Lord Carrington: soldier, diplomat and ‘Rhodesia’ negotiator 1919-2018
● 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.
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
Lord Carrington and Robert Mugabe at Savoy Hotel, London, during the Lancaster House negotiations that delivered the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980.