Diplomacy with a Difference: The Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880-2006

(Martinus Nijhoff: Leiden and Boston, 2007), pp. 353, incl. Index. ISBN 978 90 04 15497 1

[buy this book]

In writing her history of the origins and evolution of the office of high commissioner, Dr Lloyd, who is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Keele University, has drawn on a vast range of sources. She has sifted through archives of public and private papers not just in Britain but in Ireland, Canada, and South Africa; and she has conducted many interviews and much correspondence with former high commissioners. As a result she has written the kind of book that used to appear before a swarm of failed mathematicians settled on British universities and spawned things like the risible ‘Research Assessment Exercise’, which has always put quantity before quality. But it is not just the kind of book that requires exhaustive research; it is also the sort that needs careful attention to detail, sharp and well-informed consideration of the wider context of its subject, mellow reflection, and thoughtfulness in its construction for the benefit of its readers. It is thus the kind that takes a long time to produce – but is worth three times the average book that will no doubt receive accolades in the next ‘RAE’. The fact that the subject of Dr Lloyd’s book is important (just look at the size of the Commonwealth) but has never been treated before makes it doubly valuable.

A high commissioner is the head of the resident diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth state to another but has never been simply an ambassador by another name. The office has its origins in the belief that intra-Commonwealth relations are more of a ‘family’ matter than normal ‘foreign’ relations but the implications of this for the status and functions of high commissioners have never been straightforward. In the late nineteenth century, when the Canadians prompted birth of the office, high commissioners were very lowly officials. After the First World War they grew in importance but after the Second World War seemed under threat. Nevertheless, they survived and by the 1960s had come to be regarded as ‘ambassadors plus’. This elevated position did not last long but they are still with us today. Employing to great advantage not only her vast knowledge of the subject but her expertise in international law and general Commonwealth history, Dr Lloyd charts and explains this evolution in a most lucid and convincing fashion. In the process she also produces valuable sidelights on such matters as the deanship of the diplomatic corps, the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, Irish foreign policy, the provision of consular support in Commonwealth states, and – in an appendix – the use of the title of ‘high commissioner’ in other international or quasi-international contexts. I learned a great deal from this book, which is one of the best on the history of diplomacy to appear in recent years. There is no doubt that it will come to be regarded as the standard work on the subject. No Foreign Ministry should be without it.

2017-02-15T19:36:11+00:00 October 8th, 2007|Tags: |