ARTICLES: BRITAIN AND THE RHODESIAN REBELLION

Wilson has therefore continued to insist that though the parties were opposed initially and persistently by a “deep difference of philosophy”, Smith (a founder member of the Rhodesian Front) had always negotiated “in good faith”. The trouble was, as Wilson saw it, and as he told Smith in the telephone conversation. “I am not sure that this is true of some of your colleagues. The question whether you can get them to take a reasonable point of view is something that only you know. I think you are big enough to do it, but I may be wrong”. This was not a view of himself that Smith was likely to accept; while accepting that there were die-hards in his Cabinet, he asserted that these were a minority, and, to deflect the implied criticism of himself by Wilson, preferred to emphasise the collective responsibility of his Cabinet as a whole, and the “Good faith” of those composing it: “I think it is possible that there may be a few that fall into the category you mention, but I can assure you that it is only a few, not the majority. That I can assure you”.

It is important to note that though at this point there was a “deep difference of philosophy” between the two sides, this did not constitute for Mr. Wilson any bar to negotiations (nor should it necessarily have done so, depending, however, on what Wilson’s negotiating aims were). To Wilson, in spite of existing philosophical differences, the negotiating positions of the two parties were, by November 11, “not irreconcilable , and that was the important thing. Those who could not see that some solution could therefore be negotiated were, as far as he was concerned, not honest holders of a different opinion, but people who must “want their heads examined or . . . must have a death-wish on them that is beyond what can be dealt with by ordinary rational argument such as you [Smith] and I have conducted”.

Time and time again Wilson has stressed this concept of the irrationality of the men in Smith’s Cabinet. He told the House of Commons on November 12 that a solution could not be arrived at because “there were men in the then Rhodesian cabinet who were determined at all costs [my italics] that agreement would not be reached”; that Mr. Smith had been “in these past few weeks, under intolerable pressure from some of his colleagues and from the unreasoning extremists of the Rhodesian Front”. The result of all this was that at the time of their telephone conversation, Smith was a “confused and unhappy man … ; further, on the day before UDI, evidence had been accumulating that “the then Rhodesian Front government were hell-bent on illegal and self-destroying action”.

Part of Mr. Wilson’s difficulty, we can see, was to discern whether, with profound differences in principle, negotiating positions could be reconciled; at what point the difference in principle could be deemed to be so “deep” that they would prejudice the extent to which “positions” could in any real sense be reconciled; and the coronary of this: to what extent negotiations about details or technicalities become impossible or peripheral to the main subject of discussion because of differences in principle or political philosophy. Mr. Wilson seems never to have been quite sure. But Smith, by the time of the telephone conversation, was. “It would not be right of me”, he observed to Wilson, “if I did not tell you that the feeling [within his Cabinet], seems to be that it looks as though this thing has gone too far … Is this not irreconcilable?” Wilson, however, did not think so. “The thing”, he replied, “is obviously reconcilable and there is not a point outstanding as far as I can see”.

Later, Wilson was to tell the House of Commons that “even as this day [Nov. 11] dawned . . . we had reared a situation settling every difference between the two Governments” in respect of the conditions and procedure for the setting up of a Royal Commission; in the light of this; he found it “incredible . . . that this action [UDI] should have taken place this morning”. However, he went on, as he had previously warned the House, “the differences between us have not been differences of legal drafting; they have not been differences of normal political inter-change. They have represented deep difference in philosophy – a gulf that we now know [my italics] could never be bridged because it was a gulf covering all the differences between different worlds and different centuries. At every point when agreement was near we were told that our positions were irreconcilable”. The cynic might say that this kind of explanation shows Wilson rather than Smith to have been, at this juncture, the “confused” if not necessarily “unhappy” man. Th whole conversation, one might suggest, is also a good illustration of the extent to which a certain mutual incomprehension is almost inevitable one of the consequences of negotiation by “hot line’ , where the scope of the subject under discussion is not previously clear to both sides.