Would the real Romano Prodi please stand up?

I’m looking forward to reading Brad DeLong and Steve Cohen’s new book, The End of Influence, sometime soon. But I was struck by one of the blurbs from former Italian prime minister and president of the European Commission Romano Prodi (who is also a former economics professor):

I started reading this book and could not stop until I arrived at the last sentence. Really splendid: rigorous, scientifically perfect, and politically accurate.

It’s not the blurb that gave me pause. It was encountering Prodi for the second time in a week, after not really thinking about him since his largely ineffectual tenure as Italy’s leader (although he was certainly infinitely preferable to the odious Berlusconi).

Prodi pops up briefly in the hugely entertaining A View from the Foothills, the diaries of Chris Mullin, which I read over the holiday break. Mullin was a Labour MP who made a few brief forays into the bottom rungs of government during the Tony Blair premiership. His diaries give a wonderful sense of British politics and government from a modest perch, where encounters with The Man (Mullin’s name for Blair) are at best fleeting. Here’s the brief mention of Prodi:

Monday, 29 March 2004

To Carlton Gardens for a ‘political’ lunch. The party pollster Greg Cook gave us the lowdown on the latest polls. The news is not good. Levels of dissatisfaction and cynicism are approaching those of the Major years. There was a discussion on Europe, [Foreign Secretary] Jack [Straw] said that the EC had had ten years of ‘seriously crud’ leaders — Santerre and Prodi. Prodi, he said, would be lucky to hold down even the lowliest government post in this country and yet in Italy he was considered prime ministerial material.

Incidentally, here’s one of the many funny passages on low ministerial rank:

I am besieged with invitations to address conferences organised by obscure but no doubt worthy organisations. Mostly they are the crumbs that fall from the tables of my many superiors and my first instinct is to reject the lot. However, they usually come with notes from officials advising acceptance and, reluctantly, I concede. Before long my whole life will be eaten up by pointless activity. One such invite, originally addressed to Nick Raynsford, came with a note from his Private Secretary still attached. It read: ‘This is very low priority. I suggest we pass it to Chris Mullin.’

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