Who are you anyway?
A very 'British' (part Yorkshire, part Scottish, part Irish) person of modest but honest family origins who failed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office FCO Fast Stream exams at the first attempt but then succeeded three years later. I rose through the FCO’s ranks to a number of senior diplomatic positions in and dealing with post-communist Europe. I decided that that was long enough, and that a radical change of scene and pace would do my family and myself a power of good. So I left the FCO finally at the end of 2007 to start a new consultancy-style career.
Why did you join the FCO?
No-one else offered me a job when I left University. Had I been smarter I would have pressed on with a career in the law and enjoyed being a prosperous barrister.
If you must, here, including the famous Warsaw Flying Mini.
Why did you really leave the FCO? You were doing pretty well. Under a cloud?
No. I jumped of my own free will. My career featured unusually long periods overseas. Since 1993 I have lived in the UK for only some 20 months, almost all of the rest of the time having been spent in former Communist countries, often in arduous conditions. Plus entertaining in one’s house over 5,000 people a year for some seven years had taken its toll.
Ah, another pampered diplomat swilling champagne at public expense?
I did not feel excessively pampered listening to gun battles outside my Moscow flat during the attempted coup against President Yeltsin, or when we lived in Sarajevo with a minefield over the fence. In any case, bringing serious people together in relaxed, discreet surroundings to help move complex issues forward is part of how things work in any business, diplomacy included. Deal with it.
Not really. But it was a bracing week or two. Oh, and my FCO end-of-year 'performance bonus' was reduced a notch, from 'Not Much' to 'Even Less'. The pain!
Did a real Chinese alarm-clock inspire you?
And weren’t you exposed as a British spy in the Balkans before that?
There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and Balkan conspiracy theories. Any British or indeed other diplomat serving in the Balkans who is not denounced as a spy perhaps is not doing anything useful.
So what is all this Blogoir thing about? Why not the usual book of memoirs? You seem to have done some pretty exciting stuff?
I doubt whether many people want to read such a book these days, unless it either makes noisily inappropriate or tendentious topical policy ‘revelations’ or divulges fatuous tittle-tattle about Ministers’ clothing and sex-lives. Ideally both. I rather want to share with the public my informal but informed thoughts on the diplomatic process as such, plus offer some level-headed insights into some events which caught the public eye or should have done. To explain in an accessible, open-minded way what diplomats actually do. And maybe to be a bit provocative now and again.
Why do you think that anyone will be interested?
Not clear to me that anyone will be. I like the idea of trying something new, at least as far as former British diplomats are concerned.
The FCO must be vetting everything you write, so why should we bother with it?
No they’re not. I am sure they’ll be watching this exercise with keen interest to see what pops out. There is a long and earnest list of UK government requirements said to be binding on former officials as to how they should behave after they leave public service and what if anything they might do with their ‘officially acquired information’. [Note: since I started this site in early 2008 there has been not a peep from the FCO on anything I've written - CC, Jan 2012]
Back in real life, in the digital age keeping anything confidential or discreet is of course tricky. Basically, what Ministers and the public alike are entitled to expect in such circumstances boils down to normal professional courtesy, discretion and good judgement exercised with due respect for the public and national interest. Sounds OK to me.
Some former Ambassadors are bravely criticising the system and official hypocrisy. Doesn’t sound as if you plan to do so?
Courage is not adjusted by a volume control. And who gives you more to think about? Someone who loathes you and wails away endlessly but ineffectively on the subject, or the honest and knowledgeable critic who tells you and the world exactly what he/she thinks?
Aren’t you just an eccentric reactionary who never really fitted in at the FCO, a point in your favour of course?
Maybe you're right, although three important Ambassadorships before one's fiftieth birthday is unusually strong going in any Diplomatic Service. At the risk of sounding unfashionable, I believe in Facts, Honesty and Responsibility (particularly for thinking carefully about Cause and Effect). All of these flourish only where there are Markets. In one word, Civilisation.
I believe that public money should be spent honestly and intelligently. Having the chance to spend other people's money on a massive scale tends to induce a certain cynical state of mind which can slip into corruption of different sorts. Without sustained steely self-restraint by politicians and senior civil servants alike, things quickly slump towards decadence and decline.
Heavy stuff. More?
Having lived in apartheid South Africa I do not like 'ethnic origin' questionnaires in today's United Kingdom which use racial categories creepily reminiscent of the apartheid regime's odious Population Registration Act. After years working for the British public service and living across communist and post-communist Europe I have views on what the state sector in the UK and indeed anywhere else can and cannot do well. And I have views on where 'civilisation' comes from and who its enemies are these days. If it makes you happy to put people in trite little boxes, mark me down as an old-fashioned but creative libertarian realist.
Did you support the Iraq intervention?
Because evil dangerous regimes which brutalise whole populations and threaten global order need to be stopped.
Good point, but why only Iraq? Double standards?
"Better double standards than no standards?", as I used to say in confronting bad leaders in former Yugoslavia. The fact that it alas is not possible to scale back all the world's revolting dictators does not make action against one of them to free millions of people wrong or hypocritical. To argue in that banal, idiotic way merely encourages said dictators and demoralises their victims, who are looking to us to help them.
Why do you support Tottenham?
Their capacious and unending inventiveness in finding new astounding ways to disappoint their fans has to be admired.
Did you ever play Garry Kasparov at chess?
Yes. He began the game by pointing his two knights straight at me. Things on the board spiralled downhill thereafter. But he gave me a chess board signed "Dear Charles, Good luck in the chess game of diplomacy, G Kasparov". Very nice.
Why do you write some words in a sentence with Capital Letters?
The greatest ever (ie wittiest) book on diplomatic life is 'Esprit de Corps' by Lawrence Durrell, as it happens a distant predecessor for me as Information Officer at the British Embassy in Belgrade in the early 1950s. He used this device to marvellous effect. I shamelessly have copied his example, albeit rather less elegantly.
Where does that good line about the 'tiny spark of hope in the surrounding impenetrable blackness' come from?
From a scene-setting telegram I sent to London in January 2005 on the eve of the ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Lots. Probably too much. Read the Blogoir.