Some years ago I wrote a novel called A Very British Coup, which was later made into a successful television series. It presupposed the election of a left-wing Prime Minister, Harry Perkins, a Sheffield steelworker, whose government was destabilised and ultimately overthrown by the British establishment with help from their friends over the Atlantic. It is still in print after 37 years. The reason it has endured is because some of the events in the novel later came to pass.
There was an M15 agent on the council of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. His name was Harry Newton and he’d been there for years. There was someone — Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham — at Broadcasting House vetting the personnel files of left-wing BBC employees. He was rumbled in 1986, five years after my novel was published. And in 1987, the former senior M15 officer Peter Wright revealed in his memoirs that he and a small group of M15 officers were monitoring Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the belief he was a Soviet agent.
The political climate into which A Very British Coup was published was, of course, very different from today. There was widespread speculation as to how the Establishment would react in the event of a government led by Tony Benn, then at the height of his powers. The Americans were introducing Cruise missiles into the UK in the face of huge protests. And retired military men had been raising private armies to cope with the chaos they confidently anticipated in the event of a left-wing government.
Recently, I published a sequel — The Friends of Harry Perkins — which contains many of the same characters. It starts with Harry’s funeral and opens: “Harry Perkins was buried on the day that America declared war on China.” Fred Thompson, his former aide, inherits his seat, Sheffield Parkside, and soon claws his way to the leadership of the Labour Party. Thompson, unlike his mentor, turns out to be a pragmatist and this time the Establishment is on his side.
Like its predecessor The Friends of Harry Perkins is a human drama woven around the big issues of the day: Brexit, the rise of English nationalism and the looming confrontation between the US and China. The action takes place at some time in the mid-2020s. Brexit Britain is a gloomy place. Contrary to some predictions, there has been no great Armageddon, just a slow decline into insularity and irrelevance. Labour, I regret to report, has lost successive elections, but is at last beginning to wake up.
What could possibly go wrong? For one thing, Brexit might never happen, although I still think it will. Another possibility is that Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, might win an election. In which case a hasty rewrite will be necessary. The Friends of Harry Perkins is best read now, while the world remains as it is.