Harold Wilson, who knows where the votes come from, has never lost any sleep over upsetting his left wing. So we know what to expect from any negotiations over Rhodesia.
It was clear that the stands originally taken in both London and Salisbury left no chance for discussion. Something had to give if the two sides were ever to talk to each other again. In other words, some promises would have to be broken, some vows once fervently taken would have to be betrayed, some fierce political infighting takes place.
Smith’s political problems were severe, only partly solved by the purge which got rid of men like Lord Graham and by the Rhodesian Front’s recent by-election victory. The big advantage he had was that the Rhodesians could make concessions which were more apparent than real.
Wilson’s problem was to drop the albatross of the original pledge that there would be no agreement to independence without some copper-bottomed guarantee (to use one of the Prime Minister’s favourite phrases) of majority African rule.
The "No” in Nimbar was as unrealistic as Lennox Boyd’s famous “never” over Cyprus independence. Wilson quietly abandoned NIMBAR and suddenly most of the newspapers were telling us that this once-sacred principle was foolish and unreal. Of course the left wing fumed but who cared about them? None of the M.P.s who protested went so far as to risk their career on the principle by resigning their seat. The left have always stopped short of that.
Wilson went on governing and the negotiations continued by his man George Thomson in Africa. At the time of writing the talks have reached deadlock and Thomson is back in London, although it was clear that both sides were straining to reach agreement. Even so, now that there is this apparent readiness to abandon what were once called principles, there will probably be further efforts in the future.
After all, capitalists in Rhodesia and Britain, as well as the Rhodesian farmers, have a lot to gain by the resumption of friendly trading relations. They will not let a little matter of the suppression of a few million people obstruct the noble enterprise of profit.