In matters of business and politics I share the bewilderment of E.M. Forster’s character Mrs Wilcox, who asks, “Why do people who have enough money try to get more money?” and claims that she is “sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”
Mrs Wilcox’s desire to understand motivation and personal responsibility in business and politics is less naïve and unsophisticated than is suggested by the author of Howards End. As Tony Blair releases his aptly-named “A Journey”, the spotlight is cast firmly toward the mind and away from the body politic.
As if Tony Blair’s premiership has retrospectively been subjected to a magnifying glass of the mundane, the rubber gloves of the Queen and half bottle of wine before bed, as well as the bickering with Brown become intimately linked to revelations about WMD, sexed up dossiers and the ban on fox hunting.
The documentation of conflict between the public and private self has existed for centuries if not millennia and semblance of their successful co-existence remains the hallmark of a media savvy politician. President Obama courted the idea of a blurred distinction between public and private as he invited the world to accompany him in his choice of the perfect puppy to install in the White House and his wife as she watered the patches of her organic vegetable garden. The habit of familiarity backfired however when he referred in an interview to his bowling skills as akin to those of competitors in the Special Olympics. It was a particularly poignant moment for those of us who had believed that Obama struck a rare balance between the public and the private. But oh how we relish the untoward entry of private mumblings into the public sphere! When a stressed Gordan Brown entered into his car during the election trail and muttered that a supporter he had just encountered was a “bigoted woman”, reporters on the scene became breathless with excitement.
While Blair succeeds in couching his public performance in a language of (albeit formal) familiarity, Brown, whom Blair accuses of having “zero” emotional intelligence does not. Emotional intelligence should not however be mistaken for empathy; particularly not in a political context. One suspects that when David Cameron lost a child, Brown’s move to cancel Prime Minister’s Questions was motivated by no more than the indiscriminate sympathy of one who has endured a tragedy for another that now encounters it. Empathy is unbridled; emotional intelligence stores up for release the cleverly latent bi-product of self-preservation. Blair’s memoirs are an expression of emotional intelligence. Battling against his branding as war criminal, he fights for his name by supplying details of intimate conversations and personal weaknesses.
Curiosity has got the better of me and though I share Mrs Wilcox’s self-consciously confused conclusions about the world, I should not mind taking a gander to Easons with her this Saturday to catch a single glimpse of the man’s many faces.