The world is facing darker times today than twenty years ago, according to former defence chief Sir Kevin Tebbit, who served as Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and as Director of Cabinet to NATO Secretary General Lord Carrington.
Sir Kevin who lives in Barrowden, was speaking at the Biz Club’s monthly lunch at the Falcon Hotel in Uppingham where he shared his political analysis of the current geo-political situation, plus humorous anecdotes from his time at the top of the Civil Service, during the Thatcher, Blair, Regan, Clinton and Bush years, including a stint as Director of GCHQ the UK’s intelligence, security and cyber agency.
Sir Kevin outlined his concern at the rise of authoritarian countries including Russia and China, acting with more assertiveness and self-confidence in the face of weaker international institutions, with a less reliable US amid the threat from climate change and the impact of Covid.
He said: “Looking back when I was a civil servant and diplomat, things were in better shape, there was more of a spirit of optimism in the air, both here in the UK and around the world. The US was the sole superpower and was clearly committed to European security. Globalisation seemed both benevolent and unstoppable. Broadly speaking we were all getting more prosperous.” He argued that it was now time for a new consensus on domestic and international reform on a scale not unlike that undertaken after the Second World War.
Sir Kevin also regaled Biz Club guests with amusing anecdotes, including his time as head of Lord Carrington’s office in Brussel’s as NATO Secretary General when Margaret Thatcher decided to pay NATO a backbone stiffening visit.
Sir Kevin explained there was concern she would live up to her reputation as the Iron Lady during a diplomatic meeting with fifteen ambassadors. All went well until a question and answer debate where she was asked her opinion on a New Franco-German Brigade set up outside NATO.
Sir Kevin said: “She turned her laser eyes on the French Ambassador who was doing his best to sink beneath the table and said, ‘I don’t like it but we have to live with it.’
She then outlined a British military exercise codenamed Lionheart with 50,000 men deployed to help reinforce Europe. “You have this little event with the Germans and it’s called ‘Cheeky Sparrow.’ ‘Cheeky Sparrow, Lionheart, Cheeky Sparrow,’ and with that swept out of the room like a galleon in full sail.
Sir Kevin said: “Carrington turned and said to me, ‘no lunch for you today Tebbit’, but the French Ambassador remarked, ‘Elle eltait magnifique, quelle femme’! Others felt the same. I had my lunch”.
Biz Club chair, Shane James said: “Once again the Biz Club has pulled off a coup with the opportunity to get a glimpse behind the doors to what went on through the Thatcher, Blair and Regan, Clinton and Bush years. Sir Kevin illustrated how he really was ‘in the thick of it, with immensely illuminating insights helping to challenge and broaden our political perspectives”.