It’s a long-standing tradition in the UK that diplomats are career civil servants, and that ambassadors are appointed from within the civil service. The argument is that they are politically neutral, and represent the government of the day of whatever colour. (Although some would argue that this is part of the reason why UK foreign policy changes little when governments change, whatever the ministers may wish. ‘Real’ policy is controlled by that ‘neutral’ civil service.) The United States, on the other hand, has a long tradition under which ambassadors are political appointments; when the government changes, the voice of that government abroad also changes.
I can see merit in both approaches; it’s not as simple as saying that one is right and the other wrong. What I don’t see much merit in, though, is for governments to appoint as their voice overseas people who agree with, and will kow-tow to, the government of the country in which they work, which seems to be what Trump has in mind. Can anyone imagine his response if the UK Government were to suggest that Hillary Clinton would be quite a good appointment as US ambassador to the UK?Having said that, if the UK were to move to a political basis for appointments, then it’s clear that we have recently had a change of government, and some of the policy changes between Cameron and May look to be more significant than they would have been if Miliband had been elected last year. It seems to me that we have what looks increasingly like a UKIP government in all but name – get out of the EU at any price, clamp down on immigration, reintroduce grammar schools, say whatever is thought might be popular, and make up policy on the hoof, just for starters – so perhaps a UKIP ambassador to the US doesn’t really look as silly as many might think. Farage is probably closer to the views of the current government than any civil servant would be - it’s just that people pretend he isn’t.