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January 03, 2007

When Scoop met Wilson: John Bew reveals what the recently released State Papers tell us about Henry "Scoop" Jackson's visit to the UK in 1974

Posted by John Bew

John Bew - Research Fellow in History at Peterhouse, Cambridge and an editor of The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-first Century - examines the just released State Papers about Henry "Scoop" Jackson's visit to the UK in 1974 and finds interesting parallels with politics today.

For the first time, we can now see the official British version of Henry "Scoop" Jackson's meeting with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, on 13th November 1974, in the latest batch of State Papers released to the public at the National Archives in Kew. In a conversation with Wilson and Lord Thomas Bridges (Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Jackson spoke of his:

great belief in the special relationship between the United States and Britain.
In the autumn of 1974, the Republican Party in the United States was still reeling from the Watergate scandal that sank President Nixon and the Democrats were gearing themselves up for the next election, scheduled for 1976. Those who aspired to the Democratic Presidential nomination scrambled to make their first moves in the race.

Against this background, Jackson - a candidate for the nomination in 1972 and 1976 - visited the United Kingdom with a view to increasing his international profile and conveying his faith in the special relationship between Britain and America. Around his meeting with Harold Wilson, some of the highlights on his itinerary included a speech at the Pilgrim's Club in London and a visit to the North Sea oil fields: the closest he was likely to get to his Norwegian ancestry.

Jackson, a "New Dealer", had been elected to the House of Representatives for Washington State in the 1940s. From the late 1960s, he was known as a prominent critic of the policy of Détente with the Soviet Union, which he felt jeopardised human rights and compromised long-term security. His "hawkish" line entailed that his legacy remains a dubious one for the modern Democrat Party, with the notable exception of increasingly isolated figures such as Joe Lieberman.

Trawling through the State Papers on behalf of the Irish Times, surrounded by a cacophony of hacks and historians, one is often struck by certain echoes from the political scene thirty years ago. Last year, we discovered the British Government had been keeping tabs on Saddam Hussein's bad back. This year, it was no surprise to learn that the British Government was up to its eyes in arms and oil deals with a number of Middle Eastern dictatorships, including Saudi Arabia. And when invited to comment about the American political scene,

Senator Jackson said that the Republicans were now so battered that it would be difficult for them to regroup
in time for the next elections.

Wilson was to retire two years later, but he had been given a three-seat majority by the Labour election victory of October, the second election that year. The tone of the conversation was underpinned by the shared presumptions of the anti-Communist social democratic Left on both sides of the Atlantic. Jackson "fully agreed" with the British Prime Minister about the need for "supervision" of international markets and reiterated his support for a central

council which might install discipline in the system.
As an environmentalist and someone who was concerned about the knock-on effects of America's dependency on oil, it is no surprise to find the Senator urging "a massive conservation campaign" to save two million of the sixteen million barrels consumed everyday.

Jackson began his conversation with a discussion of the efforts to secure the release of Russian Jews, suffering persecution under the Soviet Union, and the reassurances he had received from Henry Kissinger on this topic. This was a cause which was close to his heart and which won him the affection of Natan Sharansky, one of those affected. To this end, in 1974, he had also co-sponsored the Jackson-Vanick Amendment Act, denying normal trading rights to countries which restricted emigration rights.

The Prime Minister expressed his own support for this cause. He explained that he had been asked to sign petitions and attend public meetings on this issue, although

his preference was to use quiet pressure.
Jackson, associated with a more confrontational approach, understood Wilson's approach and claimed that he
had tried not to rub the Russians' noses in the mud
too much on this issue. He also bemoaned the state of Soviet scholarship in the United States, comparing it unfavourably with Britain.

As two key pillars of the social democratic Left on both sides of the Atlantic, Wilson and Jackson believed that genuine humanity entailed the concern for those who did not have the advantages of civil liberty enjoyed in the West. In the rush to reverse the respective foreign policies of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, one wonders where such concerns will rank in the priorities of their successors.

John Bew is a Research Fellow in History at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He is an editor of The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-first Century.


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