Diplomatic curiosities

An e-friend has drawn my attention, as they say, to an entertaining piece about diplomatic (and, especially, undiplomatic) language at the admirable BBC News website, including choice quotations from the sayings of Our Men in Nairobi and Tashkent, obviously members of a wholly new breed. Our Man in Tashkent, H.E. the stormy petrel ambassador Mr Craig Murray, is also the subject of an unwittingly revealing interview in the Guardian, where he mentions his (no doubt admirable) "deep personal commitment to human rightsâ€?, about which he has spoken trenchantly and publicly in his campaign against human rights abuses by the government of Uzbekistan, the country to which he is accredited as the representative of the British Crown, government and country. This and an apparently colourful life-style have got him into warmish water with his employer, i.e. the Crown as represented by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, although it seems to be a tribute to that department’s broadmindedness (or perhaps its fear of getting into trouble with unfair dismissal tribunals and the bien-pensant media) that Mr Murray is being allowed to serve out his full ambassadorial term in Tashkent. One is bound to wonder whether a deep personal commitment to human rights should take precedence over his professional commitment to promoting the policies of the elected ministers of the government that he serves, and whether there can be any justification for substituting an appointed diplomat’s personal views and values for those of the elected government which employs him. In a democracy, however flawed (and ours is probably less flawed than most) the elected government has to be able to command the loyalty and discretion of its unelected officials, regardless of their personal views, or democracy can’t function. Indulging deep personal commitments that aren’t consistent with one’s instructions is not a luxury that’s permitted to professional diplomats, however frustrating that might be. But no-one is forced to take the Queen’s shilling. I speak whereof I know!

As a trivial aside, it’s entertaining to be told in the Guardian interview that in his earlier service as a more junior diplomat in Africa, Mr Murray – not yet an Excellency – "befriendedâ€? Kofi Annan, now Secretary-General of the United Nations. Whether Mr Annan was in such dire circumstances at the time that he needed to be befriended isn’t clear from the interview, but no doubt the Secretary-General is properly grateful that Mr Murray’s patronage helped to get him where he is today – and to get Mr Murray to where he is today, namely Uzbekistan.