Obituary: Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe
Tuesday 08 December 1992
CHARLES Mott-Radclyffe was one of the most engaging figures in the House of Commons, from his election for Windsor in 1942 to his retirement in 1970. He was immensely jovial; a splendid raconteur; and a kind, patient and informed guide to newly elected members, bewildered by the complicated procedures - and even more complicated geography - of the House. His bluff and jolly manner, however, belied his possession of a shrewd and intelligent mind and a formidable capacity for hard work: those who were so vastly entertained by him in the smoking-room often found it hard to grasp that his conviviality concealed - probably deliberately - his more formidable qualities. While he never held high office in government, he gave sterling service to the Conservative Party and his country.
If ever the cliched description 'knight of the shires' could be applied to an MP it could justly applied to Charlie Mott-Radclyffe. He was born on Christmas Day 1911, the scion of two landed Norfolk landed families. When he was four years of age his father was killed at the Battle of Loos. Brought up by his mother, he went to Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, where he evinced a serious interest in politics.
Then, with the war, having served as an unpaid attache to the British ambassadors in Athens and Rome, he joined his father's old regiment, the Rifle Brigade. Between 1940 and 1941 he served - as a liaison officer - with the Allied Military Mission to Greece. When Germany decided to reinforce Italian troops pinned down by the Greek army and irregular forces, he escaped the ensuing debacle in a tiny boat. He was, eventually, evacuated to Egypt and from thence was posted, again as a liaison officer, to Damascus. In 1941, however, he rejoined his regiment. The tide of the war was beginning, albeit slowly, to turn. Mott-Radclyffe fought in the desert battles of North Africa, and the grim and painful battle for Italy.
With victory for the Allies assured, Mott-Radclyffe went into politics. He served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for India in the coalition government headed by Winston Churchill. At the formal end of the war and after the heavy Conservative defeat in the general election of 1945 he became a junior whip for his party. He was, perhaps, too genial, and too understanding of MPs' problems, to be altogether effective at this most demanding of jobs.
But, when he went to the back benches, he was able to indulge in his two passions - defence, and foreign policy, with particular reference to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. For eight years from 1951 he was Chairman of the Conservative backbench Foreign Affairs Committee. In a sense, he was an unofficial whip during the Suez war of 1956, and he sought valiantly, and reasonably successfully, to heal the divisions within the Tory Party created by that unfortunate misadventure. His knighthood was, at least in part, a reward for his efforts.
He was, speaking in general terms, on the right wing of his party. But his bump of irreverence saved him from being strident. He wrote an exceptionally intelligent prognosis of the developing crisis in Cyprus. Alas, the Government did not attend to it. He was one of the more radical members of the Plowden Commission on British representation overseas. Again, his recommendations were not heeded. In 1970 he decided to retire.
But, if this decision marked his departure from politics (his friends thought he was disappointed not to have received serious minsterial office, but, if so, he did not show it) he had still much to offer in public life. He became a High Sheriff of Norfolk, and its Deputy Lieutenant. He had been, until he left Parliament, deeply involved in the preservation of historical buildings.
There are two other things to be noted about him as a public figure. The first (not in chronological order) was his stout opposition to the renewal of sanctions on the rebel government of Ian Smith in Rhodesia. The other - much earlier, in 1963 - was his resignation from the board of Norwich Union Insurance. The chairman of the company, Lord Mancroft, was forced out of office by the pressure of Arab financial interests, because he was a Jew. Mott- Radclyffe went too. While his Rhodesian decision might be put down to his right-wing views, the other could not: it was a statement of principle; and principle governed his life.
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