“The first opinion that is formed of a ruler’s intelligence is based on the quality of the …” people “… he has around him …”


We’re meeting because Labour thinks it can do better. As the Conservative Party descends into what is likely to be a scrappy and savage leadership contest, a Labour victory at the next election is starting to feel distinctly possible, perhaps even likely. Keir Starmer, if he does end up being prime minister, doesn’t know one end of a yield curve from the other. So Reeves, his economics Yoda and close political adviser, is auditioning alongside him to get us out of the acute mess we find ourselves in.


“Her thinking has evolved quite considerably,” says a senior colleague from her Bank of England days, noting that her first pledge on becoming shadow chancellor was that Labour would buy, make and sell more in Britain. “I wouldn’t say she’s been a radical thinker — she’s not going to scare the horses. But she has a real command of the concepts and detail.”


Starmer was advised by his Blairite counsellors to pick Reeves as a replacement, which he duly did last May. Since then the pair have become genuinely close. Starmer relies on Reeves for regular economics guidance but also recognises her political savvy, honed over 12 up-and-down years at the Westminster coalface.

“We developed a rapport quite quickly and he sought out my views on issues wider than my brief,” Reeves says. “We message pretty much every day. He says, ‘I forget who works for you and who works for me.’ ” The harmonious relationship between their offices is a strength for Labour, for it was not always so. “It’s different from my other experience of a leader and a shadow chancellor — Ed and Ed [Miliband and Balls] did not always work constructively together,” Reeves adds. “We’ve had none of that with me and Keir.”

Starmer is many things but a natural politician is not one of them, which elevates Reeves. “He lacks political experience and political judgment,” says the former Labour shadow minister. “Rachel offers him more than just numbers. He relies on her and others to make up for a lack of experience.


“Coherent is definitely within her wheelhouse,” her Bank of England colleague says. “Compelling remains to be seen.”

Is Rachel Reeves Labour’s secret weapon?

“The choosing of ministers is a matter of no little importance for a prince

… and their worth depends on the sagacity of the prince himself.  The first opinion that is formed of a ruler’s intelligence is based on the quality of the men he has around him.  When they are competent and loyal he can always be considered wise, because he has been able to recognize their competence and to keep them loyal.  But when they are otherwise, the prince is always open to adverse criticism; because his first mistake has been in the choice of his ministers.

No one who knew messer Antonio da Venafro as the minister of Pandolfo Petrucci, prince of Siena, could but conclude that therefore Pandolfo was himself a man of great ability.  There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the second appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others.  This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless.  So it follows that Pandolfo, if he did not have the first kind of intelligence, at least had the second.  If a prince has the discernment to recognize the good or bad in what another says or does, even though he has no acumen himself, he can see when his minister’s actions are good or bad, and he can praise or correct accordingly; in this way, the minister cannot hope to deceive him and so takes care not to go wrong.

But as for how a prince can assess his minister, here is an infallible guide: when you see a minister thinking more of himself than of you, and seeking his own profit in everything he does, such a one will never be a good minister, you will never be able to trust him.  This is because a man entrusted with the task of government must never think of himself but of the prince, and must never concern himself with anything except the prince’s affairs.  To keep his minister up to the mark the prince, on his side, must be considerate towards him, must pay him honour, enrich him, put him in his debt, share with him both honours and responsibilities.  Thus the minister will see how dependent he is on the prince; and then having riches and honours to the point of surfeit he will desire no more; holding so many offices, he cannot but fear changes.  When, therefore, relations between princes and their ministers are of this kind, they can have confidence in each other; when they are otherwise, the result is always disastrous for one or the other of them.”

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Further down the line, many in Labour can imagine Reeves — who has a strong support base inside the parliamentary party — as a future leader.

Is Rachel Reeves Labour’s secret weapon?


3 thoughts on ““The first opinion that is formed of a ruler’s intelligence is based on the quality of the …” people “… he has around him …”

  1. Tim Putnam

    Odd to take Pandolfo Petrucci as the example, his rise, reign a d fall disfigured by mafiesque intrigue, plots and assassinations. Not much room for statecraft or even policy. Remembered in Siena as a populist who sold out to the Florentines, like a Boris avant la lettre..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Valerie Swales

    Well, I appreciated the whole thing: the Machiavelli quote, the selected image and the included article. I have gathered the impression that you don’t care for Starmer much: of course as an ex civil servant you must set the bar high for your political acumen test. As the article makes clear and it’s been obvious to those who follow Labour that he’s had to learn/is still learning to hone his political skills. He relied far more on his managerial/administrative skills for a long time. The balance seems to be shifting and his barrister skills are used to advantage: he mostly seems to be on top of his ‘brief’, unlike most MPs.
    I can believe that Reeves and Starmer make a very good team.

    However the ‘Made in Britain’ mantra makes me worried. It might work well with the Red Wall. But it really doesn’t stack up in a global trade environment where sourcing materials and skills is vital, nor does it include the economics of intangibles, which are utterly dependent on an extremely highly skilled nation. I wonder whether Reeves and Starmer have read a recent article by Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, which points out that the UK’s strength lies in services not manufacturing – I sent it to both Starmer and Reeves. They never seem to mention it. I also wonder about their cultural capital – something I asked Starmer about a couple of years ago – since their ideas about culture seem so narrow.

    Incidentally I hope you don’t mind but I keep sending your point about Starmer’s plan to improve ‘Professional’ visas for thé EU to Labour MPs given it doesn’t actually reflect Labour’s guarantees to support Working People.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you will find Sir Keir Starmer QC has got better at learning and reading out his lines.

      He is, however, often incapable of dealing with supplementary questions.

      Rachel Reeves last week announced that the way she would deal with the growing labour and skill shortages across the UK economy would be to entice folk aged between 50 and 64 who have retired to re-enter the labour market.

      We currently have 1.3 million unfilled vacancies, a UK record.

      They are just not up to the challenges ahead.

      I am not sure if it is a good team when the team leader is dancing to the tune of someone who wants his job.

      I saw the Torsten Bell article and he makes a very important point. Even if Labour were able to create the economic conditions in which a net one million new jobs were created in manufacturing, a big ask even when we were in the EU, the vast majority of those in work would still be employed in the service sector.

      Please, feel free to continue making that point.


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