Thursday, December 29, 2005

Secrets Out

It's that time of year again. Yes, the National Archive have been releasing old state secrets again today. This year, it's secrets from 1974 and 1975.* It's a happy time for many people; the documents remind us that UK governments have a long history of behaving in the most bizarre ways. In 1975, much of this would have been dismissed as nonsense by the government of the day. How many tin foil hatted bloggers will be saying "see, I was right all along, I knew it" 30 years from today?

The BBC website people were ready and waiting and provide a fair bit of coverage. So what was happening in the corridors of power in 1974 and 1975?

Caring for the sick
British officials were "most encouraged" to learn that Saddam needed an operation on his back. They investigated whether the UK could sucessfully provide this operation for Saddam. Back then, they really wanted to please him, you see.

Protecting what's important
The governments plans for coping with nuclear war are interesting. Civilians were thought to be beyond saving but artworks from London and Edinburgh were going to be moved to slate mines in Wales. That's comforting. We're all going to die but at least the paintings are safe...

Sign of the times
Harold Wilson wanted to nationalise beer as part of a "little things mean a lot" campaign. Can you imaging Blair suggesting that today?

Not so much
Wilson also wondered whether there was too much "hippie influence" at the BBC and suggested that BBC journalists were too aggressive in their approach. He discussed these concerns with the chairman Sir Michael Swann.
Swann said "he thought that too many young producers approached every programme they did from the starting point of an attitude about the subject which could be summed up as: 'you are a shit.'"
That could just as easily have been said today. The thing is, if you're interviewing a politician, "you are a shit" is almost certainly the most starting point to set off from, then as now.

There was consternation over the future of two pandas at London Zoo. The pandas were given to the zoo as gifts by the Chinese government but the zoo was having trouble paying for their upkeep. UK ministers worried that appearing to be unsympathetic to the needs of the pandas might sour relations with the Chinese and cause political harm at home.
Goronwy-Roberts [Foreign Office minister] said Zuckerman [zoo offical attempting to raise funds for the pandas] had "tried to keep the pandas out of party politics" but some Conservative MPs might seize on the issue.
That story is worth repeating just to see the phrase "tried to keep pandas out of party politics" again. Genius. I reckon the House of Commons would be enormously envigorated if each party recruited a few pandas. Fair votes and more pandas, that's what I say.

* Since the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason why many of these documents are still released after 30 years. Few are likely to have been excepted from the FIA provisions. Tradition, possibly?

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