A few years ago, I made a documentary for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive Hour’ about Sir Fitzroy MacLean, war hero, adventurer and Tory MP. We needed political contemporaries to contribute recollections and the question arose, to put it delicately, if Lord Carrington was still available.
Having confirmed that he was, we arranged to meet in the House of Lords. If I anticipated a frail nonagenarian who might need a bit of prompting, I could not have been more wrong. He positively bounded down the stairs, was as sharp as a tack and we had a great conversation.
Carrington died this week at the age of 99. As Foreign Secretary, he tried to negotiate a solution to the Falkands anomaly which recognised the Argentinian interest. When Argentina invaded, he resigned because, as he later wrote: “The nation feels there has been a disgrace ... The disgrace must be purged. The person to purge it should be the minster in charge. That was me”.
By any standards, Carrington was a toff. When I asked if he was the longest-serving member of the Lords, he laughed and replied: “By a country mile!” He inherited his title in 1937 and took his seat after winning the Military Cross. Toffs at their best can be remarkable people with a real ethos of public service, which it should be possible to recognise even when you disagree with them.
Cardboard toffs, on the other hand, tend to be cads, as personified by another Foreign Secretary. I defer to John McKendrick QC, the Attorney General of Anguilla, who tweeted a picture of himself with Boris Johnston and recalled: “Meeting the worst Foreign Secretary we’ve ever had amongst the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Anguilla. Disinterested and out of his depth, he cared nothing for our situation. Good riddance.”
And so say all of us.