John Major vetoed a Foreign Office idea to offer honorary membership of the MCC to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, saying it was a “dodgy precedent”, records released by the National Archives reveal. The FCO proposed the offer for Mugabe’s 1994 state visit to the UK, stating he was “reportedly keen on cricket”.
But the prime minister, a cricket fan and MCC member, refused. His handwriting on a Downing Street memo noted: “I’d leave it. Many MCC members won’t like it + it is a dodgy precedent.”
One of Major’s private office staff replied to the Foreign Office: “I trust that Mugabe’s staff have not got wind of it.” The Zimbabwean high commission were, however, aware of the proposal and believed Mugabe would welcome it.
Fears that asylum-seekers staging hunger strikes in protest at their deportation could die prompted No10 advisers to consider administering intravenous drips to those who lost consciousness.
Lord McColl, a consultant surgeon and John Major’s parliamentary private secretary in the Lords, was contacted. He advised: “The Home Office should be quite clear that it will not let these hunger strikers die but this policy should not be made public.”
Simon Walker, a special adviser in the No 10 policy unit, wrote to the office of the home secretary, Michael Howard: “...Because they’re going right down to the wire one of them might just die by accident.
“A clear statement that we would rehydrate and nourish hunger strikers intravenously as soon as they lost consciousness might have a further benefit of persuading them that it wasn’t really worth persisting…. We are not, after all, talking of suffragette-style force-feeding but of a much gentler, medically-administered procedure...”
Margaret Thatcher’s 70th
John Major was warned it would look like a “snub” to refuse to attend a dinner at Claridges hosted by Margaret Thatcher, one of three parties to mark her 70th birthday in 1995.
The dinner followed one Major was already hosting for Thatcher, and was on the night following the Conservative party conference. Major’s principal private secretary, Alex Allan, wrote: “I had tried to persuade you that there was no need to accept: you will be tired, you will have done Lady T proud by holding the dinner here; the cast list is not that attractive.”
But, he added “the consensus was that you should go”; it would be well received “by the party at large”, and to decline “would look like a snub, notwithstanding your own dinner”. Major agreed to attend. And, in an internal memo, Allan wrote: “Both the PM and Norma will go (groan!).
By the time of the October 16 dinner, the guest list had grown to 200, including the Queen, and Michael Caine. With little love lost between them, Thatcher’s predecessor Edward Heath had a prior engagement and was not present.
Edward Heath’s officials suspected the Americans were plotting to overthrow the Saudi regime at the height of the 1973-74 oil crisis to prevent excessive price rises.
The cabinet secretary, Sir John Hunt, wrote to the prime minister’s office in January 1974 suggesting that “the time is ripe for an unpublicised attempt to smoke out the American intentions about oil supplies and oil prices”.
Saudi Arabia, he said, was “a classic ‘take-over’ situation and I have recently drawn the prime minister’s attention to intelligence reports saying that the Americans have contingency plans for the use of force in the Middle East, either directly or by deposing existing regimes.”
Hunt was given the go-ahead to fly out to Washington for secret talks with Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of state. Hunt cabled back that Kissinger had told him in relation to Saudi Arabia and Iran: “Intellectually force could not in the last resort be excluded. But the US had no plans for this.”
A Labour defence minister was denied “clearance to see atomic papers” on the advice of a senior civil servant in 1978.
Dr John Gilbert, who was at the MoD for three years, received the support of the defence secretary for his request so that he could take part in discussions on “undersea warfare and mine-counter measure capabilities”.
But Sir Frank Cooper, the senior civil servant in the department, wrote to Number 10 opposing the clearance, saying he did not believe there was “sufficient operational reason to justify this in the case” and that “this does not seem an opportune moment with an election possibly imminent.”
Jim Callaghan’s principal private secretary, Bryan Cartledge, wrote back to the MoD stating that: “The prime minister would prefer not to add to the list of those with atomic clearance at this time.”