Posted by Jason O on Feb 4, 2012 in Books
, British Politics
- An entertaining primer about power.
It would do our new Fine Gael masters no harm if they were to download Tony Blair’s former chief of of staff Jonathan Powell’s book “The New Machiavelli” onto their iPods. At 16 hours, the unabridged version is a hefty chunk of time, but well worth it for those interested not merely in politics but in the exercise of power.
Powell compares Machiavelli’s lessons on the exercise of power from “The Prince” with how decisions were made during his time in the Blair administration. It’s frank, revealing, sometimes funny (there’s a particularly funny story of Powell ringing Blair for advice from Blair’s driver on dealing with a potential car bomb in Powell’s car. Blair relates advice from his driver, gets bored, tells Powell “It’ll probably be OK”, hangs up, and then rings back later to see if he was blown up)
One of the interesting differences I noticed between British and Irish politics was just how more detached British politicians seem to be from actual control. Irish ministers, who serve much longer ministerial terms, tend to get a much better grip on their departments. On top of that, the British media seem to have a much greater say in deciding what government does than the Irish media do, with some individual editors being more powerful than most cabinet ministers.
One final point: Gordon Brown does not come well out of this book. Powell, admittedly, is biased, but the Gordon stories are so bad that I found myself questioning Blair’s judgement in keeping such a paralysing force in his government.
Long, but enjoyable. The short of book you should read/listen to with a notebook ready.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 4, 2012 in Irish Politics
If Breda O’Brien had any more hoary old chestnuts in this piece in today’s Irish Times, she could have held a conkers convention. I don’t often agree with her, as she holds more traditional conservative views than mine, but I also recognise that holding conservative views does not mean you should be denied a voice either. However, today’s piece does a neat job in summing up almost every unattractive trait that exists in the Irish psyche, which is quite an achievement.
Firstly, she declares that by being denied access to the European Stability Mechanism (the bailout fund) if we vote No (that is, refuse to obey its rules) we are being “bullied by an elite”. Just think about that for a moment. Angela Merkel is pushing this fiscal pact because she has to convince her voters that their money is being spent wisely, and that they’ll get it back. Does that make all 82 million Germans, worried about their money, a bullying elite? Is Germany not a democracy too? Or do Germans not really count as people too?
She then goes on to talk about how voters need to be better informed. Seriously? Having campaigned in a number of referenda, I can tell you that the dirty secret of Irish politics on that old one is not a lack of information, but a refusal of voters to actually read it. I have stood at doors with voters who have denied getting any information, until I pointed out the referendum commission booklet actually sitting on their hall table. What more can we do?
Breda then says that the fiscal pact with prevent Keynesian measures in a recession. No it won’t, provided countries built up a sensible reserve in the good times. Is that really such a bad idea?
Finally, out comes the old gun to the head routine. This is the self pitying aspect that most saddens me, the Irish, once again, as pathetic victim scrabbling in the dirt. There is no gun. We can vote No, and it will be accepted. And no, don’t start the “they’ll make us vote again” crack, because they don’t make us do anything. The Irish people were asked again before, by the Irish people, and they had the opportunity to vote No again, and they didn’t. That’s the thing though, isn’t it? That if the Irish vote Yes, they are being bullied, but if they vote No, it’s the legitimate voice of the people. Some animals are more equal than others, apparently.