For Bismarck, politics was the art of the possible, while Napoleon would always ask of any general, “But is he lucky?” Put the two together and we can see politics as a game somewhere between chess and poker. Any politician has to gamble and take risks. He needs judgment, he needs nerve, but he also needs luck. Over the first weekend of May last year, Nick Clegg showed considerable skill in playing a poor hand. The voters had just delivered a somewhat oracular verdict in the British general election.
Speaking on BBC radio at the end of 2003, as his novel Absolute Friends was published in the shadow of the Iraq war, John le Carré compared himself to Victor Klemperer, the German-Jewish scholar and diarist.
When a story about survival and life wipes another story about disaster and death off the news channels and front pages, it should be a cause for joy. The fate of the Chilean miners terrified, excited, and finally exhilarated billions of people like nothing else I can remember for years. It was the ultimate human-interest story, the happy ending beyond Hollywood’s most frantic dreams. No one planned that this should eclipse the death of Linda Norgrove, the 36-year-old British—more exactly Scottish, from the beautiful Hebridean island of Lewis—aid worker.
An article in The New York Times Magazine doesn’t becomes the big political story in London every week, but the Times piece “Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond” has been a front-pager and led on the TV news here. The tabloid in question is the News of the World, one of whose reporters was imprisoned a few years ago for “phone-hacking,” or intercepting cell phone calls, most notably from the two young princes, William and Harry. Although Andy Coulson, the editor of the paper at the time, was forced to leave his job, he denied any knowledge of malfeasance.
For a brief season, Henry Hopkinson was a Tory politician of the second rank, who might have risen higher if he hadn’t famously misspoken in 1954. As a junior minister at the Colonial Office, he said in the House of Commons that Cyprus would never be granted independence. This dogged him for the rest of his life.
On Friday, May 7, for the first time since 1974, we woke up the morning after the British election and didn’t know who our prime minister would be. No party had won an absolute majority, and so, for a period that a BBC-TV documentary has dubbed the "Five Days that Changed Britain," Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, held the balance of power and negotiated with Gordon Brown, who was still entrenched as prime minister, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Finally, the Tories cut a deal with Clegg.
Turkey is not going to join the European Union. Bald or candid statements are usually unwise, or “impolitic,” which is why politicians tend to avoid them, knowing that they may be falsified by events. But some can be made with absolute confidence, and here is one of them. This question has returned to the news with the recent Turkish visit by David Cameron, during which he said that Turkey should join the E.U. as soon as possible. Whatever my new prime minister may say, it has been clear to me ever since I took any interest in the question that Turkey was not going to join the E.U.
Just over 45 years ago, I set foot in the United States for the first time. If you had sat the old Oxford scholarship exam in December and, in Simon Gray’s deathless definition of the pedagogical process, displayed a fluent fraudulence that the examiners could not expose without revealing their own fraudulence, you were able to take the next nine months off before going up as a freshman in October. So, “westward, look, the land is bright!”—a line Churchill liked to quote—and I set off to the New World, more precisely, to Chuck Berry’s ‘Promised Land’ of southern California.