Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Those Leadership Speeches In Full

Sir Malcolm Rifkind began his speech to the Tory Conference by putting down a marker for an alternative career as a stand-up comedian.
"As Henry VIII said to each of his six wives: don't worry, I won't keep you long."
This led me to think that he had made the mistake of writing the speech himself.
But Wee Malcolm, who for the benefit of overseas readers is Scottish, or as Scottish as someone of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry can be, seemed inordinately pleased with this joke and twinkled behind his spectacles.
It reminded me of those school teachers who would make a very lame joke and we would all laugh hysterically, clutching our sides, and they would be quite unaware that we were being sarcastic.
But I had the uncomfortable feeling that some of the old buffers and bufferettes in the conference hall would still be guffawing at Malcolm's Henry VIII joke over Sunday morning sherries in the Dog and Duck in Little Piddleton.

This morning it was the turn of the Young Turk David Cameron to 'set his stall out', as football commentators say. And what a shoddy stall of retro clich├ęs it was. It was like one of those school classes in public speaking and young David had chosen as his subject 'Why I Am A Conservative'. Irritating little swot that he is, he had learned his speech by heart and spoke without notes, prowling up and down the stage like a caged animal, which is the new fashion at Tory conferences ever since Anne Widdecombe did it some years ago.
Almost his opening line was 'being Leader of the Opposition is the most difficult job in Government'.
No, David. It's a difficult job precisely because you are not in Government.
That's why it's much safer to use notes or an autocue.

All politicians' speeches use the repetition of a phrase. Cameron's was 'Everybody knows.....' An unfortunate choice because everybody knows, except perhaps people at Tory Conferences, that that's a Leonard Cohen song:
The poor get poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Beware, David, the unintentional sub-text.
If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, it was the first, second and third refuge of David Cameron. He loved "our people", presumably with the familiarity and passion that only an Old Etonian can.
One longed for a politician who would stand up and say 'Let's face it, this country is a shithole, inhabited by many bigoted, small-minded, ignorant bastards. But, no thanks to the Tory Party, it's still one of the least worst shitholes in the world to live in.'

He was deeply concerned about the single mother who was worrying about how to pay for Christmas. In the real world, some single mothers worry about how they can afford to survive the other 51 weeks of the year. Other single mothers, particularly in David Cameron's circles, worry about getting the visa for the au pair to come with them on the Christmas break in the Bahamas.
With 50% of marriages ending in divorce, there are a lot of single mothers across all classes of society. But for Tories, single mothers always seem to be feckless teenagers living on sink estates. And despite the levels of marriage breakdown and the fact that a third of households are now single people, all Tories pay homage to some idealised concept of The Family.

There was little policy in Cameron's speech but on his own subject of education he said that Labour wished to force every child in the land into the same schools and the same classes. It's rather surprising that an Education Spokesman hadn't noticed Labour's passion for City Academies, Specialist Schools, Faith Schools and the continuation of the many remaining Grammar Schools and just about anything except putting children into the same schools and classes.

This afternoon, Ken Clarke dropped anchor at the rostrum like some ageing but still serviceable battleship and gave a speech that should put his claim on the leadership beyond doubt. It won't, of course, because this is the Tory Party.
I disagreed with most of what he said but, given my own political views, that's as it should be. But he hit the target with his attacks on this Labour Government and used humour that was simultaneously self-deprecating and self-aggrandising - and that's a clever trick to pull off.
Then there was that curious habit of Ken's of giving that distinctive starting-motor laugh after one of his gags, like a schoolboy who has just told a dirty joke on the school bus.
His was the only speech so far during which I didn't nod off or go the kitchen to look for biscuits or doughnuts.

He's unlikely to win an election by claiming, as he did today, that the Tories are better at running the economy and there's an element of smoke and mirrors about a self-proclaimed unspun politician who has one of the most carefully-constructed public personas in politics, right down to his choice of footwear. But there's no doubt that he'd put some fun back into politics and put Labour under pressure. But looking at the Tory leadership electorate in the conference hall I wouldn't put money on it ever happening.


At 9:06 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I'm convinced the Tories need a bloodletting on the scale of the SDP's breakaway from the Lablour Party in 1981. They've faffed about in opposition now for over 8 years without biting the bullet and accepting that, as a political party, they are riven.

Sad thing is, once they've seperated we will end up with yet another New Labour Party and a vehemently right-wing, unelectable conglomeration of cranks, racists, homophobes and frankly crazies.

Neither of which will convince New Labour to change tack because one is unelectable and the other offers no alternative.

Meanwhile the LibDems continue to formulate policy just guaranteed to keep them perpetually in opposition.

I give up.

At 9:40 PM, Blogger cello said...

I can't believe that I depaired of ever having a Labour government again in the late 80s. So, even though it's impossible to conceive of them ever getting back in, we mustn't write the Tories off just yet. I think they should bring William Hague to be leader, simply because Rory Bremner and Jon Culshaw had such a ball doing him.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

steve: the great problems for the Tories are that we already have a centre-left Tory Government and that the prospective leaders have to appeal to an elderly, right wing party membership.

cello: some of us are still waiting for a Labour Government. But yes, the next election will be very tricky for Labour, especially if the economy starts to look shaky.
The impressionists do Ken Clarke extremely well but there's not much material to work on with the other contenders.


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