10 October 2019

In the Tribune, Olivia Humphreys tells the story of the Cairo Forces Parliament of 1943, a mock parliament of British soldiers debating post-war reconstruction. It was “run ‘along pukka parliamentary lines’. There was a speaker who was ‘versed in all the rules and regulations’, and at each meeting a bill would be debated and voted on. Anyone who attended was considered an mp and could vote on the bill. Around 150 troops turned up to the first meeting.” Initially the events ran with the approval of the military authorities, but as time went on the troops began to propose socialist policies. A bill to nationalise the banks was carried, and the mover, mock chancellor Leo Abse, described the army’s reaction: “‘That night I nationalised the bank; but in the morning I was arrested … I was taken under escort to Suez and kept in custody to await the arrival of a boat which was to take me to a hot and arid island in the Persian Gulf where I was to be quarantined.’ In the days that followed, several other leading members of the left-wing parties were posted abroad without warning.” (Leo Abse went on to be a Labour MP for almost 30 years.)