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Reviewed by ANDRE BEAUMONT
Who were the natural politicians of the last 50 years? Those whose responses to all crises and events were political first and foremost and whose moves could delight for their virtuosity even if one might disagree with their politics or objectives.
My short list runs to Yeltsin, Clinton, Thatcher, Mitterrand, Kohl, Haughey, Paisley, Deng Xiaoping and Mandela.
Who is on on your list depends on the media to which you were exposed. Someone who lived in South America, Asia, Arabia or Africa might produce a very different list.
For example, in the manner of his departure Marcos proved himself a much better politician than the last Shah but scant information about his rule reached the British media.
No military leader makes the list because of a propensity to use non-political means. No one who resorted to the courts frequently to gain political advantage does either. No true dictator does; they have and had means beyond politics.
Important to being on such a list is that in their pomp of power, rivals could scarcely lay a finger on them in an enduring way.
Haughey suffered a little damage on his departure but not much. Thatcher's position in the list is challenged by the fact that a political coup against her was successful. Mrs Gandhi, who otherwise would be on the list, is not because she chose the shortcut of using military means to settle an internal political problem and this eventually led to her assassination.
Exercising power whilst holding, at times, limited position, only reinforces the claims of Deng Xiaoping, once 'paramount leader', Paisley and Mandela.
Kennedy and Macmillan, whose period of power traversed into the 50 years, would make the list but not de Gaulle who thought too much in non-political terms.
Dispatching rivals and troublemakers effectively, and preferably bloodlessly, add to claims for membership.
The Night of the Long Knives was an act of virtuosity. Much as Harold Wilson enjoyed reshuffles, he never quite matched it and the press has been awaiting a reprise ever since, preferably in the Labour Party.
There is a respectable school of thought that thinks that despite the economic travails of Europe and elsewhere, little change will happen because most people are happy with things as they are.
Certainly, there is a constraint on advocating change rather than letting events determine it - those that advocate it zealously can risk bringing about violence, a price not worth paying.
As Isaiah Berlin wrote:
The wicked Talleyrand's 'surtout Messieurs point de zele' can be more humane than the demand of uniformity of the virtuous Robespierre and a sedentary brake on too much control of men's lives in an age of social planning and technology.
Change, however, is coming in this age of technology, but along patterns not quite anticipated.
Influence is becoming more distributed through better communications but power is not. If anything it is being concentrated a bit more by governments and corporations.
The expectation is still that power will become distributed like the influence but that may not follow.
Nor does the public necessarily mind.
If Coca-Cola and Pepsi make good colas, Mercedes-Benz and BMW good luxury cars and Nikon and Canon good SLR cameras, is the consumer really going to be bothered by market power and high margins in parts of the beverage, automobile and camera markets?
If one is anxious to hold onto what is successful, like good products, the results may be a polarized world.
Such as in Britain, a successful motor industry near Birmingham, a prospering service sector around London, continuing scientific innovation around Cambridge and even pandas in Edinburgh but real difficulty in attracting these to some other parts of the country.
It may be that a greetings card shop in every British town was a real social amenity but chances are in many towns you will soon have to go to a supermarket or non-specialist retailer to buy a physical card. Even the market stall vendors who used to specialize in cards are going.
There is a desire for change to counteract this concentration, polarization and consolidation, and the market may eventually provide it, but the solutions are not all obvious.
Older political ideologies may find themselves fighting each other to a standstill proposing solutions.
The Left may argue that economic problems date from a continuum started 30 years ago by Reagan and Thatcher, and now labelled neoliberalism, whilst the Right may argue that markets were not unbalanced, or inequality severe, under George Bush Snr or John Major but that these problems date from Greenspan-inspired light touch regulation and easy credit, adopted in the Anglo-Saxon world by the Clinton administration and New Labour.
People may be fed up with market fundamentalist profiteering but they are also aware that offering the state as helmsman of all solutions is a tired charade.
All parties have a connection with the market, all parties will use the state to enact their programme.
None of the existing ideologies may, therefore, be able to own the change agenda.
The biggest obstacle to change may simply be human nature. If power is to be distributed like influence, people must assume its mantle.
In practice, few do. They prefer to confer it upon leaders - it is less work for them - but frequently now they just end up with managers not leaders.
The new crisis of the eurozone suggests change may come but no one wants belligerent, assertive leaders to emerge out of the maelstrom.
In The Past Masters Macmillan wrote of Baldwin and Lloyd George as being artists and this is probably what many of the political virtuosi were. We could probably do with a few just now.