There was one welcome piece of news yesterday – the daily coronavirus press conference is to be scrapped. It has long ceased to be of any use and the procession of ministers who mouth their nostrums so lack credibility that their words are widely disregarded.
Perhaps the TV broadcasters were aware of the extent to which the nation had switched off, and that guided the decision. Certainly, the closing session with the prime minister was a toe-curling embarrassment and it will be good not to see the likes of it again.
Other good news is the way book sales have picked up, although some of the readers’ choices are distinctly questionable, reflecting the obsession with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Unwittingly, trawling through Cabinet files yesterday in pursuit of material for the new edition of The Great Deception, I happened on the Conclusions of a Meeting of the Cabinet held at 10 Downing Street, SW1, on Monday 19th June 1950, at 11 am (CAB 128/17).
The second item on the agenda – in view of current preoccupations – rather caught my eye, headed as it was: “Coloured People from British Colonial Territories”. Even if classified “secret”, today I doubt the Whitehall thought police would even let a minute be thus entitled, and the way the subject matter was expressed would probably have its authors locked in irons, awaiting re-education.
This, incidentally, was a Labour Cabinet, chaired by prime minister Clement Attlee, whence he and his colleagues were considering a 6-page memorandum prepared by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, James Griffiths – who is doubtless now being given endless diversity training in eternal Hell.
The matter at hand, however, was not just “coloured people”, but “the problems arising from the immigration into the United Kingdom of coloured people from British Colonial territories”.
Griffiths started off his dissertation with the view that “social problems were more likely to arise if coloured immigrants into this country formed themselves into residential colonies”, and thus his Department had “sought to disperse these people over as wide an area as possible”, with the full support and assistance of the Ministry of Labour.
He then expressed concern that: “A number of coloured people continued to find their way into this country from the Colonies as stowaways”. Even as he had been on his way to the Cabinet, Griffiths had received information that a ship from the West Indies due to arrive at Bristol on the following day had “at least fourteen coloured stowaways on board”.
The minute recorded that the Cabinet’s discussion “turned mainly on the means of preventing any further increase in the coloured population of this country”. Ministers, it was said, “were apprehensive lest the higher standards of social service in this country should attract here an undue proportion of the surplus population of the West Indies and other Colonial territories”.
They were also doubtful whether the existing methods of administration were sufficient to keep within reasonable bounds the numbers who contrived to enter this country as stowaways. Should not consideration also be given to the wider question whether the time had come to restrict the existing right of any British subject to enter the United Kingdom?
And so the Cabinet, in the arcane terms of ministerial etiquette, invited the Prime Minister “to arrange for a review to be made of the further means which might be adopted to check the immigration into this country of Coloured people from British Colonial territories”.
In terms of context, it is interesting that this matter was being raised two years after the Empire Windrush had brought a group of West Indian migrants to the UK, arriving at Tilbury Docks on 21 June 1948, now regarded as the symbolic starting point of a wave of Caribbean migration between 1948 and 1971 known as the “Windrush generation”.
Clearly, whatever the Cabinet had in mind back in June 1950 – almost exactly 70 years ago – did not have the effect they desired. But who, even in this politically correct time, could rightly assert that Griffiths was wrong when he observed that “social problems were more likely to arise if coloured immigrants into this country formed themselves into residential colonies”?
Such musings, though, are only incidental to my main concern at the moment which is the new edition of The Great Deception. Originally, I had planned on just doing an update, adding material to cover the period when we last left the story (in 2005) up to the present date.
Allowing for the publisher’s request that the book should be no longer, I set about editing the existing copy with the aim of cutting about 40,000 words. At the same time, I thought, I would add some of the new material which has become available since Booker and I first wrote the book.
This has actually not proved easy and has created something of a personal crisis. Having just completed the re-work on the chapter on the 1975 Referendum, I found that, by the time I had completed it, much of it had been almost completely re-written. Very little of the original material has survived. Furthermore, the shape, tone and conclusions are very different.
This entirely reflects the wealth of archival material which is now available, which was either not available when we wrote the book (30-year rule) or was not easily accessible, or where the cost of access would have been prohibitive.
As well as Cabinet files, the improved access embraces Hansard of the period, which could then only be obtained in hard copy from a very limited number of sources. It is now on-line in a searchable format, which can also be copied and pasted (saving the labour of laboriously typing out excerpts).
There are also two major archives of EEC/EU material, both online, neither of which were available at the time. In the original book, we relied on documents supplied by the European Parliament library services, with my privileged access as a staff member.
However, the wealth of material brings its own problems, and these are not insubstantial. Confronting the next chapter in its original form, this covers the period 1975-1984. This is ten years of history, for which none of the official records were available under the 30-year rule at the time of first writing.
As it stands, access to official material is limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Archives at Kew are closed and the discovery website is hopeless. However, through a different portal, there are online Cabinet records, with the post-war period going from 1945 right up to the end of 1993 (from 2013, the publication lag was cut to 20 years).
Entertainingly, in 1990, one finds on 5 June, the Cabinet having to deal with the Commission’s intervention on the beef ban on BSE from the Continent, and the report that the Commission was taking the UK before the European Court for failure to comply with the Water Directive in respect of three beaches in the North-West.
This huge wealth of material is transforming the writing process but here’s the rub: each year averages about 900 pages (including supplementary files). Covering the ten years of the next chapter is 9,000 pages to be explored.
Furthermore, these online records go back to 1946, and in our original writing, we made relatively little use of official archival material. Records were not online then and each trip to Kew (we made several) cost a small fortune, and took time we didn’t have. But now I have over 50,000 pages to look at.
Yet, a brief review of past years reveals a fabulous array of material. Much of this is entirely new to me, despite my extensive reading of the subject. The Cabinet discussions on the “Schuman Plan” are priceless. Together with the United States archive material (another newly accessible source), the additions bring the issue alive and, in the revised work, make a genuine, new contribution to the debate.
And then, if you have any doubts about whether the Tory government was duplicitous when it started the negotiations for our entry into the EEC on 30 June 1970, here is an extract from the speech Anthony Barber, then Foreign Secretary, gave at the opening ceremony in Luxembourg.
“We welcome the moves which you have already made towards closer economic and monetary integration, and are ready to play our full part”, he declared, adding: “the new British Government is determined to work with you in building a Europe which has a coherent character of its own” (CAB 129/50).
Not only was the Heath Government full aware of the true objective of the EEC, its official policy was to support development of the single currency.
If I ever get through the material it will be a small miracle. But I have to say that my original concept of a new edition of TGD has matured. From merely being an update, this has the potential to be the definitive history (and the first so available) of Britain’s membership of the EU. That does make it worthwhile going the extra mile.