Posts Tagged ‘Falklands’

Lord Carrington & Mr Lee

August 17, 2018

 

 

Lord Carrington 6 June 1919 – 9 July 2018

We became friends about 40 years ago. After ten years he told me so. The postcards signed Peter Cin his cramped fist became Peter. Everything in Lord C’s life was explained.

He with three centuries of recorded history. Pitt the Younger’s banker; Uncle Charlie in the playroom of the future Edward VII; he, Leader in the Lords; Knight of the Garter; three jobs as Secretary of State; chairman of the Tories; High Commissioner Australia; chairman the V&A, Christies; Secretary General NATO.  Gainsboroughs on the walls.

Me? Conceived aboard a Thames sailing barge. First job £90 a year deck boy plus a shilling washing allowance in a rusting tramp ship ticking off every port and most bars in a two year circumnavigation.  No history further back than a grandpa whose name I never heard.

The rest, plays, books, university was catch-up. Carrington’s life was pre-ordained.

His background said there would be what he called big jobs. When Churchill telephoned to invite him to join his government, PC’s butler told WSC that his Lordship was shooting partridge. Could he phone later? When he did so, Churchill asked him to “join my shoot.” Macmillan liked that style. He said if all else failed, Carrington could always go back to his estates.

Two people quite different but we had in common, a belief in what we wanted from leadership and for society. Bobbity Salisbury meets Rab Butler: sometimes it’s better to do nothing. That, was true power. Thatcherism meets Tocqueville – democracy challenges liberty. The institutions, guardians of the former.  We the people uncertain about the latter.

All this over lunch at White’s or The Athenaeum where he complained about too many bishops eating too well in that place although he liked Norwich.

Lunch was always at 1245 and always done by 2 and he asked questions to see what I knew. We always ate the fish and rice pudding. He because it was nursery food. I because I thought it was.

I told him what I’d heard and he sometimes told me the truth of it. Carrington kept his secrets well. Yet, he bruised easily.

Over one rice pudding (no jam) he said how Mark Thatcher, was one of the few people he would detest for ever. It was a puzzle. Thatcher’s son declaring he had nothing much to do that day had gate crashed a lunch party for his mother at the Carringtons. Surely there was always room for one more? No. Cook and the butler were preparing. They were not to be messed about.

It was not a question of enough chops to go round. What would be discussed at the table was a matter of State so Carrington was annoyed at the PM for allowing her son, whom Carrington thought a shallow fellow anyway, to attend a sensitive meeting.

A failure of protocol and, perhaps worse, bad manners. Carrington never forgot.

Lessons of what was done and what was not done had survived the Carrington Code for decades as well as furious time keeping and grooming at Sandhurst. Curiously, from our totally different backgrounds, the ground rules were the same. The social distinctions were different, the reasons were not.

Strict and First Baptist Reform Church of Nuxley Road ruled that you were there on time, you said nothing unless it pleased, rudeness was as unforgivable as unwashed hands and minded manners kept your peace and encouraged the truth. Similar values. Different nannies.

Carrington in difficulty from Arnhem to the Falklands would always ask himself what nanny would have done. I, with fewer and lesser responsibilities, always wondered in fear what the Reverent Clifford would have said.

Thus we so different in origins acted out codes under the cover of at least half truths. The best half truth is in Limericks. A Limerick, he said, never fibbed.  Even recently, he was still at it. Strictly AABBA

 

A Remainder named May

changed her mind one day

And said Brexit was easy

And not at all sleazy

Even though Brussels said Nay

 

And just April past Carrington wondered why there was no political authority in the country. No true political leadership on either side. Where, he asked, were the heroes, the lions the big beasts of politics. Thatcher’s first Cabinet had five MCs with minds of their own. But no more.

 

A Knight of the Garter going grey

Asked where were the big beasts today

Told the Commons are empty

When once there were plenty

Said, only Ken, only Clarke, and he’s soon away

 

I sometimes thought Carrington only knew big beasts. I knew all his friends but mostly had to be introduced. Looking at me very carefully over a recent bit of fish he said it was not who you know, but who knows you. Carrington never had to say who he was.

In the early days he would introduce me to someone with “Do you know each other” – in other words, you will not have met before. On the other hand, except for the statutory three months silence in the Mess for an ensign in the Grenadiers, Carrington had never walked into a room without everyone knowing who he was.

There is of course here another Carrington protocol to master. I once failed to introduce him to a distinguished writer assuming they knew each other. They didn’t. He made it clear he was annoyed. I apologised.  Mm, he said.

The step change in our friendship came when I became his biographer and therefore everything I noticed inspired a question.

A new photograph or an obscure sporting print appeared in the boot-room. Why? Family connection? Had to go somewhere therefore not unimportant. An ordinary friend doesn’t have to think like an MI5 officer. A mannerism becomes, for the biographer, a motive. An aside from him is followed by “And then what happened?  When was that?” from me.

A friend doesn’t plunder private correspondence.  Friends leave skeletons unrattled. Casual friendship becomes redundant.  The rules change.

When we agreed I should write the Carrington biography he insisted it should never be published in his lifetime. That way, he said, you can write what you like, I shall never have to read it and we can still be friends. It meant of course one of the social protocols being abandoned.  I could never ask when we met, “How are you?”

Now the book is published.  Neither good friend wanted that.

 

Advertisements

Christopher Lee

March 22, 2013

Image

Thatcher Stripped Bare By Her Own Words And Deeds.

22nd March 2013
The Prime Ministerial papers of the almost late Mrs Thatcher (as then she was)  have been released by Churchill College Cambridge.  They show a bunch of second rate politicians and a Prime Minister who declared she was thrilled at the triumphs of her brave boys in war.

The fact that a bunch of guys getting shot at and too many of them killed were less than thrilled seems to have passed by the great lady.  The basic fact is this: utter incompetence by the government of the greatest iconic British leader of the 20th century after Churchill allowed the Argentineans to walk into the Falklands. The islands were defended by a handful of Royal Marines and a governor in a plumed hat who drove around the main island in a London taxi.

Thatcher was billed as a brilliant leader.  She was the Iron Lady. She beefed the European Union and she’s been promised a state funeral.  On the showing of these papers, she deserves nothing of the sort. Apart from a bunch of nostalgia-ridden Tories it is difficult to see anything in these papers that rate her any higher than second rate.

Her government was split over what to do after the Falklands were invaded.  She had a a chief of the army and the head of her airforce and a stand-in chief of the defence staff (yet another airman) who told there was nothing that could be done to get them back

If it hadn’t been for an old school admiral, the then first sea lord Admiral Sir Henry Leach, it’s doubtful that she would have sent a task force. He went to see her, told it could be done and told her if she didn’t do it that every tin-pot crackhead of a foreign dictatorship would be trying his luck with British interests worldwide.  It was the sort of thing she should have said in the first place but failed to.

She had a Joint Intelligence Committee that was so dysfunctional that it had no idea how to pull together all the Intelligence in-coming London, could not know if the analysis was even vaguely correct and couldn’t convince the Prime Minister of anything.

She had a defence minister who withdrew the naval guard ship, so suggesting to the Argentine government of the hideous General Galtieri that the UK did not care for the islands.  She had one of the few men she could trust, the sometimes brilliant Lord Carrington, in the Foreign Office who could not tell her in harsh enough terms that something was wrong in the South Atlantic.

On top of this, the one person in her Cabinet she believed to be utterly like herself, the now late Nick Ridley, made a complete cock-up of his reading of the House of Commons attitude to the idea of  a Hong Kong type leaseback of the islands to Argentina.

Thatcher was the boss – as she kept reminding people – and she surrounded herself with mediocre people who would not oppose her in the crucial first three years of her political reign.

So now, for this period anyway, the Thatcher Papers are on show.  They are supposed to make her luvvies even more adoring of the baroness, as now she is. Read them carefully.

Take one example and wonder. This is a Prime Minister who designed her foreign policy with Israel on the basis that she believed the majority of her electorate in her Finchley constituency were Jews. That about sums up the icon of  1980s political Britain. Incompetent and with doubtful integrity.  But none of us knew that.  We were proud in the UK of tough Maggie. How little we knew.

Christopher Lee

March 18, 2013

Image

Why would de Kirchner think Il Papa can fix the Falklands?

18th March 2013

The Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was in the Vatican today claiming that she had asked Pope Francis to fix the Falklands for her.

She said she asked him to bring together the two sides.  Presumably by two sides she means Argentina and the UK.  

Well isn’t that what happened in 1982? Didn’t the British kill enough of the Argentineans and sink their biggest cruiser and make them eat Falklands dirt (reputed to taste better than Falklands mutton)?

Seem to think the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a pretty big victory parade.  Didn’t hear many bands doing hot numbers in Beunos Aires in June ’82.

But back to now: the president, arrived to be the first to kiss the holy ring or whatever it is these people do in private.  Not so private was the shot of the pope giving the fragrant Cristina a big kiss – on the right cheek, just by the ear to be precise.  

Maybe popes should not go about kissing fiery widows who are on the make.  Before you know it, the word would be going the rounds that the swaying and elegant Cristina whispered to Il Papa that if he doesn’t fix the Falklands with the Brits then she may just not deny any stories that appear in the Argentine media that there was a time when she and Jorge Mario Bergolio were a little more than just good friends.  

Everyone knows that’s not true, but we all know how the world works. News editors on six continents  are waiting for the truth about Jorge and the Kirchners to emerge.

The irony of this one is that the Brits would love to do a deal with Kirchner.  The Falklanders have just this past week held a referendum on handover. Seems all but a couple of guys who don’t matter everyone down there in the South Atrlantic want to stay British.  They reckon any Argentina tin-pot who thinks differently  will be taken out by Prime Minister Cameron’s brave boys – that’s if he’s still got any after the biggest defence cuts in Conservative history.

But the lady’s line that the pope will fix it raises the spectre of  Francis being asked to sort quite a few outstanding differences involving the UK.  Let’s take just two.

Maybe he could persuade the British to give back the six Northern Ireland counties to the Republic of Ireland.  The fact that the British want to get rid of Northern Ireland and the Irish government don’t want it matters not.  Pope Fixes 100 Year Old Troubles would be a great headline.

He could even have a go at another Brit-Squatting issue – Gibraltar.  The Spanish want Gibraltar back.  The people of Gibraltar seem stubborn about staying British.  There are only 29,000 of them but they can’t be persuaded to go.  

The British don’t particularly want Gibraltar but it is a good place to put out retired ministers and generals to grass and be saluted.  About 80% of the people of  The Rock are Roman Catholics so maybe the pope wouldn’t want to upset them by suggesting that they be governed by the nice but inept Spanish.  Can’t see that one working either.

All this raises the point: if Francis has signed up for the poor and if as he thinks the poor are always with us, why would anyone want him to be anything else but a mendicant and nice guy and to keep out of politics.

That would be a reasonable line if it were not for the fact that the pope has form on this.  Last year during a service for Argentinean veterans of the 1982 Falklands War he said, and we quote, “We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the Homeland who went out to defend their mother, the Homeland, and reclaim what is theirs”

Not sure Jorge got it right about defending Argentina.  Didn’t they do the attacking? Maybe he was under pressure from the delectable Cristina.  Maybe she does know something or maybe in the context of his service he was saying that the soldiers simply saw things that way.

All this tells us three things: firstly, the British own a lot of places that others still want, or want back and if truth were known, the British want rid of them. Secondly, no pope ever fixed things publicly so why is the Argentinean first lady putting on the pressure? Thirdly, maybe she did after all get her ear nibbled.

Wonder what the pope emeritus makes of all this? Kissing in public? OMG Catholic cardinals only do that in private, surely.  But that’s another story for Francis to fix.