Next: the people's foreign policy

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The Independent Online
THE FOREIGN and Commonwealth Office, the stuffiest of government departments, is to get the Cool Britannia treatment as part of a wide- ranging inquiry into the United Kingdom's role abroad.

Mark Leonard, the New Labour whizz kid who advised ministers on "rebranding" Britain and drew plans for a "makeover" of the Royal Family, is now investigating the future of diplomacy.

The role of ambassadors, the structure of the diplomatic corps, the future of the World Service and the British Council will all be examined. Cocktail party diplomacy, the traditional telegram communication and lavish ambassadorial residences will also come under scrutiny.

The investigation will be conducted by the Foreign Policy Centre, an independent think tank which has Tony Blair as a patron and Robin Cook as its president. Mr Leonard, a former researcher with Demos, is the centre's head.

Although the investigation has not been commissioned by the Government, ministers and officials have made clear that they will co-operate.

The Foreign Secretary is keen to modernise his department following criticisms of the way it operates, aired in the Legg report into the arms to Africa affair. He has already allowed public access to the Foreign Office with open days in the ornate 18th century Locarno Room. And he is insisting that the diplomatic corps recruits from a broader range of people.

The project will be the most far-reaching assessment of the role of the Foreign Office since the Central Policy Review Staff, a Downing Street think tank headed by Tessa Blackstone, now an education minister, provoked outrage by proposing sweeping changes in 1977.

Mr Leonard said the aim of the research project was to create the "people's foreign policy" and also to reinvent Britain's relationships with the rest of the world now that it no longer runs an enmpire. He will try to capitalise on the findings of Panel 2000, the Government's so-called "committee for cool" set up to find ways of promoting the United Kingdom as a modern and young country.

The centre will this week launch a new mission statement setting out its intention of bringing diplomacy to the masses. Mr Leonard intends to identify ways to involve ordinary people, charities and companies in formulating foreign policy.

The first major research project will be investigation into the future of diplomacy. The centre will propose ways to shake up the way Britain's image is promoted abroad. This is likely to mean more emphasis on pop concerts and fashion shows and less on champagne parties - although Mr Leonard denied he intended to undermine the traditional cocktail circuit

The centre will also investigate how foreign policy is handled across Whitehall. One proposal is to merge the diplomatic service, which supplies officials to the Foreign Office, with the home civil service, which staffs all other departments. The research project is also likely to recommend fewer diplomatic levels to create a less hierarchical structure.

Mr Leonard wants to see more "joined-up government" in foreign policy, with the FCO as the co-ordinator. At the moment, different aspects are handled by different departments, the Department for Trade and Industry dealing with exports, the Home Office considering immigration policy and the Ministry of Defence stepping in at times of war. The Foreign Office could also use email and videolinks to communicate with its worldwide posts.