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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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as to persuade the left wing of the Labour Party that similar incursions into Rhodesia, however morally justified, was a practical proposition. 137 General Sir William Jackson and Field Marshal Lord Edwin Bramall, The Chiefs. The Story of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff (London: Brassey’s, 1992), p. 370.

Dr David Kerr, MP for Wandsworth and Parliamentary Private Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1967-69, in ‘Rhodesian UDI’, ICBH Witness Seminar, 6 September 2000, Session One Transcript, p. 26. http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia In these circumstances the Labour Government felt constrained by its parliamentary majority, which by the time of UDI was down to just one seat. 138 Ben Pimlott has observed: ‘A handful of Labour back-benchers could hold the precarious Government to ransom … there was the nightmare possibility of a war strategy collapsing because of lack of parliamentary support.’ 139 Labour MPs who may have defied the Party Whip included Woodrow Wyatt, Desmond Donnelly, Reginald Paget and Frederick Bellenger. 140 On the other hand, Wilson could probably have counted on the votes of most of the Liberals, which would have offset the adverse effect of any minor backbench rebellion in his own party. 141 The leader of the Liberal Party, Jo Grimond, spoke publicly about the possibility of Liberal parliamentary support in relation to those issues on which the Liberals felt most strongly committed, such as industrial co-ownership and Europe. 142 Although Grimond did not mention Rhodesia as a case in which Liberals would offer parliamentary support, it is reasonable to speculate that he and his colleagues would have supported military intervention. Jeremy Thorpe, MP for North Devon and leader of the Liberal Party from 1967, later wrote that British troops should have been stationed in Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 181.

Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 374. Good also asserted that a vote ‘would have been a near thing.’ UDI, p. 63.

B. Reed and G. Williams, Denis Healey and the Policies of Power (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1971), p. 190; Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 59. Bottomley, Commonwealth, Comrades and Friends, p. 141.

Good, UDI, p. 63; Bottomley, Commonwealth, Comrades and Friends, p. 141.

Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 138.

Zambia and suggested that ‘the first shot to be fired at a British soldier would galvanise world opinion and give the British Government complete freedom to act.’ 143 According to Barbara Castle, Minister for Overseas Development, ‘Harold Wilson was obsessed with the need to get a consensus with the Conservatives on Rhodesia if at all possible.’ 144 Wilson largely succeeded in maintaining a bipartisan approach, though it should not be imagined that Conservative Party views on Rhodesia were monolithic.

There was a small, but vocal, Rhodesia Lobby, headed by Lord Salisbury and Patrick Wall, which expressed its views mainly through the right-wing Monday Club. There was also a small faction of Progressives, whose views counterbalanced those of the Rhodesia Lobby. 145 However, the vast majority of Conservative MPs were uncommitted on the Rhodesian issue, which reflected the fact that it was so controversial. 146 The intention of Jeremy Thorpe, In My Own Time. Reminiscences of a Liberal Leader (London: Politico’s, 1999), p. 168.

Thorpe’s predecessor as party leader did not mention the issue of Rhodesian independence in his recollections. Jo Grimond, Memoirs (London: Heinemann, 1979).

Barbara Castle, The Castle Diaries, 1964-1970 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), p. xv. See also the comments of Sir Oliver Wright in ‘Rhodesian UDI’, ICBH Witness Seminar, 6 September 2000, Session One Transcript, p. 30. http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia Sue Onslow, ‘The Conservative Party and UDI’, paper prepared for ‘Rhodesian UDI’, ICBH Witness Seminar, 6 September 2000, http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia; and Mark Stuart, ‘A Party in Three Pieces: The Conservative Split over Rhodesian Oil Sanctions, 1965’, Contemporary British History Vol. 16 No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 51-88.

Sir Teddy Taylor, MP for Glasgow Cathcart, in ‘Rhodesian UDI’, ICBH Witness Seminar, 6 September 2000, Session Two Transcript, p. 50. http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia The Conservative Party may have learned its lesson from the issue of Northern Rhodesian independence, which according to Philip Murphy came close to splitting the Party. Party Politics and Decolonization. The Conservative Party and British Colonial Policy in Tropical Africa 1951-1964 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 184-90.

the Party leadership to steer a moderate course was evident at the party’s annual conference in October 1965. The Rhodesia Lobby pushed for a motion to declare the Party’s total opposition to the use of military force or the imposition of economic sanctions, but the Party leadership defeated the proposed amendment and the official motion merely expressed hope that a UDI would not occur and that a settlement would be

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Conservative Leader, Edward Heath, faced a dilemma: ‘should [he] behave as the responsible leader of a government-in-waiting or take a more combative approach, which would appeal to his imperialist-minded right wing and the Conservative constituency associations, large numbers of whom were known to be sympathetic to Ian Smith?’148 If Heath had adopted a more adversarial approach over Rhodesia it would have been a political mistake because ‘Wilson could have claimed that the Opposition was being disloyal, endorsing an unconstitutional act, and racist in appearing to endorse a white regime.’ 149 It may be argued that if the Labour Government had decided to use force against Rhodesia the Conservative predicament would have been no different, which brings into question Wilson’s later claim that Heath ‘would have led a united party, and almost certainly won majority support in the country.’ 150 The reality of the situation in the Conservative Party became transparent in December 1965, with the three-way split over the policy of oil sanctions against Rhodesia. William Whitelaw, the Conservative Chief Whip at the time, later recalled, ‘I always said that my biggest failure as Chief Whip, was that I had a party in three pieces.’ 151 It is hard to imagine that the very deep Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 42.

Stuart, ‘A Party in Three Pieces’, p. 53.


Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 181.

Stuart, ‘A Party in Three Pieces’, p. 52.

rifts within the Conservative Party would have suddenly receded into the background if the Labour Government had decided to use force against Rhodesia. It is more likely that British military intervention would have exacerbated rather than relieved Conservative discomfort.

The Wilson Government was also sensitive to public opinion on the use of force against Rhodesia. Public opinion does not necessarily imply the detailed scrutiny of government policy, particularly foreign policy, in which the vast majority of the public has no real interest. 152 However, according to Paul Dixon ‘British political and military elites have perceived public opinion and the impact of casualties to be a significant or important constraint in military interventions.’ 153 In the case of Rhodesia there was also potential linkage with domestic issues. The 1964 general election result had shown that black immigration was an emotive subject in Britain, which gave Wilson some political

difficulties. 154 Wilson’s Political Secretary, Marcia Williams, recalled in her memoirs:

We realized that politically it was going to be very hard going indeed to convince the general public that Ian Smith was a right-wing reactionary The Rhodesian problem was not even an issue in the general election of October 1964. D. Butler and A.

King, The British General Election of 1964 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1965), p. 121. Cited in Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 29.

Paul Dixon, ‘Britain’s “Vietnam Syndrome”? Public opinion and British military intervention from Palestine to Yugoslavia’, Review of International Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1 (January 2000), p. 101.

Patrick Gordon Walker was defeated in his Smethwick constituency by the Conservative candidate, Peter Griffiths, who had run an overtly racist campaign. Walker nevertheless accepted the position of Foreign Secretary in Wilson’s Cabinet, but resigned when he failed to secure a parliamentary seat in a byelection. Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 29 and 65-66.

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government in Rhodesia, and to convince them that the actions which Ian Smith was advocating could not be tolerated or accepted by the United

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No doubt there were many in Britain who sympathised with Rhodesian ‘kith and kin’ and saw them as upholding Christian values, bringing civilization to Africa, and resisting the spread of Communism. However, this did not mean that the British public was entirely supportive of the white Rhodesian political agenda. Soon after Ian Smith made a visit to London for talks with Wilson in October 1965, an opinion poll showed that the British public was divided almost equally three ways between sympathy for the Europeans in Rhodesia, Africans and ‘neither/both’. An overwhelming majority believed that independence should not be granted unless the conditions were acceptable to Rhodesians as a whole. However, there was almost no support for military intervention in the event of a UDI, with a majority in favour of referring the issue to the United Nations. 156 During Smith’s visit, a Gallup Poll found that 41 per cent approved of the British Government’s handling of the problem, 24 per cent disapproved and 35 per cent were undecided. After UDI, however, approval of British policy rose to 68 per cent and disapproval fell to 12

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suggests that, with careful handling, the Labour Government could have engineered a M. Williams, Inside Number 10 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972), p. 62.

Only two per cent were in favour of the use of military force, while 63 per cent wanted the matter taken to the United Nations (as noted above, p. 102). National Opinion Poll Bulletin, Special Supplement 1, Rhodesia (October 1965). Cited by E. Silver, ‘Mr Wilson, the Public and Rhodesia’ Venture, Vol. 18 (February 1966), p. 4.

Gallup (October-November 1965). Cited by Silver ‘Mr Wilson, the Public and Rhodesia’, p. 5.

public consensus on the use of force, particularly as the public was poorly informed on the Rhodesian question. 158 Wilson might, for example, have exploited the indignity that he felt when he saw Rhodesian maltreatment of African nationalists whilst he was in Rhodesia in late October 1965. 159 This would have capitalised on the anti-imperialist and anti-racialist trend that had been developing in Britain since the Suez Crisis, which had been advanced by several crises and scandals such as the Nyasaland Emergency (March 1959), the atrocities at Hola detention camp (July 1959), the Sharpeville massacre (March 1960), and repression in Cyprus.

Nicholas Owen has argued that these incidents were:

of crucial importance in enabling anti-colonialists to sustain the momentum of their campaign. It gave them an opportunity to tap the sympathies of hitherto undecided audiences such as church groups and university students. It enabled them to turn the tables on those opponents who had argued that the colonial framework was a guarantee of public order. They could also point to a widening international consensus that the repression of colonial dissent had become illegitimate and as such damaging to Britain’s reputation at the United Nations and elsewhere. 160 Such arguments were articulated by the liberal and socialist press: The Observer, The Guardian, New Statesman, and Tribune, all of which urged the Labour Government not to Rhodes House Library [hereafter RHL], Oxford: Papers of the Africa Bureau, MSS Afr. s1681, Box 258 File 2, Conference Report, 10 February 1965.

Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 158-60.

Nicholas Owen, ‘Critics of Empire in Britain’, in Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis, The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume IV: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 206.

compromise with Ian Smith. 161 Pressure groups such as the Fabian Society, the Africa Bureau and the Movement for Colonial Freedom also attempted to influence the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Government to take military action against Rhodesia. 162 Even the Archbishop of Canterbury put forward a case for military intervention. Shortly before UDI, Dr Michael Ramsay issued a message on behalf of the British Council of Churches, which assured the Government that many Christians would support the use of force if all other efforts to find a solution failed. A group of 35 MPs sent a message to the Archbishop, congratulating the Council of Churches on its courageous stand. 163 Douglas Anglin has noted that ‘The individuals and groups in Britain prepared to support military measures were less numerous, vocal, and well connected and less well organized and financed than the powerful Rhodesia lobby.’ 164 Nevertheless, political and public See, for example, ‘No Munich in Africa’, The Observer, 3 October 1965, an editorial piece in which it was argued that if talks between Wilson and Smith broke down, the British Government should secure agreement to send Commonwealth and American forces, under OAU agreement, to Zambia and Malawi. It was argued that this would signal intent that a UDI would not be allowed to succeed.

BLPES: Papers of the Fabian Society, J73a/1 ff. 22-24, ‘Appeal to All Labour MPs on Rhodesia by the Africa Bureau’, (n.d. but probably September 1965); RHL Oxford: Papers of the Africa Bureau, MSS Afr.

s1681, Box 258 File 5, ‘Note on Rhodesia Meeting Convened by Africa Bureau, House of Commons, 6 December 1965’; School of Oriental and African Studies, London: Archives of the Movement for Colonial Freedom, Box 84, Fenner Brockway, ‘Sanctions are not enough’, Colonial Freedom News (December 1965).

These included a wide cross-section of the PLP, ranging from Eric Heffer on the Left to Shirley Williams on the right, and a few Liberals. Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 61.

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