Dr Andrew Murrison is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence and the MP for South West Wiltshire.
Our paper Brits In High Places, Policy Exchange, published today, shines the light on Britain’s record in putting the right people in the right places within supra governmental organisations.
It’s a first. A search of leading British think- tanks, including the Institute for Government, Chatha m House, RUSI, Henry Jackson Society and the International Institute for Strategic Studies leaves us none the wiser. The House of Commons Library has no data on senior UK nationals within supranational bodies and confirmed it has no knowledge of any recent work that could help.
Brexit has reversed the creeping incorporation of the UK’s international presence. As the 2021 Integrated Review makes clear, this country must now shift for itself in a feverishly competitive world, rediscovering diplomatic reach and the means of exercising soft power. We need to put friends in high places and choose those places with care.
We mined the world’s top 30 organisations from WHO to the lesser-known World Intellectual Property Organisation for the nationalities of the most senior jobholders as far back as records would allow. We found a total of 1171 supranational mandarins.
Our deep dive gives quantitative support to the idea that Britain is doing reasonably well on the basis of the crude numbers we have been able to place in key roles. This is despite a picture of gradual decline as others, notably China, begin their ascendancy.
Dive deeper though and the picture is less encouraging.
Pleasingly, we find that the UK has a strong record of representation in ‘soft’ institutions covering humanitarian and development affairs, living up to its image as a ‘development superpower.’ Its current holding of nine per cent of posts in the sector is consistently second only to the US. Of course, it helps to be a major bankroller of aid institutions, particularly to their core budgets, when it comes to easing in British nominees. Convention helps too. For example, the UK has been particularly well represented over the years in the top slot at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
But every appointment comes at a cost. Those costs are to be found at the harder-nosed, crunchier end of the job queue. Our data shows just how badly we do when it comes to the top slots in organisations dealing with finance and commerce. Where are our Christine Lagardes?
It’s important to understa n d the ecosyste m within which world stage appointments are divvied up. The big jobs are filled by horse trading between nations advancing their nationals or those of their mates. Some are better at it than others, some elbows sharper than others, some countries are cravenly opportunistic, a few altruistic.
Beyond the hard numbers, our research becomes qualitative, more speculative. But our strong sense is that our competitors – we cite France particularly – are more focussed on choosing nominees who might be expected to advance national interests on the international stage. This comes naturally to politicians for example, less so to those who might see themselves as global citizens, an ethos that remains popular in parts of Whitehall. We find that the UK’s nominees tend to be professional civil servants, classically able generalists with long careers in the service of supran ational organisations. Whilst the UK talks about recruiting talent from business and commerce – ‘external by default’ – our European and US competition is actually doing it.
To advance Global Britain we suggest the UK needs to sharpen its recruitment focus on commercially facing international institutions. And it’s not just about getting bums on seats. Success will come from broadening the UK recruitment base for ‘hard’ international jobs, emulating our peer group in an attempt to get what’s best for Britain.
Brits in High Places by Andrew Murrison, Liam Fox and Alec Cadzow with a foreword by George Robertson is published today by Policy Exchange.