Maybe it was because of the contrast with Theresa May’s chilly, disingenuous monotone minutes before, but I really think Boris Johnson’s speech to the Conservative party here in Manchester was brilliant. It is a constant puzzle that senior politicians, who spend such ages worrying about how to communicate, do not learn how to make platform speeches. They make basic errors — failing to read autocues, misjudging the timing of applause. They also do not trouble to think about what makes a speech — its combination of light and shade, the sense of an audience of actual human beings both in and outside the hall. In the current cabinet, Mrs May is actively bad, George Osborne (though good in interviews) can establish no connection with his audience, and the Hammonds, Morgans, Hunts etc are dull. Michael Gove is outstanding at more intimate occasions, but still not quite right for the big show. Only David Cameron is actively good at it, and even he is rarely transformative. Boris is not in the cabinet and still has the advantage of irresponsibility. But he has often made quite bad speeches because of winging it. His Manchester effort should be used by students and colleagues (who would have to watch it rather than just read the text) to see how these things can be done. It contained imagination, detail, scorn, vision, wit (of course) and repeated stabs at his leadership rivals so quickly inserted that one only noticed afterwards that they were bleeding. He has a great skill of containing much in little. Study how he used the City Hall citizenship ceremony in which people swear in front of a picture of the Queen as a way of emphasising the Tory commitment to institutions, left-wing Labour’s dislike of this country, his own support for immigration and his achievements as Mayor.
With the help of the BBC’s Panorama this week, the full evil lunacy of the child abuse and murder conspiracy allegations relating to Dolphin Square, Elm House, Leon Brittan, Ted Heath, Field Marshal Lord Bramall etc is now emerging. There is a long, long way to go, however, before the names are properly cleared and the police have apologised for their disgusting behaviour. There also needs to be a long list drawn up of those in public life and the media who gave credence to these cruel fantasies. The behaviour of Tom Watson MP puts him in the same class as Titus Oates, Noel Pemberton Billing and Senator Joe McCarthy. Many of us tut-tut that Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party, but it is far more shocking that its deputy leader is Mr Watson.
In February 1984, Denis Healey, who died at the weekend, assailed poor Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons over the trade union ban in GCHQ. ‘Who is the Mephistopheles behind this shabby Faust?’, he taunted. In a column for this paper a few days later, I suggested that Healey, rather than Howe, was Faust. It was he, with his parade of learning and his ability to find brilliant reasons for any argument whatever, who had sold his soul to the Devil in return for knowledge. I added that, like Faustus, as rendered by Marlowe, he now (politically) had ‘but one bare hour to live’, and imagined the Latinate Healey screaming ‘Lente, lente currite, noctis equi’ before being damned perpetually. By ill luck, I had already invited Healey to a lunch which fell shortly after the piece appeared. He arrived at Rules and drank a bottle of wine and then a large glass of Armagnac, and was genially and entertainingly rude throughout. At the end, he stood up and hit me quite hard on the chest, exclaiming ‘Lente, lente currite, noctis equi. Fuck you. Fuck you.’ In his obituaries, Denis Healey was much praised for having his famous ‘hinterland’, but I wonder if it wasn’t more of a hindrance than a help, adding to his impatience with all the people in politics (99.9 per cent) whom he considered fools.
Sir Geoff Palmer responds again about the interview in 1964 when someone who he believes was Keith Joseph told him to go home and grow bananas. Since he insists on the point about Nottingham University, let me explain that I am relying on what he himself said on the programme The Life Scientific: that he applied for an MSc at Nottingham but that the interview for it took place at Reading University. I omitted this refinement about Reading from my first piece only because it did not seem important. The key point is why Sir Keith, the minister, at that time, for housing and local government, should have been interviewing applicants for a course sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture. According to Sir Richard Packer, who joined the Min of Ag in 1967, and eventually became its permanent secretary, ‘It is virtually inconceivable that an active politician would have been appointed as a ministry representative on an official committee, and even less conceivable that they would be appointed to a technical committee for which they [Sir Keith] had no relevant qualifications. Such a policy [about the employment of active politicians] had been in place for many decades by the 1960s and was in place long afterwards.’ I honestly don’t think Sir Keith can have been at young Geoff’s interview, to help any university or on behalf of any ministry.
The second volume of my biography of Mrs Thatcher is just published, so there remains one more to write. How do you celebrate the second of three in the right way? I thought about this and decided that, after the excitement of launching the first volume in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, it would be bad luck to try to cap that this time. I suggested to my publishers, Penguin, that we should have no launch party, and wait for a grand finale when volume III actually lands. They jumped at the saving involved. So this is an apology to the many people who deserve a party but won’t get one yet. By the time volume III appears, the whole project will have taken 20 years, so I hope the party will be worth the wait.
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