Lord Amery

Julian Amery was a man of exquisite manners; a generous, munificent host, who lived in the same house in Eaton Square where he was born in 1919.

He certainly had the trappings of wealth, with a butler at his beck and call and bottles of good claret to serve his guests.

When I went to interview him in 1993 he gave me a good lunch and spoke to me freely, not only as a seasoned politician but also as a man who aired his views with great honesty, without rancour or hypocrisy. I liked him immensely and will always remember the three delightful hours I spent in his company.

Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, Julian Amery was a war correspondent in Spain towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. He joined the RAF but transferred to the army and fought in the Middle East, Malta and Yugoslavia. In 1941 he organised the first military missions to the Yugoslavian Resistance Movement and was wounded in 1944, leading a force of escaped Russian prisoners. His brother John, who made pro-Hitler broadcasts from Berlin, was later tried for high treason and hanged in London in 1945.

Amery married Catherine, daughter of Harold Macmillan, entering parliament in the same year, elected MP for Preston North. Defeated in the 1966 general election, he became MP for Brighton at a by-election in 1969. As Minister of Aviation he was responsible for signing the agreement with the French government on the Concorde project. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1960. He was created a life peer on his retirement from the House of Commons in 1992 and died in 1996.

A convinced member of the right-wing of the Conservative party, he was a leading figure in the Monday Club for over thirty years. His second volume of memoirs was never completed, though his entire papers were accepted by the Churchill Archives.

Here is the full text of my interview with him. 

You grew up in a family which was as much a part of the Establishment as any could be. Has that ever worked to your disadvantage, do you think? 

It worked both ways, though I don’t agree that the family was so very much part of the Establishment. My father was a fellow of All Souls, but he didn’t have much money or any particular family connections. He got on to The Times and later became a leader writer and a supporter of Joseph Chamberlain in the tariff reform campaign, but that hardly puts him in the Establishment class. Perhaps at the end of it all he had graduated into it.

But you went to Eton, did you not? 

Yes, of course. That was not a difficult thing to do, however, and it hardly makes me a part of the Establishment.

Was your father the most influential figure in your life? 

Certainly. He always treated me as an adult and would talk to me about economics when I could hardly understand it. I grew up imbibing the atmosphere of politics and I met Churchill and other leading figures when I was seventeen or eighteen. It was part of the air I breathed. And later in the early part of the war when I was catapulted into the whole morass of Balkan intrigue, we had the shared experience of political interest in that part of the world. This made a great difference and established a partnership between us which otherwise might have been difficult to achieve.

Most children seem to have a period of rebellion, quite often when they are students. They become Marxists for a while or hopelessly idealistic about the world. Did you ever waver from the Tory traditions in which you were reared? 

Yes, indeed. My youthful political career was not exactly straightforward, and not all that Tory. When I was eleven years old my father took me to the House of Commons where I met Lloyd George who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I wanted to go into the navy. ‘Why the navy?’ he asked ‘There are much greater storms in politics, you know. If you really want the broadsides, walking the plank and blood on the deck, this is the place.’ The scales fell from my eyes, and his comparison of modern parliamentary life to Treasure Island made me opt for politics. My father was of course delighted, but I kept in touch with Lloyd George, and whenever we had mock elections in my school I was always a liberal candidate. Then I examined Communism and Fascism and it was only when I went to Oxford that I opted for the Conservative party, though I also joined the Labour and Liberal clubs so as to be able to go to their meetings.

Some people have suggested that the driving force of your ambition may have been a determination to honour a well-loved father’s memory. Do you see it that way? 

I certainly inherited my father’s views on the Commonwealth and the importance of Britain as the centre of the Commonwealth and a leading power in Europe, and all my life I was greatly influenced by his thinking. The year after he died I fought over what I thought was the last great battle of the Commonwealth, the battle over the Suez. When we gave in at Suez it was really the end of the Middle Eastern and African empire which Britain had built up over many decades. I was very sad at that, and it seemed to me then that our only chance of playing an important role in history was within Europe; and so while I did my best to defend what was left of the Imperial position, in Cyprus, in Aden and elsewhere, Europe has become increasingly the important area for British influence to exert itself. I see no other.

At the Oxford Union you spoke in favour of conscription which reversed the notorious ‘We will fight for King and Country’ motion of some years previously. Did your conviction spring from your mood of the time or was it ingrained in your background? 

It had been ingrained. My colleague in the debate was Randolph Churchill, who had by that time become a friend. It was the first of several campaigns we fought together. When I left the debate, I went at once and joined the Royal Air Force reserve.

You had what people would call a good war, risking your life many times in undercover operations. How do you look back on these years … with pride, nostalgia, perhaps with incredulity? 

I have to confess, with enjoyment. There were of course moments of danger, moments of discomfort, but if you look at the whole spectrum of that sort of life it was pretty agreeable. Sometimes there were three or four days without anything to eat at all, then there were the times, when we were sitting around in Cairo waiting for the next assignment, where all the delights of the flesh were available. Denis Healey once said I was nostalgic for the life of Richard Hannay in the Buchan novels. I don’t think that’s true, but I did enjoy those days.

Didn’t you work for the Secret Service? 

There were always two secret services, intelligence and operations. I was in operations. My role was always to do things, to blow up trains or bridges, or to shoot convoys. One of our more dramatic coups was when the Bulgarian government wanted to arrest, and perhaps to kill, the leader of the peasant party. I supervised the arrangements which brought him out of Bulgaria in a diplomatic bag. He was transported to Istanbul where we unpacked him and released him for his future activities.

Were you ever a spy? 

The word is of course derogatory, and a spy is someone who learns or acquires information. If the spying side involves itself in operations it loses its security.

Apparently you made a suggestion to Churchill that he visit his weary troops in the desert, and as a result you are sometimes dubbed ‘The Victor of Alamein’. Do you think that visit had a significant impact on the outcome of war? 

Who shall ever say? What happened was this: I was flown back from Cairo to London to report on our plans, and when I came to my father’s house, I found him lunching with Harold Macmillan, then a junior minister. They asked me what the mood of the troops was and I told them I thought the 8th Army was rather demoralized. When they asked what could be done, I told them that it would be difficult to change the balance of forces, but the balance of morale could conceivably be altered by Churchill visiting the troops himself. I then went on to the SOE headquarters where I received a telephone call summoning me to Downing Street. When I arrived, there was the Prime Minister in a boiler suit with a rather weak whisky and soda in front of him. Alanbrooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was also there, and the PM asked me to tell my story. Of course the Field Marshal didn’t like the idea of a junior captain, not even in a regiment, criticizing the morale of the army and he kept trying to interrupt, but Churchill said, ‘Let him talk.’ I told him if he went out and talked to the troops it would have a dynamic effect on morale. When I left Churchill thanked me, but I heard nothing for a while. Later of course he did go, and it was his private secretary, John Martin, who said to me afterwards that my talk had inspired Churchill with the idea, so to that extent I could claim to have won the battle of Alamein.

You were a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Did you have any sympathy with the Republicans? 

I went three times to Franco’s Spain. The first time was in the spring of 1937, and I came away rather pro-Franco. I went again in the summer of the same year when I met Philby, who was then The Times correspondent, and very pro-Franco, rather more than I was myself. Then in a hotel bar I ran into a German colonel of my acquaintance who was fighting on Franco’s side. We had a drink together and, referring to the Munich agreement, he said, ‘I think we’ve got the better of you this time.’ That was the moment I understood that the Germans and the Italians were about to fight against us, and this changed my whole attitude. The Germans and the Italians were using Spain to advance their control of Europe at our expense, and once I realized that, there followed a kind of Pauline conversation. I came back to England determined to see what I could do to oppose it.

You mentioned Philby. Did it ever occur to you that he could be a Communist spy? 

No, I met him once during the war and once after the war, and he appeared on both occasions to be a rather right-wing Conservative.

In 1950 you married Harold Macmillan’s daughter. In political terms I imagine this was a mixed blessing in that there were the inevitable cries of nepotism and an element of resentment that you had a direct line to the Prime Minister. Was that difficult to deal with? 

I would want to get the story in perspective. Macmillan was then not even in office, and when he did get into office it was as Minister of Housing, so he wasn’t at all a senior figure. I’d also known him before because his son Maurice was one of my closest friends at school, and I had often been to their house. But there were many steps between him and the premiership. I liked Harold but my affection for his daughter was entirely personal.

Macmillan aroused very different opinions, both as a man and as a politician. Some people thought his devious, a charlatan and ultimately a very cold man. In so far as you could stand back from family ties, how did you view him? 

Every Prime Minister has to be to some extent devious and cold; he has to sacrifice people. If you’re at No. 10 Downing Street you have to keep the Party together, the Cabinet together, you have to drive through the policies to which you’re committed. And Macmillan served all these well. He was enthusiastic for Europe, though it took him a long time to get the Cabinet and House of Commons to accept his proposal for Europe, and then he was defeated by De Gaulle. He was always determined to maintain Britain as a nuclear power which now everybody accepts, even the Labour Party; but it wasn’t accepted in those days, and he fought a good battle. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he gave in too soon to American pressures over Suez – I don’t want to say he lost his nerve, but he became frightened by the run on sterling. He then made it his first objective to repair relations with the Americans, which he did. And we have to remember that inflation in his time never topped three per cent.

And yet people call him the father of inflation. 

There’s a lot of nonsense talked now about the Macmillan government and its effect on the economy, but in the light of circumstances of the time he was doing just about the right thing.

But how would you rate him as a Prime Minister? 

I wouldn’t put him in the Churchill or perhaps even the Disraeli class, but I think he held his Party together, he held the country together and he was vindicated at successive elections. He was a very remarkable political operator.

When I interviewed Mollie Butler there was no doubt in her mind that Macmillan was determined from the first day of his leadership to the last never to be succeeded by Butler, even though Butler was the obvious candidate. Do you think that’s true? 

Yes. He thought of Butler as an extremely able, intelligent political leader, but he didn’t regard him as a commander-in-chief. I don’t think it was jealousy – in fact he had very good personal relations with Butler.

Most people believe that Macmillan rigged the results of the investigation into whom the Party wanted as his successor, and Enoch Powell even wrote an article entitled ‘How Macmillan Lied to the Queen’. What view did you take at the time and what view do you take now? 

I don’t think he rigged the election. What happened was fairly simple: the Lord Chancellor and Chief Whip consulted members of the Party as to whom they would like as leader. There was a strong vote for Quintin Hailsham and a strong vote for Butler. We were all asked, myself included, whom we would chose if we couldn’t get the candidate we favoured, and there was a very large vote in favour of Alec Home. The Prime Minister had no choice but to tell the Queen that the Party was divided between Hailsham and Butler, but there would be a consensus for Sir Alec Home; and so Home got it. I don’t call that rigging it.

Why do you think Enoch Powell in particular opposed Alec Home? 

The official reason was that he didn’t think a fourteenth earl had the right image for the modern Tory Party, but I think it was really that he wanted Butler to succeed. He thought that if the leadership of the Party refused to accept Alec Home then Butler would have it, but when the time came Butler wasn’t prepared to throw his hat in the ring.

That Butler was prepared to serve under Home was commendable in itself, was it not? 

It was a matter of political morals.

What did you think of Enoch Powell at the time? I believe you have described him as something of a werewolf. 

He was always a friend of mine, I always liked him, but he does have some of the characteristics of a strange creature.

Butler is often referred to as the greatest Prime Minister we never had and indeed people often say you are the greatest Foreign Secretary we never had. Do you think these labels are ones which emerge only when we have events in some kind of historical perspective, or is it the case that you felt at the time you were being passed over? 

Let’s take Rab Butler first. I think if elected he would have been a great Prime Minister; what I’m not sure about is whether he could ever have been elected by the people. Of course he was an able man, but he lacked charisma and I don’t think he was a natural leader, though he was a great chief of staff. In my own case, the only comment I would make is that there is a difference, not always appreciated, between diplomacy and foreign policy. Diplomacy is the art of negotiation; foreign policy is determining where the interests of your country lie. Looking back on the years between the wars I have a clearer view of where the interests of our country lay and would have fought for those rather than attempted negotiation. Anthony Eden, who was perhaps the greatest negotiator we ever had, fought very hard over Vietnam, where there was no great British interest, yet he surrendered in what I thought was an area of vital interest, in the Suez Canal Zone in 1954. This effectively meant the end of the Commonwealth as a world force, and a major defeat for Europe, and for British influence in Europe. Later on there was the Rhodesian crisis where again Lord Carrington achieved a great success in producing agreement between the different sides, but in my view at the expense of vital British interests in South Africa. So I have sometimes said that we have to be careful not to let diplomacy triumph over foreign policy; I would have put the latter ahead of the former.

Don’t you think the loss of the Commonwealth, or the loss of the empire, was only a matter of time? 

Not necessarily. It might well have survived. The resilience of the old Commonwealth was quite remarkable – in 1931 when we went off gold, in 1940 when we went into the war, in 1945 when we came out of the war – and with a little encouragement we could have kept the system going for quite a long time, perhaps indefinitely.

Would it be fair to say that your views are right-wing as opposed to middle-of-the-road? 

I never know what people mean by right-wing. My views on domestic policy have been rather centre, some might say slightly wet. Where foreign policy is concerned I’ve always taken the Churchillian view that you first of all identify the enemy, and having made up your mind where lies the threat, who is the enemy, you must stand up against them and take whatever precautions are needed to counter them. I’ve always thought it right to defend British interests and to take a fairly long-term view of what they are.

When Alec Douglas Home became Prime Minister your position became increasingly difficult and there was a move to oust you from government. Do you look back on that period as being particularly difficult? 

Unpleasant … but these things happen. I was perceived as an extravagant minister, with Concorde, TSR2 and space projects, and people were beginning to say we must cut back on public expenditure.

Do you think they were justified in trying to remove you? 

No, I think I was right. Concorde has been a great technological success. It may not have been a moneyspinner  but it’s been our little space programme and it hasn’t lost any more money than space has lost to the Americans and Russians. And the TSR2 and the P1154 would have been remarkable aircraft – they haven’t found anything better twenty years later.

I suppose you came close to becoming Foreign Secretary when Lord Carrington resigned over the Falklands. Were you disappointed not to have been chosen? 

I don’t think politicians should be disappointed. But it was perfectly true, there was a strong movement from the Tory backbenches to make me Foreign Secretary at the time, and I would have enjoyed the opportunity.

Your career was badly damaged during your time at the Ministry of Aviation in the last days of the Tory government – I’m thinking of the Ferranti business. How serious was the damage in your view? 

Not very serious. I think I overcame that. The Ferranti family were prepared to cough up the money which we thought they had unduly gained. They repaid the debt, perhaps even more than they should have done.

Before 1962 your career was extremely promising, and you were tipped as a possible Minister of Defence. Are you philosophical about the volatility of political life? 

You have to be, otherwise you couldn’t go on in politics. I’ve never been very keen on securing a particular job; it’s been much more important to achieve certain policies and objectives. There’s no point in being embittered.

You were Aviation Minister when Profumo ran the War Office. What view did you take of the Profumo scandal? 

I supported him as far as I could. He was a friend, he’s remained a friend, and I thought he was not really as important as the media made out.

The official reason why Profumo had to go was that he lied to the House of Commons, but of course the real reason was his involvement with a prostitute. Isn’t that the ultimate in British hypocrisy? 

I think they could have tolerated the involvement with the prostitute; the real reason was that he was led into a situation where he told a lie to the House, and this was an indefensible position to be in. Had he not lied to the House, and had simply admitted to the affair, he might still have had to resign but would have remained in the House of Commons, and continued to claim the viscountcy which was the right of any Secretary of State in those days.

The number of scandals involving MPs has increased over the years, or at least the diligence with which the media expose the scandals has increased. Do you think the private lives of MPs are a legitimate area of public interest? 

In principle no, but of course if an MP or Minister gets himself into a flagrant position it’s bound to be discussed.

Discussed is one thing, but hounded out of office is another. 

Where do you draw the line between the two? None of this is new … it went on in the last century, and it goes on today. I think the public will accept a good deal, and any incidental action on the part of a politician does not necessarily render him incompetent; on the other hand, a man who gives a lead in not only political but moral affairs, obviously can become a little ridiculous if he’s caught in the wrong situation. Before the Second World War, the rule was that if the wife didn’t complain the press had no right to complain, but in those days a divorce was a clear block to continuing in political life. That convention has now disappeared; indeed it’s sometimes said that you can’t get into the Cabinet unless you’re divorced. But the balance has not changed very much; things go on very much now as they did before.

Thirty years ago you signed the Concorde deal with the French. Was that your proudest moment? 

No. I suppose my proudest moment was when Nasser proved me right about the Suez Canal, and I was able to say in the House of Commons. Much more politely than I’m saying it now, ‘I told you so.’

You seem always to have had a thinly disguised suspicion of America and the Americans. Even in the 1960s when the cold war with Russia was at its height, you said you were more alarmed by the Americans than the Russians … what was the origin of this alarm and suspicion? 

Objective historians recognize that it was the aim of the American foreign policy to destroy the British, French and Dutch empires. I myself became aware of this during the Second World War when I was attached to Chiang Kai Shek’s headquarters in China. It became quite clear that although American policy was well aligned with our own in Europe and the Middle East, it was quite plainly anti-British, anti-French and anti-Dutch in the Far East. And Suez was the touchstone, Suez was the coup de grace. 

So you don’t believe in the so-called ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America? 

On the contrary, but it doesn’t alter the fact that there was an American policy to destroy the British Empire; and it succeeded.

Do you have difficulty in accepting the view that without the Americans we would not have won the Second World War? 

I don’t see how we could have won without the Americans. I remember a curious occasion – January ’41 I think it was – when I was invited to a little dinner party where Churchill and Harriman were the principal guests and the talk came round to how the British were going to win the war. There were still oranges on the table, though they became rarer as the war went on, and Churchill picked one up and said, ‘If I were a worm wanting to get into this orange I would crawl round it until I found a rotten spot.’ He then turned to Harriman and said, ‘But you’ve got to keep the worm alive until it finds the rotten spot.’ Without the Americans I don’t think we could have won the war, but we’d already got to the point where we weren’t going to lose the war.

Did you yourself ever have any doubts about that? 

At the time when Rommel came to Alamein, I think my heart never doubted, but my head may have wondered a bit.

Your own patriotism during the war must have made your brother’s behaviour all the harder to bear. I wonder how you think it was possible for two brothers born of the same parents and brought up in the same environment to have turned out so differently. You must have asked yourself this a million times – what is the answer? 

Although you talk about the same environment, he had in fact lived on the Continent for several years, and that made all the difference. He’d been involved in the Spanish War, and then came very much under the influence of Doriot in France. He was convinced the Germans were going to lose the war and that the Communists would sweep over the whole of Europe. This was a view that became increasingly prominent in the occupied countries. Of course it was not for him to intervene, and he was able to do so only because of my father’s standing. He should have kept him mouth shut, but he felt he had to say something. It was regrettable but understandable.

It is difficult to imagine the depths of disappointment, the shame, the anger which must have been wrought on the family at the time, feelings which must have been made worse by the heightened tension of the war. How did you cope? Did you talk about it, or was it suppressed? 

It wasn’t suppressed. My father offered his resignation and I offered mine; we were both quite clear that it was the right thing to do, but we were both refused.

Did your father ever manage to come to terms with what happened? 

Yes. He came with me to say goodbye to my brother in prison and indeed he wrote a short verse in the taxi which took us there, and I think it sums up his feelings: ‘At end of wayward days/You found a cause/If not your country’s./Who shall say whether that betrayal of our ancient laws/Was treason or foreknowledge?/He rests well.’

In the course of my research I was struck by the fact that although you said you might have killed your brother with your bare hands if you had met him during the war, after you saw him in prison your feelings changed. Compassion took the place of anger, blood was thicker than water perhaps? 

I think that is about true. Also, if I had seen him during fighting he would have been with Hitler and I would have been fighting against Hitler, but when I saw him in prison the war was over and the Russians were dominating half of Europe.

Did your brother’s plea of guilty come as a shock especially after all your efforts on his behalf? 

No, I think it was a logical act.

Albert Pierrepoint, the famous hangman, said that of all the people he executed your brother was by far the bravest. Did that make the pain all the harder to bear? 

No, I think it was appropriate. He was an Amery.

As an MP you have consistently voted against capital punishment. Is that shaped directly from your personal experience? 

It has been influenced by it. Within our legal system when someone is charged for a potentially capital offence there is a considerable delay while the lawyers prepare their case, then there’s the trail, the appeal, and even when that is rejected there is the appeal for mercy.  All this takes a long time and it exacts its toll on all concerned, especially the family, quite apart from the person charged.

You were a vociferous opponent of the Official Secrets Act and were against the lifelong confidentiality imposed on former members of security and intelligence services. Why was that? 

There used to be a very flexible arrangement under which former secret agents could publish their memoirs if they had first of all submitted them to the proper authorities. This was a very good system and it should be allowed to continue, because it is right that people who spend their whole lives in the Secret Service should be able to explain to their family and friends what they’ve been doing, provided it doesn’t endanger future operations. It is wrong to have a blanket veto on anybody writing anything, even about what they saw of butterflies in Anatolia. I produced what I thought was a rather good amendment which was accepted by the home secretary of the day. But he then went back on it – orders from No.10.

Do you think Mrs Thatcher made herself and her government look foolish over the Peter Wright memoirs? 

Yes. She was his best publicist.

In a BBC interview with Robin Day in 1979, just after the Commons debate on Anthony Blunt, you remarked that there were a dozen traitors in the House of Commons, a remark which you later – under pressure – unreservedly withdrew. Why did you make that remark in the first place, and why did you then feel bound to withdraw it? 

I was not in a position to prove that the members concerned had been bought by the enemy; I could only have attempted to prove that objectively they were siding with the enemy. Mr Speaker asked me to withdraw my remark, otherwise there would have been a long and complicated debate. And so I withdrew.

You had great doubts about American foreign policy, especially in South East Asia and the Middle East. Did you therefore have doubts about the Iraqi war and the reasons, largely dominated by America, for going to war? 

I had no doubt about the American decision to go into the war. I still have the greatest doubts about their decision to stop. In Churchill’s famous words: ‘I don’t know whether I would have dared to start; I would never have dared to stop.’

You once said of Mrs Thatcher: ‘Her aims have usually been defensible, but her methods deplorable.’ What did you mean by that? 

I don’t remember ever saying that, though I remember seeing it in print. I’ve always had great respect and considerable admiration for her. We didn’t always agree about Europe, but she made a great Prime Minister.

You have crossed swords with Ted Heath in the past over oil sanctions and he sacked you from the opposition front bench, and yet on other matters you have been closely aligned. Am I right in thinking you have high regard for Ted Heath? 

We’ve known each other since student days at Balliol. I’ve always liked him, and I am a strong supporter of the European Union, though I think he goes sometimes too far in that regard. I thought he was wrong about Rhodesia, and wrong about the Suez Crisis when he was Chief Whip, but we have a good relationship. 

And was he wrong about Mrs Thatcher? 

Well, that was his opinion.

You’re very diplomatic. It has often been said that personal loyalty is one of your best attributes. Do you regard loyalty as a necessary political virtue? 

Personal relations play a much greater part in politics than is generally understood, and loyalty to friends at home and abroad is of great importance. Sometimes necessity makes you change friends, but if you have to change friends you should always take steps to ensure that it is done with proper decency and decorum.

The Tories at the moment seem riven with disloyalty … but isn’t that ultimately a more honest approach than the normal closing of ranks in political parties? 

I’m not a great believer in open government, and I confess I’m rather shocked by the speed with which friends of mine publish their memoirs. They bare all sorts of secrets which would have been thought very indecent until quite recently.

Politics can sometimes be a dirty business. Have you ever felt a distaste or at least an ambivalence towards the political life? 

No. If you go into the business you should be prepared to get your hands dirty.

As a politician you concentrated your energies on the wider issues of national importance – some said at the expense of your own constituency and the local interests of your own people. Do you think that is a valid criticism? 

Not really. I managed to retain the wholehearted support of both my constituencies, in Lancashire and in Brighton. But I’ve always thought that the fate of more people is determined by what goes on abroad than what goes on at home. Whether with the old imperial connection or the modern European connection, or issues of peace and war, or issues of export and import, the British people are terribly dependent on what goes on in the world.

What would you describe as your greatest failing? 

Perhaps it was to take up positions that were not popular at the time – I’m thinking of my support for Britain’s imperial and Commonwealth role when it was unfashionable (though probably right), and my tendency to make realistic judgements in foreign affairs when these were thought rather reactionary. I’ve usually been a little out of phase with the mood of the time.

If you were to relive your political life, would you do it differently? 

I don’t think so, I might have made greater efforts to soften some of the things I said, and I might have tried to sell my views rather more plausibly to audiences who didn’t want to hear the truth; but I would still have taken the same line.

Do you think you will be vindicated by history in all the causes you have chosen to champion? 

All is saying a lot, but I’ve already been vindicated to a very large extent in many of them. The chaos that has overtaken Africa as a result of a premature decolonization speaks for itself; the successive Arab-Israeli wars came about directly as a result of Britain’s withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone; and the anxieties I expressed about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, alas, were proved well-founded.

You were an advisor to BCCI. Wasn’t that a major embarrassment to you in view of what happened? 

No, because I was merely a consultant. I was only ever asked for my judgement on the political climate, the validity of investing in Africa or Europe. I was never involved in the banking or the finance, nor would I have been capable of helping in that way; they simply wanted political advice, which I was happy to give them at the invitation of the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, who was a good friend of this country and a friend of mine.

But you didn’t suspect anything at all? Weren’t you taken in? 

I was never anywhere near their books. I had no idea what they were doing. I certainly don’t think I was taken in.

You began life with many advantages: financial independence, public schooling, intellect, powerful connections. You still live in the house in Eton Square in which you were born. Do you ever think that these factors have effectively removed you from the lives of the vast majority of people in this country? 

No. Don’t forget I was for eighteen years Member of Parliament for Preston in Lancashire, a very marginal constituency, and in order to keep the seat I had to see very much how everybody else lived. I never felt out of touch.

How did you cope with the death of your wife, your companion for forty years? 

Of course it was a terrible blow, I can’t conceal that, though up to a point I was prepared because she had been ill for a couple of years.

Do you ever think you might see her again in another life? 

I don’t know. These are mysteries which are not unveiled to me.

Were women very important in your life? 

The whole problem is this: Which is more difficult? To have to do with women or to do without them?

And what is your answer? 

It is a dilemma. Further disclosures will await my memoirs.

Though you have had a very distinguished career in politics, many have remarked that it is so much less than you should have had. You give no outward sign of being disappointed. Does that reflect your inner feelings also? 

What is the use of being disappointed? In life one learns that the prizes don’t always go to the ablest or to the ones who were right; they go to people who are better connected, or have the ear of the powers that be. It’s stupid to be disappointed.

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