'A Deplorable Episode'? South African Arms and the Statecraft of British Social Democracy

Bale, Tim
March 1997
Labour History Review (Maney Publishing);Spring1997, Vol. 62 Issue 1, p22
Academic Journal
Arguably, there is a set of perennial tasks which all post-war British governments, whatever their ideological complexion, have inevitably had to face. All leaderships who hope to hold on to power need simultaneously to manage their parties, strive to win the battle of ideas and attempt to achieve governing competence: this is the essence of what has been called statecraft. Out of office it is all too easy to lay the blame for governmental transgressions at the door of either the personnel or the philosophy of the party in charge especially if its reign has lasted so long that memories of previous regimes have faded. A good example is provided by the South African arms affair of 1967. Prime Minister Harold Wilson's Labour government was, after the most strenuous efforts lasting three years, forced to devalue the pound in November 1967. As would seem to be the case with all affairs in which questions of morality, money and defense and foreign policy are combined, the episode can, fairly be described as labyrinthine. It is all the more difficult to disentangle because many of the participants in their later accounts have found it inconvenient in published sources to mention their stance on an issue that continued to be of symbolic importance to most progressives in, British politics until the final fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1990's.


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