Thursday, 4 June 2009

In a diplomatic bubble

I attended a quite unique dinner at the Dorchester, London last night. It was in honour of the Diplomatic Corps and I found myself in the company of 128 Ambassadors and High Commissioners, 19 Lords, Ladies and Barons, 24 Sirs and an assortment of Professors, Bankers, Diplomats, Field Marshalls and political and media folk.

I found myself sitting amongst a small group of political observers, including Adam Boulton of Sky News (he left early and when I got home and turned on the TV, there he was again, reporting live outside Downing Street!), Michael Prescott (former political editor of the Sunday Times) and Anji Hunter (Tony Blair's former spin doctor, who I have since realised is married to Adam Boulton, which explains what I thought was a level of over-familiarity not entirely appropriate for such an event). There was a flurry of excitement and chattering amongst these folk when news filtered through about another Ministerial resignation.

You can always rely on a good speech from senior diplomats and we were not disappointed. The Ambassadors all laughed at the standard joke told at such occasions about the definition of an Ambassador being "an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country", turning to each other to say with perfectly straight faces that that was possibly the funniest joke they had every heard.

We were a bit more confused when the senior diplomat appeared to say "I really believe that we are an honest and corrupt nation". We tittered politely. Did he say that? Did we miss-hear? Perhaps he said "honest, uncorrupt nation" but that's a strange phrase too.

Much of the main speech was about the power of new media, blogs, twitter, youtube and so on. This is an interesting challenge for the Diplomatic Corps who are in the business of controlling communication, not letting it rip. These social media give mere mortals a direct view inside the diplomatic bubble and the senior diplomats will have to move quickly to get on top of them. In fact I heard of a new concept, a "digital coach" who apparently works one to one with a senior executive coaching them through the world of social media (isn't that sort of like a paid grandchild?). I enjoyed tweeting about diplomats talking about tweeting.

This piercing of the bubble by social media will be very interesting, because that world really is a bubble. For a few hours one is dinning with over a hundred senior diplomats and other guests in one of London's best hotels and you are completely disconnected from the everyday world outside. Then at the end of the evening, we go our separate ways. The Ambassadors step into their long, black limos with uniformed drivers (picture a hundred cars all with number plates like "COUNTRY 1" parked in 3 rows on Park Lane) and stay in the heart of the bubble.

Mere mortals, like me, wander off to our parked cars, rip off our bow-ties, stick on some roots music and zoom off back to reality.

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