|Born||13 April 1946|
|Died||28 July 2020 (aged 74)|
|Known for||The General Belgrano papers|
|The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair|
|Criminal charge(s)||Section 2 Official Secrets Act 1911 (not guilty)|
Clive Ponting (13 April 1946 – 28 July 2020) was a senior British civil servant and historian. He was best known for having leaked documents about the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano in the Falklands War. At the time of his resignation from the civil service in 1985, he was a Grade 5 (assistant secretary), earning £23,000 per year.
He wrote a number of books on British and world history. His most influential works include a Green History of the World (1991), which was revised as A New Green History of the World in 2007, and a biography of Winston Churchill (1994) and 1940: Myth and Reality (1990). Two reviewers referred to him as a revisionist historian.
1 Early life
2 Bureaucratic career
2.1 General Belgrano papers
2.2 Charges under the Official Secrets Act
3 Academic career
7 See also
9 External links
Ponting was born in Islington, London. He was educated at Bristol Grammar School and the University of Reading.
General Belgrano papers
While a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Ponting sent two documents, subsequently nicknamed "the crown jewels", to Labour MP Tam Dalyell in July 1984 concerning the sinking of the Argentine navy warship General Belgrano, a key incident in the 1982 Falklands War. After Ponting admitted revealing the information, the Ministry of Defence suspended Ponting without pay. On 17 August 1985, he was charged with a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act of 1911. The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had his pay reinstated once she had been briefed on what had happened. Ponting's defence at the trial was that the matter and its disclosure to a Member of Parliament were in the public interest. It was the first case under the Official Secrets Act that involved giving information to Parliament. Although Ponting expected to be imprisoned, he was acquitted by the jury. The acquittal came despite the judge's direction to the jury that Ponting's official duty was not to disclose the information and that "the public interest is what the government of the day says it is". The judge, Sir Anthony McCowan, "had indicated that the jury should convict him". The verdict has been treated as an instance of jury nullification.
Ponting resigned from the civil service on 16 February 1985. In May 1987 he made an extended appearance on the first ever edition of Channel 4's After Dark discussion programme.
Charges under the Official Secrets Act
Shortly after his resignation, The Observer began to serialise Ponting's book The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair. The Conservative government reacted by amending the secrets legislation and by introducing the Official Secrets Act 1989. Before the trial, a jury could take the view that if an action could be seen to be in the public interest, the right of the individual to take that action might be justified. As a result of the 1989 modification, that defence was removed. After the enactment, it was taken that "'public interest' is what the government of the day says it is".
Following his resignation from the Civil Service, Ponting served as a reader in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Wales, Swansea, until his retirement in 2004. He was one of the pioneers of big history.
His historical works have attracted significant attention and often courted unfavourable reviews in the United Kingdom because the controversial positions he has taken, but international reviews and more recent reviews have been favourable. As one later reviewer wrote, describing the impact of his biographical work, "Ponting shattered the Churchill illusion for his readers leaving them little to piece together, just marble shards on the floor of his looted temple".
Ponting joined the Scottish National Party in 2018. He gave a speech in which he warned party members that a disastrous Brexit would be used as context in which to disband or constrain the Scottish Parliament.
Whitehall - Tragedy and Farce (1986), Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 0-241-11835-2
Breach of Promise - Labour in Power, 1964-70 (1989), Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 0-241-12683-5
1940: Myth and Reality (1990), Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 978-0-241-12668-4
A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (1991), Penguin, ISBN 0-14-017660-8
Churchill (1994), Sinclair-Stevenson, ISBN 1-85619-270-9
Armageddon - The Second World War (1995), Random House, ISBN 0-679-43602-2
Progress and Barbarism: The World in the Twentieth Century (1998), Chatto & Windus, ISBN 1-85619-610-0; published in the US as The Twentieth Century: A World History (1999), Henry Holt & Co., ISBN 978-0-8050-6088-1
World History - A New Perspective (2000), Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-6834-X. Ponting's concern in the book is to provide a revisionist perspective to correct for what he perceives as the dominant bias in conventional historical narrative towards ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the expansion of Europe (in effect, an ingrained Eurocentrism). He attempts to balance the narrative by incorporating more from often neglected aspects of world history, such as China, India and Japan as well as Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, the Indus Valley, Mesoamerica and Peru. The book is also an exploration of the past from the interpretative framework of Big History, with the first chapter involving the perceived 99% of human history (until 10,000 BC), which then moves on to a discussion of the transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture and the rise of civilisations around the world.
Thirteen Days - Diplomacy and Disaster, the Countdown to the Great War (2003), Pimlico, ISBN 0-7126-6826-8
The Crimean War - The Story Behind the Myth (2004), Pimlico, ISBN 0-7126-6826-8
Gunpowder - The Story (2005), Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-7752-7
A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (2007), Penguin, ISBN 0-14-303898-2 Penguin's description of the book
Norton-Taylor, Richard. The Ponting Affair. Cecil Woolf, 1985. ISBN 0-900821-73-6
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