02 July 2007

A blogging foreign secretary?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has named David Miliband MP as his new foreign secretary. My colleagues in the UK have said Miliband is one of the MP's Brown respects most. Miliband was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Tony Blair's government.

Miliband is -- or at least was -- a very active blogger. And he may be inclined to continue as Foreign Secretary:

As you will have heard, the new Prime Minister has asked me to take on new responsibilities as Foreign Secretary. Of course I am honoured to take up this new post. The last 15 months have been hugely challenging and hugely enjoyable - and I hope we have made a difference. The new mechanisms for political engagement and dialogue represented by this blog are needed more than ever. Thank you for reading, commenting and arguing over the last 15 months. It may take some time for new service to be resumed, but please watch this space.

It seems Foreign Secretary Miliband has always been interested in pushing the envelope on social media. A number of other ministers in Blair's cabinet were concerned Miliband might start talking about issues beyond his official sphere of influence. His attempt to establish a wiki on the topic of environmental contracts was derailed. Yet he remained hopeful.

As Miliband moves into his new role as Foreign Secretary, however, the stakes are much higher. There is perhaps no field in existence where the precise choice of words matters more than diplomacy. Miliband's next blog - if he chooses (and is allowed) to write it - will be put under more scrutiny than perhaps any blog in history. Will such a blog become a critical diplomatic backchannel where the UK's official position on anything from environmental treaties to the war in Iraq can be tempered with an informal comment from the Foreign Secretary? If so, this can be a highly useful and effective tool at times. But we're talking about a Foriegn Secretary whose every utterance will be poured over, and he's operating directly in a medium where words travel instantly.

There are times when a personal journal isn't personal anymore. If Miliband's blog runs afoul of British foreign policy with so much as a quip, he'll be come the Dooce di tutti Dooces. It's not a stretch to suggest the comments on such a blog may stretch decorum beyond its breaking point. There are risks beyond what we can currently predict.

Still, I'm hopeful and excited that Miliband will at least try to continue his experiment. Diplomacy is perhaps the greatest discussion, and its one that has until now been restricted to the diplomats. Are we ready to open up the floodgates here? Time will tell. Meantime, I'll see if the foreign policy experts at LGM and elsewhere have thoughts.

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