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The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for June, 2011

Ain’t that Prince Charles?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Farewells fall into that category of human experiences that seem, somehow, both inevitable and unimaginable.  So it is with some surprise that I find myself announcing, in the manner of the bugler on the lonely hilltop, that this is the Last Post.

My four years as British Ambassador in Sweden have been a magnificent experience.  It’s true, the sun doesn’t always shine, metaphorically or otherwise.  But I’ve had a lot of sunny days and I’m grateful for the privilege.

You don’t go through a posting, though, without committing the occasional howler.  It goes with the territory.  And when you’re an Ambassador you have the opportunity to commit more than the usual quotient, and usually in public.  Here are some of my favourites from my final four years.

  • I have made much of my love of cycling here. And I do love cycling.  It’s true that the security people were not always particularly pleased by my propensity to jump on my bike and disappear off to meetings.  But so intrigued were the staff of one famous public institution here to learn that I was arriving by bike that they gathered at the window to watch me arrive.  So distracted was I by this that I crashed into a tree.  Not good.
  • I have often had the pleasure to hand out prizes.  Sometimes the pre-briefing from the organisers can be a little haphazard.  With the effect – on one occasion – that I made a long and moving speech about the wonders of the English language before presenting an English dictionary to a very bemused Mathematics Prize Winner.
  • Sharing a name with our Minister for International Development has occasionally offered challenges.  One of the more memorable involved me introducing myself to a senior contact here, saying, “Hello, I’m Andrew Mitchell” and him responding, “No you’re not, I’ve met Andrew Mitchell and he’s much better dressed”.  I wouldn’t say that our relationship quite began as I’d hoped.
  • I once walked confidently off stage and into the female dressing room.  I mean, who would put a dressing room THERE?
  • One well-known politician noticed a copy of their memoirs propping a door open at my Residence. There are times when it’s better just to smile.
  • One warm summer’s day I went to the Palace with the Union Jack flying from the car and the window down and overheard an American tourist say, “Gee, ain’t that Prince Charles?”

I could go on. But I’ll save the rest for my own memoirs. Which, I can confidently say, will have a long life as door-stoppers…

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Prevention is better than cure…

Friday, June 10th, 2011

When I was a small child, my grandmother was wont to say that, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  It was a favourite idiom of hers and one that, to be frank, I became rather tired of hearing.  It could apply to (not) climbing and falling out of trees, (not) standing out in the rain and catching a cold and (not) reading books in the bath.  I could go on, but you get the point.  It was only later that I came to know that Benjamin Franklin was widely credited as the originator of this phrase and since then I’ve developed the no doubt irritating habit of using it with my own children (with the private but somewhat distracting twin images of Granny and the bearded US President in the forefront of my mind…)

It came to mind again this week when the British Home Secretary announced the results of a review of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/counter-terrorism/prevent/prevent-strategy/), called “Prevent”.  And the conclusions make for interesting reading.

The reviewers found that our current Prevent programme has been flawed.  It confused government policy to promote integration with government policy to prevent terrorism; it failed to tackle the extremist ideology at the heart of the threat we face; and in trying to reach those at risk of radicalisation, funding sometimes even reached the very extremist organisations that Prevent should have been confronting.

So the review announces that the strategy will be re-focused.  Its aim will be to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.  It will challenge extremist ideology, help protect sectors and institutions from extremists and stop the radicalisation of vulnerable people.  It will address all forms of extremism but target those forms of terrorism which pose the greatest risk to our national security.  It will tackle non-violent extremism where it creates an environment conducive to terrorism and/or ideas popularised by terrorist groups.

The review also highlighted the need for a clearer distinction between our counter terrorist work and our integration strategy.  It cannot be denied that the success of Prevent depends on the success of the latter but the review rightly cautioned against the two becoming confused or viewed as interchangeable.  Failure to distinguish between the two agendas runs the risk of securitising integration and reducing our overall chances of our success.  Integration alone will not meet our counter-terrorism objectives.  Nor should we expect it to.  But equally importantly, our integration programme, while clearly complementing our Prevent agenda, should be about much more than counter-terrorism and security.

We intuitively know that prevention will always be preferable to dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist crisis.  We believe that our new Prevent strategy sets out a plan for enacting prevention in a targeted and meaningful way.

Granny (and Ben Franklin) would approve.

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