Posts Tagged ‘William Hague’

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Four Thoughts on William Hague as Foreign Secretary

July 15, 2014

William Hague has stood down as Foreign Secretary after four years so four quick thoughts.

  1. Hague’s general approach to foreign policy can be seen as a continuation of New Labour minus the messianism plus a greater focus on bilateral relationships. Key elements of the Blairite approach such as the continued use of the ‘our interests are our values’ formulation and the importance attached to the Building Stability Overseas Strategy remained
  2. One of Hague’s major emphases has been on the FCO as an institution and the skills required by its staff hence initiatives like the reopening of the language school and efforts to benchmark against other ministries. Further he pushed efforts to expand the diplomatic network to give more weight to rising countries.
  3. On the other hand the FCO is increasingly hemmed in within the national diplomatic system. Hague seems to regard the National Security Council as the source of policy, even though successive Parliamentary reports have pointed to its inability to formulate strategy. Hague accepted the need for the FCO to make cuts in order to contribute to the austerity programme. At the same time with a shrinking budget the FCO has been forced to make an increasing contribution to the government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNP on development aid. One would expect the consequence of rising funding for DFID versus a cash strapped FCO led by a one of the most senior of the party’s leaders to be ongoing interdepartmental warfare yet from the outside there’s hardly been a whiff of this.
  4. This absence of conflict suggests to me that Hague’s incumbency has been fundamentally shaped by his loyalty to Cameron’s political project: to promote a modern caring Conservatism hence the unwillingness to rock the boat. Although this may have been to the good of the party I take the view that we need a rethink of British foreign policy and this certainly hasn’t happened under Hague. Even if Philip Hammond is seen as less close to the Cameron/Osborne axis at the heart of the government we’re still only 10 months from an election so don’t hold your breath for new thinking.
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Foreign Office Scraps Communications Directorate

March 23, 2012

I’ve noticed that the Foreign Office is prone to reorganizing itself without telling anyone – anyway they’ve done it again scrapping the central Communications Directorate discussed here

Despite a major trawl the only background that I’ve been able find so far is this  short piece from PR Week from last November that reports that

The size of the central comms team has been reduced from more than 100 to under 70, with much of the FCO’s strategic comms delivery being farmed out to its policy directorates.

The central department will now focus on media relations, digital comms, internal comms, professional development and relations alongside the FCO’s comms arms-length bodies, such as the BBC World Service and British Council.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office told PRWeek: ‘Like all government departments, we have had to review the size and structure of our comms function. We have taken a very clear decision that we will have a central planning department but not central delivery of strategic comms activity.’

What’s not clear is whether any resources have been reallocated from the centre to go with the additional responsibility for implementation being passed to the policy directorates.  This line of thinking is very much consistent with the typical UK view of PD as an extension of diplomacy.  It also fits with other steps that William Hague has been taking to devolve responsibility from the Centre of the FCO to policy directorates.

Of course while there is a policy dimension to it until we actually get some more background on the reasoning behind the change the suspicion is that saving money was the major factor here.  (William Hague had earlier announced a reduction in strategic communications spending from £3m to £2m – by way of comparison Coke spends nearly $3Bn a year on advertising)

The communications organization has now been integrated into the Policy Unit and consists of  Press and Digital under Carl Newns, the long serving FCO spokesman, and Communication and Engagement under Anna Clunes. It woudl be useful to have some clearer indications of what Communication and Engagement actually does.

From the PR Week story the reason for actually scrapping the directorate is that after the cuts in staff numbers the new unit was too small to have someone of director rank in charge.

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Empty Shelves and Institutional Decay at the FCO

September 10, 2011

A few weeks ago I was rather sarcastic about the fact that I’d bought a copy of Robert Marett’s Through the Back Door that had belonged to the Foreign Office Library.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who is dubious about the  FCO selling off its books

On Thursday William Hague gave a speech ‘The Best Diplomatic Service in the World: Strengthening the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an Institution’ to staff at the FCO which contained this passage

Finally, as a politician and part time historian I was surprised and indeed shocked upon my arrival here by the sight of the vast expanse of empty wooden shelves where once the 60,000 books, pamphlets, reports and manuscripts of the historic Foreign Office Library were housed, here in this building.

The Library embodied 500 years of British and world history; of our experiences of exploration, diplomacy, war, peacekeeping and the forging of Treaties; of our role in the abolition of the slave trade and the creation of the Commonwealth. It contained unique historical documents such as the 1692 Charter of Massachusetts, many of them annotated by the officials of the time.

Once regarded, in the words of Gladstone’s Foreign Secretary Lord Granville as “the pivot on which the whole machinery of the Foreign Office turned”, it was broken up in 2008 and the collections dispersed, mainly to Kings College London, to whom we should be grateful. This revealed insufficient understanding of the sense of history, continuity, identity and tradition that strong democratic institutions need.

It is ironic that the only object to survive the gutting of the library is a one hundred year old twenty-foot stuffed anaconda known as Albert, who remains suspended over the empty bookshelves, while the books from the period when such an unusual foreign gift found its way into the Foreign Office have been dismantled around it, and can never be reassembled. To my mind the fate of the FCO library is emblematic of a gradual hollowing out of the qualities that made the FCO one of our great institutions.

I recently read Hugh Heclo’s On Thinking Institutionally (discussed by David Brooks in this New York Times column) where he makes the point that contemporary political thought and practice tends to reflexively favour individuals over institutions and reflects on the damage that this causes . As the title suggests Hague’s speech is very much in this vein and marks a very different perspective from the emphasis on ‘modernization’ characteristic of the last government.   However, I suspect that this is very much Hague speaking from his own perspective rather than marking a change in the overarching philosophy of British  public administration.

Heclo, H. (2008) On Thinking Institutionally. Boulder  Colo.: Paradigm.