Vanity is a funny thing. There is a passage in ‘Swann in Love’ by Marcel Proust in which he describes how people can be vain in surprising ways: the maestro orchestral conductor doesn’t mind you criticising his recent concert performance but if you were to question his cooking or gardening he would take terrible offence. I guess it’s to do with how much security we feel in our talents. Perhaps we most need praise where we feel least self-assured.
Which may go to explain why I was so self-satisfied when today, at the formal lunch of the UK Nordic Baltic Summit, I sat at a table of 18 people nine of whom were Prime Ministers. When I worked in Number Ten I was carefully pigeonholed as a domestic person and excluded from any discussion of foreign policy, let alone the exciting trips to Washington and elsewhere. So, to be surrounded by foreign heads of government and even to speak briefly to them was a big thrill. On the way out I even took a photograph of the seating plan, with me between the Norwegian and the Lithuanian Prime Ministers. My mum will be proud.
The event itself was, I think, a great success. The RSA was one of three think tanks asked to help with facilitation and note taking in the three sets of discussion groups: on technology and innovation, families, jobs and gender equality, and the environment and sustainability.
As the Prime Ministers all said at the end, it was a summit quite unlike the usual diplomatic model. The business was conducted in small groups each of which heard presentations from various innovators and policy makers in the participating countries. So informal was the event that the Prime Ministers all wore small blue badges just so we would know they were Prime Ministers even though they mingled freely with the other delegates!
As we had to meet at 7.00 am to get the coach to Whitechapel Gallery (the room I was facilitating contained a huge, rather brutal, art installation) I will leave more substantive comments on the Summit until tomorrow. But one of the strengths was the mixing of broad themes with specific good ideas and, probably, among the latter the single idea that got the top billing was the Innovation Mill. So, here to give you a taste of the event is a link to the presentation given by the Mill’s founders.
A return to the past seems implausible. Exhausted as we are, a dash to the future seems unlikely. Nonetheless, however weary, we cannot stay rooted to this moment.