Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Political speeches

These are a few personal responses to speeches at the main party conferences.


I have already commented on John McDonnell's Liverpool speech. It went down well in the hall, as did Jeremy Corbyn's on the last day. Corbyn was shameless in Hillsborough shroud-waving in his opening remarks, as if only Labour took the part of Liverpudlians affected by that outrage and the outrageous cover-up which followed. He was wrong in his sweeping condemnation of the market economy, though he did by implication apologise for the last Labour government's failure of regulation which helped to bring the trans-Atlantic financial market into disrepute. He was right to draw attention to the failures of Conservative-led governments and the deficiencies of existing political structures, but his old socialist solutions will not work. Nevertheless, if he can truly unify the Labour party I feel he and McDonnell are people we can do business with. Because of the arithmetic in the Commons after the 2010 election, what killed a coalition between Labour and Liberal Democrats was the lack of discipline (something Conservatives possess in spades) on their benches. For that reason, contributions such as that by Tom Watson were distinctly unhelpful. He should have listened carefully to Tim Farron's advice that there are certain UK constituencies which Labour will never win but we might. If he is really concerned about the lives of ordinary people, he should be looking to build bridges to other parties which share those instincts.


David Davis, while resolutely defending the position of little-Englanders, also showed his instinct for the protection of civil rights. Some of his statements (e.g. "Britain has always been one of the most tolerant and welcoming places on the face of the earth. It must and it will remain so.";"Britain already goes beyond EU law in many areas – and we give this guarantee: this Conservative government will not roll back those rights in the workplace.") did not receive the rapturous applause of some of his colleagues. However, I would question the historical accuracy of one of his assertions: "So we will not turn our backs on Europe. We never have; and we never will.". The Birmingham Conservative Neville Chamberlain turned our back on the people of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

The response to the speech of Boris Johnson tells you all you need to know about Tories' appreciation of the face of Britain abroad. A reference to one of the most significant thinkers of the last century ("there is a view that has gained ground over the last few years that Fukuyama was wrong") was met in the hall with blank incomprehension but a pun on the name of a distinguished Pole ("the EU is actually trying to veto the ivory ban in spite of having a president called Donald Tusk") brought the house down. Oh, those funny foreign names. (Liam Fox in his otherwise rabble-rousing speech also name-checked Fukuyama, with the same blank response.)

I used the red button on BBC TV to check on the progress of sterling during Phillip Hammond's speech yesterday. The pound had dropped below $1.30 in value round about the time that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Opposition was reaffirmed and reinforced. One would have expected a rousing opening day of the governing party's conference to produce a rally in the conference. Instead, Mrs May's speech setting an early date for repeal of the European Communities Act and invoking Article 50 depressed the currency markets as much as it elated the Conservative representatives. Sterling drifted even lower on the second day, as Phillip Hammond's plans to increase borrowing well into the next decade sank in. (The pound did hold its own against the Cuban peso, though, and actually appreciated against the Paraguayan guarani.) The last time it was so low was also under a Conservative government, though only a rank pessimist would see it reaching near parity as it did in March 1985.

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