I read both of this book with great pleasure. Not surprisingly, it struck an
immediate chord with me because, like the writer, I was a District Commissioner
in Uganda before becoming a 'colonial retread' in the Diplomatic Service. Our paths
never crossed, but we shared similar experiences.
We quickly realised that the Diplomatic Service was an entirely different profession
from the British Colonial Administrative Service. Andrew Stuart writes with a deft
touch and good humour about the painful and often demoralising experience of being
turned into a diplomat. Richard Posnett admits that he has never been able fully to cast
off the colonial character even when wearing a diplomat's clothing.
Both explain the difference between the two professions. 'For the Diplomatic
Service officer', writes Richard, 'Britain's interests were always paramount', whereas
most officers in the Colonial Service 'developed a loyalty to the government of their
own territory and indeed to the territory itself, rather than to London'. In short, 'going
native' was frowned upon in the Diplomatic Service but necessary in a colony. As I was
about to leave the FCO for the Falklands, my Permanent Under-Secretary said, 'Your
first task is to get to know the islanders and win their confidence'. My second was left
unsaid but we both knew what it was: to sell them down the river to Argentina.
Andrew points out that the Diplomatic Service had difficulty in staffing the
remaining outposts of Empire. 'The trouble is that most diplomats are unaccustomed
to administering anything. Ideas are their stock-in-trade and they are good at them.
Building a dam, collecting a tax, judging a case or mending a Land Rover is foreign to
them. It makes them dither'. He might also have added 'reaching a decision' - their
nickname in the Ministry of Defence is 'The Better-Notters'.
Andrew acknowledges, however, that many of his diplomatic colleagues had fine and
flexible minds. In his words, they were, 'if not all Rolls Royce minds, at least
something between a Jaguar and a Rover. One or two of them indeed were Ferraris'.
His account of working in the FCO in the sixties is both perceptive and highly
amusing. I particularly liked his tale of the Assistant Head of Department who
instructed him in the art of pinning flags to draft answers to Parliamentary Questions.
His diplomatic career took him to interesting places in changing times, including
Hong Kong, the Seychelles, Diego Garcia and the New Hebrides, where he was
Resident Commissioner. The last ten chapters of his book chronicle the difficulties he
had there in dealing with his French counterpart (and the FCO) while guiding the
Condominium to Independence. It is a fascinating story and confirms my belief that a
Condominium in the Falklands could never work. He describes the system as 'truly a
monster. Nothing worked sensibly or, in many cases, at all'.
The problem was compounded by the French belief that decolonisation from France
was an act of self-destruction, not of re-birth, while we believed that it was our job to
prepare the colonies for Independence. With such contradictory views, no wonder that
the Condominium was popularly known as the 'Pandemonium'.
Andrew makes light of the troubles caused by his fellow Resident Commissioner
and even writes of him with affection. He was probably equally frustrated by the
'Heaven born' in the FCO, who dithered over sending troops to put down a simmering
insurrection. Fortunately Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister at the time and a personal
telegram to her did the trick. The Royal Marines appeared on the scene and the
'Coconut War' was over. (Their next overseas adventure was the Falklands War.)
Andrew left the new Republic of Vanuatu short afterwards. 'I felt terrible,' he writes,
'at the thought of a job that seemed only half complete.' I felt the same when the
Argentines flew me out of the Falklands; but I was able to return.
Lord Carrington "This is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read for
some time. Andrew Stuart writes with wry humour of some of the bizarre
occurrences of his diplomatic and colonial life. It is a very good read and
thoroughly to be recommended".
Alyson Bailes, Director Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
(SIPRI) "I should tell you how much I enjoyed reading your book - it had not only
the appeal of the exotic and of times irretrievably past, but a wonderful blend of
humour and underlying deep concern."
Sir Michael Palliser, former PUS Foreign Office "Seldom can there have been a
more entertaining account of the end of Empire than in this engaging - and in parts
acerbic - book by Andrew Stuart. I read it with real pleasure and constant
David Newson, former US Under-Secretary of State "Andrew Stuart is
uniquely qualified to describe the tumultuous twentieth century transition from
Empire to Independence. He does so with insight, sensitivity and good humour. Of
particular current interest is his chapter on Diego Garcia".