Sunday 22 September 2019

Brought to book on the politics of saying nothing

Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall embrace at the Rugby World Cup
Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall embrace at the Rugby World Cup
Eamon Gilmore

Gerard O'Regan

During the off-the-pitch hoopla at the recent Rugby World Cup, one particular image stood out. Mutually bedecked in scarves which showed them as enthusiastic supporters of the Australian team were the smiling octogenarian media mogul Rupert Murdoch and an equally self-satisfied Jerry Hall. She is, of course, best known for being the ex-wife of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

Despite relative maturity on both sides, it seems that in the international world of the glitterati, they can now be classified as a couple. They are both stepping out together, so to speak. To some, it may seem an unlikely liaison - but as always in such cases, it is only the duo involved who can explain its deeper enigmas.

What first brought them together must also remain mysterious to those on the outside looking in. But in tandem with the usual chance and circumstance which usually underpins such matters, it seems former British prime minister Tony Blair inadvertently played an unlikely role in the way things turned out.

Mr Murdoch, having divorced his first wife, married a Chinese American, Wendi Deng, in a high-profile ceremony some years ago.

But in equally much-publicised fashion, he divorced her last year. Inevitably, there was much speculation in the gossip columns as to what brought about what was a sudden parting of the ways.

However, there had been reports that Tony Blair and Ms Deng had become over-friendly, mixing as they do among the flotsam and jetsam of the super-rich and the internationally famous.

The former British prime minister has vehemently denied that anything untoward ever took place between himself and Ms Deng. However, she didn't help matters by reportedly posting some luridly embarrassing remarks about his anatomy.

In any case, those same gossip columns tell us that Mr Murdoch was somewhat underwhelmed by the whole pattern of events and this persuaded him that he and his high-profile wife should go their separate ways.

But while all this trivia essentially may have to do with affairs of the heart, it is also a reminder of the risks that former top-flight politicians undertake, if they insist on still seeking the limelight after they have departed the front line.

Tony Blair, until some months ago, spent almost eight years still strutting his stuff on the world stage, in the guise of some of generalised portfolio as ''Middle East Peace Envoy'.

I remember being in the American Colony hotel in Jerusalem a few years ago, where Tony Blair still retained the aura of a prime minister or mainstream politician, with a suite of rooms and offices permanently booked, to cater for a range of his aides and helpers.

Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, any sort of lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians seems further away than ever. But still Mr Blair ploughed on for what seemed like a long, long, time. He has interspersed his peace-making efforts with speech making and 'consultancy work', which has also been a source of much controversy.

Maybe there are some lessons in all of this when some of our own better-known politicians turn in their badge.

Former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who has just published his memoirs recounting his time spent at the coalface, is a case in

point. Should he silently fade away from the public consciousness or continue to make his voice heard from the sidelines?

Whatever his future plans, he has not exited the stage quietly. He certainly took the opportunity to settle a few old scores, before finally deciding what the future should hold. Most notably, the intense personal dislike between himself and the woman who replaced him as party leader, Joan Burton, found pride of place in his memoir.

The phrase "shot at dawn", when she inevitably decided to dispense with his services, perhaps accurately reflects a wound which will fester for some time.

Most political memoirs understandably have an undertone of self-justification. In one sense, it's important that ex-politicians record for posterity their trials and tribulations while in office.

But one always has to be careful to listen out for the axe grinding, as they jostle for what they hope will be some favourable mentions in the history books.

But it's also interesting that certain politicians - once the curtain comes down on their time in the sun - decide that the proverbial low profile will be their approach from that moment onwards.

Taoisigh from another era, such as Fianna Fáil's Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael, were more than cautious as to what they said once they embraced retirement. There may be a case for one last valedictory contribution from a departing politician, as in the case of Eamon Gilmore.

But it is important that they know when to leave the past behind and leave well enough alone.

For example, it has been argued in the case of Bill Clinton that despite all his storied contribution to so many causes, he just cannot resist getting stuck into some live and present political dramas.

Should his wife Hillary make it to the Oval Office, there are those who believe that her husband is a political accident waiting to happen.

The narrator in the Scott Fitzgerald novel 'The Great Gatsby' taunted the hero with the refrain: "You can't repeat the past.''

"Of course you can,'' replied the ever deluded Gatsby.

More insightful is that other famous line from the writer L P Hartley, who concluded: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.''

Politicians and others who depart centre stage may well take note. There comes a time to draw a line in the sand - and move on to pastures new.

Irish Independent

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