Brunch with... Carne Ross

Written by Ben Duckworth on 10 October 2011 in Culture
Ben Duckworth takes the former diplomat and author of The Leaderless Revolution out for brunch. Photo by Dean Belcher

Carne Ross, formerly the British representative at the UN on Iraq, who later resigned after giving evidence to the Butler Inquiry on Iraq. Now based in New York, he has just published The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century, which claims that states, governments and politicians are increasingly powerless.

The restaurant The Riding House Café

Located in Fitzrovia, five minutes’ walk from Oxford Circus, this brasserie serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Informal, and a little eccentric, the menu is British with European touches. Delicious bacon sandwiches.

The menu

Brunch (breakfast served until 12)
Orkney bacon sandwich on white bread, Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on sourdough toast.

We drank Berry smoothie (mixed berries, banana, apple juice, naturalyoghurt), orange juice, coffee.

We discussed

What’s wrong When a tiny elite makes decisions of massive importance for everybody else. When I worked on Iraq there were literally about six officials in Whitehall who covered it. This is the problem with representative democracy. There have been striking experiments in mass participation where thousands of people in a city take part in budgeting or planning decisions. Results? They're more equitable, more transparent and less corrupt.

Changing times We’re at a transitional moment in human history, moving from a state-based system to something else. Whether that will be ordered or disordered, bad or good, is up to us. That’s the main message of the book. You cannot rely on governments to sort things out. If we take that burden upon ourselves, that’s extraordinarily exciting and liberating.

Anarchism It's actually not illogical, when you think about it. Our traditional associations are 19th century nihilists, bombs with smoking fuses on them, or hooded guys with bandanas round their mouths charging police lines at G8 summits. Anarchism, as a method of politics, has a very positive history. If you do away with institutions and allow people to ‘do politics’ themselves, to arbitrate their business directly with one another, outcomes are better.

We’re dealing with a complex system today. You need to devolve power to the lowest level, people on the front lines, so they're able to deal with complexity.

Governments' lack of power Despite years of negotiations we have no effective global agreement on limiting carbon emissions. We have a highly complex diplomatic process that claims to deal with climate changes, where governments say, “Yes, we’re on top of it – you don’t need to worry about it” but that’s a false claim. We are the only ones who can really deal with climate change effectively.

On terrorism, I'd argue the same thing. Governments took a very state-centric approach to dealing with a non-state phenomena. The two primary responses to 9/11 were the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which has effectively stopped terrorism.

British diplomacy A friend’s father was a very senior British diplomat. She was going through his letters, and throughout there was a really deep sense of patriotism. Britain was the ultimate driving force of what he did. Even in the British diplomatic service, I don’t think you’d find many people now who would say that. They'd say they do it because they’re interested in it, because they believe in certain values, in international co-operation, but I don’t think many would say they’re doing it for Britain.

Perfect for
An informal, relaxed but above-standard bite in the centre of London.

Not suitable for
Anyone who doesn’t like stuffed squirrels (see photo).

The cost
Breakfast dishes cost up to £9.40.

To book a table at The Riding House Café, email or call 020 7927 0840.

Tags: Brunch with, Carne Ross, Issue 40, Riding House Cafe

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