Tam Dalyell

Tam Dalyell, who died in 2017, was Labour MP for West Lothian and then, when the boundaries were redrawn, Linlithgow. He was elected to the Commons in 1962 and became private secretary to Richard Crossman, about whom he later wrote a biography. He was known for positing the West Lothian question (whether MPs from the devolved countries of the UK should be able, post-devolution, to vote on strictly English matters) and for his consistently anti-war position. His opposition to British military action led to his role in the Belgrano Affair and to a Diary about it for the LRB. He liked writing for the paper, he said elsewhere, because ‘it is one of the few publications in Britain that allow a writer to return to old ground.’

Easter Island Revisited

Tam Dalyell, 27 June 1991

In my 29 years as a Member of the House of Commons, I can recollect only one occasion when I have broken out in a cold sweat of anxiety. It was on a Saturday morning, at home, when I was shaving and listening to the 7 a.m. BBC Radio News. Headline Number One: a senior civil servant had been taken into custody for an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act.

If you were a Kurd, perched on a mountain hillside, with ailing or dead parents, and suffering children, would you thank Mr Bush? I use his name generically for the British and Americans, and those Arabs who were swept along by us – initially, at any rate, against their better judgment – into a shooting war. The question is rhetorical. You would feel the kind of anger that the Jews felt as they risked their lives to get to Palestine on unseaworthy tubs zig-zagging towards Haifa in the late Forties.

Diary: Questions for Mrs Thatcher

Tam Dalyell, 23 July 1987

I spent half the period of the General Election in my Linlithgow constituency and other Scottish seats, and half campaigning in some thirty English marginal seats. So much has been written on the North-South divide, and the fact that great cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow have no representative of the governing party, that I need not dwell on what is since 11 June familiar ground. I wonder, however, whether everyone in England understands the extent to which the result in Scotland was determined by the immediate prospect of the community charge, or as it is now known even in the most fastidious financial circles, the ‘poll tax’. It is one thing to have sentences about a rather obscure ‘community charge’ buried in the Manifesto. It is quite another to be an early guinea-pig on whom an experiment is about to be conducted. The Scottish poll-tax legislation was actually through Parliament, and on the statute book. What in England was perceived as scaremongering when I spoke about the poll-tax was received in Scotland – rightly – as an all-too-imminent reality.’

Diary: Yesterday’s News

Tam Dalyell, 18 September 1986

One of the reasons I like being asked to write for the London Review of Books is that it is one of the few publications in Britain that allow a writer to return to old ground. Most papers insist on the semblance, at least, of some new slant, if not on new facts. Otherwise it’s yesterday’s news. The situation has, I believe, dire consequences for public life. Those in power come to believe that because the world is always ‘moving on’ they will not be held accountable for their actions. Chickens do not come home to roost any more.

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Those who, maybe understandably, conduct their civil nuclear affairs with an occasional under-injection of candour should not be too quick to condemn the secretiveness of Russia. With a timing that is perfect in its irony, it has emerged this spring, thanks to the 30-year rule, that in 1957 Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister, took a decision that would have done credit to the most reticent of regimes. Told that there had been a graphite fire at Windscale, Macmillan deemed it better that the British public should not know, and that the Irish, across the water, should not be informed. Horrifying, deceitful, wicked, many people would now say. But, are we, even with the benefit of hindsight, quite sure?

Tam, Dick and Harold

Ian Aitken, 26 October 1989

Not long ago, a very distinguished academic reviewer suggested in these pages that one of the troubles with the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock’s leadership was that it was no longer the...

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After the Battle

Matthew Coady, 26 November 1987

Politics is as much about losers as winners, which is why the defeated repay attention as much as the victors. The vanquished, moreover, are usually more candid. In their accounts the bruises...

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Seductive Intentions

John Ziman, 2 August 1984

‘Science policy’ is not quite a contradiction in terms but it contains within itself a dialectical opposition between careful planning and the exploitation of opportunity. One might...

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A recent bibliographical review of the Spanish Armada concluded that at last the evidence available permitted definitive judgments on the episode from both sides. Such a long interval may be...

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