Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Choose Your Leaders with Care Individuals Shape History, Argues This Book for Our Times; as the PM Takes a Gamble That Could Change Britain's Future, These Witty, Fluent Essays Probe the Nature of Power

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Choose Your Leaders with Care Individuals Shape History, Argues This Book for Our Times; as the PM Takes a Gamble That Could Change Britain's Future, These Witty, Fluent Essays Probe the Nature of Power

Article excerpt

Byline: Julian Glover

BOOK OF THE WEEK How Democracy Ends by David Runciman (Profile, PS14.99) THIS is a book for our moment, although it comes from essays written over many years. It asks whether history is made by the chance and will of individuals, or whether it is shaped by greater forces under no leader's control. This is the question which confronts us now about Brexit: is it the product of accidental decisions by those such as David Cameron and Boris Johnson, or the result of deeper economic and social unhappiness in our society? In short, are our leaders the cause or the symptom? Can you cure it by switching leaders or will it take something more? David Runciman sets out his answer in punchy essays on a mix of presidents, prime ministers and one failed candidate. We can guess what he thinks because his focus is people: they make power and they lose power and the way in which they do it shapes politics. Runciman has no time for the big-forces school of history and he isn't taken with leaders who think they stand for some deep, intellectual view of the world.

He is tough on Tony Blair "that preacher on a tank", as he quotes Dick Cheney saying and unfashionably hard on Barack Obama too. Politics isn't about dreaming and he warms to politicians who don't dream or at least to those who only pretend to have big ideas. He is kind about the Alaskan prototype populist Sarah Palin because she doesn't try to be a philosopher.

Runciman, a professor of politics at Cambridge and host of a successful podcast, Talking Politics, writes with such easy, witty fluency that it is only half a disappointment to discover that he was, as his style suggests, at Eton at the same time as David Cameron. You can imagine Runicman doing just as well as his contemporary at PMQs. He can be very funny. "One of the minor disappointments about President Obama was that he played golf," he says. …

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