail for failing to confront Mossadegh firmly. Churchill said the Prime Minister had betrayed “solemn undertakings” not to abandon Abadan. He saw the loss of Iranian oil as the loss of empire and considered Mossadegh “an elderly lunatic bent on wrecking his country and handing it over to the Communists.” Britain’s position toughened when Churchill won the election.

Truman was also up for re-election in 1952 but decided not to contest. As in Britain, a Second World War hero won and Dwight Eisenhower became the new Republican president. The Cold War was Eisenhower’s biggest focus and Iran was one of his first challenges. Britain cleverly played up to the new regime in Washington claiming Iran was in crisis under Mossadegh and could easily fall to the Communist Party backed by Moscow.

Eisenhower’s new team prepared to organise a coup in Iran. Eisenhower’s former wartime chief-of-staff and now undersecretary of state General Walter Bedell Smith linked the campaign with the State Department and the CIA. At the head of these organisations were a pair of remarkable brothers. John Foster Dulles was a world-class international lawyer now turned Secretary of State while Allen Dulles now ran the intelligence organisation. The brothers had a special interest in Iran and Allen went to Tehran in 1949 where he met the Shah and Mossadegh. The Dulles brothers were ideological warriors determined to prevent Communism in Iran.

Eisenhower gave implicit approval for Operation Ajax but presented a front of plausible deniability. Behind the scenes the two Dulles and Smith had full authority to proceed. They appointed secret agent Kermit Roosevelt to bring the coup together. Kermit, who preferred to be called Kim, was a grandson of the first Roosevelt president Theodore. Independently wealthy, he was a history professor at Harvard until he joined the newly established Office of Strategic Services in the war. His work in the OSS remains shrouded in mystery but he stayed on in peacetime when it was rebadged as the CIA.

Working from the US embassy in Tehran (a fact angry Iranians remembered in 1979) Roosevelt quickly liaised with his British counterparts in the Secret Intelligence Service – MI6. Iranian tribal leaders on the British payroll launched a short-lived uprising. Roosevelt met with anti-Mossadegh politicians and persuaded the Shah to sign a “firman” (a document of doubtful legality sacking the Prime Minister). By mid-August 1953 Roosevelt and his local agents were ready. He paid newspapers and religious leaders to scream for Mossadegh’s head and organised protests and riots turning the streets into battlegrounds.

But at the last minute Operation Ajax failed. On August 15 an officer arrived at Mossadegh’s house to present the firman only to find the Prime Minister was tipped off in advance. The Shah fled the country while units loyal to Mossadegh surged through Tehran. Roosevelt did not quit and three days later he organised a second attempt. Once again he launched a massive mob in the capital. Crucially Mossadegh did not call out the police to stop them. Armed units loyal to the Shah launched a gun-battle against Mossadegh’s supporters. The following morning Tehran Radio announced “the Government of Mossadegh has been defeated!”

Mossadegh was under arrest and the Shah flew home from Italy in stunned triumph. The New York Times wrote “the sudden reversal was nothing more than a mutiny by the lower ranks against pro-Mossadegh officers”. Roosevelt was understandably delighted. Barely a day earlier he had been ordered home, now he would be returning in triumph. Mossadegh was given a three year prison sentence. He served it until 1956 and was confined to home in Ahmad Abad until his death, aged 85 in 1967.

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company tried to return to their old monopoly position after his overthrow. But the US had invested too much in the coup to let that happen. They organised an international consortium to assume control of the oil. AOIC held 40 percent, five American companies held 40 percent and the remainder was split between Royal Dutch Shell and Compagnie Francaise de Petroles. The consortium agreed to split the profits fifty-fifty with the Shah but never allowed Iranians to examine the books.

Though Mossadegh was a forbidden topic in Iran, new enemies emerged within. By the late 1970s the Shah had crushed all legitimate political parties and a new religious force filled the void. When he was forced to flee the country in 1979 as a reviled tyrant, the first government to replace him was determined to invoke Mossadegh’s legacy. New Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan had been dispatched by Mossadegh to Abadan after the British fled in 1951. Another Mossadegh admirer Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was elected president. But behind the scenes Ayatollah Khomeini was consolidating power. Before long he was arresting all his enemies. Mossadegh had been defeated again, this time in death.

The Mossadegh coup had profound impact on America. Overnight the CIA became a central part of foreign policy apparatus. While Roosevelt went home in quiet retirement, the Dulles brothers used the new template to overthrow other rulers such as Arbenz in Guatemala (1954) and Allende in Chile (1973). The incident also changed how Iranians viewed the US. Before 1953, Britain was the rapacious and greedy enemy. Now the US was the sinister party, manipulating quietly in the background. The 1979 embassy hostage was a direct result of Carter’s decision to allow the Shah into America. But the reason the crisis last 14 months was a distrust going back to 1953.

This week’s nuclear deal between the countries won’t immediately heal half a century of hurt. But it is crucial it is ratified despite hardliners in both countries. The bleatings of Israel should be ignored as a country with its own nuclear arsenal can look after itself no matter what happens in Iran. Mohammad Mossadegh offered a template of what Iran might have been, had the west not been blinkered by its own suspicions. Now is the time to make good on his legacy and bring Iran in from the cold.

The Black and Tans: British police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence

This photo of Black and Tans interrogating a Sinn Fein suspect was on the cover of DM Leeson's book.  Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
This photo of Black and Tans interrogating a Sinn Fein suspect was on the cover of DM Leeson’s book. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Anyone familiar with 20th century Irish history will know of the notorious reputation of the Black and Tans, the British paramilitary organisation which fought against the IRA in Ireland’s War of Independence (1920-1921). The British Government equipped them as soldiers but pretended they were police so they could continue the charade there was no war in Ireland. Their distinctive uniform (dark police green mixed with army khaki) blurred the line between police and military and gave them their nickname. Irish historians paint the Tans as a violent, thuggish and murderous organisation whose members emptied British prisons before running riot in Ireland. However a book The Black and Tans by Canadian historian David Leeson questions this narrative.

Between 1920 and 1921, 10,000 British men, mostly First World War veterans, enlisted in the Royal Irish Constabulary. A second group of former war officers joined a temporary force called the Auxiliary Division (ADRIC). The Black and Tans were garrison troops defending strongpoints while the Auxiliary Division were mobile and offensive. Both the Tans and Auxiliaries quickly became known for undisciplined violence and their tactic of widespread reprisals which earned comparisons with other notorious paramilitary organisations such as Turkish bashi-bazouks and German Freikorps.

Leeson’s villains however are not the soldiers pretending to be policemen but their bumbling paymasters in London, the British Government – the “two-headed ass” of David Low’s cartoons. Prime Minister David Lloyd George insisted Ireland’s problem was a policing one. Despite being a Liberal, his Coalition was dominated by Conservatives and Unionists with little sympathy for Irish nationalism and could only offer, in Leeson’s words, “limited repression with limited concessions”.

Irish policy was the bane of British governments and Gladstone lost power twice over the Home Rule bill in 1886 and 1893. Tory and post-Gladstone Liberal governments showed no appetite to reintroduce Home Rule, but the Irish Party kept up the pressure till it re-gained the balance of power after the second election of 1910.

A Home Rule bill finally passed the House of Commons in 1912 and the House of Lords could only delay it to 1914. The Northern Irish Protestants demanded Ulster’s exclusion from the bill and civil war seemed inevitable until the First World War pushed the issue to one side. The republican Easter rising of 1916 was put down but the Irish public was dismayed by the heavy-handed British response. Opinions hardened on Catholic and Protestant sides with Sinn Fein and the Unionists dominating the 1918 election in Ireland. Herbert Asquith’s Liberals were also crushed; Lloyd George’s Coalition Unionists won 478 out of 707 seats. Lloyd George wouldn’t consider Ireland while the Paris peace negotiations went on in 1919 but Irish MPs refused to sit in Westminster. Rebels began a campaign against Irish police, killing 15 by year end.

The undeclared war escalated in 1920 as the army arrested Irish leaders. Lloyd George introduced a new bill splitting Ireland into two parliaments (a partition model later used in India). The rebels intensified their campaign and Dublin Castle released republican hunger-striking prisoners in an appeasement gesture. It didn’t work and police casualties increased; 28 died between April and June, 55 between July and September. Boycotts and strikes made Ireland ungovernable. Republicans built an alternative state holding their own courts, as the British system of assizes failed.

Police were demoralised and Dublin Castle asked for military intervention, saying only martial law or an agreement with Sinn Fein could end the crisis. Conservative and Unionist members of cabinet could not bring themselves to negotiate with the “murder gang” because, as Arthur Balfour wrote, “the disgrace would deepen to infamy”. Despite misgivings of Dublin officials the hawks prevailed and Sinn Fein was declared a criminal organisation. Parliament passed the Restoration of Order in Ireland bill, Lloyd George saying Ireland had to “sacrifice extravagant demands and too extravagant ideas.”

Responsibility for keeping the Irish in check lay with the Irish Constabulary who policed all of Ireland except Dublin (which had its own Dublin Metropolitan Police). It earned the name Royal for its part suppressing the Fenian uprising of 1867. It had a force of 10,000 men, all Irish and mostly Catholic. It was armed and with ordinary crime rare in Ireland, its most important role was political surveillance. Unlike the more neutral DMC, the RIC were hated by Republicans who called them England’s Janissaries, “a force of traitors and spies”. When the War of Independence started, many quit the RIC angered at being forced to act as soldiers. Facing a manpower crisis, government minister Walter Long suggested some of the 167,000 British ex-servicemen receiving unemployment benefits might fit the gap. Their later criminal reputation was undeserved. Leeson found most were discharged with honour from the army and few had criminal records. The first Black and Tans arrived in Ireland in January 1920. A shortage of police clothing led to their mixed costumes which attracted great attention as they marched to their barracks.

Recruiting was slow but picked up with a substantial pay rise in June 1920. Numbers took off after September 1920 when police sacked the county Dublin town of Balbriggan. The sack was discussed in parliament and made national headlines and cinema reels. Despite the notoriety, the publicity alerted many ex-servicemen about employment with the RIC. The pay was good but conditions were hard and dangerous and they were shunned and resented by Irish police.

They had no love for ADRIC either. Auxiliaries were officially temporary cadets but paid as sergeants, a rank it might take decades for Irish police to reach. The division was Churchill’s idea to raise a “special emergency gendarmerie” of war veterans enlisted for one year. ADRIC’s leader Major General Henry Tudor said their role was to “crush the present campaign of outrage” using military tribunals, deporting prisoners, collective punishment and “a special penalty of flogging imposed for the cutting of girls’ hair and outrages against women”. ADRIC became known as Tudor’s Toughs and remained a separate force spending much of their time conducting raids, earning a more fearsome reputation than the Tans. When faced with resistance they lost restraint and committed atrocities which seemed to crush the IRA but in the longer term hardened republican resolve and turned the Irish against them.

As the struggle intensified, Ireland descended into a reign of terror. The guerrillas resorted to ambush and assassination which the Tans and Auxiliaries met with group reprisals and murder. Suspects and prisoners were summarily executed, homes and shops of IRA volunteer families and supporters were burned. In the 1921 summer an election was held according to the Government of Ireland Act for the House of Commons of southern Ireland (a separate election was held in the north). Republicans triumphed with Sinn Fein treating it as an election for a new revolutionary parliament. When elected members refused to take their seats in a House of Commons, London threatened to govern Ireland as a crown colony. On June 21, Lord Chancellor Birkenhead finally admitted Britain was at war in Ireland – a war it was determined to win.

The war was unpopular in England. King George V made a more conciliatory speech opening Belfast’s new parliament which was welcomed in Britain and Ireland. When republican leader de Valera indicated he might compromise, and with many of the hard-line Unionists finally out of cabinet, Lloyd George was persuaded to negotiate. A truce was arranged on July 8 coming into force three days later. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6 kept Ulster separate and Ireland within the realm but Britain conceded the dominion status it fought resolutely against 12 months earlier.

While Ireland descended into its own self-inflicted horror of the Civil War, the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries went home to England (there were very few Scottish or Welsh in either force). Both forces entered the infamy of Irish history but they consisted of mostly ordinary men. The Auxiliaries behaved worse, but this Leeson says, was merely a privilege of rank. Their cruelties were overlooked by the British government anxious to pretend the insurgency was “a policeman’s job”.

Leeson compares how the British in Ireland behaved with Brazilian death squads of the 1964-1985 period. “Violence workers” were ordinary people trained to confine their violence against known or suspected enemies. However the margin of tolerated illegality was wide and helped insulate them from the impact of their crimes. Leeson says during the war Ireland was transformed into “a looking-glass world of crimes without criminals, police without laws, trials without judges or juries and sentences without appeal.” Lloyd George’s government must take most of the blame for turning Ireland, at least temporarily, into Devil’s Island.

Staying in Europe will be David Cameron’s acid test for Britain

(photo: Telegraph.co.uk)
(photo: Telegraph.co.uk)

Tony Blair’s former spinner-in-chief Alastair Campbell wrote a (mostly) perceptive piece on his blog early on the day of the British election. Campbell was doing hindsight history showing how the electorate always gets it right on the day. His conclusion was they were about to get it right again by making Ed Milibrand prime minister, a dream that would be crushed in the following 24 hours. Britain had spoken again, but Doctor Campbell had misdiagnosed the illness. The patient wanted more of the drugs it already had, not a completely new treatment.

Campbell thought his analysis of the previous six election results in the UK would provide answers to a series of questions about the 2015 election. Twenty-eight years ago in 1987 Margaret Thatcher won a third election because she had the form and the agenda. Five years later Thatcher was gone but Britain said Labour was not yet fit for government under Neil Kinnock. In 1997 Britain finally thought “New Labour” (a slogan Campbell had significant investment in) meant something and gave them a landslide. That margin was enough to win again in 2001 but by 2005 Tony Blair was on the nose after Iraq. Like Thatcher he just did enough to win a third victory and like Thatcher, his biggest problem was on his own side.

By 2010, Blair was gone and it was Gordon Brown against David Cameron. Was Britain ready for change and was Cameron the answer? Campbell said the answers were “yes, and we are not sure.”  The political gravity shifted to somewhere between the Tories and the LibDems and the Coalition was born.

Campbell said the questions in 2015 were was Britain on the mend and were Cameron and Osborne trusted with the keys? Also, could Cameron keep the country together? Campbell said the Scottish referendum result was too close for comfort and Cameron was now playing off English nationalism against Scottish, with disastrous consequences.

“Ed Miliband, if he does become Prime Minister, will do so having shown he can make and win difficult arguments and do so in the face of a wave of powerful vested interests who have thrown all the money and the lies they can muster,” Campbell said. Campbell was right about the powerful vested interests and there will certainly be plenty of smiles in Wapping from newspaper owners, who are still packing a punch despite the decline of their product.

But that was as good as it got and the rest of Campbell’s interpretation of history proved badly miscued. Labour made no inroads on the government, were smashed in Scotland and the collapse of the Lib Dems handed a thorough victory to the Conservative Party. When the message the electorate sent was they wanted the Tories with something to spare, Campbell wrote an update where he was suitably chastened.

“Sometimes, when advising people I work with, I will say beware the dangers of being so deep inside your own team’s bubble that you end up believing your own propaganda and lose sight of what is really happening,” he said. Campbell blamed the process for picking Miliband saying Cameron had clear air after the last election while Labour dithered over its complicated ballot. Yet Campbell is saying Labour should take even longer time to have that “debate” this time round. “After a result as awful as this, there has to be real deep soul-searching, and honest analysis about how and we have gone from being a Party identified as the dominant force across UK politics over a decade and more, to where we are today.” Campbell didn’t really say what the party stood for “today” other than being “the dominant force.” That loss of identity is Labour’s biggest problem.

Right wing libertarian Brendan O’Neill is not surprised Labour has no vision saying it had been captured by a “largely London-based opinion-forming set” which insulated it from the “incomprehensible” lives and aspirations of those in the real world. O’Neill’s contrarianism must be taken with a pinch of salt but in Campbell’s world of dominant forces, one man now stands supreme: David Cameron, unshackled from the Lib Dem coalition.

Cameron’s key item of business will be negotiating his major election promise, the tricky EU Referendum. Even here he is in the box seat, and can tell the EU he will walk away unless he gets significant concession he can sell to his electorate. He knows Germany wants Britain to stay in the Union and he will extract every euro cent from that advantage. But Cameron will have to take the matter to the electorate and from that point on, cannot control the result.

Predicting results of voter intentions in the UK is fraught, as this election proved. But smart money would be on a similar result to Scottish independence a roughly 55 to 45 split in favour of those wanting to stay in Europe. Opinion polling supports this outcome too. The position of the newspapers will be important, particularly those inclined to be Euro-sceptic. But Scotland itself will be the wildcard, especially as the vast majority there want to stay in the EU as Scottish citizens.

Alastair Campbell is right about the electorate knowing what they are doing: they chose the Conservatives because they offered the most certainty. The problem is there are many factors outside the control of the prime minister and the voters. Cameron has tighter control of the reins of power but whether he can hold the horses and keep them running in the one direction remains to be seen.