At home with Director of Chatham House, Robin Niblett

Raleigh Addington
Raleigh Addington
editor at Chartwell Speakers

In a recent article on ‘speaking frankly’ Chatham House director Robin Niblett invited the Financial Times correspondent Annie Berglof into his London home for an interview.

Revealing that the most common question he is asked is “What is the Chatham House rule?” he explains it is to speak frankly without name or affiliation identification but for content to be used publicly – “It’s a byword for confidentiality.” The rule encourages open and free discussion without political repercussion.

Robin discusses the history of Chatham House; from being inspired by the informal, honest talks surrounding Versailles Treaty negotiations in 1919, to taking residence in the London building from which the name comes and the creation of its rule in 1927.

Interestingly, Robin compares US think tanks which are “primarily focused on providing advice to the US government” to Chatham House which is much smaller and has no endowment. He emphasises their global focus – Chatham House is a place to discuss international issues, in fact many emerging countries are attracted to the programme of talks.

Regarding recent security breaches, Robin warns that there is a danger of receiving mass information in this way, that although this appears to expose government thoughts, it has no content or context – “Its a mess” he claims.  In contrast, “at Chatham House information is put into context… we can apply judgement.” He believes that European governments need to be more truthful with their citizens about future hurdles.

The ultimate aim of Chatham House is to be a “safe space to start the conversation” Robin concludes.

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