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E-cyclopedia Monday, 14 December, 1998, 14:45 GMT
A history lesson for Hague?
As Lord Cranborne will testify, going behind the boss's back is always a gamble.

But one man's turncoat is another's victorious general. At least that's according to the Earl of Onslow, who says his sacked colleague was simply following in the footsteps of one of Britain's most enduring icons - Horatio Nelson.

In striking a compromise deal with Labour over its House of Lord's reforms, Lord Cranborne "had done exactly like Nelson at Copenhagen", claims his close ally.

Row simmers

Nearly 200 years after the Battle of Copenhagen (1801), a row still simmers over the autocratic actions of the then Vice Admiral Nelson.

By the start of the 19th Century, Nelson was riding high in the ranks of the world's most powerful navy.

Lord Onslow
Lord Onslow: "You don't sack victorious generals"
His finest moment, the Battle of Trafalgar, was still to come but when he was despatched to do battle with the Danes, Nelson, already minus his right arm and eye, was second in command of the fleet, under Sir Hyde Parker.

As the British fleet moved up Copenhagen's King's Channel things quickly started to go wrong for them.

After four hours of fighting, Nelson's division had suffered considerable manpower losses to the pounding Danish shore batteries, and apparently achieved no advantage. The British had underestimated their enemy.

Parker calls off attack

However, Nelson, on board HMS Elephant and in the thick of the fighting, was rattled but still confident of victory.

Parker, four miles away from the action, took a different view and raised the signal ordering his second-in-command to break off action.

Lord Cranborne
Lord Cranborne: Sacked for his autocratic actions
Alerted to the flag, Nelson muttered "Now damn me if I do". He ignored Parker's order by putting his telescope to his blind eye and saying that he could not see the signal.

An hour later victory was his and Nelson returned to England a hero and was made a viscount.

While, it all seems a world away from the rough and tumble tactics of modern day politics, Lord Onslow insists we have much to learn from Nelson's headstrong approach to conflict resolution.

Commemorative column

"Lord Cranborne should have been bollocked in private for his independent action and told not to do it again, but in public his action should have been welcomed," he says.

And bearing in mind history's propensity to repeat itself, William Hague should bear mind that while Lord Nelson is commemorated with his own effigy on top of a 56-metre high column in central London, Sir Hyde Parker* is simply another also-ran in Britain's military history.

* The famous London park was not named after him.


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See also:

02 Dec 98 | UK Politics
03 Dec 98 | UK Politics
03 Dec 98 | UK Politics
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