As one of the great departments of state, along with the Treasury and the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office labours under a reputation for size and extravagance, even though it now comes well down the pecking order in terms of staff numbers and budget. Singled out for cost cuts under the last government – Labour has never been a big friend of the Foreign Office – the diplomatic corps has had to watch the cash flow into the Department for International Development (DfiD), while its own coffers took a hit of about 5% a year.
It seems absurd to imagine Britain without the Foreign Office. But might it not be time to consider whether foreign ministries have outlived their usefulness in today’s globalised world?
Practical moves in this direction have, in fact, been in train for a while. One of them concerns that shift in relative spending power from the FCO to DfiD reflects a philosophical trend that regards development assistance as a more effective and ethical way of exerting national influence than conventional diplomacy. It is no coincidence that DfiD’s contributions in the field have been rebranded UKAid, along the lines of the American USAid… MORE