With determination and with a sense of relief that the definitive parting of the ways had been reached, the Conservative Party voted against the Government’s Rhodesian policy. I was proud to go among them into the division lobby.
In the course of the debate Mr. Bowden, the Commonwealth Secretary, had addressed an extraordinary challenge to the Opposition benches. ‘Many Members opposite’, he said, ‘hold Her Majesty’s Commission. I urge them to think very deeply before going into the lobby in support of the Rhodesian rebel régime.’ I not only resent those words personally as insulting, but I claim that they ought to be resented by the whole country as unconstitutional. If a Member of Parliament has a duty not to go into the lobby against the Government on a particular issue, then he has that duty whether or not he holds the Queen’s Commission. The implication therefore must be that those who hold the Queen’s Commission are under some special and separate obligation on that account. This is a monstrous doctrine, which thrusts us back two centuries. It is equivalent to the Government praying in aid the Queen’s Commission in order to get their policies approved. I therefore tell my constituents, here in my constituency, that my duty to speak and vote as their representative in the House of Commons neither is, nor can be, influenced by the fact that I hold the Queen’s Commission, however great was the pride with which I received it from her royal father in May 1940.
The Commonwealth Secretary asks us to think deeply. It is necessary also to think clearly, and to free our minds as far as possible from cant and delusion. Lack of clarity has marked the Government’s course hitherto during these last thirteen months, with the result that that course had been one of tergiversation and repeated breach of faith. It has been a sorry story. The Prime Minister assured the House of Commons solemnly and explicitly in December 1965 that we should not go to the United Nations for support for the oil blockade; and then in April 1966 he did precisely that. In January 1966 he assured the Commonwealth Conference at Lagos that the success of sanctions was a matter of weeks rather than months, and now it is December. In November 1965 we flew a squadron of Javelins into Zambia and then in August 1966 we flew them out again. In September 1966 the Government told the Commonwealth Conference that there must be a period of direct rule, then they told the House of Commons that it might last only ‘for minutes’, and finally in December Mr. Wilson interpreted it to Mr. Smith in new and humiliating terms. Now that we are taking the issue to the United Nations, we are doing so with a perfect cat’s cradle of ‘ifs and buts’ and conditions and limitations.
All this that has happened, and the worse that is to come, stems from a kind of wilful blindness or hallucination which ignores the basic fact of the whole position. What that fact is I stated here on this platform a year ago in words I will repeat. I then said this:
‘There can be no responsibility without power; responsibility is co-terminous, always and necessarily, with power. It may or may not be the case that this country has the physical ability by blockade or force in combination with other nations to overthrow or overpower the régime in Southern Rhodesia. What seems to me certain is that this ability, if it exists at all, can only be exercised at the risk of chaos and bloodshed and of enduring embitterment both there and here.
If this is the extent of our real power today in central Africa, then our responsibility is limited but distinct. It is to recognize that the evolution of events in Southern Rhodesia, as in the rest of central Africa, is no longer ours to dictate, and that we must therefore adopt those actions and attitudes which, in the light of the real possibilities, are least likely to worsen a situation that is not ours to command.’
On television last week the Prime Minister disclosed that the Government had offered Rhodesia ‘an act of union whereby, until majority rule had been achieved, Rhodesia and Britain would become one country, with Rhodesians – European and African – elected to our Parliament’. I do not know what the people of Britain think about this offer having been made without their knowledge and behind their back so that they are only informed of it incidentally three months later. Presumably if accepted it would have been a fait accompli. If it was not meant seriously, then it was criminal levity. If on the other hand it was meant seriously, it was a hair-raising piece of folly and an outstanding example of the kind of hallucination and self-delusion which arouses the astonishment and ridicule of other nations.
A number of Church leaders including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York set their hand a few days ago to a statement which alleged that the ‘future of the Rhodesian people is a moral responsibility of Britain’. This statement can only be meaningful if it is in Britain’s power to determine ‘the future of the people of Rhodesia’. We have just been forced to admit, in the most humiliating fashion, what ought to have been obvious a year ago, that we do not have that power. Let me not be misunderstood. I would not presume for a moment to dispute any issue of religion or of morality against such authority; but ‘responsibility’ depends upon the prior question of power, which is not one of religion or morality but lies in a realm of practical judgment and ascertainable economic and military realities, where Church leaders have no more or less qualifications than the rest of us – including the individual who at the Liberal Party Conference earned himself the unenviable sobriquet of ‘Bomber’ Thorpe.
The Government already stand convicted by events of crass and manifest misjudgment of those realities. Yet despite all warnings and all experience, they have lurched on into a course from which, whatever is the outcome for others, it can only be humiliation for this country.
We have now stood up in the face of the world and told a big, black, bold, brazen lie. The Foreign Secretary of Britain on your behalf has declared that in your opinion Rhodesia ‘constitutes a danger to stability and peace in central and southern Africa’. How Dr. Goebbels would have relished that one; it is the very spit and image of Nazi technique. A country’s neighbours and others declare themselves dissatisfied with its internal affairs and utter threats of resorting to force against it. Thereupon that country is itself declared to have become a danger to peace and stability, and the mechanisms of international mob rule are set in motion not against the would-be aggressors but against those who are the object of the threats. When Mr. Brown says that Rhodesia is a danger to the peace of Africa, his logic is the same as Hitler’s when he said that Czechoslovakia was a danger to the peace of Europe.