11 NOVEMBER 1978, Page 4

Political commentary

Bad faith on the right

Ferdinand Mount

was not the only Prime Minister to be unaware of this disreputable traffic. . . In a speech at Oxford on April 1st last . . On April 2nd I was asked to appear on BBC radio . . . I had raised the matter with General de Gaulle during my visit in June, 1967 . . . I refer to chapter 14, paragraph 3(d) of the Bingham report . . . I heard of unreliable purveyors in Lorenzo Marques . . . my meeting with de Gaulle. . . nobody told me . , He was with me on HMS Tiger, he was with me on HMS Fearless. . . where were the Dutch getting their tobacco? . . . I learnt of questionable sugar shipments . . . Letters are missing. . some may have been destroyed . . Did the multi-national companies inveigle Ian Smith into declaring independence? . . Even while the Bingham report was being printed they were still engaged in sordid swaps. . . no laughing matter . . . I knew nothing . . . we were powerless . . oil is a viscous fluid . . . nobody told me.'

How it all comes back to us — the comic conceit, the web of self-delusion, the allegedly photographic memory, the penchant for the adjectival smear, the touching pride in hobnobbing with the famous, the thinking in second-rate headlines, above all, the breath-taking triviality. The stuff is unforgettable — piquant, even saucy and loads of it, yet at the same time indigestible and somehow insubstantial, like take-away chow mein.

Wilson Is Back — bronzed, unbowed and delivering a speech of a sufficiently high viscosity content to pollute the entire Scilly Isles. The speech falls apart even as he delivers it. If, as he claimed, none of the three Prime Ministers, five Foreign Secretaries and countless energy ministers who held office during the relevant period, including the present Speaker and Mr Benn, and no doubt the entire Nottingham Forest football team, knew nothing of the clandestine arrangements by which British oil was reaching Rhodesia, then one might inquire — and several Labour backbenchers did inquire — ought they not to have known, or at least asked? One blushes to have been governed by such a man.

Indeed in the continuous chattering and giggling that accompanied Sir Harold, there was a distinct note of embarrassment. All very well now to give the old buffer the bird but he is not so very old, he does not mumble or lose his thread, and he has in the past delivered speeches no less selfdeluding, no less, well, disreputable to a rapt and reverent House and an enthusiastic press gallery. Those who persist in imagining that the British were afflicted by a mysterious outbreak of ungovernability between 1964 and 1974 really ought to look again at who was doing the governing during most of those years. This, after all, was a man who dominated the House of Commons for a decade.

Is the folly of embarking on sanctions against Rhodesia without the nerve or the capacity to mount a blockade of South Africa conceivable without a man so supremely silly in charge? And from the original folly all the other delusions, the cant, the moral, er, squalor, all inexorably follow.

Even those leftwingers who are revelling in their moral purity still have to explain how Britain was supposed to mount this' heroic blockade of the South African coastline in the late '60s in the middle of our usual economic crisis and with a Royal Navy they themselves had already begun reducing to its present shrunken state.

But it was not the Labour Left that was torpedoed in the debate. It was the Tory Right. Mr Francis Pym stood in for Mr John Davies — another nice man forced out of politics by ill-health and genuinely missed by all sides — as the Tories' spokesman. These days Mr Pym's capacity for transformation is almost as celebrated as that of the Incredible Hulk. Under normal cir cumstances, a mild, quiet man of somewhat harassed demeanour— a bank manager, say, faced with an importunate client demanding credit facilities in excess of those sanctioned by head office — he assumes on the Big Occasion an entirely different persona.

He swells before the eye, his voice rises to a bark, his eye flashes. But as with the Hulk, the capacity for rational thought and feeling remains unimpaired. At times he sounded unsophisticated; he did not pretend to be an old Africa hand; he was in favour of peace and against war. Yet there was cunning in his simplicity. He managed to deliver the boldest defence of retaining sanctions heard so far from a Conservative spokesman and still was cheered as loudly from his own benches as by the delighted Labour ranks. He achieved this not merely by the now traditional method of attacking David Owen but also by the deployment of Tory language, that is to say, the language of honour and calculation rather than of anti-colonial morality. Britain had entered into obligations which could not be lightly dismissed. To black Africans, sanctions, however disagreeable in themselves, were the symbol of Britain's commitment to majority rule. Britain should keep faith. By lifting sanctions now, we would intensify violence and diminish rather than enhance our negotiating position. Give Owen a few more buffs. Sit down. Classic demonstration of leading backwoodsmen in the direction they don't wish to go. Mr Pym has come a long way, is still on the rise. Actually, Dr Owen deserved fewer biffs than usual. His case too is worth a mention. The bloom is off him. Cordially disliked in the Foreign Office even by those who originally welcomed his appointment, he is rude to his junior ministers and distrusted by his backbenchers, while at the same time being the man the Tories love to hate. A politician in such a position cannot be all bad. And it is noticeable that he has indeed begun to develop the beginnings of a voice and a will of his own. He understands how to use openness or the appearance of openness as a political weapon — as he has in the commissioning and publication of the Bingham report. And he laid into the Tory Right with an unexpectedly waspish vigour. For all his bungling, Dr Owen is perfectlY accurate in claiming that each year the TorY Right offers different arguments to shore up its one basic aim, which is to support the white settlers. There is bad faith on the right as well as on the left. Indeed, the historY of relations between Britain and Rhodesia cao be viewed as one long series of inYths invented by the white Rhodesians. There is the myth that the Central Afri' can Federation was forced on the whites. A$ Sir Robert Tredgold, chief justice of Southern Rhodesia at the time, points oor: 'nothing could be further from the trutb. Though attitudes varied from government to government, it would be more correct to say that Federation was wrested from a reluctant United Kingdom by the white political leaders in Northern and Southern Rhodesia.' Equally false is the myth, sPec.ifically denied by Oliver Lyttleton in his memoirs, that Federation was intended to establish permanent white supremacy. The new myth is that in recent years the climate of Western opinion has changeu sharply, so that without warning these noble creatures have been left high and dry bY the march of progressive Left-wing ideas, hold; ing honourable if outdated principles 0.` patentaliststewardship, and destined to ,13.e betrayed time and again by cynical pont!' cians in London and Washington. It 15 claimed, for example, that Henry Kissinger promised Smith that sanctions were to be. lifted during the interim settlement. Bu; even Dr Kissinger negotiating in his us° elusive style did not mean that promise t9 cover an interim settlement which exclude! the blacks who were at that time doing truth is that ever since 1923 the_ fighting. The T h have been trying to gain it'd° pendence on their own terms. MentallY: they are not bewildered victims of a rilla invasion from the modern world led ul Captain Colin The' Legum. On the eon: trary, they have been stubbornly and Pero sistently trying to escape from the model._ world. Ian Smith is no more 'betrayed' Ow; Roy Welensky was. They are agents, 09t patients. And their fate remains where always lay, in their own hands.