This book provides an account of the University of Manchester's struggle to meet the government's demands for the rapid expansion of higher education in the 1950s and the 1960s. It looks at the University's ambitious building programme: the controversial attempts to reform its constitution and improve its communications amid demands for greater democracy in the workplace, the struggle to retain its old pre-eminence in a competitive world where new ‘green field’ universities were rivalling older civic institutions. The book tells the story, not just from the point of view of administrators and academics, but also from those of students and support staff (such as secretaries, technicians and engineers). It not only uses official records, but also student newspapers, political pamphlets and reminiscences collected through interviews.
In the years 1964–68, the Labour government of Harold Wilson coincided with the Democratic presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. David Bruce, US Ambassador to London 1961–69, regarded the relationship between Wilson and Johnson as an especially interesting one, because ‘seldom if ever have two heads of state been such long-time master politicians in the domestic sense as those two’.1 Many writers have commented on the Wilson–Johnson relationship, usually highlighting the undoubted strains therein. Ritchie Ovendale, for example, argues that although they were ‘initially effusive in their reciprocal praise’, the two leaders soon ‘viewed each other with some suspicion’. The President ‘thought that Wilson was too keen to cross the Atlantic to bolster his domestic position’, and believed ‘that the British Prime Minister was too clever by half’.2 British Ambassador to Washington in the 1980s, Robin Renwick, states that ‘no personal rapport developed between Johnson and Wilson, hard as Wilson tried to cultivate the impression that there was one’.3 According to Raymond Seitz, US Ambassador to London during the 1990s, Johnson ‘could barely conceal his disdain for Harold Wilson. He once referred to him as “a little creep”.’ Yet Wilson ‘thought his friendship with Johnson was harmony itself’.4 John Dickie maintains that ‘Even the most ardent Atlanticists were surprised at the sudden cooling of the Special Relationship so soon after the end of the Kennedy– Macmillan era’. In particular, Wilson’s prime ministership ‘set the scene for a decline which continued for fifteen years until Margaret Thatcher rekindled the special warmth of the partnership with Ronald Reagan’.5
The literature of the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’
For the purpose of this work the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ is defined as unusually close institutional bonds, frequent consultation and concerted policies between the governments of Britain and the United States, and, in the most rarefied sense, to regular, cordial and productive mutual dealings between prime ministers and presidents. The field of Anglo-American relations has attracted much attention from academics, among whom it is accepted that the world wars, especially the second, enabled the United States to displace Britain as the leading ‘great power’. David Dimbleby and David Reynolds note that in both conflicts Britain was among the first to become involved, and both times ‘at the point of exhaustion she [was] saved by the United States … although undefeated, Britain’s power [was] diminished and her economy weakened’.6 There is some uncertainty about the precise origin of the term ‘special relationship’ as a reference to Anglo-American bonds, but Winston Churchill certainly used the expression in February 1944 when he wrote that it was his ‘deepest conviction that unless Britain and the United States are joined in a Special Relationship including Combined Staff Organisation and a wide measure of reciprocity in the use of bases – all within the ambit of a world organisation – another destructive war will come to pass’.7 The expression entered the public domain as a result of Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of March 1946, when it was used as a ‘prescriptive’ reference to close cooperation between Britain and the United States.8 In their coverage of the relationship over first two post-war decades, most writers do tend to regard the adjective ‘special’ as at least partially warranted. The American academic and foreign policy practitioner Henry Kissinger, for example, notes how effectively British diplomats brought their influence to bear upon American policymakers. There were ‘meetings so regular that autonomous American action somehow came to violate club rules’.9 John Baylis argues that the US–UK ‘partnership became so close, intimate and informal in such a wide spectrum of political, economic and especially military fields that terms like “exceptional”, “unique”, or “different from the ordinary” can be applied’. The relationship was exceptional ‘because of the degree of intimacy and informality which was developed during the war’ and endured well beyond 1945.10 Anglo-American ties had a number of distinctive features. Firstly, notes Reynolds, there were the consultative ties between the two bureaucracies, which expressed themselves in regular and informal consultations between Washington and London. Secondly, there was the intelligence axis created during the Second World War and revived under the UKUSA agreements of 1947–48. There was a global division of labour in signals intelligence between the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Thirdly, there was the especially close contact between the two navies, centred on their shared interest in the security of the north Atlantic. Finally, the relationship also featured cooperation on atomic and nuclear matters. This cooperation emerged in 1940–41, declined in 1945– 46, and was revived by Eisenhower and Macmillan in the late 1950s in response to the Soviet Union’s development of intercontinental missiles.11
Scholars have reflected upon the role of shared political, strategic and economic interests on one hand and that of sentiment, history and culture on the other in shaping Anglo-American bonds. Churchill, who was half-American and who in his lengthy career played the roles both of historian and of statesman, saw the relationship foremost as a matter of culture and sentiment, a ‘fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples’; he regarded Britain and the United States as essentially two halves of the same community.12 In 1966 Raymond Dawson and Richard Rosecrance invoked alliance theory to reach the conclusion that the apparent closeness of the diplomatic ties between Britain and the United States derived in large part from history, tradition and mutual affinity.13 It was around this time, however, that Churchillian notions of an implicit Anglo-American harmony of interests and personalities were beginning to wane, not least because of the advent of President Johnson and the prominence of various policy differences between London and Washington. One reason for this was that, as Kissinger pointed out in 1965, the memory of Britain’s wartime effort was fading. More and more ‘influential Americans have come to believe that Britain has been claiming influence out of proportion to its power’.14
New, documentary based interpretations of the Anglo-American relationship underlining the unifying impact of culture and sentiment are less common than those emphasising shared political interests, periodic crises and frequent compromise – what Alex Danchev calls the ‘functionalist’ model. He points out that the British have been inclined to ‘sentimentalise’ and ‘mytholigise’ Anglo-American bonds for reasons of self-interest.15 The relationship was primarily the outcome of a coincidence of self-interest on both sides of the Atlantic.16 Although John Dumbrell stresses the importance of cultural ties, he contends nonetheless that ‘the cultural interpretation of the “special relationship” should not be pushed too far. The ebbs and flows in transatlantic closeness tend to reflect interests rather than sentiment.’17 Nigel Ashton hones the functionalist orthodoxy by emphasising the importance not only of national interest but also of factors such as ‘ideology, culture, bureaucracy, domestic politics and public opinion’. He suggests that the Anglo-American relationship in the early 1960s was highly complex and subtle: ‘To understand this relationship one needs to grasp the differences in perception between London and Washington, differences that were informed by all of the factors listed above, not simply by diverging concepts of national interest.’18 Cultural affinity and calculations of national self-interest are not mutually exclusive, because bonds deriving from political calculation can be supported by the influence of history, language, and sentiment.19 While institutional ties are the foundation of the Anglo-American alliance, it must be remembered that they are not automatic and self-creating; they are the products of human agency and intervention, and therefore individual personalities can frequently exert a considerable degree of influence.
Harold Wilson noted in 1970 that Britain could not ‘compete with American power, whether in defence terms, nuclear and conventional, or in military and industrial terms’.20 By most material measures the United States has for decades greatly overshadowed Britain, but nonetheless historians have differed in their views of how far the relationship may be regarded as a partnership of equals. Dickie writes that ‘the phrase “special relationship” from the outset has been almost entirely in English accents’, implying that the connections are of far greater import to London than to Washington.21 Mark Curtis’s recent analysis describes Britain crudely as ‘largely a US client state’ whose ‘military has become an effective US proxy force’.22 Few writers would support such an unvariegated view. While accepting American predominance, most scholarship emphasises – quite rightly – the extent to which the two countries were linked in balanced connections of mutual benefit. London sought close bonds with Washington in order to retain a place at the ‘top table’ of world affairs and because of the belief that Britain’s foreign policy aims could best be fulfilled as chief ally of the United States. For its part, Washington needed a reliable and powerful partner to further the interests of the western alliance as the Cold War developed. British leaders shared the American commitment to upholding democracy and capitalism, and containing the spread of communism.23 Crucial links in the fields of defence and economics ensured the interdependence of the Anglo-American relationship.24 Speaking of the late 1950s, D. Cameron Watt notes Britain’s importance to the United States. The country was:
still the only power solidly established in the Indian Ocean. Britain still guarded physically the oil of the Gulf. Britain was one of the powers occupying Berlin. Britain was a nuclear power soon to explode her own thermonuclear device. The Foreign Office could still produce a remarkable array of negotiating skills. Britain still had a very considerable fund of know-how. The sterling area still played a major role in world trade.25
Ashton provides a more nuanced angle on interdependence, arguing in his study of the Kennedy–Macmillan years that ‘the whole concept of Anglo-American interdependence was ironic’ because:
The American defence research and development budget dwarfed that of Britain by a factor of about ten to one. Yet British concepts of interdependence were founded on notions of partnership and equality. In terms of the simple balance of the power relationship between the two countries these notions were unrealistic and were doomed to disappointment. For the US administration, interdependence meant greater coordination in the Western defence effort and, effectively, the greater centralisation of control in Washington. As Kennedy himself saw matters, ‘there had to be control by somebody. One man had to make the decisions – and as things stood that had to be the American President’.26
In this scenario, the more the British sought interdependence by aligning themselves with American designs the less freedom they would have to pursue independent policies in the wider world. Although the United States was clearly the senior partner, Britain was still an important ally with much to offer, with the result that the relationship is more accurately gauged in terms of interdependence and mutuality instead of the mere domination of a weaker power by a much stronger one. A further dimension to these issues is provided by Harold Macmillan’s famous Greeks and Romans analogy developed during the Second World War. In an oft-quoted comment of 1942, Macmillan is supposed to have said that ‘These Americans represent the new Roman Empire and we Britons, like the Greeks of old, must teach them how to make it go.’27 The thinking is that the weaker but wilier British could exploit the diplomatically inexperienced Americans, but most historians do not regard this as a persuasive image of Anglo-American relations. The strategy underestimates the political sophistication of American leaders, and if Macmillan had ever believed in its efficacy then it would hardly have been prudent to broadcast the strategy.28 Ovendale comments of the Macmillan–Kennedy years that to accept the idea of ‘an elder statesman educating a younger politician is to underestimate Macmillan’s sophistication in handling the Americans, and to denigrate what appears to have been a sincere friendship which guaranteed the nuclear alliance between Britain and the United States that endured for three decades’.29 There is little to commend the Greeks and Romans model, as much as British leaders, confident in their diplomatic ingenuity, might find it appealing.
The institutional bonds between Britain and the United States
A 1968 State Department analysis reflected that Britain and the United States were linked ‘in an unparalleled [number] of spheres – nuclear strategy, disarmament, multilateral alliance, weapons technology, intelligence, and arms sales and purchases’. The connections were closest ‘in the fields of nuclear weaponry and intelligence. Each government provides the other with material and information that it makes available to no-one else.’30 During the Second World War, Britain and the United States collaborated on the production of the atomic bomb, but while in an isolationist mood in 1946 Congress passed the McMahon Act prohibiting all further collaboration. There was an agreement in 1948 known as the Modus Vivendi providing for a limited renewal of cooperation which prevailed until 1957, when the connections were reinvigorated by Macmillan’s consent to the siting in Britain of sixty American ‘Thor’ intermediate range ballistic nuclear missiles. In 1958, Congress, growing concerned that the United States was losing its nuclear lead to the Soviet Union, amended the McMahon Act to permit the pooling of additional nuclear data with the British. That year, under the terms of the new legislation, Britain gained preferential access to the data, and in 1959 a further arrangement enabled the country to buy from the United States component parts of nuclear weapons systems and to exchange plutonium for enriched uranium. In 1960, when Macmillan offered Eisenhower base facilities at Holy Loch in Scotland for the new Polaris missile submarines, the President responded by offering in exchange to sell Britain the land-based Skybolt missile, after Britain’s own Blue Streak programme ran into difficulties. In 1962, in a meeting on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas, after the cancellation of Skybolt, President Kennedy agreed to provide Britain with Polaris. The State Department analysis of 1968 summarised the degree of US–UK nuclear cooperation by noting that as well as Polaris the United States had sold Britain:
fissionable materials and non-nuclear equipment to be used in nuclear weapons; and a power plant and fuel load for a nuclear powered submarine of the Skipjack class. It has furnished the UK information on the design of certain nuclear warheads and selected data on underground nuclear tests. While the UK has undoubtedly benefited more than has the US from cooperation in this field, it has nonetheless provided the US with numerous benefits. Among these have been various contributions to weapons technology, notably an improved high explosive atomic weapons trigger, independent analyses of new weapons designs, and the use of Christmas Island as a base for certain atmospheric tests.32
The same assessment noted that in the field of intelligence relations ‘the US and UK give each other a greater volume and wider variety of information than either does to any of its other allies’. The arrangements provided for the ‘exchange of information gathered from both overt and covert sources; for the swapping of estimates; and for the preparation of joint estimates’, and a ‘division of labour in certain geographic and functional fields, and on some areas and subjects, each nation is dependent for its intelligence mainly on the other’.33 The 1948 UKUSA agreements, which Dickie describes as ‘the most fruitful joint venture of the Anglo-American partnership, with extraordinary dividends for both sides’,34 coordinated the signals intelligence (SIGINT) apparatus of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There was extensive cooperation in this field between Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham and America’s National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade in Maryland, with officers of the NSA working alongside their British counterparts in Cheltenham, as well as at SIGINT facilities at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire. In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked with British intelligence operatives and mounted operations from the US embassy in London.35 Britain also provided the United States with ‘diplomatic reports from capitals where it has no representation. In the intelligence field, as in the field of nuclear weaponry, the UK gets more than it gives, but what it gives is not insubstantial.’36
There were numerous bilateral defence links between Britain and the United States remaining from the Second World War, and many were expanded later. These included an Agreement on Security Classifications in 1948, an agreement establishing a US–UK Military Information Board in 1949, and a series of five agreements reached in Washington in 1950. There were also numerous informal arrangements from 1950 onwards providing for the exchange of technical information on weapons systems.37 Britain and the United States were leading members of the NATO alliance, centred on the defence of Western Europe. In 1962, Britain had over 50,000 troops stationed in Germany in the form of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). It has been pointed out that London had resisted making major cutbacks to the BAOR partly on the grounds that to do so would undermine British influence both within NATO and in relation to the United States.38 In 1964, Britain’s armed forces of around 400,000 personnel were deployed all over the world as well as in Europe, including at numerous bases described loosely as ‘East of Suez’ – in locations as widespread as Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Aden, Bahrain, Gan in the Indian Ocean, Labuan in Borneo, Singapore and Hong Kong.39 The Foreign Office noted that in Asia ‘The Americans are anxious not to appear as the only western power in the area (apart from Australia) and thus particularly value our support for SEATO’ (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation).40 Britain had some twenty-four formal defence commitments, involving nearly one hundred countries and dependent territories.41 There was consequently an appreciation in Washington of the British position as ‘the only Western power beside the US that had worldwide responsibilities’ – numerous ‘far-flung dependencies and Commonwealth affiliates’ providing ‘an unrivalled network of bases and other military facilities that served US foreign policy interests’. The bonds were further cemented by the UK’s ‘provision of extensive real estate for US military forces. Airfields in England accommodate the US squadrons that had to be moved from France when the latter withdrew from NATO. Holy Loch in Scotland provides a base for our Polaris submarines. The Fylingdales early warning station is directly linked to NORAD [North American Air Defence Command] … only the UK provides all three types of installation.’42
Economic connections also strengthened the Anglo-American relationship.43 Cooperation between the two countries at the Bretton Woods conference of 1944 devised the framework for the operation of the Western international financial system, including a scheme of fixed exchange rates. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established to maintain international liquidity, to lend to governments in economic difficulties and, through various sub-groups and separate meetings of the most powerful countries (including Britain), help to integrate the international economic policies of countries concerned. Trade policy was discussed in the context of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which sought to expand free trade.44 There was also cooperation through the World Bank. In the years after Bretton Woods both Labour and Conservative governments were committed to retaining a strong pound and to preserving the sterling area as symbols of continued preeminence, despite having only limited reserves. However, maintaining a sterling parity of $2.80 and preserving the sterling area and relatively high domestic spending frequently required financial bailouts from the United States and other international sources. Until around 1960, when it became clear that the economies of West Germany and France were overtaking that of Britain, the pound was the leading currency for international transactions. A devaluation of sterling would disrupt the entire global economic system and, in turn, the international trading patterns of the United States.45 Economic links between London and Washington were also strengthened, as the Foreign Office noted in 1964, by ‘important and close’ trade relations: the United States was ‘the most important single customer and supplier of the United Kingdom while the United Kingdom is the United States’ fourth best customer and fourth biggest supplier’.46
Although there was interdependence in the various fields of cooperation, there was a distinct imbalance of power between Britain and the United States. The Foreign Office noted in 1962 that ‘Seen from the United States, Britain looks fairly small in the world and will look smaller as her capacity to influence events declines.’47 Another Foreign Office analysis noted that Britain’s standing in the United States depended ultimately on ‘our practical contribution to the Western Alliance rather than on any particular feeling of United Kingdom/United States interdependence’.48 It was commented in 1964 that the ‘alliance with the United States’ was ‘the most important single factor’ in British foreign policy: ‘As much the weaker partner, dependent on overseas trade and with world-wide responsibilities, we find American support for our overseas policies virtually indispensable, while they find our support for theirs useful and sometimes valuable.’49 A State Department paper that year commented that whereas the ‘close US–UK association [was] the most important single factor in British foreign policy’, for the Americans it was enough simply to assert the value of the ‘association’.50 In February 1964 the Conservative prime minister Alec Douglas-Home managed to antagonise Johnson over the question of British trade with communist Cuba,51 but at the elite level the UK–US partnership had flourished under Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy. Dickie, for example, argues that the ‘Kennedy–Macmillan days of the transatlantic partnership revived a relationship between the two leaders which was underpinned by a degree of personal friendship such as had not existed since Roosevelt and Churchill forged the original bond’.52 David Nunnerley adds that Kennedy trusted the British Ambassador to Washington, Lord Harlech, ‘as much as the members of his own Cabinet’. As a result, Harlech enjoyed ‘almost unlimited access to the President’.53 This view is confirmed by Ashton’s more recent research, which confirms that Harlech ‘enjoyed remarkable access to the president’.54 Such intimacy led the Foreign Office to conclude that the Anglo-American ‘association goes so deep, is felt at so many levels and yet is so intangible that neither are fully conscious of it … Though there are German, Irish, and Scandinavian lobbies in the United States, there is scarcely more need for a British lobby than an American one’.55 Anglo-American ties were also facilitated by the activities of US Ambassador Bruce, who, according to the Foreign Office in 1965, was a figure ‘much respected’ both in London and Washington and with whom it was ‘always worth talking’.56
Harold Wilson has provoked a range of feelings among his biographers. Of the most recent works about him,57 Austen Morgan is the least sympathetic. He notes that the Labour Party:
secured a healthy mandate in 1966, and it looked as if Wilson’s government might go from strength to strength. He had more administrative experience than any of his colleagues, but it was precisely in the area of public policy, both domestic and foreign, that he failed so disastrously. There were considerable setbacks in foreign and domestic affairs – Vietnam, Rhodesia and, especially, devaluation in 1967.58
According to Morgan, Wilson was ‘a careerist in the main, his opportunism being apparent in his failed attempt to modernise Britain through the archaic institutions of the state’.59 Ben Pimlott’s assessment is more favourable. Wilson was not unprincipled; far from it, ‘he had principles which often incited consensual fury because they were unfashionable ones … This was true of his attitude to sterling; and later of his position on trade union reform.’60 Moreover, the Labour government ‘had come to office with serious national and international problems unresolved, and it left with a number of difficult decisions taken’. These included the devaluation of sterling, and, furthermore, by 1970:
the ‘East of Suez’ posture had largely been given up; and critical steps had been taken to prepare Britain for EEC entry. Wilson had failed to prevent an escalation of the American military operation in Vietnam but he had avoided committing British troops to the conflict without losing US financial support. No new British wars or military entanglements – no Korea, Suez, Falklands or Gulf adventure had been initiated.61
Philip Ziegler also presents a broadly positive verdict of the Labour governments of the 1960s, and waxes lyrical about Wilson himself: ‘it can fairly be said of him that he strove to render less the sum of human wretchedness. He did not always succeed, sometimes he did not seem even to push his efforts to the uttermost, but it was a worthy and consistent goal. For holding to it he can be counted as being on the side of the angels, if never quite a champion in the angelic host’.62
In 1964, the State Department provided a cooler assessment of Wilson. ‘An economics don at twenty-one, a junior minister at twenty-nine, President of the Board of Trade at thirty-one, Wilson is today at 48 above all a pro … a first-rate administrator and a brilliant debater’. At the same time, he had ‘gained a reputation among some observers for being a scheming opportunist and an egocentric … a consummate politician’. Throughout the 1950s, Wilson ‘shifted and temporised on a host of issues’. He ‘followed Nye Bevan out of the Attlee government in 1951 in disapproval over its rearmament policies, but when Bevan resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in 1954 because of foreign and defence policy differences, it was Wilson who took his place’. In 1955, Wilson supported Hugh Gaitskell in the contest for the Party leadership, but after the 1959 general election, ‘when the fundamentalists and the unilateralists went after Gaitskell’s scalp in the bitter intra-party fight over nationalisation and defence policies, Wilson not only did nothing to help Gaitskell but gave aid and comfort to his enemies’. In 1960 Wilson ‘ran against Gaitskell for the Party leadership, the first such challenge in nearly 40 years, but was defeated’. Nonetheless, when Gaitskell died in January 1963, ‘the centre and right-wing members of the Parliamentary Labour Party eventually elected Wilson, whom they disliked and distrusted, as Leader’. They believed that ‘he, more than another Labour MP, had the qualities necessary to lead the party – and possibly the country’. Wilson then ‘astounded one and all by his ability to hold the party together’. He did so by disregarding ‘the extreme leftists and conciliated the centre and right-wing Labourites’. He succeeded ‘in finding the highest common factor uniting the diverse elements in the party and the trade union movement’. Within months Wilson was ‘firmly and indisputably in control of his party, and there he has remained’, presenting ‘the impression that he is businesslike and moderate, a man who understands the necessity of compromising between socialist and egalitarian instincts’. He had demonstrated ‘only a minimal commitment to nationalisation, but he has consistently emphasised the importance of NATO’. He had ‘talked some unions out of calling strikes, but he is much more trusted than Gaitskell ever was by the powerful left-wing head of Britain’s largest union, Frank Cousins’.63 It emerged that Wilson felt a deep-rooted dedication to the United States, as a means of preserving Britain’s status as a ‘great power’, and of bolstering his own political standing by means of conspicuously close ties with Washington. He reflected in March 1964 that as Secretary to two Anglo-American-Canadian combined boards during the Second World War he enjoyed the ‘swirl of informality between London and Washington’.64
In May 1964, the Labour MP Anthony Wedgwood Benn noted Wilson’s belief that a Labour government ‘would be able to establish a much more informal relationship with the American President than Home has been able to do’. Wilson ‘imagines that he can telephone and fly over as and when necessary, without the usual fuss of top-level meetings. He also hopes to have an Ambassador there who is in and out of the Administration’s meetings all the time.’65 The Harvard political scientist and White House adviser, Richard Neustadt, commented in 1965 that the Prime Minister felt a strong ‘emotional commitment to the US’, which he ‘personified … in LBJ’. Indicating the extent of Wilson’s self-regard, this commitment ‘was a matter of identification with and admiration for’ Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Furthermore, Neustadt argued, Wilson’s attitude derived partly from the loneliness of high office: his position of ‘isolation at the apex of … government, feeling different from his colleagues and having none as confidantes’ led him to look to President Johnson as ‘one “king” to another’. Britain’s economic difficulties and the difficulty in maintaining the country’s position in the world meant that the Prime Minister was ‘a small king on a tight rope looking towards the big king with the power and the leeway to extend a steadying hand’.66
American observers expressed interest in the Labour Party as well as its leader. The State Department commented in October 1964 that Labour was ‘a democratic non-Marxist socialist party that aims to bring about a more egalitarian society by evolutionary, constitutional, and practical means’, and that some members of the Parliamentary Labour Party did not favour the association with the United States: ‘50 or more of the roughly 260 Labour MPs in Parliament just dissolved could be described as left-wing, and about a dozen are considered extreme leftists’. Although these ‘extremists are noisy and a nuisance … they have little influence in the party and would probably have even less in a Wilson led government’. Fortunately for Wilson, Washington thus felt no antipathy to the idea of a Labour government: ‘We do not expect a Labour government to make basic changes in Britain’s foreign policy. We believe that the foreign policies of a Wilson government, like those of the last Labour administration (1945–1951), will be more British than Labour.’67 In a similar vein, Secretary of State Dean Rusk commented soon after Labour’s election that ‘Great Britain pursues a national foreign policy’, evident ‘during the previous Labour Government when NATO and the Berlin blockade had been dealt with’.68
Lyndon B. Johnson
Not least because the 1960s was a period of social and political tumult, the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson has attracted the attention of numerous historians, most of whom tend to praise his success with regard to the ‘Great Society’ programme of civil rights, welfare and educational measures.69 Paul Conkin, for example, writes that ‘For almost two years, from November 1963 to the late summer of 1965, his presidency was an unalloyed success story. No president before or since achieved as many legislative goals or seemed as fully a master of the whole spectrum of tasks that go with such an almost monarchical office.’70 Robert Dallek contends from a broader perspective that while ‘many of the laws spawned by Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty have either fallen into disrepute or command little support from most Americans … the spirit and some of the substance behind Johnson’s reform programmes maintain a hold on the pubic imagination that endures’.71 Yet Johnson’s reputation remains blighted by the Vietnam War, inclining many writers to depict him as what Thomas Schwartz describes as the ‘ugly American’ – crude, provincial and lacking subtlety in his conduct of foreign policy.72 Philip Geyelin wrote in 1966 that Johnson was ‘a swashbuckling master of the political midstream, but only in the crowded, well-traveled familiar inland waterways of domestic politics. He had no taste or preparation for the deep waters of foreign policy’. He was ‘king of the river and a stranger to the open sea’.73 Waldo Heinrichs contends that Johnson’s ‘appreciation of foreign nations was shallow, circumstantial, and dominated by the personalities of heads of states he had met. Lacking a detached critical perspective, he was culture bound and vulnerable to clichés and stereotypes about world affairs … this master of domestic politics seemed to lack a sense of power in world politics’. He was ‘aware of change but slow to discard early Cold War assumptions and unsure how to deal with new realities’.74 According to Dallek, Johnson’s expansion of the American commitment in Vietnam rested on ‘a combination of noble and ignoble motives that little serve his historical reputation’ and led to ‘the worst foreign policy disaster’ in American history.75
In 1963, before Vietnam became such a nightmare, the Foreign Office sketched Johnson’s life to date. He had become President on 22 November that year following the assassination of President Kennedy, and was ‘55 years old … married, with two daughters, comfortably off, but not wealthy, has qualifications in law, and is a Presbyterian churchgoer’. As Senate Majority Leader ‘for six years during the Eisenhower administration’, he ‘controlled the Senate and dominated its actions as few legislators ever have’. Unlike most of his predecessors in the vice-presidency, ‘he had active political experience during his tenure there. He attended most sessions of the National Security Council, went on diplomatic missions as a negotiator, visited some 27 countries, and was Chairman of the Aeronautics and Space Council and of the Committee on Equal Employment.’ He had been ‘active and outspoken in President Kennedy’s campaign against segregation and poverty, and his first proclamation announced his intention to continue “his work”’. In the light of ‘the proximity of the Presidential election [November 1964], and the urgency of the outstanding problems of Civil Rights and taxation, he will have to devote most of his time and energy’ to domestic matters. Johnson was ‘relatively inexperienced’ in foreign affairs. He had ‘shown an occasional tendency to go beyond his brief, but he responded in friendly fashion to Mr Khrushchev’s message of condolence’ at Kennedy’s death. Despite his ‘desire for social reform’, Johnson had ‘firm ideas about the pre-excellence [sic] of the American Way of Life, and tends to regard it as the only possible form of democracy’. The analysis maintained that ‘We cannot expect United Kingdom views to obtain the ready hearing and almost automatic acceptance that the late President gave them.’76 Lord Harlech, the British Ambassador to Washington 1961–65, wrote that Johnson ‘basically has no feeling for world affairs and no great interest in them except in so far as they come to disturb the domestic scene’. He had ‘little sensitivity to the attitude of foreigners, as witness a statement of his that on the basis of his globe-trotting as Vice-President he was convinced that every country he visited the people would prefer to be Americans’. Harlech doubted ‘whether we shall be fortunate enough to see the style and intelligence, the gaiety of the Kennedy era reproduced under Mr Johnson’.77 Nigel Ashton has suggested that Johnson ‘boasted none of the European social or personal connections of his predecessor. Indeed, it is arguable in a broader sense that Kennedy was the last of the “European” presidents.’78 There is much truth in these assessments. In May 1965, the Foreign Office noted that Johnson had no ‘instinctive feeling for Britain. As a Texan there is nothing in his background that suggests that he should.’79 His ideas about the United Kingdom were generally benign but distinctly limited. Referring to himself in the third person, he told a journalist in 1965 that:
the United Kingdom has never had a more genuine friend in the White House than they now have … The President has known since he entered Congress in the thirties that he thinks the mother country is the rock of Gibraltar, the one great friend we have in sunshine and sorrow, and it was Churchill’s voice that kept him from being a slave … He feels a very deep and compassionate and highly respected [sic] interest in the British people and their system.80
A 1968 Times article by Louis Heren indicated that Johnson was:
a great admirer of the British people. For him it is blood that counts. There is no substitute and naturally he buys his Hereford cattle from England … He has also been known to observe that the island race could work a little harder, but as long as there is a United Kingdom and a United States relationship his assumption is that they will be united by a close working relationship. It may be an itty-bitty place, but that is where his mother came from.81
In practice, Johnson demonstrated scant commitment to a ‘close working relationship’ with the UK. To him, Britain was but one American ally among many, an assessment based on calculations of utility and relative power. Harlech’s successor, Patrick Dean, noted in June 1965 that on the domestic scene Johnson was ‘a power politician in the sense that he has worked for ends that he calculates he has the power to achieve’, and had transferred this pragmatic concern with relative power ‘to the international field’. Hence ‘consultation with his allies rates below necessary action with his major potential enemies’. Although Johnson retained most of Kennedy’s foreign policy advisers when he entered office, his lack of interest in Britain was likely to shape their thinking, regardless of their respective personal inclinations. Dean commented that as Johnson ‘has a very powerful personality, it seems more than likely that those of his entourage who disagree with him either do not speak up or are brusquely overruled’. The Ambassador had been ‘interested to learn’ since he took up his post ‘how much less willing [Robert] McNamara and [McGeorge] Bundy, two very prominent and talkative members of the Kennedy Administration, are now to express views which might be thought to be at variance with the President’s views’. McNamara and Bundy were thus ‘virtually silenced in policy making meetings at the White House, except insofar as they conform to Mr Johnson’s ideas’.82 After one of Wilson’s frequent visits to Washington he commented that it was not worth spending two days with a British prime minister because Britain ‘was not that important anymore’. Given Johnson’s outlook and the growing disparity of power between Britain and the United States, the omens did not portend a close relationship between him and Wilson.
The Wilson–Johnson relationship, 1964–68
The release in recent years of British and American government documents has enabled primary research on the Anglo-American relationship under Wilson and Johnson.84 The growing literature includes Sylvia Ellis’s account of the relationship of the two leaders in the context of the Vietnam War. She argues that ‘no country’s verbal support was more important’ to American policy in Vietnam than that of Britain, which was ‘the US’s closest ally’ and ‘a leading social democratic nation whose example was important, not least to the Commonwealth nations and in American liberal circles’. However, the Labour governments of 1964–70 ‘found it exceedingly difficult to balance the demands of their transatlantic ally, who during a series of sterling crises was also their banker, with the outrage in their party and country at American action in Vietnam’. Wilson’s ‘hopes for a close working alliance with the Americans, which he expressed during his first trip to Washington as Prime Minister, soon came under threat’. There was ‘no personal chemistry or ideological common ground between Wilson and Johnson … the relationship was not a happy one’.85 Thomas Schwartz confirms that Wilson and Johnson had ‘a very testy relationship over Vietnam’, but they ‘compartmentalised their relationship and learned to live with their differences over Vietnam and work together effectively in matters where they shared a similar outlook’. This period saw ‘an extraordinary degree of interaction, involvement, and influence between the US and British governments … with intense US involvement in such matters as the British budget process and subsequent reciprocal British influence, especially on US approaches to the alliance’.86 According to Saki Dockrill, ‘the Wilson–Johnson association demonstrated how close Anglo-American interests became as a result of financial considerations and the Vietnam War’.87 Dumbrell characterises the mutual dealings of Wilson and Johnson as a ‘complex combination of respect and irritation, of occasional British sycophancy and American temper, of subtle acceptance of the unequal power relationship’.88 Despite the growing literature, there remains scope for a fuller examination of the Wilson–Johnson relationship, a gap that the present work tries to fill. By exploring the relationship of the two leaders in the years 1964–68 (in 1964 Labour came to power, while 1968 was Johnson’s last year in office), it seeks to examine their respective attitudes to the Anglo-American relationship and to one another; how they approached the matters of mutual interest and the extent to which their personal relationship was in any sense a ‘special’ one; and, finally, to chart broader developments in the Anglo-American relationship. There were several key matters between Britain and the United States in this period: the Vietnam War, British economic weakness and the UK’s inability to maintain the traditional ‘great power role’. These were substantial issues, with the result that other matters salient to the Anglo-American relationship, such as the question of Rhodesia’s UDI from Britain in 1965 and the matter of ‘offsetting’ the cost of British forces in West Germany, are not addressed.89
As well as a contribution to the historiography of Anglo-American relations, the work may also be seen in the context of the literature on summit diplomacy, that is, multilateral or bilateral meetings between international leaders.90 The Paris Peace Conference of 1919, attended by David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson, was the first summit conference of the twentieth century, and during the Second World War the ‘Big Three’ conclaves between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill helped to institutionalise meetings between statesmen. In the early 1950s the process was further consolidated by Churchill’s calls for a three-power gathering to ease the tensions of the Cold War, and before long it was the case that bilateral meetings (usually held in Washington) had become integral to the Anglo-American relationship.91 Summits provide leaders with the opportunity to appraise their foreign counterparts person-to-person and can offer a means of symbolising close bonds between the countries involved, but the dangers include the possibility that the leaders simply may not get along with one another as well as they might.92
This study is based mainly on government sources, namely material from the White House (including President Johnson’s taped telephone conversations), State Department, Foreign Office (FO), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Prime Minister’s Office (PREM) and Cabinet (CAB). Private papers consulted include those of Harold Wilson, Foreign Secretary George Brown and Undersecretary of State George Ball. Memoirs, diaries, including the unpublished diaries of David Bruce, and secondary works are also used. The work is arranged chronologically, with each chapter exploring a period of the Wilson– Johnson relationship, and usually culminating in a summit meeting. Chapter 1 considers the seven weeks from Wilson’s election until he went to see Johnson on 7–9 December, a formative period in which Britain cultivated American financial support and which saw pre-summit diplomacy over the NATO Multilateral Force (MLF). Chapter 2 covers the summit in detail, examining the diplomatic exchanges over the Vietnam War, the British commitment East of Suez and the MLF, as well as the interplay of personality between Wilson and Johnson. Chapter 3 spans the months January–April 1965, looking at the impact on the Wilson– Johnson relationship of developments over Vietnam, the reemergence of UK economic difficulties, and Wilson’s second trip to Washington since becoming prime minister. Chapter 4, covering May–December 1965, assesses the significance of an alleged Anglo-American strategic-economic ‘deal’, Wilson’s ‘Commonwealth Peace Mission’ to Vietnam, and another Wilson visit to Washington. Chapter 5 covers January–July 1966, and considers why the personal relationship between Johnson and Wilson suffered such strain when the Labour government ‘dissociated’ the UK from the latest American measures in Vietnam, and seeks to explain why Johnson’s regard for the Prime Minister rose so dramatically with the next summit. Chapter 6 addresses the period from August 1966–September 1967, during which Wilson launched an intense but abortive effort to initiate peace negotiations over Vietnam, and London announced plans to withdraw from military bases East of Suez. Both of these issues exerted a notable influence upon the ties between Wilson and Johnson. Finally, Chapter 7 explores the further impact on these ties of the devaluation of sterling in November 1967, the British announcement of an accelerated withdrawal from East of Suez, and of Wilson’s final visit to the White House in February 1968.