On 27 September, 2014, at the United Kingdom Independence Party conference in Doncaster, the party leader – Nigel Farage – took the podium for a publicized half-hour speech.
Who knew? Judging by the response to Mark Reckless’s first sentence, eleven words which occupied more than a minute till he could start on the second, interrupted as it repeatedly was by thunderous applause, very few in that auditorium had prior knowledge. I have racked my memory in vain to recall Twitter rumours.
I regularly here praise speakers who shoot their speeches from the hip, while castigating those who need to prompt themselves with notes or worse still scripts. Many regard shooting from the hip as a risky circus trick. It is neither risky nor a trick. It is safe and easy if you know how, and it tells the audience a lot of good things about you and your message – things like sincerity, command of your subject, and so on. Mark Reckless shoots this speech from the hip.
His structure for the first half is simple. He lists a series of promises that he made in good faith to his constituents when elected. He concludes the section devoted to each promise with the words, “I couldn’t keep that promise as a Conservative; I can keep that promise as UKIP.” Had he stayed with the Conservative Party therefore he would have betrayed those who voted for him, his party masters having broken a succession of electoral promises.
He says, early in the speech, that Members of Parliament are – with a few honourable exceptions – not representatives of their constituents in Parliament but agents of a political class. Within minutes of this speech being delivered the Conservative Party spin machine swung into action with announcements in which the word “betrayal” was bandied about.
Who is the betrayer: who the betrayed?
He had betrayed his party. They confirmed all he’d said by implying that loyalty to party trumped loyalty to electorate.
The last of his list of promises he couldn’t keep as a Conservative concerns the EU. This prompts a swing into an analysis of the issue. He proceeds to unpick the spin from the truth, and in the process makes some prophesies as to the political sleight of hand we can expect. Today, a month later, we can see some of that has already happened.
I hold no political party membership, and resent being made as cynical towards the party system as I have become. Is UKIP the answer? I have no idea. But my endless watching of speeches gives me a well-honed bullshit sense. I have to say I believe that this man means what he tells us. And I commend his famous last sentence.
We are more than a star on somebody else’s flag.