Lord Carrington and Margaret Thatcher

Lord Carrington—style, wit and a touch of class

Thatcher's verdict rings true of this remarkable politician
September 17, 2018

Peter Carrington, old Etonian, hereditary peer and decorated war hero, was a man of laid-back charm and great diplomatic skill. A minister in every Conservative government from Churchill to Thatcher, he was at the centre of major events, from Bloody Sunday and the deal on Rhodesia heralding black majority rule, to the Falklands war, which led to his resignation. He died in July at the ripe age of 99.

As Christopher Lee’s biography Carrington: An Honourable Man makes clear, resignation was a leitmotif of his ministerial career. In 1954 agriculture minister Thomas Dugdale resigned for mistakes his civil servants had made without his knowledge. Carrington, his junior minister, offered to go too but Winston Churchill decided one scalp was enough. Harold Macmillan turned down Carrington’s attempt to resign over the Soviet spy scandals.

After Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, Carrington threatened to resign at least three times, going eventually over the Falklands. He has been hailed ever since as the last minister to resign as a matter of honour—and he deserves the plaudits. Though it should be mentioned that he only sent his resignation letter after reading an excoriating leader in The Times.

This book provides a fascinating perspective on over half a century of British political history through the career of one man. Yet it is strangely short on descriptions of people or places. There is also little on Carrington’s personal life, though it is the interplay between private and public that can bring a biography alive. Despite some impressive research, including hitherto unreported conversations with Carrington himself—who kept no diary—this book could have been far more illuminating.

Thatcher captured Carrington’s personality best. He had been close to Heath but she kept him on in Cabinet, reflecting: “He was not of my way of thinking… but he brought style, experience, wit and a touch of class.”

Carrington: An Honourable Man by Christopher Lee (Viking, £25)