The event was actually in the Ambassador's Residence, which must date back to the pre-Soviet days and was certainly there in the Soviet period though heavily guarded at a time when other embassies and residences were not (apart from the Israeli and South African). The reception rooms are obviously meant to resemble the grandeur of the eighteenth century and there is even a statue of Peter the Great in the garden though it is, as I pointed out to the Secretary, too small. He agreed with me. Peter was a giant physically as well as mentally though something of a lout in his behaviour, attitudes and personal hygiene.
Lots of huge and not so huge porcelain pieces and truly dull but grand paintings on the wall. Surely the Ambassador to London can raid the Hermitage or the Tretyakovka and get some better art to hang on the walls. Whoever is in charge of that needs to be fired. I was amused to find the double-headed eagle in pride of place in one of the largest salons. Presumably twenty-odd years ago it would have been the hammer and sickle or a portrait of Lenin.
The two panels were of moderate interest. I now know that Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy is a crashing bore of monumental self-righteousness. He burbled for what felt like hours though was only a deeply forgettable ten minutes about his achievements, the main ones of which were preventing Rod Liddell from getting the editorship of the Independent and ensuring that the News of the World closed down. The first was never going to happen, anyway, and if it did happen it would have made the Indie slightly more viable, and the second meant that there are now fewer newspapers in Britain. Goodness knows what the Russians made of that.
Guido Fawkes, the other panellist (there was a third one, a Russian, who, for some reason did not talk about Russian bloggers laughing at Putin - here and here) made one good point: if you want a thriving blogosphere, he said, do not arrest your bloggers. True enough but it remains questionable whether Britain, where bloggers are safe, has a thriving blogosphere. One can't expect Guido to deal with that issue though he did say that a lot of bloggers have become tweeters, which is a very different kettle of fish.
The second panel consisted of a number of civil servants and one diplomat telling us how wonderfully well the civil service has expanded into social networking, blogging, tweeting, Facebook, what have you and how this helps democracy because people can now write to them directly, engage in conversation, suggest pieces of legislation and so on. When I asked whether this was not simply a matter of handing out the usual propaganda because, in practical terms, getting answers about legislation, regulation and just ordinary facts from the civil service is as difficult as ever if not so, two refused to answer and one waffled meaninglessly. I rest my case.
One interesting fact from the account of diplomats and embassies having websites, twitter accounts and blogs was that the most active site is the Israeli one. The ambassador, apparently, encourages debates and zestfully takes part in them. No kidding, I thought. Why does that accord with every stereotype we have of Israelis who say themselves that if you have three Jews there are five parties.
The food was good, the drink was copious and the blogging section of the audience lived up to its reputation by paying no attention to anything that was going on but constantly tweeting. They let me out, obviously.