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Charles Crawford: Advice from an ex-diplomat to the new Foreign Secretary on how to shake up the Foreign Office

This is the second instalment of a two-part series and is the advice that Charles Crawford is offering the new Foreign Secretary on how to shake up and smarten up the Foriegn Office. Yesterday we featured this piece about how Labour dumbed down the Foreign Office.

Picture 6 Charles Crawford served in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 28 years, latterly as British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw. He left the FCO in 2007 and was on the Conservative Party candidates' list prior to this year's general election. He blogs here.

So, UK diplomacy was dumbed down by Labour. How to smarten it back up? Easy.

Sort out money, processes and then, with a far better base created, policies.

Reform Resources

No party at the election offered voters a reduction in UK foreign aid. So, let’s radically redefine foreign aid and ‘development’.

A very large lump slice of DFID funds should be put into a new FCO/DFID/MOD pool led by the FCO and aimed at promoting the institutional/policy changes needed to tackle practical and political obstacles to ‘development’ in all parts of the world: lack of freedom, human rights abuse, organised crime, corruption, weak legal structures, and so on. In countries where our main policy goal is development, ie much of Africa, all separate DFID offices could be closed and DFID activities run from the Embassy or High Commission, themselves funded by DFID money to free up resources for hard-nosed diplomatic work elsewhere.

Having liberated a lot of funding from Labour’s discredited development ideology, we can start to talk to Google, Apple and Microsoft (and maybe China and India?) about new business-centred development partnership based on empowering individuals and entrepreneurship.

The bottom line: money already allocated to foreign activity and spent nimbly and wisely by energetic diplomacy can be a terrific multiplier for British political and commercial influence in much of the world. Set those funds free from Labour’s DFID straitjacket.

Reform Process

FCO Ministers should unleash the following rapid reforms:

Reaffirm top-end analytical work: restore geographical/regional expertise and associated departmental structure and lines of command.

Restore FCO memory: urgently overhaul the way e-records are kept and accessed. Make it compulsory but easy to save all documents of consequence, and create easy ways to retrieve them.

Restore FCO judgement: bring back immediately Analysis and Judgement as core competences for staff appraisals at all levels.

Stop waste: end advertisements eg on London buses for FCO consular services – the public should expect to sort out their own problems. Abolish executive coaching. End Ambassadorial blogging – if Ambassadors have spare time, they should bone up on the countries to which are accredited.

Reject ‘fit for purpose’ - insist on excellence: freeze all FCO training other than language training, to see what is being taught and how. Ban actors disguised as trainers from the FCO.

Write properly: restore high standards of drafting. Institute a small monthly prize for the best work done at home and overseas, to encourage top-end writing. Sack anyone making spelling errors on the FCO website. Note: the FCO has good ideas to bring in drafting and other exams as a test for promotion – build on them.

Restore unity: promulgate a single overseas postings contract for all Whitehall staff – end the divisiveness of different Embassy people on different packages. All Embassy staff henceforth to answer to the Ambassador, not Whitehall departments.

Smarten people: abolish ‘dress-down Fridays’ forthwith. Instruct all staff to turn up for work looking smart with clean shoes;.

End PoMo gimmicks: Issue instructions that any Ambassador using an Embassy flagpole to fly a gay rights Rainbow flag, a Save the Whale flag or any other trendy private ‘campaign’ symbol will be sacked without notice.

Restore respect: close down immediately all Diversity and Anti-Bullying HR units – issue a simple rule that all staff are expected to be polite and helpful towards each other and the public.

Stop asking stupid questions: dismiss anyone proposing that outside consultants run FCO Staff Questionnaires – use the FCO Intranet to let FCO staff themselves help choose awkward questions about management/morale.

Ban sellotape: notices are for notice-boards alone, not walls and lifts.

End apartheid: ask Francis Maude at the Cabinet Office to stop his people demanding Risk Management matrices and Ethnic Diversity surveys based upon crude racial categories as in apartheid South Africa. Insist that ‘diversity’ questionnaires must make provision for Poles, Romanians, Slovaks, Jews and other significant communities.

Promote ability: insist too that any ‘diversity’ audit hereafter includes the following option:

I demand that I be measured on my ability alone. The colour of my skin, the number of floppy/dangly bits on the front of my body and my religious beliefs are all none of the government’s damn business.

That lot should get FCO people moving back in the right direction.

Reform Policy

Once British diplomacy has some money again all sorts of new options open up, particularly for supporting democracy and human rights if done guilefully. However, to get anywhere the FCO has to step back from the deadly Swamp of Process that is the EU’s common foreign policy, even if this could be a tricky area for the coalition.

Here as elsewhere insist that the best (and only) way ‘Europe’ can have an impact is if key EU member states make an impact and are not dumbed down by interminable EU process.

Open talks with Baroness Ashton and key partners on a radical simplification of the EU Working Group structure. While they drag on, identify clear British positions based on principle and then act on them fast in cooperation with key partners, without waiting for a meaningless lowest common denominator EU position to emerge.

Start at the UN. Stop sub-contracting our weight as a UNSC Permanent Member to EU Working Groups. Set up an informal arrangement with the French to decide what looks like the best available outcome on any given issue, then tell other EU members that that is how we plan to vote. Do not accept significant dilution of that position unless we get something serious in return. Insist that the damaging waste of resources devoted to vapid internal EU consultation at the UN and in Brussels has to stop – if necessary simply stop attending at junior levels.

The only leverage we have in Europe is our taxpayers’ money. Start now to prepare an ambitious list of reforms and radical savings as the price for further generous UK funding of EU processes in the forthcoming EU Budget round. And crack on with legislation for a ‘referendum lock’ on further transfer of powers to Brussels – it could be needed soon if the Eurozone crisis accelerates.

In general policy areas, be realistic but creative about Climate Change, the Middle East and general global governance. Make it a strategic objective to get alongside China, India, Brazil and Russia to identify areas of common ground and patiently build.

All in all, get back to classical wily British diplomacy.

Make a difference for good. Be confident in British democratic values. Lead, not follow.


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