Over the weekend I got a chance to listen to Jonathan Powell’s 2010 lecture at the LSE promoting his book The New Machiavelli. Powell was the Chief of Staff of the Tony Blair government from 1997 to 2007, and he tries to use his experience to determine how relevant Machiavelli’s advice is in today’s political environment and then examines how well the Blair government measured up to Machiavelli’s guidance.
I was a bit dubious at the beginning of this presentation having been burned several times over the past couple of months at the promise of a good Machiavelli talk but this is most definitely worth your time.
And particularly worthy of note is Powell’s sense of history. At one point he refers to Gordon Brown having a ‘Herod the Great‘ approach to rising stars within the Labour Party, ‘killing off’ (figuratively, of course) those who looked like they might fly high enough to challenge him.
Can you think of an American politician who could use a historical analogy from before WWII? Heck, how often do you hear one from before 1970? Never mind one from outside the U.S. (knowledge of a world beyond our national borders is a sure sign of effeminate elitism, I suppose).
Apart from that, this speech also reinforced my belief that the BBC comedies ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister‘ may be the best, accessible introductions to government and governing.