Presidents and Prime Ministers love the fact that they can travel around the world speaking on our behalf. Their counterparts much prefer to meet one another than the miserly Foreign Secretary or heaven forbid, a deputy PM.......By the way the same goes for our Ambassadors who live for that hand shake with the President or PM of the country they are in.
Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron had done little travelling as backbench MPs. They were so engrossed in their shadow cabinet responsibilities for most of their opposition time that they did not avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union or indeed of the All Party Parliamentary overseas groups.
Travelling is vital for a politician. You can read about the growth of Shanghai from 13 million to 21 million in just under a decade but to see its growth, its miles and miles of housing developments, its smog and its traffic jams is another matter. Television news coverage hardly stays longer than an interview with a President or PM and with the abject decline in hard edged documentaries (RIP - First Tuesday, World in Action et al) seeing and smelling a country ironically has become harder not easier in this linked up social networked world.
How could Mandelson have misread the tea-leaves so badly over Tata Motors request for a loan of $500 million when their purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover came back to bite them three years ago. His problem is he'd travelled but never arrived. But he couldn't see that helping Tata (a top ten global company) would help the UK economy in the future with the assembly plants for the Nano and Tata's soon to be revealed electric car. He took an imperialist attitude to them when at BIS something Cameron rightly commented on last week when in India. "Partnership" means just that (as he is finding out).
The FOI Act has caused some concern with the likes of the FCO, the British Council and to a lesser extent the CPA and IPU. They have been relentlessly chased by C4, the Daily Mail and the Mirror for information over the costs of inviting MPs and Peers on trips. But in terms of the medium and long term benefits to the MP/Peer and therefore to the level of future debate and intelligence gathering for UK plc, these visits are vital for the oxygen of democracy. It is, after all, sometime since any MP or Peer said, as a former VP of America exclaimed on a visit to Latin America, that he was sorry he hadn't studied Latin at school as he would have been able to address them in their native language......
And so to Cameron's tour of America, Turkey, India and Italy which he shoe-horned into the last two weeks. If there was a weakness it was in his own preparation and knowledge (re: saying America entered WW2 in 1940....hadn't he heard of Pearl Harbour?) which reflected badly on his own team at No.10. I expect that will improve. As to what he said in these countries well he was spot on and it needed to be said. If the Tories do nothing else but reform the Foreign Office they will have achieved much as it has remained out of the loop for far too long.