Un­con­ven­tional re­flec­tions of a Catholic Con­ser­va­tive

Chris Pat­ten’s well-writ­ten man­i­festo for lib­eral val­ues and prag­ma­tism in po­lit­i­cal life First Con­fes­sion: A Sort of Mem­oir

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Paschal Dono­hoe Michael Lon­g­ley TOM MO­RI­ARTY MAR­GARET MADDEN MAR­GARET MADDEN

By Chris Pat­ten Allen Lane, £20

Roscom­mon makes an early ap­pear­ance in the lat­est book from Chris Pat­ten, a lu­mi­nary of Bri­tish pub­lic life. Only a few pages into these re­flec­tions he writes of his great­grand­fa­ther, Pa­trick, who left Boyle in Co Roscom­mon. Flee­ing the Famine he set­tled in Lan­cashire, work­ing as a chair-bot­tom maker.

This her­itage is fun­da­men­tal to the iden­tity of the au­thor. It in­flu­enced his ca­reer, as a min­is­ter in North­ern Ire­land and chair­man of the polic­ing com­mis­sion that led to the re­form of polic­ing in the North.

His Catholi­cism is de­scribed as “a fun­da­men­tal part of who I am”, which he hopes “will be with me right down to the wire”. The ti­tle of the book, First Con­fes­sion, re­flects his re­li­gious be­liefs, even though it is not ob­vi­ous to this reader what sins prompted this de­scrip­tion.

This strong sense of iden­tity is a guid­ing theme of the book. Pat­ten recog­nises that some of the con­se­quences of iden­tity can be malev­o­lent, through the ris­ing tides of na­tion­al­ism or the coars­en­ing of pub­lic dis- course. Cen­trist pol­i­tics must re­spond. He be­lieves, as I do, that “lib­eral pol­i­tics con­sti­tute the best hope for a de­cent fu­ture and the strongest ba­sis for what is still the hon­ourable ad­ven­ture of pol­i­tics”.

But his deep in­ter­est and af­fec­tion for Ire­land do not rep­re­sent the lim­its of Pat­ten’s ca­reer.

It be­gan in the re­search de­part­ment of the Con­ser­va­tive Party. He has also served as a mem­ber of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, as the last gover­nor of Hong Kong and as a se­nior mem­ber of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. A de­par­ture from po­lit­i­cal life led to a se­ries of other pub­lic of­fices, in­clud­ing chair­man of the BBC and chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Ox­ford.

This is not a con­ven­tional mem­oir. His ear­lier works re­count his ca­reer. This in­stead is a se­ries of re­flec­tions, each prompted by a brief ex­am­i­na­tion of a phase in his pub­lic life.

It is pub­lished dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly in­dus­tri­ous phase for Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal mem­oirs. The tu­mul­tuous events in our near­est neigh­bour and a se­ries of depar­tures from their po­lit­i­cal life, both vol­un­tary and forced, have caused shelves to sag un­der the weight of new publi­ca­tions. Ken Clarke, Har­riet Har­man, Nick Clegg and Ed Balls have of­fer­ings for an in­ter­ested reader. Ge­orge Os­borne and David Cameron will be pub­lish­ing their mus­ings soon.

Lib­eral val­ues

First Con­fes­sion joins Pol­i­tics by Clegg at the high­est tier of these re­cent works. Through re­view­ing his po­lit­i­cal life, Pat­ten is lay­ing out a man­i­festo for lib­eral val­ues and prag­ma­tism in po­lit­i­cal life. It ar­rives at a time when this cham­pi­oning is sorely needed.

This creed is in­ter­na­tional, rel­e­vant in this mem­oir from China to the Balkans. It is also a pulse run­ning through all tra­di­tions in Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal life but one now grap- pling with the ex­is­ten­tial con­se­quences of Brexit, a prospect that de­jects and deeply wor­ries Pat­ten.

He recog­nises the dis­tance of pol­i­tics from daily lives. How­ever, this is not the the same as ap­a­thy; in­stead, it “is sim­ply nor­mal peo­ple get­ting on with mak­ing the most of their op­por­tu­ni­ties and try­ing to cope with the small dis­as­ters that bom­bard most lives, this is the hero­ism of mud­dling through”.

No­bil­ity of pub­lic life

This book makes a de­fi­ant case for the value and even no­bil­ity of pub­lic life. It is clear­est when he re­flects on the Con­ser­va­tive Party lead­ers for whom he worked.

An en­tire chap­ter is de­voted to the mer­its and de­mer­its of Heath, Thatcher and Ma­jor. Each leader is sub­ject to a thor­ough – and, for Ed­ward Heath, damn­ing – ap­praisal. His eval­u­a­tion of John Ma­jor is the most pos­i­tive and af­fec­tion­ate, ar­gu­ing that he made the right choices on the key is­sues of his time.

Many Ir­ish read­ers will be drawn to the chap­ter on his ex­pe­ri­ences of Ire­land, “Crazy Ir­ish Knots”. Although deeply chal­leng­ing, these were also pe­ri­ods of great per­sonal re­ward. As a min­is­ter for state he en­joyed im­mer­sion in the me­chan­ics of the gov­ern­ing of the North, from lo­cal author­ity to the health ser­vices.

But his ex­pe­ri­ence of the con­se­quences of vi­o­lence and ter­ror is also very clear. Pat­ten writes that he “was never se­duced into think­ing, as some seemed to be­lieve, that these six coun­ties were so uniquely beau­ti­ful as to ex­plain or jus­tify peo­ple killing to con­trol them”.

This is per­haps the rea­son he in­stantly ac­cepted an of­fer from Mo Mowlam to chair a com­mis­sion on how polic­ing should be re­or­gan­ised to re­flect the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment. His de­scrip­tion of this work is typ­i­cally vivid, writ­ing of emo­tional pub­lic meet­ings and the po­lit­i­cal pres­sures of tough choices. This is typ­i­cal of a very well-writ­ten book. There is a sur­pris­ing lyri­cism and hu­mour in his ob­ser­va­tions.

Writ­ing of Keith Joseph, an in­tel­lec­tual god­fa­ther of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, he ob­serves of his time in of­fice that “Few peo­ple can have been so dis­ap­pointed at their in­abil­ity to change the na­tion’s soul”. Dis­raeli was a prime min­is­ter who “un­der­stood that grav­ity rather than lev­ity was the at­tribute re­quired of those who sought to gov­ern a coun­try wreathed in fog and a large mid­dle class”.

This is also ev­i­dent when he ar­tic­u­lates his po­lit­i­cal views. Con­ser­vatism is re­jected as an ide­ol­ogy. This makes him a lead­ing mem­ber of the “Wet bri­gade”, a de­scrip­tion by Mar­garet Thatcher of col­leagues who demon­strated, in her eyes, wor­ry­ing lev­els of prag­ma­tism. He be­lieves that the pri­mary role of the state is to en­able in­di­vid­u­als and so­cial groups to flour­ish. Gov­ern­ment it­self also needs checks and re­straints.

These views in­fuse a life that de­scribes the in­nate tough­ness of po­lit­i­cal life. But this is a book that also beau­ti­fully cap­tures its joy and re­ward.

Paschal Dono­hoe is the Min­is­ter for Fi­nance and Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture and Re­form I can imag­ine his last sup of tea, Milky and sweet, el­bow on knee, body Parts, his fin­gers ca­ress­ing the mess-tin, His steamy mous­tache whis­per­ing a girl’s name.

Michael Lon­g­ley’s lat­est col­lec­tion is An­gel Hill (Cape). To­day’s poem is from A Bit­tern Cry, pub­lished by the Fran­cis Led­widge Mu­seum, Po­etry Ire­land and Meath County Coun­cil on July 31st to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of Fran­cis Led­widge’s death By Rose Servi­tova Wooster, £10.99

You would be hard-pressed to find some­one who has never heard of Mr Darcy or El­iz­a­beth Ben­net, the pro­tag­o­nists of Jane Austen’s clas­sic Pride and Prej­u­dice. It has been adapted for stage and screen and has pro­duced many fic­tional spin-offs. In The Long­bourn Let­ters, Lim­er­ick-based au­thor Rose Servito fo­cuses on the two most hu­mor­ous char- Thomas Kauf­mann Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, £18.99

In these days of in­creas­ing in­tol­er­ance to­ward those who pro­fess a dif­fer­ent faith, it may be salu­tary to con­sider a star­tling ex­am­ple from the past. Mar­tin Luther’s view of Jews in his work of 1523, That Je­sus Christ was born a Jew, was tol­er­ant by the stan­dards of his time but, 20 years later, he wrote On the Jews and their Lies, a vi­cious at­tack on those he re­garded as en­e­mies of Christ. Kauf­mann is at pains to al­low for Luther’s state of mind af­ter the death of his young daugh­ter but con­cludes “Luther’s anti-Semitism was an in­te­gral part of his per­son­al­ity” and de­rived from his ex­e­ge­sis of the Old Tes­ta­ment. Luther be­came “the most fate­ful fig­ure in Ger­man his­tory”; the Nazis claimed his sup­port for ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the Jews. This is a learned dis­ser­ta­tion, dis­tilled from ex­ten­sive study of pri­mary and sec­ondary sources, scrupu­lously fair, crisply trans­lated and sur­pris­ingly rel­e­vant. ac­ters from Austen’s novel: El­iz­a­beth’s fa­ther, Mr Ben­net, and his preacher cousin, Mr Collins. Collins has been re­vealed as the heir to the Ben­net fam­ily home, Long­bourn, and the fic­tional cor­re­spon­dence be­gins shortly af­ter Mr Collins has be­come be­trothed to Charlotte Lu­cas, a neigh­bour of the Ben­net fam­ily. The let­ters are full of fri­vol­ity and re­call the cut­ting wit of Mr Ben­net and benev­o­lent hon­esty from Mr Collins. As their fam­i­lies in­crease in size, their pri­or­i­ties shift, with their friend­ship strength­en­ing over the years. A whim­si­cal read, sure to de­light die-hard Austen fans.

The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away

Cole More­ton Harper El­e­ment, £12.99

The true-story of two foot­ball- mad, 15- year- old boys: both fall un­ex­pect­edly ill, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, yet 300 miles apart. One needs an im­me­di­ate heart trans­plant to stay alive; the other is brain-dead and a per­fect match. Marc and Mar­tin have never met, yet shall for ever be con­nected. One mother is say­ing good­bye; the other is cling­ing on to a 1 per cent chance of a suc­cess­ful trans­plant. While con­fi­den­tial­ity pro­tects all donor and re­cip­i­ent’s fam­i­lies, they can choose to re­ceive anony­mous up­dates. Af­ter many years, the two mothers agree to meet and be­come dear friends. Au­thor and broad­caster Cole More­ton has bonded with both fam­i­lies, met the boys’ med­i­cal teams and lov­ingly nar­rates the mem­o­rable tale of Marc and Mar­tin. At times, the nar­ra­tive be­comes dis­jointed, but its hon­esty and emo­tion shed light on the im­por­tance of or­gan donation.

Pol­i­tics is sim­ply nor­mal peo­ple get­ting on with mak­ing the most of their op­por­tu­ni­ties and try­ing to cope with the dis­as­ters that bom­bard most lives

The Long­bourn Let­ters

Luther’s Jews

Chris Pat­ten’s strong sense of iden­tity is a guid­ing theme of the book. PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVID SLEATOR

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