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Kim Darroch and the art of the diplomat

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It was Kim Darroch’s misfortune to live the nightmare that haunts all British ambassadors: finding their frank and unvarnished assessment of policies and personalities, intended for a few senior readers in London, splashed across the front page of the Mail on Sunday. Darroch was doubly unfortunate that this happened in July 2019, deep into the age of Trump. I can imagine Barack Obama brushing it off with a lofty “that’s what ambassadors are paid to do”. It would have meant a few awkward weeks for the embassy, but nothing worse.

No such luck with Donald Trump. Within hours, he tweeted: “the wacky ambassador that the UK foisted on the US is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy… we will no longer deal with him”. When Darroch’s position came up in the televised debate between the two remaining candidates to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party a couple of days later, Jeremy Hunt did what every previous foreign secretary would have done – he stood behind his man: “if I become prime minister, Darroch stays”. Boris Johnson didn’t; he was evasive, no doubt calculating the risk of annoying Trump. In effect, he hung Darroch out to dry. It was an early sign of his ruthlessness towards the public service. Darroch resigned the next day.

The leak and its consequences frame this fast-paced, vivid and insightful memoir, but (contrary to the impression given by some media coverage) they don’t define it. The book is notably free of the score-settling rancour of Christopher Meyer’s 2006 book DC Confidential. Above all, it is a journal of four extraordinary years which changed the US, starting in the foothills of the 2016 election campaign, and is full of revealing anecdotes reflecting the unique access that a British ambassador has to all the leading characters.

Before recounting his American adventure, Darroch sketches the path that led him to the most glamorous job in the diplomatic service. Raised by his father and grandmother after his parents separated, he went from a council flat in Abingdon via a scholarship to Abingdon School and a zoology degree at Durham to the Foreign Office. Failing to get into the fast stream, he joined........

© New Statesman

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