Soft power is sometimes defined as the art of attracting and co-opting others to ‘want what you want’, and is usually said to derive from three primary sources: culture, political values and foreign policy. It compliments traditional ‘hard power’ and gives a country the ability to inform opinions and to shape or frame the debate on important issues.
Britain is often described as a ‘soft power superpower’, consistently placed highly, and often top, in terms of its soft power reputation. This reflects are open and tolerant society, our long traditions of the free press, our respect for the rule of law and our relatively low corruption.
Britain’s soft power reputation is also due to our world-class soft power institutions, which include such organisations as the BBC World Service and the British Council. The former is the world’s foremost source of accurate and impartial news, trusted by millions during times of crisis, and the latter has acted as a link between Britain and the outside world since its formation in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, last year the Government required the British Council to close 20 of its overseas offices due to its decision not to plug the £10 million shortfall in the amount of pandemic financial support it was offering and the costs of running the organisation’s international network. This was the largest set of closures in the Council’s near 90-year history, and amongst others will see it withdraw from all countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ agreement. My article in the Times is here.
The British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which I chair, has concerns that up to a further 20 overseas offices may be required to close. Despite its parent Department, the FCDO, receiving a 21% increase in its budget over the next three years of the Spending Review period, it seems that the British Council’s budget is poised to be cut still further.
The British Council APPG hopes that the Government will realise that further cuts to the funding of one of our primary tools of soft power is not in our long-term interest, and will continue to oppose further closures to the British Council’s overseas network. Recent Westminster Hall and Adjournment debates can be found online here and here.
You can read more about John’s views on soft power in his article Hard Choices: Britain’s Foreign Policy for a Dangerous World.