| Woodrow Wyatt |
(politician, author, journalist, broadcaster)
|Born||4 July 1918|
|Died||7 December 1997 (Age 79)|
|Alma mater||Worcester College (Oxford)|
Woodrow Lyle Wyatt, Baron Wyatt of Weeford (4 July 1918 – 7 December 1997) was a British Labour Party politician, author, journalist and broadcaster, close to the Queen Mother, Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch. For the last twenty years of his life, he was chairman of the state betting organisation The Tote.
Woodrow Wyatt was elected to Parliament in 1945 as the Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Aston, and served until the 1955 General Election when the constituencies boundaries were redrawn. Following his defeat, Wyatt wrote a series of articles in the Illustrated about the Communist threat to the trade unions and therefore, due to the influential trade union block vote, to the Labour Party. These were republished in pamphlet-form as "The Peril in Our Midst". In October 1956 he signed a statement urging British participation in the Common Market.
After Wyatt's programme on Communist vote-rigging in the AEU, Jock Byrne gave Wyatt documents containing evidence that since the war Communists had controlled the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) by falsifying votes. Wyatt received the permission of Ian Jacob to make a Panorama programme on union democracy in the ETU. This was broadcast on 9 December 1957 and Wyatt brought to light that Les Cannon had been defrauded of his election to the ETU's Executive by Communist vote-rigging. As union rules prohibited union members from discussing union affairs in public, ETU members on Wyatt's programme had their faces hidden. In January 1958 Wyatt wrote an article on the subject for the New Statesman. In July 1961 a High Court Judge declared that the 1959 election for the ETU's general secretary was fraudulently won by the Communist Frank Haxell and that Byrne was the general secretary.
Wyatt also campaigned in favour of compulsory secret ballots for union elections, which was eventually embodied in the Employment Act 1988.
Propagandising for Britain
Woodrow Wyatt was a close figure within the Information Research Department (IRD), a secret branch of the UK Foreign Office dedicated to publishing misinformation, pro-colonial, and anti-communist propaganda. The IRD used bribes to convince Wyatt to publish anti-communist propaganda, which the IRD would boost by using British diplomatic missions for distribution. Due to his role as a prime outlet for IRD propaganda, Wyatt is of strong interest to historians studying the Cold War and British propaganda.
- "We’ve just discovered that they made a film which went out on television the night the jury were out considering the verdict called "Red under the Bed" and it was so anti-trade union that two of the jury changed their mind and brought a majority verdict in of 10-2 guilty.
- "We found out this week that the film was designed, written, made and paid for by the security services. Woodrow Wyatt was a member of the security services and unbelievably so was Richard Whiteley who hosted the show.
Tomlinson insisted he has proof in the form of confidential documents that were passed to him from an informant but he’ll never reveal his source:
- "We’ve only just scratched the surface. I can’t reveal my sources, we’d be hung, drawn and quartered. People would lose their jobs."
Return to Parliament
Woodrow Wyatt returned to Parliament in 1959 as MP for Bosworth, Leicestershire. According to Wyatt, Hugh Gaitskell told him that the Opposition Chief Whip, Bert Bowden, vetoed his appointment to Gaitskell's Shadow Cabinet.
In a speech to the Hinckley branch of the AEU in June 1960, Wyatt called the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Frank Cousins, "the bully with the block vote". After Labour's fourth successive electoral defeat in 1992, Anthony Howard said that Labour's own polling evidence suggested that Labour could not win another election so long as it was identified with the trade unions: "Woodrow Wyatt's description of the late Frank Cousins...as “the bully with the block vote” was not just a damaging phrase: in the electorate's perception of Labour it lit a candle that has never really gone out".
In November 1961, Wyatt wrote an article for The Guardian and delivered a speech in Leicester, both times advocating a Lib–Lab pact to keep the Conservatives out of power. According to Wyatt, a furious Gaitskell telephoned him, saying: "Why don't you get out of the Party and stop embarrassing me?" In January 1962, after Wyatt repeated this idea in an article for the New Statesman, Gaitskell delivered a speech to the Bosworth Labour Party (in Wyatt's presence) rejecting it. The General Secretary of the Labour Party, Morgan Phillips, wrote to Wyatt, warning him that unless he dropped his advocacy for a Lib−Lab pact, he would be expelled from the party. Wyatt acquiesced.
Wyatt was seen by some as a maverick and by others as a man of firm convictions which made him temperamentally unsuited to 'toeing the party line'. He rebelled in the 1964–1970 parliaments over steel nationalisation. His thirteen interviews with Bertrand Russell were published as "Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind" in 1960. Wyatt was defeated at the 1970 General Election.
The Tote and journalism
After ceasing to be an active politician, Woodrow Wyatt was appointed by the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, as Chairman of the Horserace Totalisator Board from 1976–1997. At first he was an active chairman, rooting out corruption, but later grew complacent and the Tote stagnated. According to John McCririck: "The Tote had been bankrupt and he turned it round. He made it a force in betting. When he became chairman, the Tote was a total mess but he put it on the map by his sheer personality and flair along with the introduction of computerisation". However, a House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee produced a report critical of Wyatt.
Wyatt was a prolific journalist, with a diverse range of interests, and by the late 1970s he had crossed the political spectrum and became an admirer of Margaret Thatcher. After Thatcher's election as Conservative leader in 1975, she arranged a meeting with Wyatt. He later wrote: "She won me over. The strength of her determination and the simplicity of her rational ideas uncluttered by intellectual confusion convinced me that she was the first party leader I had met, apart from Gaitskell, who might check Britain's slide and possibly begin to reverse it. She did not seem much like a Tory but she had the Tory Party to work for her, which was a useful start".
In July 1979 Roy Jenkins recorded in his diary after meeting Wyatt and Thatcher: "Woodrow is on very close terms with her, talks freely, easily, without self-consciousness, says anything he wants to". Wyatt would usually ring Thatcher after midnight or on Sunday mornings where he would give her advice. According to John Campbell, Thatcher did not always accept Wyatt's advice but "her ministers got sick of being told what 'Woodrow says' about this or that policy". He claims that when Geoffrey Howe complained in his memoirs that Thatcher preferred to listen to her private "voices" rather than to her colleagues and official advisers, "it was first and foremost of Wyatt that he was thinking".
During this period his News of the World column, "The Voice of Reason", was regularly attacked by Thatcher's political opponents. His column reached an audience of approximately seventeen million readers. During this time he was vocal in opposing sanctions against apartheid South Africa, writing that Nelson Mandela and the ANC were trying to establish "a communist-style black dictatorship". Wyatt visited South Africa in 1986 and during a visit to a game reserve he saw black and white children playing together, leading him to remark: "They are comrades. Oh, if the rest of South Africa could be like that". He also interviewed President Botha and put to him that he should unban the ANC.
Woodrow Wyatt was knighted in 1983 and was created a life peer on 3 February 1987 with the title Baron Wyatt of Weeford, of Weeford in the County of Staffordshire.
- "TO MOVE AND TO SHAKE" The Independent. 24 November 1996
- "RICKY TOMLINSON: COUNTDOWN’S RICHARD WHITELEY WAS A ‘SPY’ WHO JAILED ME"
- "Obituary: Lord Wyatt of Weeford"