Desktop version

Home arrow Political science arrow Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong: A Conflict of Empires

Wright and Proscription

Four months previously, on 26 September 1950, in a meeting at the Colonial Office with Lloyd, Martin, Bennett, Fisher, and William Dale, a legal advisor, Wright stated that the proscription of AKEL would be valuable ‘eventually’ but that he did not necessarily seek it. Instead, he considered his other proposals (i.e. regarding the press, crime, immigration, and the deportation of British subjects) to be the more urgent matters, adding that these would also incidentally prepare the ground for AKEL’s proscription in the future. He implied that this would be the second phase of his plan to introduce a new constitution. Once firm government had been reinstated and enosis agitation quelled, AKEL would then be made illegal. Wright argued that AKEL would not be driven underground (which had been a significant reason for not proscribing the organization in the past) but instead would resurface as a centrist party. It was only then, according to Wright, in the one- to two-year window before this centrist party reverted to communism, that introducing a new constitution would be possible.34

Developments in the Greek-Cypriot Orthodox Church also seemed favourable to a new constitution. The archbishop had died on 18 October 1950, and his successor was the Bishop of Kition, who became Archbishop

Makarios III. Makarios III had impressed both British and American policy-makers into a cautious optimism that he was ‘basically a reasonable man’ who happened to follow the enosis line, not out of conviction but because of his ecclesiastical ambitions. Moreover, the locum tenens had issued an encyclical which struck off from the electoral rolls all Cypriots who had been ‘disrespectful to the Church’, thereby deliberately disenfranchising the communists in the archiepiscopal election and ensuring that the future archbishop would not be contaminated by even tacit communist support.35 British policy-makers were therefore closer to reintroducing a constitution, so it seemed, than any time since 1931.

The Colonial Office granted Wright most of his requested powers in January 1951, but decided to put the proscription of AKEL into ‘cold storage’. Less than a year after this decision was made, Wright returned to the topic of AKEL’s proscription sometime in early 1951. As early as 20 July, the Colonial Office was considering such a proposal and informed Wright in a meeting in London on 4 October that a decision had to be postponed until after the upcoming general election (set for 25 October) as well as the UN General Assembly meeting in November. In the meanwhile, discussion could continue on an official level.36

The colonial officials present at the October meeting—Lloyd, Martin, Bennett, Trafford Smith (the assistant secretary in charge of the General and Defence Department), and D. L. Pearson (a principal in the Mediterranean Department)—speculated that the Labour government would not consider the proscription of AKEL to be a preliminary step to introducing a constitution. Moreover, as it had been decided by the chiefs of staff that Cyprus must be retained, it was now general policy that Cyprus should be kept ‘out of the news’. Wright disagreed, instead asserting that constitutional progress was of first importance for the sake of the local Cypriots, Anglo-American relations, and world opinion. He maintained that, as introducing a constitution was only possible if enosis agitation was suppressed, AKEL was ‘the chief organised protagonist of Enosis and [...] must be proscribed’.37

Martin pushed back, arguing that British experience, particularly in East Asia, had demonstrated ‘that the driving of communists out of one field of activity led them to seek the continuation of their activities in a different way’, especially via trade unionism and covert militancy. i 8 Martin, who less than two and a half years earlier had supported clipping AKEL’s wings via the proscription of AON, was unconvinced about removing AKEL’s head.

Nevertheless, the Colonial Office agreed to consider the matter and began by again comparing Cyprus to Malaya, specifically regarding the Awbery-Dalley report. In January 1947, British trade unionists Stanley Awbery (a Labour MP) and F. R. Dalley were appointed by the governors of Malaya and Singapore to report on their colonies’ labour conditions. Their mission departed from Malaya just before the outbreak of armed revolt in June, which made their observations particularly relevant to understanding the origins of communist insurgencies.39

The mission found that the Malayan communists evaded the law by utilizing trade unions for political ends. The Malaya government had responded by passing legislation in May 1948 to restrict trade union officeholders to those with at least three years of experience in the union’s particular industry and without conviction for crimes such as extortion and intimidation. Lastly, the government had banned trade union federations across industries. The Awbery-Dalley mission concluded that while this directly cancelled the Malayan communists’ tactics, they then ‘turned to their other weapon—violence’.40

Martin now recognized parallels between Wright’s proposals and those of the Malaya government. He therefore wrote to Wright that while the Colonial Office ‘entirely agreed with you as to the importance [...] of a positive influence by the Labour Department’, proscribing AKEL might, as in Malaya, push ‘the Communists into open use of violence to establish their control over the unions’. This would in turn, Martin argued, require a military response as well as the effective control by the government of the trade unions, both of which would be expensive and unpopular. Proscription was put back into ‘cold storage’.41

Cold storage was once again short-lived. Eighteen months later, Wright informed the Colonial Office, now under the leadership of Oliver Lyttelton after the Conservative Party’s victory in the 1951 general election, that a constitution would be possible in Cyprus if AKEL was proscribed and its newspapers suspended. By Wright’s calculations, the proscription of AKEL would spare a new constitution from communist involvement, embolden moderates, placate minorities, safeguard domestic affairs and, by eliminating communist competition, allow the nationalists to consider self-government without fear of electoral defeat.42

Alan Lennox-Boyd, the new minister of state for the colonies, disagreed: ‘the proscription of AKEL, regarded as a purely political manoeuvre designed to create conditions for introducing a Constitution, would not be justifiable’. Lyttelton decided ‘that the disadvantages of taking these measures (not least on account of the probable international reactions) would outweigh any advantage to be gained from them in present circumstances’.43 Proscription was once again returned to cold storage for the sake of Britain’s progressive image in the wider Cold War.

Being denied proscription, Wright, echoing his predecessors, requested a firm statement on Britain’s intention to retain sovereignty over Cyprus. This was supported in the Cabinet by Eden, the new secretary of state for foreign affairs. Eden believed that a firm statement, given Cyprus’s strategic position against the soviet union, would further bolster British relations with anti-communist Turkey and would ‘do them [the Greeks] good to know we intend to remain in Cyprus’.44 Nevertheless, Lyttelton declined. He argued:

I think it would be better not to make this statement out of the blue, but to find an occasion for it when we come to debate in Parliament the situation in the Middle East in light of the negotiations with Egypt. [...] [T]he association of the statement on Cyprus with a debate relating to strategic dispositions in the Middle East would implicitly but not explicitly suggest that the main reason for our retention of Cyprus is strategic.45

While strategic requirements were in fact the main reason for the retention of Cyprus (particularly after it was agreed, at least in principle in December 1952, to relocate the armed forces’ Middle East Joint Headquarters from Suez to the colony), London was keen not to advertise this (as well as the fact that constitutional advancement in Cyprus had stalled) in the context of rising anti-colonial criticism from the Soviets and the wider international community, especially the UN.46

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics