Friday, 29 July 2011

Watergate Unveiled?

Based on a response to this Washington Post article.

Judge orders Nixon grand jury testimony unsealed

As one who followed the Watergate Crisis from the other side of the pond at the time  I think this will be fascinating. Just as the Abdication Crisis in Britain lifted a veil on the previously secret inward workings of the Royal Family so Watergate began to define the secret world of what was then the most powerful office in the world. 

Did Watergate begin the process of confining the office and (so far) the man to more scrutiny? Is the British Prime Minister now the least controlled leader of a democratic country (Coalitions not withstanding)?

Before Watergate it was unknown in modern history for a President to "abdicate" just as a generation or two earlier would be horrified that a King of England could be forced to go, another "first".

Its worth reflecting that Watergate and the Abdication of Edward the Eighth had another thing in common. The public did not at the time receive all of the information. 

My mother for many years referred to the Duke of Windsor (as Edward became) as a man who had given up his throne for love. That was the official line and the Windsor's were allowed to promote the idea that the Church and Commonwealth could not accept a divorcee on the throne. Not withstanding the fact that Henry the Eighth had set a precedent hundreds of years earlier by not only having divorced women on the throne but also murdering them when it suited him. I remember during the early 1970's coming across that brilliant historian Brian Inglis and beginning to get a sense that I had not quite got the true story when I read his analysis of the crisis.  It was not until much later that Edward and Mrs Simpson emerged as people very sympathetic to Hitler. 

This shocked a British public who so admired the Royal Family, led by George the Fifth who had remained in London with Churchill throughout the Blitz and who were bombed alongside the many Londoners, Liverpudlians and others who drew inspiration from them. Luckily that splendid example was replaced by the present Queen admired even by republicans. British statesman and radical Tony Benn once said to me "If The Queen stood for election I would vote for her". Many people now believe that then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin acted with remarkable sagacity in removing such a serious security threat. The Duke went on to leak secrets to the enemy during the War, something an ordinary "Tommy" would have been shot for, and was rewarded with the Governorship of the Bahamas for the rest of the War to keep him out of the way. 
Interestingly the office of Prime Minister trumped a constitutional monarchy that had become a threat. Even when the office of Prime Minster passed to  Churchill, who had innocently championed Edwards cause unaware of his leanings before the Commons, there was little forgiveness for Edward and after the War he was effectively banished.  

Is this the point then when we get closer to the truth on Watergate? More importantly, do we discover how the office of President, the leader of the worlds most powerful nation was forever altered and by how much?   

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