Six months ago I wrote my first blog: Is soft power still a tool in today’s world? It was inspired by the work that began at ResPublica, which culminated in the report published last week – Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions. My conclusion differed from that of the report authors, as I had not taken institutions into consideration as strongly – clearly my self-education on the topic was not complete back then. However I also understand that the aim of the report was not to situate the UK in a world of power-play, so foreign agents’ undermining activities need not be considered. Foreign policy is not ResPublica’s main area of operation.

The launch event for the report was held in Parliament on the 12th of July, with then-acting Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Crispin Blunt MP, Chief Executive of the British Council Sir Ciaran Devane, CEO of BBC Media Action Caroline Nursey and CEO of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy Anthony Smith. The event was chaired by James Noyes, Head of Policy at ResPublica, and opening remarks were given by Phillip Blond, Director at ResPublica, with a response from the Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group Ian Blatchford.

Phillip Blond’s remarks grounded the event in the current policy landscape of Brexit, referring to the effects on business, academia/research and trade. Ian Blatchford picked up on the academia remarks, in particular referring to a programme involving Polish students who were still keen to study in the UK post-Brexit.

Sir Ciaran Devane was the first panelist to speak, and he said that his impression post-Brexit did not align with that of Ian Blatchford – within the EU the UK took a reputational hit, but further abroad this was not necessarily the case. Australia, for instance, was quite insistent that they would be able to work through trade agreements very swiftly. He did bring up the point of British institutions abroad being excellent partners to local organisations however, something that Caroline Nursey continued to talk about.

BBC Media Action is a local partner to many news organisations around the world, sharing best practice in order to raise standards and provide reporting of a standard that has cemented the broadcaster’s reputation abroad as first-class.

Crispin Blunt MP acknowledged that when organisations like the BBC (Caroline Nursey was clear to point out that this was not the case for Media Action or the World Services) were funded (partially) by the Government, their impartiality could be called into question, which needed to be prevented. The charm of the UK’s soft power, after all, is that it is cultural, not imposed by the Government.

Questions were opened by the Chair, James Noyes, and included contributions by Lord Hannan, who was skeptical about the prospects of soft power when recent political moves were so inward-focussed. Crispin Blunt MP responded that Brexit was an opportunity to re-examine – and possibly to reposition, if necesssary – the relationships the UK had with other countries. It could well lead to a strengthening of these relationships, if developed individually than as a strategy devised in partnership with 27 other countries. Other panelists fielded further questions.

Unfortunately the event ran out of time before all questions could be answered, but the conversation continued with the hashtag #UKsoftpower

 

(Photo credit goes to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I have been External Affairs Officer at ResPublica since April 2016.)

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