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Twelve Years of Commonwealth Diplomatic History, 1979-1991.

Mr. Chan's austere title and chapter headings are belied by the contents of his book. 'Obstinate, bloody-minded, insulting, obstructive, intransigent', may well be epithets applicable to Mrs. Thatcher, but their generous use smacks more of polemic partiality than academic detachment. Indeed, the whole book tells the story of the transformation of Commonwealth gatherings from informal meetings of like-minded friends to a kind of strident and partisan mini-UN. This was particularly so since the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965. Mooted by Ghana and Tanzania, it was a deliberate counterweight to the British centred organisation and marked a change from a functional to a politically motivated body.

The designer of this body was long term Secretary-General Sunny Ramphal, a man of the south and a Third World activist. He carved himself a growing empire, to the repugnance not only of Mrs. Thatcher, but Lord Carrington and others: Robert Muldoon of New Zealand, notably, who once growled at the hyper-active Sunny, 'a secretary's job is to take minutes'. This was never Sunny's idea. Muldoon was often Maggie's best friend at Commonwealth Conferences. The present writer remembers him at Melbourne, case stuffed full of dossiers on African infringements of human rights and Australia's appalling record on aboriginals, which punctured Malcolm Fraser's pose as a liberal statesman. Edward Heath was never noted for agreement with Mrs. Thatcher, but at Singapore he, and later she, clung alone to the British right to make its own foreign policy, even if Africa beleaguered them.

With the departure of Sunny Ramphal and the ending of South Africa's position as his main target for Commonwealth unity, it may be that the Commonwealth will revert to a practical functional consensus with less high flown propaganda. It might even don what Mr. Chan disapprovingly calls the 'comfortable cardigan of middle age'. Some may breathe a relieved prayer in Chesterton's words:

From lies of tongue and pen From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men From sale and profanation of honour and the sword From sleep and from damnation Deliver us good Lord.
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Author:Mortimer, Molly
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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