Captain Moonlight's Notebook: How the Dalai Lama wins famous fans

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The Independent Online
'WITHOUT the Dalai Lama it would be very difficult for the pro-Tibet organisations to keep going,' Lord Ennals, president of the Tibet Society, said. We were in the Jubilee Room in the Palace of Westminister on Tuesday after the Dalai Lama (above) had addressed an all-party gathering of MPs and Euro MPs. For further evidence of the spiritual leader's charisma you needed only to turn to Hello] magazine last week where the photographer Koo Stark was fulminating on love and the meaning of life having met the Dalai Lama last year. On Tuesday at Westminster she hovered in a large white hat, her eyes brimming with affection as he moved through the crowd meeting people and shaking their hands.

Ms Stark, Richard Gere, the film star, and other celebrities who flock around the Dalai Lama are recent converts to the cause. Their main concern, however, seems to be personal enlightenment rather than the dreary and often fruitless task of lobbying governments to ensure Tibet's case is not forgotten. They talk of Buddhism and the beauty of the Dalai Lama's presence rather than training Tibetans to be engineers, or the boring things needed to qualify Tibetans to compete with the Chinese who have moved into their country.

The Dalai Lama is the Buddhist faith's only leader: head of a government in exile, not a figurehead. He is an astute politician and a worldly man who wants to negotiate an end to his country's conflict with China. He does not sit around contemplating his navel.

The oldest and most worthy allies of Tibet are the former diplomats, the India Office wallahs, officials who were at the sharp end of what they consider British perfidy in that part of the world during the 1940s and 1950s; men such as Sir Algernon Rumbold and Hugh Richardson. They accept as gospel Tibet's right to autonomy.

In 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to escape the Chinese army they formed the Tibet Society 'to give expression to the widespread interest and deep concern in Britain' about events in Tibet. Efforts were directed first towards helping the thousands of refugees that followed the Dalai Lama to India, and then to the cause of Tibetan independence. The society attracted influential people who believed in the power of a word at the right level. They failed. The Foreign Office was coming under the domination of the China lobby whose influence lasted beyond the 1980s and reached its apogee when Sir Percy Craddock, a former ambassador to Peking, became Downing Street's chief foreign policy adviser. He retired last year.

The picture changed when Tibet was opened to foreign tourists. In 1987, for the first time, Westerners witnessed Chinese militia opening fire on Tibetan protestors. A host of pro-Tibetan groups sprang up across Britain, Europe and the United States with a jumble of ideologies: human rights groups, left-wing outfits opposed to China's swing towards capitalism, right-wing lobbyists. In Britain the Tibet lobby gained strength in 1988 when word got out of a secret government ruling that the Dalai Lama would be allowed to visit Britain as long as he undertook not to make political statements. The Foreign Office, it was learnt, did not wish to offend China.

At this time the second generation of leaders such as Lord Ennals moved into the Tibet Society. The Tibet Support Group emerged alongside and organised a huge rally in Battersea Park, London. The Foreign Office, MPs and Downing Street were bombarded with mail from the middle classes in the shires and cities opposing the ruling.

In 1991 after George Bush had met the Dalai Lama, John Major invited him to Downing Street. Ever careful of China, the Foreign Office made sure the Archbishop of Canterbury was there and said the visit was 'religious'.

Today no one bothers about the 'religious' cover. Perhaps that has something to do with the Government's more robust policy towards China, especially over Hong Kong, whose 'one country two systems' settlement in 1997 is similar to the settlement it negotiated with Tibet in 1951 and then broke. Last week, even the FO's young mandarins were visiting the Tibet lobbyists to pick their brains.

(Photograph omitted)