Gordon Brown’s Speech

I managed to get as far as the bit (about one minute in) when he started banging on about how in Fife twenty five years ago he stood for parliament because he loved his country so much, and then felt sick and switched off. (To clarify: I felt sick and switched off, not the Prime Minister.)

How long did you last? And, for those of you who did last, what, if anything, did I miss?

18 thoughts on “Gordon Brown’s Speech”

  1. The alternative reading would have been much more entertaining.

    Where’s your homepage gone, by the way? I’m just getting a placeholder, although I can still access individual posts (obviously).

  2. I got to the point where he was talking about being fair before I similarly was almost physically sick. Similarly I had to turn over for a few minutes while watching excerpts on Newsnight. It is not often that I greet Paxman’s snarling face with relief!

    The thing that most disgusts me about this, I hesitate to call him a man – better just politican, is the sheer number of caveats with which every grain of over promoted good news is parcelled with. Even the 10p tax band removal was presented as somehow helping the poor, when in fact it only provided people with help on the government’s terms, forcing the worst off to come cap in hand to be ‘assessed’ as to their worthiness by the government, when before that wouldn’t have been the case.

    The announcement that people with cancer will be given free treatment suggests that you need to be terminal with a media friendly disease before you are provided with help.

    Then we get into the other caveats – the sensible seeming ideas that are crippled by their provisos. The stamp duty ‘holiday’ – what happens when this ‘holiday’ ends and everyone is suddenly up in arms at their tabs are called in? Somehow I don’t think Gordon or the government care.

    Not that I really have much compassion for the greed of the housing sector but jerking them around like this is worse than either caving in completely or alternatively laying down the law. It allows people to live on the never-never, but with the never-never only being a matter of months, if not weeks.

    The same with the ban on short selling of stocks….for three months or so. Don’t want to frighten the speculators by banning outright their favourite past time, eh Mr. B?

  3. When I first heard Brown speaking – and I heard him live a couple of times in the mid-90s, before he became Chancellor – what was impressive about him is that he delivered his speeches as if he had written them himself. I’ve no idea whether he had, in fact, written them himself, or whether he had a speech-writer who had a very good sense of what language worked well coming out of Brown’s mouth, but back then it was one of the things that impressed me about him. These manufactured speeches, by contrast, are grim.

  4. Can all this talk of ‘fairness’ be traced to John Rawls’ influence or is it something Labour came up with all by themselves? It’s just I’ve noticed its increased use by politicians as if it meant something significant but it’s now reached a new peak. It is rather, well, indistinct to say the least, even more so than ‘social justice’.

  5. I’ll reply to your comment with an ancedote: when David Hare was allowed to follow Neil Kinnock around in 1992, prior to writing his (very good and still highly relevant) play The Absence of War, he was told he could draw on anything he saw and heard for his play as long as he didn’t quote anyone exactly. And Roy Hattersley (I think) complained afterwards that in one respect he broke his promise — one of the characters in the play expresses frustration that he’s been told he’s got to talk about “fairness” rather than about “equality”, and that, apparently, was an instruction that had been floating round in 1992.

    I think politicians are comfortable talking about fairness in part because of the influence of Rawlsian ideas (a decent chunk of the political class would have taken a course at university on political ideas, when they probably had to write something on Rawls, or at least go to a few lectures).

    But I think the deeper issue (but how can anything be deeper than Rawlsian political philosophy?) goes back to the play — it’s hard for anyone to object to “fairness”, whereas on the whole if Labour politicians use the language of “equality”, it scares off the middle class swing voters they are generally desperate to court, and who are very keen to cling on to the kinds of class privilege they still enjoy.

    One of the only interesting things (it seems to me) to come out of the kind of Britishness stupidity that Liam Byrne et al are peddling, is that focus-group research is showing that people really don’t like the idea that rich people should be privileged over poor people when it comes to immigration and citizenship issues. This cuts strongly against New Labour instincts to curry favour with the rich, whether UK or foreign, and, I suppose, with the whole obnoxious “points” strategy that ministers say they’re very keen on. No doubt Byrne or others will find ways of promoting a horribly inegalitarian immigration policy while still mouthing off about fairness (it’s what they’re paid to do, after all), but it is an interesting example of the extent to which the Great British Public still has some sharply social-democratic instincts which survive the attempts by the focus groups to get them to line up with New Labour / New Tory policy consensus.

  6. Anyway, why is the Conference speech of major rather than of marginal importance?

    There was this tiresome routine we used to have every year with Blair, in which there would be mounting discontent which (the political correspondents told us) the speech would have to address and which (the political correspondents told us) the speech duly did, and that was all the important questions off the table until precisely the same routine the following year. It’s the politics of vacuity.

    In what other field is a yearly annual speech given such importance? Yes, I know political speeches matter and some of them may even have changed the world: but it’s extraordinarily disproportionate and it’s no basis at all to judge someone whose job is not actually the giving of speeches.

  7. Anyway, why is the Conference speech of major rather than of marginal importance?

    It’s not as important as people say — as my old friend Mike Smithson notes over at politicalbetting, it hardly made the betting markets move at all, and it’s perfectly possible for Brown to make a good speech, get a lot of applause, and then get knifed by the Party weeks later. So from that point of view, nothing has changed.

    But I think it is worth paying attention to leader’s conference speeches for the same reason that it’s worth reading manifestos. Political culture is so heavily skewed towards producing soundbites and smackdowns, but the platform conference speech and the manifesto potentially offer something else. The trouble is that often they don’t: the 2005 Tory Manifesto (coordinated by David Cameron) is the best example of how a manifesto can degenerate into a handful of populist slogans, and recent leaders’ speeches are becoming so formulaic that they often aren’t especially interesting, either.

    In what other field… Chancellors’ Budget speeches — or is that just the same field?

  8. It’s not as important as people say

    No, but that’s my point, or part of it. Why do they say it is, when it is not?

    The Budget speech is never really evaluated as a speech, which is just as well, because it isn’t one, it’s a list.

  9. “I’ve no idea whether he had, in fact, written them himself, or whether he had a speech-writer who had a very good sense of what language worked well coming out of Brown’s mouth, but back then it was one of the things that impressed me about him. These manufactured speeches, by contrast, are grim.”

    Are you suggesting that Mr Brown is now being used as a prop? 😉

    ‘Fairness’ would seem to be a perfect buzz-word. After all who can argue against fairness. Isn’t it fair that smokers, or overweight people, be forced to give up smoking before being allowed medical treatment, since they are responsible for their conditions? Isn’t it fair that we court the richest and most privileged people from overseas who can benefit our economy the most? Isn’t it fair to constantly monitor people with surveillance cameras and ID cards to make sure that they do not do anything untoward?

    Of course its not but ‘fairness’ allows you to argue for all the above (while at the same time shifting blame to others), while ‘equality’ suggests that we should all support each other and not treat each other with caveats and expectations of being repaid for our service.

  10. According to the Daily Mail, Brown has a speechwriter. “Kirsty McNeill, a 28-year-old local councillor from Southwark in South-East London, is said to possess an uncanny ability to translate ideas into ‘Gordon-speak’.”

    I didn’t see the speech; I tried watching Brown on Andrew Marr, but gave up: he didn’t seem to be saying anything substantive. I don’t know about translating “ideas into ‘Gordon-speak'”, I want to see some ideas first.

  11. Oh, I like Kirsty. I met her a couple of times in 2000 and 2001. Last I heard of her she was standing against Simon Hughes in Bermondsey, and got quite a good vote. I didn’t know she was working for Mr Brown.

  12. Firebrand is a bit of a strong word from what I remember of Kirsty back in the day. Very pleasant, however.

    When I first started working in tax, I used to religiously listen to the chancellor’s speech until I realised all the (relatively) interesting stuff was tucked away deep in the Budget notes. The devil is, always, in the fine details.

  13. irsty used to be in the SWP as a teenager in Glasgow, but Oxford knocked that all out of her (there was a bit of a wobble in 1998, when I thought we could get her back, but it didn’t last…).

    I knew her well then and met her briefly in 2003. She was more solidaly “left” in 1998 than she was in 2003; and more left in 2003 (I suspect) than she is now …

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