The Naked Diplomat

By Tom Fletcher

William Collins

To read The Naked Diplomat is to experience a mixture of enjoyment, fascination and regret. 

Enjoyment and fascination speak for themselves – this is a book which blends high readability with genuine humour and deep insight – but the regret comes from the fact that the book’s author, Tom Fletcher, is no longer hard at work in the top tier of the British government.

Let’s face it, with Brexit dominating the UK’s horizon, the need for the best and brightest to flock towards public service has rarely been more acute. But Fletcher, alas, is now pursuing a portfolio career – part teacher, part advisor, part writer.

It would be churlish, however, to point any fingers. As he told us earlier this year, after stepping down as British ambassador to Lebanon and having advised three British prime ministers on foreign policy, it was time for something new. And in any case: “I still write ‘diplomat’ as my profession when I fill out those forms at airports – it’s just what I’m doing now is in a different form.”

Indeed it is. Fletcher’s eclectic range of activity now includes campaigning on global education as well as teaching international relations at New York University. He has also reviewed British diplomacy for the UK’s Foreign Office and recently issued a report on the digital future of the UN.

One might also hope, though, that another book might be in the offing in the not too distant future. After all, The Naked Diplomat – which came out last year – leaves the reader wanting more. It begins with a “short history” of diplomacy, one that starts in the stone age and concludes with a look at how today’s generation of diplomats are increasingly reliant on social media. It continues with a section on “statecraft and streetcraft”– including some fascinating anecdotes from his four years as Britain’s man in Beirut – and then onto a look at what comes next, with a focus on the impact of technology on diplomacy.

Fletcher writes with huge panache, peppering his insights with common-sense suggestions, tips for success and much else besides. The narrative flows beautifully – few books are more easily read – yet at no time does he leave the reader feeling shortchanged. This means that while there are plenty of moments of laugh out loud humour, there is no shortage of serious intellectual ballast to lend weight to his arguments.

He also takes the reader behind the closed doors of international summits, regaling us with stories of what really happens when leaders come together. Often, these are self-deprecating – including the time a translator inadvertently listed his job title as the “intimate typist for the prime minister’s affairs overseas”. And they are powerful, too, in setting out why the most important work at any summit occurs at the margins via “a frantic form of diplomatic speed dating”.

Fletcher believes that for countries to progress in the digital age they need to have a strong national story; know how to tell it; and know how and when to mix the tools at their disposal.

Anyone interested in finding out more, and learning anew about power and the importance of what Fletcher calls “citizen diplomacy” should look no further. In The Naked Diplomat they will find an invaluable resource, a book that is destined not to take root on dusty bookshelves but rather one that will be picked up to consult and enjoy, time and time again.