Not Quite the Diplomat: Home Truths About World Affairs

1 Mar 2006 by intern11

Chris Patten, Peguin Books, US$35

If you’re after the memoirs of a battleworn politician, then this is not the book for you. Patten makes it clear in his first book, East and West, that is not his style. “Memoirs are suitable as doorstops and only for the most intrepid readers,” he writes.

What this autobiography does provide, however, is a clear and confidently objective account of Britain’s struggle with its juxtaposition with Europe. Its identity, history and geography all conspire to fiercely maintain its independence but the world economy dictates otherwise. That’s some achievement in just 300 pages of revelatory prose. For Europeans who have been overseas for the last few years, it’s a great chance to brush up on their country’s policy position. But, along with the EU, Thatcher and Bush, the book’s index tells you there is plenty of other scope including

frequent references to the wannabe superpowers of India and China. His many positions in politics include stints in the aid and education sectors, as a Tory MP and chairman of the Conservative Party and EU Commissioner. As the book’s title suggests (complementing Patten’s cheeky portrait), his approach to politics and diplomacy isn’t without humour. Having travelled to every corner of the world and met everyone who is anyone, he writes with a refreshing objectivity and honesty.

One such tale takes place in Pyongyang. “(Kim Jung-il) would appear through a door or from behind a wall-hanging like a character in a pantomime or a Feydeau farce; now you see him, now you don’t.” During the trip, Patten dined with Kim and a “group of grumpy old men with faces like Christmas walnuts…outside, the people starved.”

Although the North Korean leader is an easy target, stinging criticisms are handed out elsewhere too. As he freely admits, he was not in politics to make friends.

James Moore

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