‘Diplomacy is not dead yet. In many ways, it matters more than ever’: so spake Tom Fletcher, in the gorgeously rich environment of the New Theatre in the centre of Oxford. The occasion was the Great ORA Debate; and its motion, ‘This House Believes that Modern Technology and Traditional Diplomacy are Incompatible’, could not have asked for a better judge.
Tom Fletcher was Britain’s youngest ever ambassador when he was appointed to serve in Lebanon, aged 36, in 2011. He arrived as the war in nearby Syria was escalating, and he didn’t have any better luck with its continued escalation over the rest of his four-year term; however, having been Foreign Policy Advisor to three Prime Ministers from 2007-2011, he was certainly capable of handling the difficulties presented. Tom Fletcher demonstrated an understanding of the potential of technological advances, particularly those brought about by the combination of phone and internet wrought by the likes of Twitter and YouTube, that perhaps outstrips that of any other diplomat; he was able to create several very influential viral messages, including his heartfelt valedictory blog post upon his departure from Lebanon.
As adjudicator in the debate, he had a tough decision on his hands. The four speakers –one from St Catherine’s College, one from Balliol, and two from the combined mass of Queen’s and University Colleges— all spoke persuasively, and at times very passionately: a great deal of rhetorical flourish was displayed, and it even became heated in one or two moments. The campus’ chosen representatives had clearly done their preparation: a medley of arguments on the topic was put forward, and an impressive grasp of both history and current affairs was demonstrated. Ultimately it was Pedro Paulino, one of our very own from the cohort in Balliol College, who carried home the coveted trophy of Best Speaker: and the cheers that greeted the decision, as well as his spontaneous speech of thanks, showed that the students in Balliol were passionate supporters.
The evening, after a day of such excitement, did not slow down. In Balliol, there was a ZooLab workshop, bringing into the college a great collection of meerkats, skunks, strange insects and freakishly large spiders. For those preferring to relax somewhat, there was the chance to engage in a yoga club; and for those looking to university, there was a question-and-answer seminar in which students could quiz our counsellors on the different universities and their recommendations for every stage in the processes involved.