Yesterday I was invited at a full seven minutes’ notice to discuss live on LBC with James Max an interesting question.
Namely isn’t it disgraceful that invitations to the Royal Wedding have gone out to various Arab monarchs who currently are busy shooting their own people? Given that taxpayers’ money is supporting the Wedding in one way or the other, shouldn’t taxpayers be free to object to such invitations?
I made several perhaps not altogether good points.
First, that the guest-list would have been prepared some time ago before the current mayhem erupted.
Second, relations between Royal Families were governed by different protocol considerations.
And third, that if necessary it ought to be possible to find a way to suggest firmly but discreetly to the most errant monarchs that in current circumstances it might be best if they did not cause ’embarrassment’ by attending the Wedding.
Afterwards another thought occurred to me. That the fact of the invitation might be used to leverage positive change:
"If you carry on like this, your presence at the Wedding will embarrass yourself and everyone else including the happy couple themselves. We both know you would not want that.
But if you take the plunge and launch a package of credible reforms, you can hope to arrive as a hero, not a villain".
This sort of things is why diplomacy at the top level is so interesting and subtle, requiring not only clear principles but above all the ability to get alongside top people – especially when they are struggling – and talk to them in a convincing way.
To do that means winning their confidence, so that at key moments there is a chance of good access, and the hope that they may trust you enough to listen carefully for a few minutes.
Plus your private message needs to be convincing – if they sense that all you are doing is trying to manoeuvre them for your own selfish purposes, you get nowhere or even slide backwards.
Whereas the world will be a far better place if the Qadhafi regime is toppled forthwith, the Arab monarchies arguably are a force for some sort of authentic stability in a region sorely lacking authentic sources of stability.
So even if it is very tough in presentational terms, maybe when we have excellent relations at the highest level with these monarchs and their families it is better to try quietly to work with them rather than have a populist hissy-fit and throw them overboard?
William Hague recently told me that he is striving to move the FCO back towards these high-level personal skills in bilateral diplomacy. Quite right too.
And never will these skills be more needed than in the coming period when we are trying to help the Middle East not blow itself up – and die of thirst.