Reactionary at heart, I find the new organisation difficult to love and angular to embrace. But a recent discussion with a former colleague has made me realise that beneath my stick-in-the-mud curmudgeonly preferences, change has been happening – and more the better too.
I joined the (then) Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the nineteen eighties, it might as well have been the nineteenth century to all intents and purposes. The organisation I joined was (largely) white, (largely) male and (largely) upper middle class. Training existed but outside the formal courses – I remember being impressed by a chain-smoking serial Consul with endless tales to tell – the main method by which the next generation of diplomats was formed was through attrition. Cricketing metaphors and Latin abounded and I learned the meaning of words like “otiose” and the correct use of the semi-colon. I also learned an abiding – almost pathological – fear of the split infinitive; and lost any possible hint of creative writing in pursuit of the Diplomat’s pithy art.
Since I joined, but – in truth – also since I then left in 2009 to become a consultant doing (largely) what I had always done only now on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than on a contract basis, I take great pleasure in visiting King Charles Street from time to time. The elite quiet which used to characterise the corridors of (foreign) power has been replaced by buzz and bustle. Small knots of people gather there instead, discussing – I like to imagine – the latest steps in the Great Game. Bits of important paper still seem to be at the heart of the maelstrom, only now they are debated by groups which are younger, less male and less white. I love the fact that Global Britain (minus some of its more recent and less desirable xenophobic habits) is represented in the corridors of buildings originally designed to impress (and perhaps intimidate) others.
The future is in safer hands than it was when I was a tiny cog in a large wheel – unless our politicians find a way to overwhelm this diversity with their ambitions for a smaller world with a less relevant Britain hovering on its peripheries.