I twice have written on this site about one of the most remarkable nights of my FCO career.
This posting – my first ever published on this site – described how I single-handedly as FCO Resident Clerk crushed press freedom in Scotland late one night.
And then this more recent effort, about the strange separate event which happened earlier that same evening.
Now I have written a long piece published in the Independent of 30 March about that encounter with Robert Facey, who later committed suicide after leaving the FCO after his substantive career came to an end over his homosexuality.
This Independent piece has been picked up by The Browser. It draws extensively on material provided by the FCO in response to my FOI request a few weeks ago for material on 1980s’ FCO policy on homosexuality. The original quotes from that material and the FCO’s general approach to the issues read like something from a time-warp. But, of course, it all was a full generation ago.
To be clear. I am no fan of lumpen political correctness and Diversity gesture politics. I think that it is patronising and professionally irresponsible that some British Embassies have flown a LGBT ‘rainbow flag’ as a banal gesture of gay ‘solidarity’.
An Embassy flag-pole overseas is a key symbol of our country, not a place for making political fashion statements. Are we prepared to make this sort of gesture in Saudi Arabia, or Moscow, or Beijing, or Nigeria, or Pakistan, or Washington, or Japan, or indeed anywhere where we value the bilateral relationship and/or where diplomacy and symbolism are taken very seriously?
No, I thought not.
So please don’t fly it in Warsaw.
Why have I made a special effort both to mark Robert Facey’s memory and to record the way FCO policy evolved all those years ago?
As you go through life you accumulate a number of ‘loose ends’ – events or people which somehow made a difference, yet where things were somehow left open or unresolved.
In my career one of the biggest national policy loose ends was the Victory Parade in London at the end of WW2 and the fact that Poles representing a free Poland who had fought alongside British troops were not invited – ‘communist’ Poles attended instead:
The point here was that in London in 1945 the democratic Polish forces who had fought alongside the Allies were not invited to participate in the Victory Parade, lest that cause problems with Stalin, who by then was busy deporting and brutalising and torturing tens of thousands of Poles. A stunning betrayal of Basic Principles by the British Government…
Related to this was the way successive Poles representing Free Poland had been treated with disdain by the Foreign Office during the Cold War.
Which was why, during the State Visit of President Kwasniewski to the UK in 2004, HM The Queen gave an Honorary Knighthood to Ryszard Kaczorowski, a Polish hero who was the final Polish President in Exile when the Cold War ended.
The symbolism of both President Kaczorowski and (former communist) President Kwasniewski being received at the 2004 State Banquet at Buckingham Palace was a moving yet graceful way to deal with all that troubled history, and somehow mark a new start.
Likewise we made sure to give some of the elderly Polish veterans from WW2 who ought to have been at the 1945 Victory Parade an honoured role at the WW2 60th anniversary commemorations in 2005.
A loose end was tied up with high dignity and ceremony, long after most of the people concerned had died. But nonetheless it happened.
All of which is a roundabout way of explaining that in my career Robert Facey’s tragic appearance in the FCO Resident Clerkery that evening back in 1986 was something which has stayed with me. I hardly knew him, and never saw him again afterwards.
Yet I think the time has come to face up to the fact that the then FCO policy on homosexuality, sincerely upheld as it was, for motives which were not in themselves wrong or disgraceful, did cause a number of people real pain and loss. And in Robert’s case drove him to ultimate despair.
We now know better, or at least think we do.
I’d vote for a plaque near the Grand Staircase of the FCO which says simply:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1973 – 1988
Those coming after us who don’t know what the plaque represents will ask.
And be told.