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.

2011 Party Conferences, Part 2: Miliband and Cameron. October ’11 Auracle Newsletter

In the October newsletter I did analyses of conference speeches by the leaders of UKIP and the LibDems. This month I shall to do the same for Labour and Conservative. Chronology having caused the two biggest guns to have delivered last, I knew that these would be the ones subjected to the greatest pressure.

For various reasons I had seen neither speech live; so I was looking forward to settling down with pen and pad in front of the screen. In the event I found it impossible to sit all the way through either of them.

Ed Miliband
While he was making this speech Tweets were pouring into my BlackBerry from his political friends and foes; and they were universally scathing. As usual I treated these criticisms with a pinch of salt; because as a rule others don’t look where I am looking. It wasn’t going to be as bad as they claimed. Was it?

Within minutes of my watching the YouTube posting I had dropped both pen and pad, had covered my face with my hands and was viewing the screen between clenched fingers. The ultra-schmaltzy opening, directed at his wife, was emetic not just because it was ultra-schmaltzy but because there was nothing against which to balance it. Schmaltz can work only with a counter-weight of something very tough or the audience is left (as in this case) with just a sickly puddle of emotional soup. The worst of the schmaltz gave way to some humour on the subject of his nose-job. A bit of human-interest Nice-to-Know material (see the Chapter in The Face & Tripod) is quite a good idea, and the punch-line was quite funny so I began to hope that when he cut to the chase things would look up.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the political angle – that is not the brief I set myself – but it is supremely lame and a waste of everyone’s time, merely to catalogue what you see as shortcomings in the administration without recommending how to put them right. Imagine a member of your team delivering a presentation to you and doing that. This, even more than the opening schmaltz, was what put my hands over my face. This also was what eventually caused me to stab the ‘off’ button: I couldn’t take any more.

The last quality we should seek in a political leader is film-star attractiveness. Yes I know that the electorate, led by the media, too easily treats elections as a pantomime audition (and accordingly Britain was run for around a decade by Buttons – followed by Baron Hard-up) but to counter this tendency it makes it all the more important for political speeches to be of the highest standard. This wasn’t.  Miliband looks and sounds a little weird, so he needs to deliver strong arguments with transparent passion. He tried, but failed. He also needs basic platform savvy to stop himself repeatedly hitting the microphone with his gestures. If any of you had delivered this speech in the more testing environment of a business setting the audience would have sent you packing. I turned to Cameron, hoping for better.

David Cameron in four parts – Part 1,  Part 2,  Part 3,  Part 4

I remember when Press pre-releases were embargoed. This speech, whether by accident or design, road-tested itself by pre-release. The Today programme buzzed with how the PM was going to tell us all to pay off our credit cards. Comments were passed by usual-suspect Radio 4 punditry; and the 6 o’clock news that evening informed us that that bit had been dropped. Were it so easy for the rest of us!  It isn’t, hence Cardinal 2 in The Face & Tripod.

He began with a very strong opening sentence, uncompromising to a fault. My hopes soared. He followed with an anaphora repetition – “ I’m proud of my…” with the last of the series delivered straight down the lens of the camera, “… and I’m proud of you.” My hopes sank. That wasn’t schmaltzy: that was oily. He paused for applause, and the audience – no doubt as stunned as I – failed to oblige. What possessed him to do something so creepy?

I have to keep reminding myself that these people have armies of consultants advising them on every eyebrow twitch. Why else would Cameron have acquired this curious thin-lipped grimace which he now affects, as if to project a ‘don’t mess with me’ image? It looks to me so phoney that I have trouble focussing instead on what he is saying; which sometimes is a pity because sometimes it is good.

But, as with Miliband, I found myself wondering whether this speech would have survived in a business environment. And the resounding answer was, no.

I recently engaged in an argument with a friend who disputed my claim that business speaking was more exacting than its political equivalent. He pointed to the myriad pressures that govern what and how politicians have to speak. He opined that where business speaking is fuelled by conviction, political speaking fakes conviction – and doing that successfully is a considerable skill. It’s a seductive case, because it assumes that all a business speaker needs is truth and sincerity. However we all know that occasions arise, in business as much as in politics, when your view of a broader picture than your audience can see will force you to aim slightly to one side of the truth. And your audience is invariably harder-nosed, more cynical and less easily duped than most of the millions of voters on the other side of the politician’s TV camera. If you find yourself having to fake sincerity, you’d better be a damn sight better at it than those guys above! In my training I try to avoid dispensing phoney cosmetic veneers, not because I am a starry-eyed optimist but because I’m a steely-eyed pessimist concerning the chances of pulling it off with the audiences of the niche in which I work. (It is perfectly possible to be genuinely sincere, aiming to one side of the truth, but that’s a long story.)

If you can bear to watch some of the footage of those two lamentable speeches, look hard when the camera gives you close-up shots of party grandees. How often do you see from them a genuine laugh, a truly thoughtful nod or applause that is more than dutiful? Very seldom. But when you do, that is when the speaker has swayed an audience as unforgiving as your average business audience.