This book relates to Murray’s career as a British diplomat in Ghana and other West African countries. The book spans from the 80s to the Millennium. The thrust of the book is Craig Murray’s disillusionment with British Foreign Policy. He started out starry eyed. He had a sense of mission; to promote economic development, human rights and sound governance. By the year 2000 he noted that while Blair preached human rights and practised the precise opposite. This charade of pretending to care about human rights fooled many people for a surprisingly long time.
‘Catholic Orangemen’ is engagingly written. It contains countless humorous anecdotes. There are also catty vignettes about many politicians and diplomats. The pace is just right. Issues are examined in reasonable depth. Enough background is given without ever miring the narrative. This book is chronological with the occasional prolepsis or analepsis.
Murray does not stint on treating us to his opinions. He became a Liberal as a teenager in the early 70s. Murray wrote to Jeremy Thorpe persuading Thorpe to re start the Liberal Party in his constituency. Thopre arrived and was dismayed to find that his correspondent was a 14 year old. Through the Young Liberals Murray came to know Peter Hain. Hain had been a luminary of the anti apartheid campaign in the United Kingdom. Murray disliked the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major. They usually prioritised commerical interests over human rights. Murray vouchsafed that he is an anti monarchist but has some regard for Her Britannic Majesty.
In his naivete Murray believed Labour’s slogan of “an ethical foreign policy”. Within weeks of coming to office this rang hollow. The falsity of Blair’s rhetoric was laid bare when he approved the sale of fighter jets to the Indonesian dictatorship that was illegally occupying East Timor. Murray had a soft spot for Robin Cook who was then the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. Cook disagreed with selling these arms to Indonesia but Blair overruled him. Due to collective cabinet responsibility Cook had to go along with it or resign.
A half forgotten episode of history that occupies much of the book is the Arms to Africa affair. The Sierra Leonean Civil War raged in the late 90s. The United Nations outlawed arms shipments to Sierra Leone; even if these were for the government. Murray met a swashbuckling ex Guards officer named Tim Spicer. Spicer had set up a private military company. In plain words it was a mercenary company despite falsely denying doing the actual fighting. Spicer was eager to import arms to Sierra Leone and Murray had to tell him this was illegal.
Spicer imported weapons anyway and his Sandline International achieved victories for the government of Sierra Leone. Spicer then claimed that Murray had okayed these arms importations. Murray contends that was an outright lie and has documentary proof of this. The UK Government backed Spicer’s version of events despite several British diplomats supporting what Murray said. For Murray it was an early indication of New Labour’s indifference to international law. *
Murray is at his best when describing the complexities and moral ambivalences of the Sierra Leonean conflict. The government was a rapacious military dictatorship that favoured the coastal people and cared little for the hinterland. An insurrection began . The Rebel United Forces behaved with unimaginable brutality. Children were forced to kill their parents and then made soldiers. Limb amputations reached the levels of King Leopold’s Congo. Because the RUF carried out many atrocities some imagined that the internationally recognised government was innocent or that the RUF had no fair grievances. Murray realised that many RUF fighters were compelled to fight on pain of death/ They were victims too.
This book pulls no punches on corruption by politicians and businesspeople British or African. Craig skewers Her Majesty’s Government for denouncing kleptocrats in Africa while letting these same kleptocrats put their money in the UK. Talk about joined up government.
La vie diplomatique is revealed to be not all that glamorous. Diplomats are not as intelligent or urbane as one might think. The bitchiness and the snobbery are horrid. Murray suspects that establishment connections still help in gaining preferment.
The author plainly cared about the people in the countries he was living in. He constantly expressed fury at his own government’s attempts to help them which were often inadequate, inept or patronising. He also rails against graft and theft by certain African statesman but is careful not to imply that all African politicians are like this.
One of the difficulties of a Briton promoting human rights in this part of Africa is this is one of the regions of the world where British colonialism was at is very worst. If a Britisher speaks about the need to treat people with decency any African can silence him, “You can talk!” and then reel off a catalogue of bestial crimes committed by Britons at their most satanic.
Murray’s time in West Africa was scintillating. It was uplifting, heart warming, confusing, frustrating, exasperating and occasionally dispiriting. He witnessed many bizarre sights such as some Orangemen proudly parading despite being Catholics. This is where the title of the book comes from. This cargo cult version of British identity tickled him pink.
Despite his concern for people’s wellbeing this is not a moralistic book. He recognises the need to overlook crimes such as in Sierra Leone. He is also candid about his shortcomings such as his constant marital infidelities. He repeatedly remarks on which women he lusted after.
Murray is Scots born in England. The Caledonian theme keeps popping up. He is at pains to tell us if anyone involved in a North Britisher.
This is an intriguing book. It can easily be perused in a day. There are a few lacunae. He uses green grocer’s apostrophes once. There is also a spelling mistake which a decent editor would have picked up. This is erudite without arcane. The book is never pedestrian and always informative. If you want a tome that is witty, enthralling; racy and angular then this is your pick.