Cabinet Secretaries’ notebooks – plain speaking on Civil Defence

In the Cabinet Secretaries’ notebook series released in 2010 by the National Archives, there are some interesting and cryptic comments about Civil Defence, made on 21st December  1960.

In CAB 195/19 there are some very revealing comments about official thoughts regarding Civil Defence and its effectiveness:

“S.LI” (John Selwyn-Lloyd) Says:

If we were strictly logical, we shd. conclude that none of this is worth while.  But believe it is politically impossible to scrap C.D.

This is a very interesting comment as it seems to admit at least some in government already believed there was little point in Civil Defence and this was also long before the disbandment of the CD Corps in 1968. This admission is completely at odds with the fact that the CD Corps was also just about at its highest headcount as an organisation.

An additional comment reveals that mass evacuation may never been a realistic policy:

“H.B.” (Henry Brooke):

Evacuation.  No Govt. wd. ever order planned evacuation – for it wd. start 100% rush from big cities.  On that basis, our problem is one of presentn.  The 12 m. plan is un-workable.  At 6 m. plan is possible (tho’ I believe nonsensical : because vulnerable cities wd. be proclaimed non evacuable and because area of devastn. wd. be larger than evacuation area).  On balance recommend opening discn. with l.a.’s on basis of 6 m. – w’out commitment to the plan.

Even long before Peter Watkins suggested in The War Game that evacuation might fail, many years before this government officials in this document already seemed to have no illusions about the limits of an evacuation policy. As early as 1964 in official government films the general “stay put” policy had already been made explicit.

Anti-CND Groups

Principally from the right of British politics, anti-CND groups began to gather momentum in the early 1980s and peaked by the 1983 election. There are several valuable sources of information on this subject well worth reading.

Secret Society – Part 1: Secret Constitution – Secret Cabinet Committees

This fascinating programme looks at the British Constitution and how government does it’s work. The first part of the programme looks at the confidence vote of the Callaghan government and how it tried to influence the vote of the late Clement Freud. It also discusses with Peter, now Lord, Hennessey, the nature of secret cabinet committees.

The programme also takes an in-depth look at the pseudo-official opposition to CND and how various non-governmental pressure groups and thinktanks were mobilised to counter them. It looks at the “who” and the “whys” of the story and interviews Bruce Kent on his incredulity at the level of high placed opposition to CND. This would indicate to me the effectiveness of CND given how many senior figures were so concerned about its influence.