The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Britain’s Die-Hard Diplomats

Category: Politics

In the 19th century the Diplomatic Service was recruited almost exclusively from the landed aristocracy. Up to 1918, what is now known as the Foreign Service was divided into two separate organisations: the Foreign Office, corlsisting of Civil servants at Whitehall, and the larger Diplomatic Service — the embassy staffs abroad, from ambassadors downward.

To be a diplomat the qualifications were the right proportions of class and cash. It was plainly impossible for any but wealthy young men to enter the Service. In 1918 the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service were merged into a single Foreign Service, now in theory open to the propertyless. There were competitive exams for candidates which included appearance before Selection Boards. So careful was their selection that, in 1943, the Government was forced to acknowledge in a White Paper that Foreign Office personnel was “recruited from too small a circle, that it tends to represent the interests of certain sections of the nation rather than those of the country as a whole.’

With the end of the war a new, “modern’’ method of selecting personnel was adopted. Prospective. candidates were convened, for interview in stately mariors: There they were grilled by often semi-feudal selectors (aided by psychologists). The final choice lay not with the anonymous, competitive, written exam but with the selectors, who were themselves the most carefully selected of all.

In 1963, an MP in an oral answer to a question in the House of Commons on “how many successful applicants for Branch A (the Senior Branch) of the Foreign Office in the period 1952-62 were educated at Oxford and Cambridge,’’ replied: “195, i. e., 94.2 per cent of the successful applicants.’’ seventy per cent, he stated, in reply to a similar question, were educated at public schools.

The old essentials for diplomatic careers were the correct combination of class and cash. Today you might better describe it as birth, background and conformism.

« ||| »

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.