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.