Tam Dalyell

The Editors

Tam Dalyell, who served as the Labour MP for West Lothian (later Linlithgow) from 1962 to 2005, died yesterday. In 1982 he resigned as Michael Foot's science spokesman over the Falklands War. He wrote a number of pieces for the LRB, the first of them 'A Falklands Polemic' in May 1982:

Never underestimate the importance of fortuitous timing in the development of events. Governments and nations can get onto a motorway, and then find to their alarm that they are on a journey on which they never intended to travel, but from which there is no acceptable exit. We are faced with a shooting war in the South Atlantic that few British politicians thought could, should or would occur.

He 'spent many months', as he put it, 'campaigning by Parliamentary Question to try to find out the truth behind the decision to sink the 44-year-old American cruiser Phoenix, survivor of Pearl Harbour and later the General Belgrano’. Reviewing The Battle for the Falklands (1983) by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, he wrote:

No one who wanted peace would have behaved as Mrs Thatcher did. That is why Michael Foot was temporarily out of his mind, in an excess of misplaced chivalry, to tell the Commons on Monday, 14 June, after 10 o’clock in the evening: ‘I can well understand the anxieties and pressures that must have been upon her during these weeks, and I can understand at this moment those pressures and anxieties may be relieved. And I congratulate her.’ Sitting just behind Michael, my heart sank. Unlike my Leader, I believe there should be a major inquiry into the conduct of the Falklands conflict, like that which followed the Crimean War or the Jameson Raid during the Boer War. I believe that such an inquiry might reveal Mrs Thatcher in her true colours – as a leader who spurned many chances of peace, in favour of personal and political domestic objectives.

On The Unsinkable Aircraft-Carrier: American Military Power in Britain (1984) by Duncan Campbell:

This is the advice I shall give to those of my Parliamentary friends who have an interest in the American military presence in Britain, but who may have neither the time nor the inclination to read a 340-page book. ‘Go to the Oriel Room in the Commons Library, and having got the Unsinkable Aircraft-Carrier, turn to pages 76 and 77. There you will find a map of all the American bases and installations in Britain. You and I are meant to be public representatives in this land, but I’ll bet you had no more notion than I had of the sheer scale of the United States presence.’


  • 27 January 2017 at 3:05pm
    IPFreely says:
    The start of a beautify friendship. How ironic that the prime minister should be in Washington at this moment in time to 'renew and strengthen the special relationship' (or words to that effect.) The United States has military bases in 170 countries and knows ahead of time what Ms May is going to discuss, down to the dropped comma on page 45. These two give democracy a bad name.