Donald Trump has made an art form of using his powers of patronage to further his own interests, not least in the case of the appointments he makes to ambassadorships around the world.

He has sought to reward his supporters for their loyalty (and often for their financial contributions) by sending them to coveted posts in London or Paris, or even Wellington, and he no doubt hopes that others will be tempted by the prospect of a similar payback if they follow suit.

The downsides of this practice include the real possibility that completely unqualified and unsuitable people are appointed to positions of responsibility - and there is another risk.

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Those who might otherwise stand up to the president will be least likely to do so if they are bound to him by hopes of preferment - and if the loyalty of ambassadors is to the person of the president rather than the interests of the country, the power of the executive is, in my opinion, increased to an unhealthy degree.

But these techniques are not unique to Donald Trump. Many governments across the globe - and New Zealand is no exception - have found it useful to use diplomatic appointments as rewards and inducements, and as a means of ensuring that loyalty to the cause - whatever it may be - can be guaranteed.

Rather more justifiably, diplomatic appointments from the senior ranks of the governing party have often been made in order to assure the recipient country that the envoy enjoys the confidence of the appointing government.

Reports that the term of former National cabinet minister Tim Groser, as our ambassador in Washington, is not to be renewed, suggest that this particular instance of a political appointment to a top diplomatic post has not been judged a success.

This is disputed by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, who said Groser himself asked to finish at the conclusion of his three-year term and did not seek any extension.

His leaving may reflect a negative assessment of Groser's personal suitability for the task or of his perceived lack of success in performing it - he failed to gain exemption for New Zealand from Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminium, for example - but it may mean that there are at last second thoughts about the wisdom of appointing people with little or no professional expertise to take on such important responsibilities.

In Groser's case, it is not quite fair to say that he had no relevant experience. He served at one point (though without any diplomatic experience) as the ambassador to Indonesia and he had been an experienced trade negotiator - and he was eventually an unsuccessful candidate for the post of director general of the World Trade Organisation.

His appointment as ambassador to the US, however, seems to have reflected the view of the then foreign minister, Murray McCully, that professional experience in the sometimes arcane world of diplomacy was not a necessary quality in the holder of this important post.

We now have, of course, a new government and a new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Winston Peters may have a more favourable view of the abilities of the senior professionals in his department than did his predecessor, though we will not know that for certain until a new appointment is made.

If there has indeed been a change of heart, it should be applauded. I should immediately confess that I write from the viewpoint of one who served for some years in the British Diplomatic Service and who had the opportunity of observing at close quarters the demands made on the skills and experience of top diplomats.

Representing the interests of your country requires more than a bit of glad-handling and wining and dining your hosts.

Protecting and advancing our natural interests in the international sphere demands the best skills we can muster and the ability to earn the trust and respect of foreign governments.

This no job for amateurs, even if they have political friends.

A more hard-headed approach is long overdue.