Lord Car­ring­ton: soldier, diplo­mat and ‘Rhode­sia’ ne­go­tia­tor 1919-2018

Sunday Times - - Obituaries Classified -

● The sixth Lord Car­ring­ton, who has died aged 99, had one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reers of any post­war politi­cian, serv­ing 30 years in of­fice. A junior Bri­tish agri­cul­ture min­is­ter in the early 1950s, he be­came, suc­ces­sively, high com­mis­sioner to Aus­tralia, First Lord of the Ad­mi­ralty, leader of the op­po­si­tion in the House of Lords, de­fence sec­re­tary, Con­ser­va­tive Party chair­man, en­ergy sec­re­tary, for­eign sec­re­tary and sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Nato. He also served as chair­man of GEC and of Christie’s.

Car­ring­ton’s great­est po­lit­i­cal tri­umph was the Lan­caster House con­sti­tu­tional set­tle­ment of 1980, which brought the uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in Rhode­sia to an end and ush­ered in an in­de­pen­dent Zim­babwe.

The set­tle­ment ended 13 years of bit­ter civil war, but was re­garded as a sell­out by some mem­bers of the Con­ser­va­tive Party. It was later blamed by some com­men­ta­tors for en­trench­ing the eco­nomic power of the white mi­nor­ity, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for the Zim­bab­wean gov­ern­ment to ful­fil the as­pi­ra­tions of black Zim­bab­weans for land — un­til Robert Mu­gabe, who came to power fol­low­ing the agree­ment, sim­ply seized it for his sup­port­ers.

The fall of the wily old fox

Car­ring­ton’s true métier was di­plo­macy rather than pol­icy and ad­min­is­tra­tion, and his ca­reer was marred by er­rors of judg­ment that might have fin­ished a lesser-born man.

Po­lit­i­cal neme­sis at last caught up with Car­ring­ton in 1982 when Ar­gentina in­vaded the Falk­lands, tak­ing the For­eign Of­fice and the small Bri­tish gar­ri­son in the South At­lantic by sur­prise. It was a hu­mil­i­at­ing mo­ment for Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy and Car­ring­ton felt hon­our-bound to fall on his sword. His res­ig­na­tion, he re­called, “was the most sor­row­ful mo­ment of my life”. That he al­ways rose above such set­backs was due to a com­bi­na­tion of steely in­ner tough­ness, charm and his cun­ning as a ne­go­tia­tor — Mu­gabe re­ferred to him as the “old fox”.

Aris­to­cratic in­ven­tions: one ‘R’ or two?

Peter Alexan­der Ru­pert Car­ing­ton was born on June 6 1919, the only son of the fifth Lord Car­ring­ton and Sy­bil, daugh­ter of Vis­count Colville of Cul­ross. The Car­ing­tons were orig­i­nally Smiths, a fam­ily of drap­ers from Not­ting­ham. They came up in the world, Lord Car­ring­ton ex­plained, when “one an­ces­tor set up the first bank out­side Lon­don. We be­came chums with Pitt and got our peer­age.” The Smiths changed their “al­to­gether ple­beian” sur­name to the grander-sound­ing Car­ing­ton, with the ad­di­tional whim of in­sist­ing on a sin­gle “R” for the fam­ily name and a dou­ble “R” for the ti­tle.

When the fam­ily were first en­no­bled, the en­tire House of Lords walked out in protest at a com­mon banker be­ing al­lowed to take the er­mine.

Peter Car­ing­ton went to Eton, where he failed to shine. When he came to leave, his house­mas­ter ad­vised: “For a re­ally stupid boy, there are three pos­si­ble pro­fes­sions: farm­ing, sol­dier­ing and stock­broking.” He chose sol­dier­ing, suc­ceed­ing his fa­ther in the peer­age in 1938.

In 1954, Win­ston Churchill made Car­ring­ton un­der-sec­re­tary at the Min­istry of De­fence and two years later An­thony Eden of­fered him the high com­mis­sion in Can­berra. When Ed­ward Heath won the 1970 elec­tion he made him min­is­ter of de­fence.

Il­lus­tri­ous ap­point­ments

In 1975, Mar­garet Thatcher chal­lenged Heath and ousted him as Con­ser­va­tive leader. Car­ring­ton gave his full sup­port to the new leader.

He scored an im­me­di­ate and re­sound­ing suc­cess by set­tling the “Rhode­sian prob­lem”. The queen helped, Thatcher helped, the Com­mon­wealth prime min­is­ters helped; but in the last anal­y­sis it was Car­ring­ton who, af­ter 14 weary weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tion at Lan­caster House, se­cured an agree­ment that was ac­cept­able to the Rhode­sian na­tion­al­ists as well as to most of the coun­try’s white cit­i­zens. The way was thus paved for the rapid es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent Zim­babwe.

Be­tween then and his res­ig­na­tion over the Falk­lands in 1982, Car­ring­ton notched up sev­eral im­por­tant diplo­matic achieve­ments.

Two years af­ter his res­ig­na­tion, an­other il­lus­tri­ous ap­point­ment came his way: in 1984 he be­came sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Nato.

In 1991 Car­ring­ton’s rep­u­ta­tion as a ne­go­tia­tor led the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment to pro­pose him as a can­di­date to chair talks on the fu­ture of North­ern Ire­land. His nom­i­na­tion was, how­ever, an­grily re­jected by the Unionist par­ties.

He got fur­ther, but had no more luck, as chair­man of the peace con­fer­ence set up by the EU to stem the blood­shed in the for­mer Yu­goslavia. Al­though he man­aged to bro­ker a cease­fire, fight­ing be­tween Serbs and Croats broke out al­most im­me­di­ately after­wards.

He mar­ried Iona Maclean in 1942. She died in 2009. They had two daugh­ters and a son. — © The Daily Tele­graph, Lon­don

Pic­ture: Tiso Black­star Group Ar­chive

Lord Car­ring­ton and Robert Mu­gabe at Savoy Ho­tel, Lon­don, dur­ing the Lan­caster House ne­go­ti­a­tions that de­liv­ered the in­de­pen­dence of Zim­babwe in 1980.

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