Charles Crawford, former British ambassador to Moscow, is wary of Ross's enthusiasm for such agents of change. "Who, after all, is George Soros?" Crawford wrote in his blog, in 2009: "Who gave him a mandate to stick his nose and his money into so many places? Who elected Greenpeace? What possible claim does Bono have to speak sense on anything? Should not the fact that he rubs shoulders with world leaders at Davos embarrass all concerned? This all boils down to a deep and dangerous proposition: that the strength of feeling (and the feeling of strength) matter far more than the strength of reason." Yet even Crawford admires what he calls Ross's "idealism": "No one" he admits to me, "can fault Carne's faith in more democracy and more transparency."
Is Ross's Independent Diplomat on a moral mission? After all, this is the man who, when the late Robin Cook was British foreign secretary, wrote the first draft of a famous speech Cook delivered in 2007 on the need for "ethical foreign policy." Ross squirms at the mention of "good" and "evil." "Cheesily, I chose a compass as our logo," he says. Listening to him speak, it is easy to conclude that it is moral indignation that fuels him -- a presumption borne out by his books, which lay out his vision of diplomacy (Independent Diplomat) and radical democracy (Leaderless Revolution). Phrases like "the injustice of what passes for democracy," "the gulf between the astronomically rich and everyone else," and "the shame of 40 million Americans living below the poverty line" pepper his conversation with me. Indeed, there is something of a crusader about Ross, with his clean, Clark Kent features, lantern jaw, and thick-rimmed glasses. As befits the unpretentious image of his new outfit, Ross opts for jeans and a polo neck rather than stuffy diplomat tailoring -- though a suit and tie hang in a cupboard in his office, for those unexpected meetings at the United Nations.
"Carne believes in opening up the elite decision-making and having more bottoms-up organizations -- in other words, a utopia." That's according to John Ashton, the British Government's special representative for climate change, who came across Independent Diplomat at the U.N. climate change negotiations. Here ID was helping small island states, whose very survival is at stake, voice their concerns. "They did some first-class work," says Ashton. "But none of this guarantees the organizations will be run by good people with good motives," Ashton notes. "Populism and incoherence are not a recipe for success. For that, we need a small group of people at the top making the right choices." Ashton's viewpoint would sit uneasily with Ross, who sees nothing inevitable about a self-perpetuating elite which he regards as self-important and out-of-touch.
Gerard Russell, who worked with Carne Ross at the FCO in 1995, likens him to a lawyer who takes on the cases no one else will. "The fact that his clients can't pay doesn't make them good but it does mean they deserve a lawyer."
Not that ID is a charity (though it does have non-profit status). Ross stresses that although he draws financial support from diverse sources, ideally he would like to make his clients pay: "If people don't pay for your advice they don't value it -- as aid agencies have learned."