United Kingdom

The British Left vs. the Deep State

Friday A/V Club: A Very British Coup


Channel 4

A phrase keeps cropping up in certain corners of the English press: A Very British Coup. That's the name of Chris Mullin's novel about a near-future U.K.—and by "near-future" I mean the early '90s, because the book was published in 1982—where a hard-left Labour government comes to power and then is undermined by intelligence agencies and their allies in the media. Writers started invoking the book after Jeremy Corbyn made his bid to be leader of the Labour Party, and Mullin himself got around 1,000 words in The Guardian a couple years ago to speculate about "how the political establishment would react to a Corbyn victory." Now that Corbyn has denied the Tories a parliamentary majority, you can expect the allusions to multiply.

I haven't read the novel myself, but I've seen the 1988 miniseries based on it. Watching it today should be a resonant experience for both the Corbynite left and the Trumpian right: the former because of the hero's similarities to the current Labour leader, the latter because the idea of the deep state subverting an elected outsider has suddenly picked up currency among conservatives. And if you're neither a Corbynite nor a Trumpian, you still might enjoy it, just because it's a pretty good conspiracy thriller. Great cast, too.

By the time this aired in the late '80s, the idea that Britain might make a sharp left turn seemed like an outlandish science fiction scenario. But Mullin was writing at the dawn of the decade, when the U.K. was in a deep recession and the solidly socialist Tony Benn had a shot at becoming Labour leader. The idea that hidden forces might try to undermine such a government didn't spring entirely from Mullin's imagination either: He was drawing on widely circulated stories that MI5 had deliberately subverted the Labour government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, effectively pushing him out of power. I don't know the evidence well enough to have an informed opinion on whether those tales are true. But I do know that James Jesus Angleton, the famously paranoid CIA counterintelligence chief, was convinced that Wilson was working for the Russians. Speaking of notions that have come cycling back into style.

Here is part one of A Very British Coup:

Here is part two:

And here's the final installment:

The story was remade in 2012 as a four-part miniseries called Secret State; I haven't seen that one, but if you want to check it out you can watch the first episode here. Wikipedia's page on Harold Wilson conspiracy theories is here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

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  1. where a hard-left Labour government comes to power and then is undermined by intelligence agencies and their allies in the media.

    and Spock has a goatee too

  2. I don’t doubt that the deep state meddles in elections and other political areas; but I am positive that government employees in general, especially the unionized ones, meddle far more. Bureaucracy by its nature knows only expansion, simply because if you have work for 4.1 people, you will hire 5 and then find some new work to fill up that .9 gap. Coercive government is far more insidious because it has no competition or investors to keep it in line.

    1. Actually anywhere ive ever been, if you have work for 4.1 people, you hire 3, then let two of them sit around talking all day while the third does the work of 4.1 people

  3. Well, nearly every authoritarian nation uses/used intelligence services to grab and maintain power.

    There is evidence that US intelligence services are not necessarily under the control of elected politicians (Clapper and his lying to Congress). Why would the UK Mi-whatever be much different?

    Listen to what government bureaucrats say. They openly mention how they do their job no matter who is President or in Congress. They mention that they know government rules are laborious but seek to make them more so. Any talk of cuts to the government results in bureaucrat push back. Most federal bureaucrats vote Democrat which of the two big government parties wants a Nanny-State. Bureaucrats actually donate money to political parties unlike most non-bureaucrat Americans. Bureaucrats clearly default to protecting government power over constitutional rights (allowing torture on American territory in Cuba).

  4. I recall seeing this miniseries in the 80s, but I don’t remember much from it. I think my father found it a good show.

    What I find interesting is that the left tends to portray itself in popular media as innocent cherubs surrounded by unscrupulous conservative wolves of the deep state.

    I seem to recall that the 2000 movie, The Contender followed this similar theme on the American side.

    As a libertarian, I find the left’s trust of the total welfare state as essentially enabling the Deep State, which they claim to fear as subversive to their agenda.

    When your philosophy is built around wealth distribution, you’re going to need a very large domestic army of soldiers, spies and accountants to enforce that vision. Yes, it kind of sucks when you lose control of that army.

    1. I seem to recall that the 2000 movie, The Contender followed this similar theme on the American side.

      That movie had a seriously warped concept of American politics. Quoting myself: “Writer-director Rod Lurie is so tone-deaf that he seems to think a popular, moderate, Midwestern politician would call for draconian gun controls; worse, he thinks a potential vice president’s youthful sexcapades would be more of a hot potato than her open atheism.”

      1. I never saw the movie, but I remember the trailers and it seemed a bit gag-inducing. All I remember is it was coming out of the Clinton era when Democrats were bitter about the Clinton years and the GOP subverting his True Vision(tm).

        he seems to think a popular, moderate, Midwestern politician

        But Jesse, this comes up again and again in popular media: this persistent belief that a popular, third-way Democrat will introduce “daring” legislation in his (her) first 100 days of office, reality be damned.

        I remember to NPR reporters discussing Michael Moore’s Trump thingy (I don’t even remember what that was about) and even they found Moore’s narrative– that Hillary Clinton would introduce this massive package of daring left-of-center politics in her first 100 days pretty credulous.

        Didn’t Barack Obama call this stuff an “Aaron Sorkin Liberal Fantasy”?

    2. What I find interesting is that the left tends to portray itself in popular media as innocent cherubs surrounded by unscrupulous conservative wolves of the deep state.

      It usually destroys all credibility in the process as it displays more naiivete than they think they’re exposing. They’ve read George Orwell and yet have zero knowledge of his history.

      1. Even funnier is that they do not understand Georgia Orwell was talking about them- the Nanny-State lovers.

        These people think Trump is the same or worse than Bush and Obama about the being pro-deep state.

        1. Georgia Orwell, Eric Blair’s little-known sister.

      2. One *might* argue that George Orwell suffered from the same thing.

        I’m a little reluctant to engage in debates over the business of letters, but Orwell was an avowed democratic socialist which I think is important to keep in mind when reading him.

        Orwell liked to provoke arguments by challenging the status quo, but he was also a traditionalist with a love of old English values. He criticised and satirised, from the inside, the various social milieux in which he found himself ? provincial town life in A Clergyman’s Daughter; middle-class pretension in Keep the Aspidistra Flying; preparatory schools in “Such, Such Were the Joys”; colonialism in Burmese Days, and some socialist groups in The Road to Wigan Pier. In his Adelphi days he described himself as a “Tory-anarchist.”[164][165]

        One wonders if Orwell would call himself a libertarian if he lived today.

        1. Orwell was not a libertarian, but 1984 was essentially him rebuking all his old socialist leanings.

          1. If you read about the length and breadth of his positions, he himself said he was committed to socialism more than ever, but rejected Stalinism. Which is my wider point. Many of us libertarians suggest (and I’m one) that Stalinism is the inevitable result of socialism. Orwell looked at Venezuela Russia and said, “that’s not socialism”.

          2. 1984 was a fictionalized re-adaptation of “Homage to Catalonia” leavened with lessons learned from National Socialist Germany which he visited right after the surrender. To leftie socialists, including Orwell, Christian nationalsocialists “weren’t really” socialists just as to Christian nationalsocialists (Germany’s Trump party), bolshie socialists “weren’t really” socialists either. Henry Miller was libertarian in outlook, and Orwell was shocked and appalled. Orwell correctly concluded that those who hold “Communism and Fascism to be THE SAME THING invariably hold that both are monstrous evils which must be fought to the death.” But before Ayn Rand drew up the Non-Aggression Pledge in 1947, there was no coherent conception of an alternative to the universe of discourse that ran from Hitler to Stalin in a uniform straight line with nothing to the north or south of it.

      3. Also important to add: Having witnessed the success of the anarcho-syndicalist communities, for example in Anarchist Catalonia, and the subsequent brutal suppression of the anarcho-syndicalists, anti-Stalin communist parties and revolutionaries by the Soviet Union-backed Communists, Orwell returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and joined the Independent Labour Party, his card being issued on 13 June 1938.[169] Although he was never a Trotskyist, he was strongly influenced by the Trotskyist and anarchist critiques of the Soviet regime, and by the anarchists’ emphasis on individual freedom.

    3. Um, im pretty sure EVERY economic theory is a “philosophy built around wealth distribution”, by literal definition

  5. “the idea of the deep state subverting an elected outsider has suddenly picked up currency among conservatives.”

    And anyone else who hasn’t been living in a cave for the past six months.

  6. I know I saw this. But I think I have it completely mixed up with House of Cards (the original British one). I highly recommend House of Cards. I like it a lot more than the American version. When it became clear that Underwood was still alive after the third series, I gave up on it.

  7. Yes Minister is a far more accurate picture of the British Deep State. And right now I’m gonna guess the only thing the British Deep State is very interested in is making sure that Brexit becomes as meaningless a non-change as possible – which seems to be precisely what the British voters voted for as well.

    As for whether Corbyn or May can even form a government. My guess is no – but for party reasons not deep state ones. May is a Monty Python sketch (upper class twit of the year or dead parrot – take your pick). Corbyn is Chance, the gardener.

    1. Brexit is a huge opportunity, which I predict the Brits will hopelessly squander. Based on their behavior over the last couple of decades, I’m betting they will exchange faceless, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels for faceless, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in London. Personally, I don’t consider that much of an improvement.

  8. Speaking of the British left and their distrust of the deep state, I give you Jeremy “The Negro is like the Wild Orchid” Corbyn in 2013

    Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world

    1. Had he just not been paying attention for the previous 6 years, or what?

    2. Chavez turned Venezuela into the biggest economy in South America. Then he died, and Maduro and a bunch of US Deep State operatives slithered into power and tanked the economy. Uncle Sam gotta get that oil!

  9. And the poor Brits have been leading austere lives the last, what, 75 years? Socialism will do that.
    But now a new dawn is breaking!

    “Corbyn, who is Britain’s answer to Bernie Sanders, had promised higher taxes and more spending. Voters rewarded the Labour Party with 40% of the vote — landing it just 2.4 percentage points behind Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservatives.”

    Yep, more socialism.

  10. Brilliant! Too bad Europeans only see the thing in the either-or one-dimensional left-right world of communist socialism versus fascist socialism. The concept that the initiation of force is perhaps wrong is incomprehensible Over There. I am reminded of a song, “The Reluctant Cannibal”.

  11. The minority president would love to see himself as a victim of the “deep state” as if agencies which have long competed with each other are now united against him. The only problem with this is that most of his wounds are self-inflicted. No one forced him to “tweet” that former President Obama wiretapped him. That stupid lie led to the confrimation that members of his campaign had secret conversations with the Russians which were picked up in normal surveillance and led to further investigation. This led to the necessity to fire Gen. Flynn and further revelations of the general’s conflicts of interest and service to foreign governments. It also led to the recusal of the AG and eventually to the appointment of a special investigator and the current House and Senate hearings. His staff had already concocted a barely believable story about why the president fired the FBI director. Again it was the braggart-in-chief himself who announced his determination to fire the Director to end the “pressure of the Russian investigation.” No conspiracy need be postulated unless it focuses on this president’s desire to self-sabotage.

    1. Amogin|6.9.17 @ 7:47PM|#
      “The minority president…”

      Oh, poor, poor slimebag amogin, who only posts after everyone else is mostly ignoring the thread and makes claims worthy of lefty ignoramuses!
      Are you proud of yourself for being a loser who lost, loser? Are you still hoping that fucking hag will end up running your life so poor, poor, amogin won’t have to act like an adult? Do you really want all of your activities directed by the government amogin?
      Fuck off, slaver,

    2. “No one forced him to “tweet” that former President Obama wiretapped him”

      But President Obama DID wiretap him. He LITERALLY signed off on multiple wiretap warrants to spy on Trump and his people.

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