Eighteen months ago when Mr. Macmillan appointed him Foreign Secretary, Lord Home was described by the British press as the “faceless and unknown Earl.” The Daily Mirror characterised the appointment as “the most reckless since Caligula made his famous horse a consul.”
The multi-millionaire Scotsman is no longer “faceless and unknown”. He is easily the most controversial figure in British politics and is rated as second only to Mr. Macmillan in the ruling Conservative party. Should Mr. Macmillan oblige his critics – whose number is said to be considerable – this “faceless Earl” could well be Britain’s next Premier.
Lord Home walks in fearlessly where angels fear to tread. He posed smilingly with the Portuguese dictator, Dr. Salazar, amidst the Angola massacres. His denunciation of the United Nations – double standards and exercise of power without responsibility by the Afro-Asian and Soviet bloc members – remains the subject of discussion here over one month after he made it on December 28.
Lord Home has not resiled from his position that the failure of the Security Council to impugn India for the forcible liberation of Goa is up to date the worst body blow that the world organisation has inflicted upon itself. He re-stated it only last week-end. Last Monday Mr. Macmillan fully endorsed him in the House of Commons.
The occasion was provided by the censure motion moved by the Opposition leader, Mr. Hugh Gaitskell. The motion was inevitably defeated. But the notable thing was that Mr. Macmillan virtually called Lord Home the most brilliant Foreign Secretary ever in the style of Mr. Eisenhower’s defence of Mr. Dulles and Mr. Nehru’s of Mr. Krishna Menon.
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As a new comer to the British political scene I am somewhat confused by the purpose behind this violent – not so violent in the case of Mr. Macmillan – denunciation of the United Nations. My trouble is the belief, probably naive, that senior British Ministers have a specific purpose in view when they speak. We are told that Mr. Macmillan spent two days at Chequers preparing the brief in defence of Lord Home.
In all conscience the United Nations is not without faults and weaknesses. It is no parliament of man; it was not intended to be one. Mr. Macmillan admitted a division in the Security Council as reflected in the East-West clash which he called a “fact of life.” Why, then, bemoan the fact?
‘One country, one vote’ is similarly not an ideal arrangement. But none has an alternative to offer. It is the same problem of Mr. Macmillan and his butler (if he can afford one) having one vote each. What irony that it is the leaders of democracy who object to the ‘one country, one vote’ principle and not the men in the Kremlin!
The grievance is that too many Asians and Africans have burst into freedom and therefore into the General Assembly, upsetting the good old order in which well-disciplined Latin American dictatorships provided the West a convenient majority whatever the issue and its merits. Latin Americans are becoming “undisciplined” and the Afro-Asians stay neutral in the cold war, voting the way they fancy. What is worse, they bring in their own resolutions demanding freedom for fellow Afro-Asians.
Thus it turns out to be a problem of adjustment with new “facts of life.” Britain has had to make adjustments with one fact or another since 1947 when she agreed to convert India from a colony to an equal Commonwealth partner. The demand on the British people’s proverbial resilience has been truly breathtaking.
From an Empire to an uneasy Commonwealth – South Africa had to be expelled last year under pressure from the Afro-Asian members – and one can only speculate on its final shape when all the British African colonies become equal members. From being a political and financial centre of the world, to having to seek on their terms membership of the Common Market. From a position of privilege to one of ordinary membership in the America-led NATO. Almost any people would find it hard to make adjustments of this order and variety.
But here is Mr. Macmillan, the best man available to lead Britain in this period of transition. He provides the link between backwoodsmen and liberal intellectuals in the Conservative party. But the danger is in the absence of an effective challenge from the Labour party, the backwoodsmen and the establishment may combine to overwhelm the liberal and radical Conservatives.
Mr. J.B. Priestley is already warning “I believe now that what the West wants to deter is the menace to money – and not to freedom.” Let us hope that is not where Lord Home comes in as the possible next Premier.
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If there is no real crisis of confidence in leadership it should be manufactured. Normalcy and stability are so dull and monotonous. Since Mr. Macmillan has completed five years in office without being able to solve all of Britain’s problems, someone had to ask him to go – in the name of God – for that evokes memories of the brave days in 1939 when Sir Winston Churchill thrust Mr. Chamberlin aside. Since the Opposition was unwilling to fill the bill, one Tory backbencher has done it.
If you do not know his name already, it is Sir Harry Legge-Bourke. He was rather disappointed with the television appearance by “Macwonder” and issued his ringing call “The time is coming for you now to hand over these responsibilities.” No other member of the Conservative parliamentary party has endorsed him. But he is on his way to fame. After all, Lord Altrincham earned fame by one article on the Queen when he called her voice a pain in the neck.
On all accounts Sir Harry is an interesting person. He began his career as a page of honour to King George V and later became a major in the Royal House Guards. He is considered an authority on ceremony in household cavalry. This is not quite the best preparation for a rebel, but there you are. The world is full of surprises.
This is not the first time he has rebelled. In 1954 he quit the party briefly over the plan to evacuate the British troops from the Suez Canal zone. In 1955 he refused to vote for the Conservative autumn budget. In impassioned addresses he has compared Zionism with communism. One of his interests is rabbits.
As a passionate unilateralist (a supporter of the demand of unilateral nuclear disarmament by the British) and an advocate of the Gandhian satyagraha technique, Lord Russell is admittedly controversial. This angry young man of 90 would hate being otherwise. But even he would have been surprised over the discovery that he is considered a “security risk” by the manager of the famous Albert Hall.
Lord Russell’s secretary applied to hire the hall for his ninetieth celebrations comprising an orchestral concert and presentations by various organisations in May next. Refusing the application, the manager explained that the insurance cover was insufficient to provide for damage in case of a breach of peace which he feared on the occasion.
In 1956 Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge – the author of the remark that the only Englishmen left are in India – was similarly refused permission to the use the hall to protest against the visit to Britain by Marshal Bulganin and Mr Khrushchev. But then the possible source of trouble was identifiable. Was it so this time as well?
The Times of India, 10 February 1962