Another obituary

Posted by Tory Historian Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tory Historian is full of remorse at being late with the obituary of Francis Pym, Baron Pym of Sandy and a descendant of the great Parliamentarian, John Pym. Whether his ancestor would have been quite as impressed by our Pym as the many obituarists seem to have been is a moot point. Then again, Francis Pym did put up a fight against his leader and Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in the name of old-fashioned, paternalistic, one-nation Tory politics.

One of the great advantages of writing this obituary so late is that everything has really been said from every side from the exhaustive Daily Telegraph piece to the more intriguing article in MercoPress about Francis Pym’s role in the Falklands conflict.

The latter is written by a British writer but the dateline is Montevideo, so the article may be said to be something of an in-between effort. It is not what one might call complimentary about Lord Pym, though the comment that he opposed the war because of his own experience in World War II is a valid one. (Curiously, nobody makes that allowance for the people who had gone through World War I and were anxious not to have another one in the late thirties.)

The Telegraph obituarist, clearly and admirer takes a slightly different view and does not think that Pym’s negotiations with Alexander Haig and desire to have peace with Argentina showed weakness.

Pym became Foreign Secretary in the most taxing of circumstances, with Lord Carrington’s resignation after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. Passed over for the job three years earlier, Pym now found himself summoned in the hour of need. He brought to the office calm, precision, shrewdness and diplomacy, and, working closely with US Secretary of State Alexander Haig, secured valuable international support as Britain’s Task Force recaptured the islands. With Mrs Thatcher determined not to be thwarted by the United Nations or by well-meaning third-party initiatives such as the “Peruvian peace plan”, Pym delivered her the time and the diplomatic space to achieve conclusive military success.
There can be no question that Francis Pym was a most attractive personality, a highly courageous officer in the war (he won the MC in Italy) and a gentleman. Sadly, he was not a good politician and not just because he was out of step with the new(ish) more determined Conservative Party.

Whatever he may have thought about the usefulness of large majority, an election campaign is not the time to voice reservations. Although, the reason for his dismissal after the 1983 victory was more likely to have been Mrs Thatcher’s dissatisfaction with his stint as the Falklands War Foreign Secretary. She saw him as the creature of the FCO.

He supported both Heath, being the Chief Whip who managed to take the European Communities Bill through in 1972 on a majority of 301 to 284 and the man who was credited with turning the Prime Minister from his Selsdon promises, and Margaret Thatcher. As a consequence, and most unfairly, he was distrusted by both.

It is possible that his forte was being a Whip rather than a Minister but he is unlikely to have seen it that way. Let us, in all charity, describe him as the Daily Telegraph does
Francis Pym will be remembered as a brave, honest, highly competent and gifted man whose politics were old-fashioned and impeccably conducted. That he never achieved the highest office may have been a reflection of the times rather than of the man.
After all, how many politicians these days can be described as “brave, honest, highly competent and gifted”?


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