Obituary: Sir Anthony Nutting Bt

ANTHONY NUTTING was one of the nearly men of post-war British politics, seen by many, including Harold Macmillan, as a future leader of the Conservative Party. But the Suez Crisis was to bring all these expectations to an abrupt end, and Nutting, who was only 36 at the time of his resignation, arguably suffered the greatest political loss.

Over 40 years later, historical opinion is still divided as to whether he was the martyr or the self- inflicted casualty of the unfolding dramas following President Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal in July 1956. The high point of Nutting's ministerial career is easier to assess, coming as it did in October 1954 when he negotiated the final stages in Cairo of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement, the prelude to the withdrawal of British troops from the Canal Zone. This marked a new phase in the history of Anglo- Egyptian relations and brought him into personal contact with President Nasser, of whom he wrote a substantial biography in 1972.

A handsome, elegant figure, Nutting was a protege of the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, to whom he was much indebted for his rapid political advancement. With his distinguished war record, and glamorous bearing, Nutting's career had many parallels with his mentor (Punch depicted him in a cartoon as "Eden's Eden") and, in Churchill's last years as prime minister, Nutting was seen by some as the heir presumptive to Eden, the acknowledged heir apparent.

But the Treasury benches are littered with the bones of future prime ministers, and, unlike Eden after his resignation from Neville Chamberlain's government in February 1938, Nutting left the Commons in 1956 and never held office again. It was a tragic and, in the view of many, unnecessary end to a career that had promised so much, just at the moment when it could have been expected to fulfil all the hopes placed in him by Eden. However Nutting felt himself unable to defend the Sevres Agreement with France and Israel over the invasion of Egypt, the dilemma that Walter Monckton told him he would have to face in the House of Commons, and for this he paid a heavy personal price. But, as Eden said at the time of his own resignation, "There are occasions when strong political convictions must override all other personal and political loyalties."

He was born in 1920, the third son of Sir Harold Nutting, second Baronet, a wealthy landowner, whose main seat was at Quenby Hall, Leicestershire, in his youngest son's future constituency. As his two elder brothers were killed on active service, Anthony Nutting succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father in 1972.

He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Leicester Yeomanry. He was invalided out in 1940 and joined the Foreign Service in Paris. After the fall of France, his intelligence experience was invaluable in Spain in arranging escape routes for Allied Forces. Later he headed the Scandinavian Department of the Foreign Office and in 1942 was Eden's Private Secretary, a post that defined much of his subsequent career and the first stage of a relationship that was to have bitter-sweet consequences.

Nutting's election as Conservative MP for the Melton division of Leicestershire in the Labour landslide of 1945 proved a golden opportunity and he swiftly rose through the party hierarchy, serving as Chairman of the Young Conservatives in 1946 (reinvigorating a flagging organisation); the youngest Chairman of the National Union at the Blackpool Conference of October 1950, and Chairman of the National Executive when the Conservatives returned to office the following year.

Nutting was an obvious candidate for preferment and Eden, whom Nutting would have preferred to see as Prime Minister, sought his services as Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, advising him never to take a non- departmental job because, however grand the title, that would be when he would be marginalised. When Nutting led a delegation to see Churchill shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister inquired: "Haven't I seen you before?" Nutting explained that he was Chairman of the National Executive and that Churchill himself had recently appointed him to the Foreign Office. "Well, you can't do both jobs," said Churchill and Nutting's path was thereafter firmly set in the international field.

In 1954 he was promoted Minster of State and for two years led, with notable success, the British Delegation to the United Nations and - a harder assignment - to the Disarmament Commission. When Eden finally became Prime Minister in April 1955, Nutting was seen as one of the charmed circle who bore the key of all his counsels. But the skies were about to darken.

In the autumn of 1955, New York papers publicised personal difficulties Nutting was experiencing. However, Eden stood loyally by Nutting, whom he regarded as a key player, resisting pressure from certain elements in the Conservative Party to remove Nutting from the Foreign Office to a less sensitive position. Eden was encouraged by Nutting's robust response to the sacking of Glubb Pasha as Commander of the Arab Legion in March 1956, but the ramifications of the unfolding Suez Crisis from July was to fracture their relationship.

In the absence of the Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, who was negotiating with his Egyptian opposite number, Dr Fawzi, in New York, Lord Salisbury was due to reply to the Foreign Affairs Debate on 11 October at the Party Conference in Llandudno, when trouble was anticipated from the right-wing Suez Group, led by Charles Waterhouse. Owing to Salisbury's illness, Nutting was drafted in at a late stage, "as a deputy for a deputy", to read the prepared text.

To placate the right wing, the party managers wanted Nutting to explain that the text was Salisbury's, but the speech was delivered as though it was Nutting's own ("Make no mistake," he said privately beforehand, "this is to be Nutting's day") and the forceful address contributed to the bewilderment his resignation generated in some quarters in November.

Two days after the Llandudno speech Nutting was present at the fateful meeting at Chequers when a French delegation outlined to Eden what became known as "The Plan", whereby the Israelis were to be invited to launch an attack on Egypt across the Sinai Peninsula, after which the French and the British would intervene to separate the combatants and regain the canal. When Eden said to the Duty Secretary, "There's no need to take notes", Nutting knew in his heart that their paths would inevitably diverge.

Nutting's resignation, communicated to Eden on 31 October, was delayed until after the invasion, but complicated by some Conservative backbenchers, now dead, who sought to impugn his integrity by a whispering campaign concerning his private life which they suggested was the real reason he wanted to "bale out" of both his office and his constituency, in an era when divorce proceedings could have profound political consequences for a Conservative MP. When Robert Rhodes James's biography of Eden appeared in 1986, and Suez was once more the topic of debate, Nutting placed a notice in the newspapers reiterating that his "resignation was purely a matter of conscience and principle".

Nevertheless, after his resignation, Nutting was regarded as an outsider in the tribal world of Conservative politics. It was an unhappy time. His first marriage, to Gillian Strutt, ended in divorce in 1959 after 18 years. Though there was never any rapprochement with Eden, Nutting wrote a generous letter to Selwyn Lloyd when he was dismissed as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Macmillan in July 1962 and, for his part, Selwyn Lloyd, who had once described the 1956 resignation as "Much Ado about Nutting", spoke in support of Nutting when he contested (unsuccessfully) East Oldham in the 1966 general election.

After this failure to re-enter mainstream politics, Nutting divided his time between his London homes, where he wrote on Arab affairs, and his farming interests at Achentoul in Sutherland, where he was a willing host. A series of books, of which Nasser (1972) was the most consequential, appeared and he was a consultant for the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), another of his biographical subjects. But it was the publication in 1967 of his account of Suez, No End of a Lesson, which fluttered the most dovecotes, involving the Cabinet Office and constitutional questions about the Official Secrets Act and a Privy Councillor's oath.

Although Nutting's book was to be superseded by later accounts, its importance lay in the fact that it was the first disclosure by a British minister of the events surrounding the Sevres Protocol. Many were outraged by the appearance of the book, but Selwyn Lloyd never regarded Nutting's account as being a case of sour grapes. "As a result of it," he wrote, "we have to face a number of important issues", and it influenced Lloyd's decision to publish in due course his own account.

Having waited 10 years to put his side of the story, Nutting was unlucky in its timing, for the publication coincided with the outbreak of the Six Day War, when even some of Eden's former critics were prepared to allow the possibility that contemporary events may have proved Eden to have been right all along. Demands for a debate in Parliament and an inquiry on the model of the Dardanelles Committee in 1916 never took wing.

In his later years, though weakened by arthritis and asthma, Anthony Nutting gave generously of his time to historians and researchers, an important witness to events which had shaped, and then ultimately destroyed his political career.

Harold Anthony Nutting, diplomat, politician and writer: born Shrewsbury 11 January 1920; Secretary to Anthony Eden 1942; MP (Conservative) for Melton Division of Leicestershire 1945-56; Chairman, Young Conservatives, 1946; Chairman, Conservative National Union 1950-51; Chairman, Conservative National Executive Committee 1951; Under-Secretary, Foreign Affairs 1951- 54; PC 1954; Minister of State for Foreign Affairs 1954-56; Leader, UK Delegation to United Nations and United Nations Disarmament Commission, 1954-56; succeeded 1972 as third Bt; married 1941 Gillian Strutt (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1959), 1961 Anne Gunning (died 1990), 1991 Margarita Sanchez; died London 23 February 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us