It would be easy to see Lord Salisbury as a waning, once-powerful, aristocratic figure , a political hermit who has returned to his manorial cave. But behind him he has left the legacy of a lifetime’s support of white minority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa, with total opposition to African independence.
Born in 1893 and educated at Eton and Oxford, Salisbury’s life followed a predictable course for one in his position. He comes as the latest in a long line of political power stretching back to the reign of Elizabeth I. His ancestor, William Cecil, was Elizabeth I’s Lord Chancellor; his grandfather was Victoria’s Prime Minister in the 19th century. The Cecil family, like the Malboroughs and Norfolks, have been one of Britain’s ruling dynasties for centuries.
From Eton to Christchurch, Oxford, to the Grenadier Guards, to the Lords, he moved correctly through all the paces. In the Guardian, Geoffrey Moorhouse wrote of him, “no other man represents a moribund English species as completely as the fifth Lord Salisbury”. (1)
His political career is formidable. He has served both in the Commons and the Lords and has been responsible for Colonial and Dominion affairs, as well as being Leader of the House of Lords. He could well have been Prime Minister after Eden.
A member of the Conservative party who has served them in high office, Salisbury has not hesitated to break with the Party when the old imperialist ideals which he espouses have begun to founder. In 1957 he resigned from the Cabinet because he disagreed with the terms under which Archbishop Makarios was released from prison.
Harold Macmillan’s famous ‘wind of change’ speech in March 1961 again caused Salisbury to disassociate himself from new trends inside his own party: he would not accept the inevitability of African independence and resigned from his local constituency association. A Times leader on the occasion said, ‘the danger of his own policy is that it may encourage stubborn attitudes among African whites in his blind resistance to change’. (2) Hugh Fraser, Under Secretary of State for the Colonies was moved to comment : “Lord Salisbury has done nothing to drive out fear. To the ignorant he may have built an illusion that white extremism might be favoured by important people in this country”. (3)
S. J. Collett, Chairman of Hertfordshire Conservative Association commented on the resignation, ‘There must be some people who support Lord Salisbury’s view, but I have not come across any”. (4)
These brief facts concerning Lord Salisbury’s political career are important in an analysis of his politics because it is apparent that the principles of conservatism and traditional allegiance to the Crown are as much a part of his inheritance as his title.
Patriotism and the Empire resound through the Cecil family and with it a kind of moral absolute that links exploitation of the African in the colonies with Britain’s power and prosperity. To this end, the noble Lord has been an active campaigner in support of white rule in Africa. In constituency Conservative associations, through his links with the Tory right-wing Monday Club (he was one of the founders) , and, until recently through his presidency of the Anglo-Rhodesian Society, “an organization which exists to promote good relations between Great Britain and Rhodesia : and that, too, is my own aim which I have steadily pursued”.(5)