Daniel Korski

Who could Britain place in the UN’s humanitarian department?

Who could Britain place in the UN's humanitarian department?
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After Sir John Holmes retires as the head of the UN’s humanitarian activities later in the year, the Cameron government will have the chance to make its first high-level international appointment. Officially, the job is appointed by UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon, but the unpopular South Korean is likely to want to keep the new British government on board as he seeks re-election for a second term. So the UK is likely to get its pick.

Rumours have it that three people are on the short list drawn up by officials:  Valerie Amos, the Labour peer and former International Development Secretary; Dame Barbara Stocking, the head of OXFAM, and Martin Griffiths, the head of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and formerly Deputy UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator.

Sir John was widely seen as having done a credible job, even though Britain had wanted him in another slot (as the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs) and he came to the position without any background in humanitarian affairs.  But there is now likely to be considerable pressure for his replacement to have some background in humanitarian affairs.

On the other hand, it might be handy to use the high-profile job to placate a senior Tory or Lib Dem. But who would want to work for the UN, on the portfolio in question, and leave Westminster at such a pivotal time? The list is short indeed.  Ming Campbell might be one choice. If Tony Lake can head UNICEF I guess someone like Malcolm Rifkind can be the UN’s relief “czar” – but it is unlikely. What is certain is giving the job to giving the job to Baroness Amos would be an odd choice – it would have none of the political benefits that Nicolas Sarkozy reaped by appointing the left-wing Dominique Strauss Kahn to head the IMF and she is not seen as having done such a remarkable job at DFID. Better to go for Des Browne, the former defence secretary,  if there is a desire to be bi-partisan about it. Either way, what the government decides will say a lot of how it intends to fill international slots in future.