Wilson mooted plan to invade Rhodesia

 

BEHIND the public triumph of Harold Wilson's first full year as British prime minister, papers released yesterday reveal the difficulties facing the Labour government in 1965.

The 30 year state papers made available at the Public Record Office in Kew reveal that Wilson considered a far fetched plan to invade Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. They also show that Labour abandoned its manifesto commitment to prevent rail closures.

After UDI in November, contingency plans for invading Rhodesia were drawn up by Ministry of Defence planners, despite Wilson's aversion to making war on our kith and kin". The papers show, however, that the planners warned against using force because "the consequences of failure would be appalling".

Wilson - who died last year - also made an informal approach to Lord Mountbatten to fly to Rhodesia to rally loyal support. In his reply Mountbatten made clear his support for the plan, which was eventually vetoed by Queen Elizabeth.

Other papers reveal that Wilson had no basis for making his famous prediction that the rebellion could be ended "within a matter of weeks rather than months". Intelligence assessments indicated that the Rhodesian regime could probably survive economic sanctions indefinitely.

On the domestic front, Wilson was faced with a minor sterling crisis in July, which was used as a pretext for dropping "certain schemes of social importance such as the abolition of NHS charges.

By the time the draft of the first five year national plan was discussed at full cabinet in August 1965. the utopian idea of "scientific planning" seemed out of touch with the harsh realities of the economic situation. Although it was published after a low key cabinet discussion, it vas the first and last national plan.

The papers also reveal Labour's U turn over rail closures, and the cabinet discussions about ways they could "put the government's policy in better perspective" by deliberately arranging some closures to be proposed which they could reject.

The scribbled words "I should like Marcia to see all these in future" on the cover of a folder of confidential cabinet papers, shed new light on the prime minister's relationship with his personal political secretary, Marcia Williams. The memos which followed Wilson's request show the depth of suspicion Williams aroused in Downing Street officials, and they contradict her later protestations that she did not see classified or secret documents.