Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, easily quelled a vocal right-wing revolt against their policy on Zimbabwe-Rhodesia at the Conservative Party's annual convention here today.
Conference delegates overrode loud, angry demands by the relatively small right-wing group for immediate British recognition of the biracial Salisbury government of Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly to support Carrington's efforts to negotiate an agreement between Muzorewa and Patriotic Front guerrilla leaders for a peaceful transition to internationally accepted independence.
The almost anticlimactic outcome to what the British press had billed as "an all-out confrontation" between Thatcher and the right wing of her party demonstrated the tight control she has achieved over the Conservatives since becoming prime minister.
Welcomed by a standing ovation, she made her first appearance of the week-long party convention at this garish seaside resort to monitor today's debate on the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian issue. She sat at center stage under a blue-and-white party banner proclaiming "Realism and Responsibility."
When one Young Conservative dissenter appeared to criticize Thatcher, he was shouted down and the steam seemed to go out of the right-wing rebellion.
Thatcher's easy victory also made it unlikely that right-wing Conservative members of Parliament could stop her from continuing British economic sanctions against Zimbabwe-Rhodesia if she chooses while Carrington continues the negotiations in London. The sanctions will expire Nov. 15 if they are not renewed by Parliament.
Carrington also was given a standing ovation here in answer to the right-wing heckling. He reiterated his optimism that the constitutional conference he is chairing in London could produce a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and an end to sacntions soon. Carrington has been blamed by the party's right-wing for talking Thatcher out of immediately recognizing Muzorewa's government and agreeing to the constitutional conference instead.
The Foreign Secretary pointed out today that the London conference has produced a constitution drafted by the British that insures black majority rule with protection, but no veto power as at present, for the white minority in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. He praised Muzorewa for agreeing to this even though it meant making compromises that had "obviously given him difficulty" with white colleagues in his biracial government.
"Significant progress has been made" with Partiotic Front guerrilla leaders Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, Carrington said. Although they have not yet agreed to the draft constitution and have been asked by Carrington for a yes or no answer on it by Thursday, they already have agreed to a British-style parliamentary form of government and a 20 percent representation in Parliament for the 3 percent white minority.
Carrington seemed confident that the London conference would soon decide on arrangements for new elections in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. He indicated for the first time that he was unlikely to agree to demands by Mugabe and Nkomo that their guerrilla armies be integrated with or take control of the country's security forces during the transition period.
"There are those who argue that a great deal should happen before elections are held," Carrington said in his speech to party delegates, "that the security forces should be integrated and that other radical changes should be made."
"I do not think that is either desirable or possible," he said. "Now that, at long last, we hope to have an independence constitution acceptable to everyone, nothing should be done which could have the effect of prejudging or preempting the choice of the people of Rhodesia."
Carrington's right-wing Conservative critics contend he already has given in too much to the demands of the Patriotic Front leaders, whom the right-wingers variously described today as "Soviet puppets" and "murdering evil bastards."
The right-wing, led by member of Parliament Julian Amery, argue that Britain immediately should recognize Muzorewa's recently elected Salisbury government and lift economic sanctions, rather than allow the communist-backed Patriotic Front to gain what Amery predicted would be dictatorial power.
"It would be dishonorable to use sanctions any further to extract concessions from Muzorewa for the benefit of the Patriotic Front", Amery argued in today's debate, "which is what we have been doing so far."
"So long as the British government supports sanctions," he said, "we are supporting the Patriotic Front and the drive of Soviet imperialism through Africa. To continue sanctions for one more hour after they expire in November would make us all have blood on our hands."
Amery's mostly youthful right-wing followers cheered him and castigated Carrington at a warm-up rally here yesterday. Then, to no avail, they showered convention delegates today with leaflets imploring them to "lift sanctions today.