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«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»

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2000. Available at: http://www.icbh.ac.uk/witness/rhodesia See also Joe Garner, The Commonwealth Office 1925-1968 (London: Heinemann, 1978), Ch. 2, ‘The Office’. Garner, who was the CRO Permanent Under Secretary at the time of UDI, acknowledges the conflict with other departments, as well as criticism of the CRO in Parliament and the press.

Peter Hennessy, The Prime Minister. The Office and Its Holders since 1945 (New York: St. Martin’s, 2001), p. 310. The term ‘housetraining’ refers to the fact that Wilson was one of only three Labour Ministers to have served in the Cabinet before.

Wilson’s practice of creating numerous miscellaneous committees to handle various aspects of government business. This was especially pronounced on the Rhodesian question, which reflected ‘the sheer scale of the problem and the breadth of its institutional impact’. 196 British contingency planning took place largely outside the full Cabinet, in various ad hoc Cabinet sub-committees on Rhodesia, 197 the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee, 198 the Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Committee,199 and the Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Working Party on Southern Rhodesia. 200 The number of committees proliferated even further after UDI. 201 On the surface this appears inefficient, but there was obviously a method in Wilson’s administrative Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, p. 16. See also Hennessy, The Prime Minister, pp.


TNA: PRO, CAB 130/206, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Meetings and Papers’, October-November 1964; CAB 130/208, ‘Working party on Southern Rhodesia: Meetings’, October-November 1964; CAB 130/209, ‘Working party on Southern Rhodesia: Papers’, October-November 1964; CAB 130/228, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Meetings and Papers’, March-July 1965; CAB 130/244, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Action in the event of a UDI (Meetings)’, October-November 1965; and CAB 130/245, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Action in the event of a UDI (Papers)’, October-November 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/17, ‘Defence and Oversea Policy Committee: Meetings and Papers, OPD Series’, October-December 1964; TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, ‘Defence and Oversea Policy Committee: Meetings, OPD Series’, January-December 1965; TNA: PRO, CAB 148/19-24, ‘Defence and Oversea Policy Committee: Papers, OPD Series’, January-December 1965;

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/40, ‘Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Committee: Meetings and Papers, OPD (O) Series’, October-November 1964; TNA: PRO, CAB 148/41, ‘Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Committee: Meetings, OPD (O) Series’, January-December 1965; and TNA: PRO, CAB 148/42Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Committee: Papers, OPD (O) Series’, January-December 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/67, ‘Working Party on Southern Rhodesia’, March 1965-September 1966. See also TNA: PRO, CAB 165/59, for composition and terms of reference of OPD (O) (SR).

TNA: PRO, CAB 134/3150-3168, ‘Rhodesia and Related Matters’, May 1966-December 1969.

madness. As noted above, the decision to rule out the use of force was taken by a Cabinet sub-committee, which was much more limited in its composition than the DOPC – let alone the full Cabinet – and this made it easier for Wilson to impose himself on important policy issues. 202 John Young has noted that: ‘Official committees often failed to resolve differences or produce compromise positions and appeal was possible from ministerial committees to the full Cabinet, though Wilson tried to restrict the frequency of this.’203

Barbara Castle, the most radical minister in the Labour Government, later commented:

‘Few members of the Cabinet were privy to the crucial discussions that were going on behind the scenes’, and Richard Crossman similarly observed: ‘there is nothing decided at

–  –  –

complained bitterly in her diary that Wilson did his best to keep key foreign policy issues – including South Africa, Rhodesia, and Vietnam – off the Cabinet agenda, and Crossman confirmed that half the Cabinet was excluded from the ‘defence and foreign policy group’. 205 When crucial matters did reach the Cabinet they usually resulted in lengthy discussion, as Castle commented in early 1965: ‘I am afraid Harold is not a strong enough chairman and the discussions drag on endlessly.’ 206 George Brown apparently confirmed See above, p. 42.

Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, p. 16.

Castle, The Castle Diaries 1964-1970, p. xiv; and Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Vol. 1, p. 201, entry for Sunday 18 April 1965.

Castle, The Castle Diaries 1964-1970, pp. 19-20, entries for Tuesday 16 March and Thursday 18 March

1965. When Wilson did allow a full Cabinet debate on foreign policy matters there was insufficient time to discuss southern Africa. Ibid., pp. 26-27, entry for Tuesday 30 March 1965. Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Vol. 1, p. 201, entry for Sunday 18 April 1965.

Ibid., p. 5, entry for Friday 5 February 1965.

these impressions specifically in relation to Rhodesia, when he told one newspaper editor

shortly before UDI:

Wilson has no idea no idea how to conduct Cabinet business. Rhodesia was referred to a Cabinet committee of six. Its report was submitted to Cabinet supposedly for adoption … [but] the whole thing was debated afresh – Dick Crossman, Frank Cousins and Barbara Castle very much to the fore. After hours of discussion … the whole matter was referred to a

–  –  –

Yet these assessments by Castle and Brown do not convey the more relevant observation that Wilson deliberately adopted these Cabinet management methods, as Peter Hennessy has observed: ‘Wilson used prolixity as a weapon, allowing the Cabinet to talk itself out.’ 208 By the time that everyone in the Cabinet had expressed their views they were either bored or exhausted, at which point Wilson would sum up the discussion in favour of the policy that he wished to adopt. Wilson’s dominance over his Cabinet was also reinforced by the fact that he ‘knew more about the nitty-gritty of foreign affairs than the rest of the Government put together’, 209 and also because most ministers were absorbed Cecil King, The Cecil King Diary1965-1970 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972), p. 38, entry for Tuesday 14th October 1965.

Hennessy, The Prime Minister, p. 289.

Ted Short, Wilson’s first Chief Whip. Quoted in Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, p.

2. Crossman also commented that Wilson ‘has completely dominated foreign affairs and defence’. The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Vol. 1, p. 203, entry for Sunday 18 April 1965.

with the work of their departments, which Wilson encouraged. 210 All this may have been politically convenient for the Prime Minister, but it reduced the collegiality of decisionmaking and in the case of the Rhodesian Crisis it resulted in the adoption of Wilson’s preferred policy of economic sanctions, which was never considered likely to achieve the collapse of the Rhodesian economy. 211 The second weakness of the Government’s contingency planning was its lack of momentum. As soon as the Labour Government was elected it began to consider what it would do in the event of a UDI. The Government was able to give some general indications of its intended actions in its warning statement of 27 October 1964, but the major decisions were consistently deferred. Following the visit of Bottomley and Gardiner to Rhodesia in February-March 1965, the DOPC decided that the Government’s contingency plans – such as they were – should be re-examined. 212 By May, officials had identified many relevant issues. The Government had agreed ‘first action’ measures to be taken in the event of a UDI, such as termination of diplomatic representation in London and Salisbury, and application of an arms embargo, but officials suggested that many Castle, The Castle Diaries 1964-1970, p. 20, entry for Tuesday 16 March 1965; Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Vol. 1, p. 203, entry for Sunday 18 April 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, ‘Implications of economic pressure against Rhodesia’, Paper by the Commercial Relations and Export Department of the Board of Trade, 12 May 1965; TNA: PRO, CAB 130/244, MISC 84/18, ‘The impact on the Rhodesian economy of measures in the event of a UDI’, Minutes of a meeting of officials, Item 3, 5 November 1965; both in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol.

5, Part II, pp. 188-90 and 213; TNA: PRO, CAB 130/242, MISC 84/26, ‘Action in the event of a UDI’, Note by the Department for Economic Affairs, 4 November 1965, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, pp. 561-65.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 13th Meeting, 5 March 1965, p. 4.

further decisions could only be made in the light of the circumstances that prevailed at the time of a UDI. 213 The DOPC therefore determined that no decisions should be taken in advance concerning crucial matters, including the introduction of an Enabling Bill, application of a comprehensive trade embargo, exclusion of Rhodesia from Her Majesty’s Dominions, and denial of British citizenship to Rhodesians (although the DOPC directed that preparations should be made to facilitate these). 214 Shortly thereafter the Cabinet Secretary informed the Prime Minister: ‘In terms of our own domestic action – draft Bills, Orders in Council, Regulations, etc. – we are now reasonably ready.’ 215 However, this simply did not accord with the reality of the situation, as the Cabinet Secretary himself acknowledged at the beginning of October. He pointed out a whole range of outstanding issues in the UDI ‘war book’, including: the Government’s public statement to be issued in the event of a UDI; the contents of the Enabling Bill; and the nature of the economic sanctions that the Government intended to implement. 216 It was not until Wilson began the penultimate round of negotiations with the Rhodesian Government that discussions in TNA: PRO, CAB 148/21, OPD (65) 81, ‘Preparation for action in the event of a UDI’, Note by the Chairman of the Defence and Overseas Policy (Official) Committee, 30 April 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 24th Meeting, 5 May 1965, pp. 4-6.

TNA: PRO, PREM 13/536, Minute by Sir Burke Trend to Harold Wilson, 18 May 1965, para. 4, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, p. 529.

TNA: PRO, PREM 13/536, Minute by Sir Burke Trend to Harold Wilson, 1 October 1965, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, pp. 538-39. At that stage the most recent document dealing with British preparations was TNA: PRO, CAB 148/22, OPD (65) 132, ‘Contingency Planning for a Unilateral declaration of Independence’, Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 21 September 1965.

the DOPC gained sufficient momentum to seriously address many of the outstanding issues associated with the British Government’s likely response to UDI. 217 Nevertheless, in some respects UDI still caught the British Government unprepared,

–  –  –

International Publishing Corporation – which owned the Daily Mirror and the Sun newspapers – enquired whether Rhodesian funds in the UK would be frozen, he was told that no decision had been taken. This prompted him to write in his diary that a UDI ‘has been on the cards for four years, so surely the appropriate moves could have been decided before this.’ 218 Similarly, when the British High Commission in Lagos asked what statement it should issue to indicate to the people of Africa what action the British Government would take against Rhodesia, it found that there were no standing instructions. Consequently, the First Secretary had to concoct a statement based on what he thought the British Government might be considering. The press release, entitled ‘Britain Vows to Bring Down Smith’, stated that the British Government would implement economic sanctions, institute an arms embargo, and apply foreign exchange TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 43rd Meeting, 7 October 1965; OPD (65) 44th Meeting, 15 October 1965; OPD (65) 45th Meeting, 20 October 1965; OPD (65) 46th Meeting, 29 October 1965; OPD (65) 47th Meeting, 3 November 1965; and OPD (65) 50th Meeting, 11 November 1965, when it was determined that officials should meet as soon as possible to consider any further points concerning the executive action required that might need further reference to ministers.

King, The Cecil King Diary 1965-1970, p. 42, entry for Thursday 11 November 1965. For DOPC discussion of exchange control measures see TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 43rd Meeting, Item 2, 7 October 1965; OPD (65) 47th Meeting, Item 3, 3 November 1965; and OPD (65) 50th Meeting, 11 November 1965, when it was decided that until the Enabling Bill was enacted, probably on 15 November, it would be undesirable for any statement to be made concerning action to be taken in respect of Rhodesian sterling balances.

and travel restrictions. The press release was well received in Nigeria and – unlike elsewhere in Africa – no British diplomatic or cultural premises were subject to demonstration or damage. 219 These examples justify the comments of Paul Gore-Booth,

Head of the Diplomatic Service from 1965, who recalled in his memoirs:

One of the great difficulties was the idea prevalent in the summer of 1965 that, if the British Government were too obviously working on what would happen should Mr Ian Smith unilaterally declare independence, this might

–  –  –

The third problem associated with the Government’s contingency planning was bureaucratic conflict between the FO and CRO, which can be illustrated in two ways.

First, FO officials were worried about the poor state of liaison between the British and U.S. Governments. A sound understanding between the United Kingdom and the United States at the political and official levels was essential to ensure effective joint contingency planning to support the Zambian economy in the event of a UDI, which was Churchill Archive Centre, Cambridge: Diplomatic Oral History Programme, GBR/0014/DOHP 66, Cecil Roy Dean, First Secretary, Lagos (1964-1968), ‘The Power of a Press Release’, unpublished article, November 1965. For the reaction in some other African capitals see Foreign Office reports in TNA: PRO, FO 371/181883.

Paul Gore-Booth, With Truth and Great Respect (London: Constable, 1974), p. 331.

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