Last night, the BBC started broadcasting a dramatisation of Len Deighton’s novel SS-GB. Set in 1941, it tells the tale of a Britain that has been successfully invaded by the Nazis. King George VI is in the Tower of London, Churchill has been executed in Berlin for war crimes. It’s all rather depressing.
It could have happened. A couple of decisions made differently could have changed everything. Germany could have started organising a cross-Channel attack in May 1940. The Panzers could have been unleashed on the retreating British Expeditionary Force in Dunkirk and rounded up the lot.
A July 1940 invasion would have caught the country unprepared and undefended. The Royal Navy could have been temporarily neutralised by air power to allow the Stormtroopers to cross the Channel in strength. On coming ashore, the Panzers would have faced lorries and cars hastily armoured with steel plate. The Home Guard would have been swept away. There was a shortage of rifles. The jackboots could have been in London by September. There would be no American support as they looked to their own defences.
Instead, there was no early plan and the Panzers were halted. Goering promised his master he could finish off the retreating armies with his Luftwaffe’s warplanes. The Dorniers and Messerschmitts encountered Spitfires for the first time in vicious dogfights over Northern France. 338,000 men escaped. By September the country was much more prepared to see off the invader. The Luftwaffe was humbled over the skies of Southern England by a ruthlessly professional foe.
The nucleus of our army was saved to fight another day. Rebuilt, reorganised and rearmed, they got their own back at El Alamein, Normandy and finally, Luneburg Heath, where Montgomery took the Wehrmacht’s surrender. Victory was not a solo effort. However this country and its empire fought a global war against evil for longer than any other.
It is to be hoped the BBC’s drama does not make a pig’s breakfast of Deighton’s words. On this they do have form. The Game, a mini-series set in the 1970s and clearly aping the then-recent film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was an extended advert for cigarette smoking. The drama was muddled and unfocused. Spy dramas actually made in the 1970s that covered similar ground were much better in plot, characterisation and style. The BBC could have saved licence-payers money and just repeated them.
If the viewer is disenchanted with the BBC’s visualisation of swastikas over Whitehall, the 1960s film It Happened Here is an effective substitute. A docudrama of what might have been, it was directed and produced by teenagers, with help from hundreds of volunteers and film professionals such as Kubrick and Richardson. It is definitely worth a watch. Amateur it is not.
All this counterfactual history set me wondering. Is there a possibility that we might have been be in the second year of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government?
Proper counterfactual histories require minor tweaks to set subsequent events in a different direction, lest they become total fantasy. Lee Harvey Oswald misses. The Hitler Bomb Plot succeeds. Archduke Franz Ferdinand leaves Sarajevo alive and well. What tweak could lead to a Corbyn nightmare?
The Conservatives’ current majority in Parliament rests on the votes of under two hundred thousand people out of the 24 million or so votes cast, less than one per cent. That is the sum total of the votes in Conservative seats with a majority under 5,000. It’s about fifty seats. While this may seem an argument for proportional representation, it has to be remembered that the percentage of the combined votes for the Conservatives, UKIP and the Unionist parties in Ulster was 50.5 per cent. A different voting system would have produced a more right-wing government. Labour hold more seats than the Conservatives with 5,000 or less majorities.
As tweaks go this is rather on the large side, perhaps more bulldozer than scalpel. But imagine that thirty or more Conservative seats go to opposition parties in May 2015. There is a hung Parliament. On the one side sits one party, the Conservatives, the largest party in the House. Their strategy had been to devour their erstwhile coalition partners, so a minority coalition is out of the question. There is a constitutional crisis looming. However, the electoral arithmetic means that an SNP-Labour alliance, together with the small parties delivering confidence-and-supply basis, could govern.
There is a sticking-point. Ed Miliband has categorically ruled out any alliance with the SNP. He realises that while it may be the path to power, it could mean oblivion for Labour in England at a subsequent election. However, for other Labour politicians the allure of real power is stronger than loyalty to the party’s leader.
There is a leadership challenge. Ed Miliband may or may not stand down as a consequence of the challenge alone. After all, he has ‘lost’ the general election, even if there is no winner. There is more than one candidate in the leadership election. As before, some MPs ‘lend’ their nomination to Corbyn to ‘broaden the debate’ on the country’s future direction.
Labour tout this as the first time in British history that people are getting a direct vote on who should be Prime Minister, presenting candidates from all wings of the party. Miliband’s own rules come into play and people are allowed to pay £3 to vote. Would that have resulted in many more people registering? Certainly.
Actual history takes its course. Corbyn wins by a landslide. The Hard Left now govern Britain. The nightmare begins as those who are able flee the country and the new clampdowns. Those who can’t are locked into a prison of dogma-driven economic dictatorship and hostile state-driven social activism driving mass poverty as the United Kingdom fragments itself.
Would there be another election, or would the SNP and minor parties keep Corbyn in power if he shared it in a meaningful way? Would regional parties give Corbyn a free hand in England if he devolved more power to them and gave them yet more English taxpayers’ money?
A left-wing Labour coup of this kind has actually happened before in real life. Ken Livingstone, he of the Nazi Zionism school of history, successfully mounted a takeover that toppled the moderate Leader of the Greater London Council within days of Labour winning the local elections in 1981. People expecting centre-left governance suddenly found themselves living a ‘loony Left’ municipality that supported terrorism and used local politics to challenge central government on issues that did not concern them, like relations with a Soviet government that was invading other countries and shooting down civilian airliners, when it was not murdering people trying to traverse the Berlin Wall.
In the end, an exasperated Conservative government, riding high on a landslide victory, abolished the GLC. Hardly ideal, it was the best solution to deal with an uncompromising socialist ideology that resulted in misrule and waste.
Two hundred thousand people. That is all that might have stood between competent governance and a neo-communist nightmare in this country. It could have happened here. It might still.
(Image: Garry Knight)