Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker

Tory minister dropped after Suez who thought he had achieved far more in SOE than ever in government
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The Independent Online

Arthur Douglas Dodds-Parker, politician: born Oxford 5 July 1909; MP (Conservative) for Banbury 1945-59, for Cheltenham 1964-74; Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs 1953-54, 1955-57; Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Commonwealth Relations 1954-55; Kt 1973; married 1946 Aileen Coster (one son); died London 13 September 2006.

Douglas Dodds-Parker, then Conservative MP for Banbury, was a junior minister at the Foreign Office throughout the Suez crisis. His position was far from enviable. He was deeply unhappy about the course of action followed by the Government and did not believe that it would prove successful in toppling Gamal Abdel Nasser. As the minister responsible for MI6, he was well informed of the clandestine efforts being made to bring that about, but he thought that the decision to collude with Israel would rally the Islamic world against Britain and France.

Of all the options that had been put to senior policy-makers the one chosen seemed to him "the most disastrous combination of the unworkable and the unbelievable".

He was not against the use of force, nor did he feel any shame about secret measures to bring Nasser down. The cause of his disquiet lay in the policy's unfitness for purpose. He considered resignation, but felt that others would follow, including many officials, and that it would be too disloyal a course of action once Britain had effectively embarked upon a war. He consoled himself with the thought that, Anthony Nutting apart, he and his colleagues were accessories after the fact and had played no part in the decision reached.

However, he gained nothing by staying on to help the Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, in the long process by which the United Nations not only replaced the British and French in control of the Suez Canal, but forced the British government into ignominious retreat.

Dodds-Parker had not been Lloyd's choice as parliamentary under-secretary and was accorded no gratitude or credit for the way in which he had fought the Foreign Secretary's corner in the Commons in the latter's absence. His denials of collusion sounded hollow in his own ears since he knew them to be untrue. Because of his marriage to an American, he was deeply conscious of the strained relationships with the United States and of the way in which that had affected his own personal contacts.

His loyalty was ill requited. He was dropped from the Government in January 1957, and, while Harold Macmillan was ready to ease him out with an honour, Dodds-Parker felt that he had to decline it. He left politics two years later, after 14 years in the House of Commons, bitterly disillusioned. Recalling that Winston Churchill had advised him to sit out a parliament, he was ready to admit that a substantial legacy enabled him to resume his political career. He was elected for Cheltenham at the 1964 election.

His later political career brought him some solace. A keen supporter of a united Europe since a wartime meeting with Paul-Henri Spaak in 1941, he served on the Council of Europe from 1965 and was a delegate also to the North Atlantic and Western European Union Assemblies. He welcomed Britain's successful application to join the EEC in 1973 and was chosen to serve on Britain's first delegation to the Strasbourg Parliament. In the same year he was knighted for his political services. He fought his last election in February 1974 and stood down in the autumn.

When Dodds-Parker came to reflect on his political career in a 1986 memoir, Political Eunuch, he thought he had done more valuable work in any one month in the Special Operations Executive than he had done in his whole time as a junior minister.

Surprisingly, that work for SOE during the Second World War achieved no British recognition apart from a mention in dispatches, but the French gave him the Légion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre. His major contribution was as Mission Commander for SOE in the Western and Central Mediterranean in 1943-44, working first to Colonel William A. Eddy, the American marine who headed the Office of Strategic Services in that area, and then taking charge with an American deputy.

Their earlier operations were bedevilled by an order, secretly disobeyed, not to work with supporters of General Charles de Gaulle, but by 1944, under his auspices, Europe was well ablaze. Operation Maryland in 1943, operating from Brindisi, had freed Allied prisoners in Italy and armed the partisans: the Massingham mission had contributed substantially to the freeing of Corsica. During 1944 Dodds-Parker ceded direct control of operations for the most part, while making sure that, in the face of conflicting political and military pressures, the efforts of SOE were well co-ordinated and spread across no fewer than 17 countries ranging from France to Poland, the Balkans and Greece. He finished the war a full colonel attached to Shaef.

Arthur Douglas Dodds-Parker was born in 1909, the oldest son of a distinguished surgeon who preferred to work in Oxford rather than go to London. He was educated at Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read History. He joined the Sudan Political Service in 1930 and, after three years' service in Kordofan, he was posted to Khartoum as assistant private secretary to Sir Stewart Symes, the Governor-General. In October 1935 he attended the League of Nations at the outset of the Abyssinian crisis. His next assignment was to the Blue Nile Province and it was there that he began to be acquainted with the needs of clandestine work while building up a network of informants in north-west Ethiopia.

During his three months' leave each year, Dodds-Parker travelled widely in Europe, becoming increasingly conscious that war could not be long delayed. In 1938 he was in Prague, and after a brief trip to London, bitterly dismayed that Churchill's voice was not being heeded, he flew back to Prague to help anti-Nazi refugees. Later in Britain, with the help of The Times, he was able to secure the emigration of one such group to Canada.

He resigned his post, worked out six months' notice in the Public Security department in Sudan, and after a six-week visit to Ethiopia as the personal guest of its Viceroy, the Duke of Aosta, he returned to London. An attempt was made to recruit him for the SIS, but, preferring a more active role, he enlisted in the Grenadiers and was given an immediate commission.

In the spring of 1940 Dodds-Parker became the most junior of the group that formed the nucleus of Special Operational Planning and Action, initially responsible for Poland, but soon planning ahead for the possibility of war with Italy. In June he was despatched to Cairo, where General Sir Archibald Wavell, an old family friend, used him on a number of missions, the most important of which, and the most frustrating, was working with Orde Wingate to help throw the Italians out of Abyssinia.

Returning to London in May 1941, Dodds-Parker sought to apply the lessons learnt to clandestine operations, subversion and sabotage in Europe. Initially his section was concerned with transport in and out of Europe, including such high-profile operations as the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

By the late summer of 1942 he felt ready to take on fresh responsibilities and was appointed Operations Officer in the mission being formed to deal first with North Africa and then with operations into Corsica and France with Italy as a further possibility. It was the start of two years' hard work that brought him into control of a massive organisation totalling 2,700 people and operations that ranged from Spain to Poland and Greece to the Low Countries.

In 1945 Dodds-Parker was offered the job of Lord Gort's Military Assistant in Palestine, but instead decided to seek a seat in the Commons, holding Banbury for the Conservatives.

He became secretary of the Conservative Imperial Affairs Committee, a position that he preferred to service in the Whips Office, and came to be a recognised authority on the Commonwealth. When the Conservatives returned to power in 1951, Churchill asked him to become his PPS, but Dodds-Parker declined, opting instead to take the chair of the party's Commonwealth Affairs Committee.

He also served on the executive of the 1922 Committee until he was appointed Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in November 1953. Less than a year later he was transferred to the Commonwealth Relations Office to speak for the department in the House of Commons, but to his chagrin he found that successive permanent secretaries were reluctant to involve him in policy matters. When Anthony Eden, who had valued his services at the Foreign Office, insisted that he return there in December 1955, he exercised very little further influence, although he was able to advocate an independent Sudan.

His own standing in government circles was fatally damaged by Suez, but throughout the remainder of his parliamentary career he remained an influential backbencher, serving as Vice-Chairman, 1964-70, and then Chairman, 1970-73, of the Conservative Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Committee. In 1972 he led the first delegation of MPs to visit China since the Communist Revolution.

Urbane and very clubbable, Dodds-Parker was popular with most of his parliamentary colleagues and in retirement he became a ready resource for young historians, whom he entertained at the Special Forces Club. He wrote an account of his war in Setting Europe Ablaze (1983) and added his somewhat elliptical account of his political career, Political Eunuch, three years later.

John Barnes