Martin Howe pulls no punches.

The British Conservative Party Conference at the beginning of October 2019 was an interesting affair. Parliament had been turned, by those bent on betraying the biggest democratic mandate in Britain’s history, into a bad joke. A disgustingly partisan Speaker in the House of Commons had assisted opposition parties in breaking many traditions, including that of suspending parliament during conference season. Other parties had been able to hold their conferences without their members of parliament needing to be in London to debate legislation, but not the governing Conservatives. Not only was parliament sitting while their conference was on, but crucially important business was in hand. Nevertheless the conference did happen, and much of the talk was about the foregoing in this paragraph.

During the conference the Bruges Group held a meeting which was addressed by Martin Howe.

The introduction by Barry Legg, Chairman of the Bruges Group, is delivered in tones that barely disguise desperation. There is an air of persecution. The fight to honour the people’s instruction to secure Britain’s independence from the EU is looking to be in peril. Britain’s Establishment has shown that it is prepared to descend to whatever depths are necessary, breaking any rule to thwart it, and its scrupulousness has seemed to be winning.

Howe reveals his early nerves by clinging umbilically to his script. He even looks down to be prompted to say the words, “this afternoon”. He knows that every syllable spoken at this meeting will be picked over. It is a measure of the seriousness of the political environment when a highly experienced legal advocate feels himself to need such strict circumspection.

Nevertheless he does not pull his punches. Parliament has made itself illegitimate; its activities are unconstitutional; the administration is entitled to ignore its instructions. I take this as meaning that, on 31st October 2019, the Surrender Act notwithstanding, the Prime Minister is entitled to use the Royal Prerogative to break with the EU, something he has repeatedly promised –

“No ifs or buts”

– to do. That, and the same in other equally uncompromising terms, he has made more times than I care to count.

Yet on 31st October he didn’t. Why not? What other pressures were brought to bear? It seems that the principal one was that this wretched excuse for a parliament, rotten from the Speaker upwards, would not allow a General Election to take place unless the PM undertook to break that promise he had repeatedly made. He had been rendered powerless – at least that was the story we were persuaded to understand.

So now we are into a General Election, still haven’t left the EU; and I for one know not what, or whom, to believe. It barely matters because the only feasible alternative to his party is so horrendous, that we have no choice but to elect him.

Unless the PM is party to a very deep conspiracy, and the people are being duped into believing his new assurances to return him to power only to have him renege yet again on everything he has said and lock us deeper into the EU, Boris Johnson will form a new government with a bigger majority and take us out. If he reneges, I shudder to think what will happen. The anger of the people will be ugly, just as it has been in France for the past year; and as in France we could have EU armoured vehicles on the streets of Britain. And I fear that I will not be too surprised: why do we suppose that the mainstream media in Britain has avoided showing us what has been going on in France?

But while we still can, let us try to remain optimistic and assume that the PM is sincere. High on his agenda then should be root-and-branch reformation of the Establishment. It makes the Augean Stables look like a sterile operating theatre.

Roger Bootle: mildly excellent

On 28 January 2015 Roger Bootle, Chairman of Capital Economics, gave a talk at the University of Leeds. The talk was one of the Financial Times Masterclass Lecture series, and entitled The Trouble with Europe.

At this stage in the history of the UK this is fascinating: a penetrating, deeply researched and authoritative analysis of the European Union. Therefore as I did with the recent post we had of a speech by Digby Jones, I think it is relevant to put the timing of this talk into context. It was –

  • a little more than 3 months before a UK General Election, whereat David Cameron promised to seek radical reform of the EU, and then hold a referendum.
  • 18 months before the Referendum,
  • a time when the Euro was under enormous pressure.

That time-context gets particularly significant and interesting from about 41:00 onwards, and increasingly more as it approaches the end.

Malcolm Sawyer, Emeritus Professor of Economics, makes the introduction; and as we join it we see two figures standing in the gloaming before the screen. We zoom in to see which of them is speaking now and which is preparing to do so.

For me this is excellent! In these videos we seldom get a chance to watch the demeanour and body-language of a speaker before taking the stage. Bootle seems relaxed, and it is the sort of relaxation that is the preserve of one in command of his subject. He is listening impassively and slightly amused to the description of himself. Why is he carrying a sheaf of paper? Surely he won’t use a script: surely he is too adept a speaker for that. His adeptness is confirmed when he removes his wristwatch in preparation for laying it on the desk. That tells me that he has spotted the absence of a clock on the wall. It may seem a small thing but it indicates professionalism, and my expectation of speaking excellence rises – but what about those papers?

It turns out to be a list of his deck of slides – we even get a glimpse of it at one point. There are many slides, mainly graphics, and where there are words they are minimal. Very good. Accordingly I forgive the paper, except at one point when it rubs against his microphone.

He opens with some mild reminiscing about his long memories of this university. I chose that adjective ‘mild’ with care, because you can tell a lot about the tenor of a speech from the first minute. Immediately we know that however thoroughly he drills into the subject he will not hector. Nor does he. His command of the subject gives him authority, and enables the mildness.

This whole talk – fifty minutes of it – is riveting, not least because here we hear while armed with nearly five years of hindsight.

At 48:45 he begins to tell us how he will vote in the referendum, depending upon circumstances in the mean time. With hindsight we know what those circumstances turned out to be, and therefore how he probably voted. But what about his opinion nearer to today? This interview is from March of this year.

Digby Jones: punchy but gentle

In September 2013, Lord Digby Jones was guest speaker at the conference of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Before we watch the speech let us put that date into perspective. It was —

  • The year UKIP had a huge growth of influence, winning a great number of seats at local elections.
  • The year UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, first announced his intention to hold a EU Referendum.
  • The year before the EU Parliament election in 2014, where UKIP became the biggest UK party.
  • Two years before the 2015 UK General Election which David Cameron’s Conservative party won by twelve seats, with the promise of an EU Referendum as a central plank.
  • Three years before the referendum was held in June 2016, and the UK voted to leave the EU.
  • Six years before the latest EU Parliament election, when The Brexit Party became the biggest party in the entire parliament.
  • Six years and one month before today when the UK still has not left.

In slightly different words he describes his origins by echoing Margaret Thatcher’s immortal, “I started life with two great advantages: no money and good parents.”

My word, but he’s good!

Every aspect of his speaking is right. Humour for instance: I always say that the better it’s done the easier it looks. He makes it look a doddle. His account of being collected by a BBC car to take him to a series of interviews is breathtakingly skilful: beautifully structured, narrated, timed, and just enough histrionics to enhance rather than obscure the point of the story. Many, on the basis of this evidence, would call him a natural; but no one emerges from the womb doing that. He obviously has natural aptitude, but a lot of work has gone into being this good.

It’s not just humour. Starting at 7:35, and lasting a little more than a minute, is perhaps the clearest, most concise summary of socially-inclusive wealth creation I have ever heard. It’s punchy but gentle.

Punchy but gentle pretty much sums up his whole style. He makes his points very firmly, but we never feel barracked. I suspect that this speech consists of modules that he has used many times before, road-tested and refined. I don’t care: he delivers it as if for the first time and the result is stupendous.

At 17:00 he begins speaking about the EU, and he has a great deal to say. My timeline list above the video is there to help put into context what he says against when he said it. For instance he refers to “the EU elections next May” thereby pointing to the third item in my list.

Referring to UK’s relationship with the EU he stresses how uncertainty is the arch enemy of that business world he so clearly showed us we need. At 19:54 –

Get this sorted, one way or another, as quickly as possible

Six years and a month later they still haven’t.

Michael Heseltine’s half-truths

In Summer 2019 The Oxford Union hosted a talk, followed by Q&A, by The Rt Hon Lord Heseltine. The last time I heard him speak in public was many years before I began this blog, and roughly coincided with the last time I heard him speak in private. He was holding forth at a neighbouring table at a restaurant off Eaton Square in London. Over that I shall draw a veil.

This video lasts more than an hour and sixteen minutes: the talk is thirty-two minutes long. Simple arithmetic tells us that the questions keep coming for essentially three quarters of an hour, and indicates both the interest shown by the audience and Heseltine’s accommodation of it.

No paper. Heseltine is shooting from the hip. I should have been sorely disappointed had it been otherwise.

He opens with the usual courtesies to the Union; but then in quiet and measured tones, which inevitably lay silence upon the audience, he talks of his youngest days. He tells us he was born on the day Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany (not quite accurate – about five weeks out), and gives us landmarks from his youth which formed his views on what was to become the European Union. It’s a clever and very effective ethos-laden opening.

The whole speech is clever. It’s a politician’s speech, dripping with confected sincerity. But it is a brilliantly constructed tapestry of half-truths. I will supply two examples.

He can’t resist disinterring the weary canard of Winston Churchill saying that we must build a United States of Europe, but like others of his persuasion he carefully omits that in all such urgings Churchill made it clear that Britain should be not part of it, but apart. Churchill said –

We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.

He also cites Harold Macmillan’s Winds of Change speech. It will probably come as no surprise to you that I have the transcripts of many notable speeches of history; and to make sure of my recall of that one I dug it out and read it. Heseltine implies that Macmillan was heralding concepts like the EU, whereas he did the opposite. He was calling for freedom and self-determination of nation states.

This sort of misguidance could be the idle result of sloppy research – like the inaccuracy of his birthdate not quite coinciding with Hitler’s election – but merely a cursory glance at his career in politics and business would suggest that sloppy research would not be a habit. I believe we’re looking at carefully constructed half-truths. And, as Mark Twain observed –

A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.

Ann Widdecombe rants

This blog has been quiet for the past week because I’ve been away, and not only have I not posted but I have largely avoided following what has been going on. Nevertheless I was not holed up in a cave, and Ann Widdecombe‘s rant in the EU parliament got itself noticed. It was instantly filed in the back of my mind as something to enjoy upon my return.

This blog has periodically featured ballsy women from all parts of the world, principally because I like speakers who are bold enough to take on all comers. Ann Widdecombe surely has a claim to the title of doyenne.

Two minutes and eight seconds of rant seems suitably brief in current temperatures, and most people could blast away inconsequentially for that duration. But to insert seven meaty details into it takes skill.

  • She noted that she represented the biggest party there,
  • She scorned the absurdity of the “election” of EU officials
  • She pointed out that this parody of democracy betrayed all countries represented
  • She spoke of the historic pattern of oppressed people rising up against oppressors
  • She slipped in a dig at the leaked video of EU pound-store bigwigs congratulating themselves on maintaining the UK as a “colony”
  • She attacked a new ruling concerning fishing net meshes
  • She declared the UK’s departure in three languages.

I’ve seen twenty-minute speeches that said less. The EU probably can’t wait to be rid her, and that’s the whole point.

Bernard-Henri Lévy & Douglas Murray. Class.

In May 2017 Zeitgeist Minds hosted a debate between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Douglas Murray, under the title Can Europe survive the new wave of populism?

Douglas Murray has featured on this blog five times before, though not for a couple of years. I indulge myself by watching his speeches much more often than that, because he is just so good. Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) I vaguely knew by reputation; but somehow he had escaped my attention here.

This debate is introduced and moderated (very well, incidentally) by Zeinab Badawi.

It’s taken more than six years and 418 critiqued speeches for me to get around to watching BHL’s speaking. How … on … earth?

I sit, hypnotised by his voice, his gestures, his pace, his emphases. They are all unashamedly idiosyncratic. These are Gallic idiosyncrasies, certainly – particularly with respect to his accent (about which more later) but they are also personal idiosyncrasies; and I love that.

I urge my trainees to be themselves, and that is what BHL is being in abundance. The first time I watch I barely listen, other than vaguely registering that I disagree with what he is saying, but I am in awe of how he is saying it.

Before this video began I had thought that he would have to be very good to go three rounds with Douglas Murray, and he certainly is. Now I find myself wondering how resilient Murray will be. Will he blend his decorum with BHL’s (which is very compelling), or will he have the strength of will to establish his own? I should have had more faith. From the starting gate his tone, rhythm and style are distinctly his own, almost exaggeratedly and defiantly so. I am really enjoying this!

I don’t particularly want to go into the arguments presented because the two of them do it so well themselves. There’s a certain amount of sparring over the definition of ‘populism’, whereas I would have challenged BHL’s cavalier use of ‘Europe’ when he means ‘EU’, but that’s a detail.

After each of them making his 8-minute (ish) opening statement, each has a 2-minute rebuttal, then Badawi questions and challenges each. She unwittingly supports a point Murray makes (about Huguenots) while intending to contradict it, which is mildly entertaining, and then she turns to BHL. At 27:15 she quotes to him a French term, apologising for her pronunciation. That’s wildly entertaining!

BHL speaks very good English, but with an accent so thick you could slice and dice it with a wooden spoon, yet an English speaker apologises for her French pronunciation. We all seem to do that, and I’ve often wondered why.

This debate is really enjoyable, not least because it has become a rarity to find opposing viewpoints being discussed intelligently, with civility and mutual respect. This is class.

Daithi O’Ceallaigh is sincere

A reader/trainee/friend, who happens to be Irish, emailed me to complain that I was banging on too much about Brexit. It was amusing not just because most of my blog correspondents tell me the opposite, but because of all my reader/trainee/friends the most ardently pro-Brexit is likewise Irish.

The principal reason that I’ve recently explored so many speeches about Brexit is that there are so many currently around; and I surely don’t have to explain why that is.

Nevertheless that email did prompt me to pull out a speech from my ‘to-do’ pile. It is pro-EU, and delivered by a distinguished Irishman.

Speaking in February 2018, here is Daithi O’Ceallaigh.

Instantly I warm to him. That lectern is a handy piece of furniture to lean on, as distinct from a repository for a script. And he leans on it in a manner that suggests that he just wants to feel closer to his audience – excellent body language! From the outset it is clear that he is speaking with us, not to or at. Also as time goes on it is confirmed that he is shooting from the hip, and any paper on that lectern will hold no more than bullet points.

A proper speaker.

When David Cameron first announced the EU Referendum I welcomed it on this blog, saying that I looked forward to hearing the arguments in the campaign. I was pro-Brexit, but wanted to hear well-reasoned attempts to sway me. In the event I was disappointed by Project Fear and puerile name-calling. That trend has continued ever since, and the current move towards political betrayal is a scandal that besmirches both Westminster and Whitehall. I would add the BBC to that, except they were already an embarassment.

This speech by O’Ceallaigh is the sort of thing I wanted to hear. He is evidently intelligent, sincere, and has proper arguments.

Has he swayed me? No, but if I were Irish, he would have come closer. Being patriotic doesn’t mean you hate other countries, or you’re doing it wrong; but where there’s a conflict of interest we all have to look after our own first. In the event of the oxygen mask being deployed, put on your own before your child’s. Nevertheless it’s more than self-interest.

Every one of his arguments is predicated by the assumption that if it’s not ordered by Brussels it won’t be done (or done properly). It is a variety of bureaucritis, a condition suffered by nearly all bureaucrats: essentially tunnel-vision. It is understandable that when all your working life is spent in a bubble of bureaucracies they assume in your mind an aura of indispensability; but history repeatedly shows that to be false. Bureaucracies are dispensable. They are a luxury, occasionally welcome but always expensive. They make excellent servants but dreadful masters.

If you dispute my term “tunnel vision” I refer you to his dismissal of the Irish Republic’s Irexit movement which he describes as a minority sport. At 1:30 –

There’s absolutely no doubt about the commitment of the Irish government, and the complete Irish political class, to staying within Europe.

I believe him. It is evidently also true of Britain. But the political class – riddled with bureaucritis – is not the country. The people are the country, and in Britain the country spoke and over-ruled the political class. And the political class continue to try to thwart the country.

I like this man, not just as a speaker – as a person; but I believe his misgivings, considered and sincere as they are, to be misguided.