Taking the long view on diplomacy  

After decades of representing British interests around the globe, Edward Glover (MPhil History, 1970) shares his reflections on diplomacy, history and why he continues to support Birkbeck.

It was while studying at Birkbeck that Edward Glover learned to, in his words, “take the long view”. In the late 1960s, Edward coupled his early career in the Diplomatic Service with evening studies in History, gaining an intellectual hinterland for his approach to diplomacy. “I always believed that the study of the past provides the means to better interpret the present and navigate the future,” Edward tells us. This is a worldview he applied to many postings: from helping to ensure Allied access to East Berlin to assisting the post-invasion government in Iraq re-establish the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   

Birkbeck taught Edward “the art of thinking, expressing opinions and writing them down”. This worked well, he says: “since in my career I did a tremendous amount of writing briefs and drafting speeches”. These abilities also laid the basis for Edward’s later career in writing and publishing his work. Since 2014 he has published six historical novels – settings have included 18th century Europe, 19th-century Parisian high society and the Nuremberg trials of 1946.  

Currently, as Chairman of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Association, Edward works with others to help today’s young diplomats to take their own long views on history. Wary of school curriculums “jumping from 1066, to the Tudors, to Adolf Hitler”, Edward reminds his mentees that “so much was happening in the East” long before – such as the evolution of the Silk Roads and the rise of China. He posits: “The historical gravity point has never been in the West. It has always been in the East.”   

As for practical advice, Edward recounts his screensaver: “always be one jump ahead”. He first heard the phrase at a military garrison in Berlin, where a senior officer told him that “the most important thing to do every day is to be aware of where to go in an emergency – where the nearest door is”. Edward thinks about this in terms of mental agility: “While you’re working on an answer to a problem, remember that circumstances may have changed – therefore you have to be able to change your position quickly. That’s even more crucial in the upended world in which we now live.”  

Circumstances have dramatically changed since Edward’s studies at Birkbeck. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the expansion of the European Union, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the weakening of democracy have all shaped his long career. However, Edward’s conviction in supporting the College remains firm. He tells us: “Looking back, I would say that going to Birkbeck, to study in parallel with my career, was the greatest and most important decision I have ever made. That is why I have always wanted to find opportunities to give back.”