29 March 2009

Another Tory speech that marked the beginning of the end for a prime minister

There was an interesting comment the other day on one of my postings about Daniel Hannan's speech by Charles Crawford, a former speechwriter to Sir Geoffrey Howe. It reminded me of another Tory speech that marked the beginning of the end of a prime minister -- and also met the right chord/right audience/right place/right time test for 'memorability'.

His resignation speech to the House of Commons included a fine example of sporting imagery (a cricketing simile) to describe what it had been like working for Mrs Thatcher (see video below).

"It's rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain."

The speech ended with a fairly explicit invitation to other discontented colleagues to stand against her for the leadership, and it wasn’t long before she was gone:

"The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long."

Mr Crawford says he didn't write the speech, but I wonder if he or anyone else could shed any light on a rumour that was circulating at the time, namely that Sir Geoffrey's wife had had a major hand in writing it.



ukipwebmaster said...

This is now rising fast on YouTube and was the speech that preceded Daniel Hannan's:

Charles Crawford said...


Thank you for the link.

This was not one of mine. By then I was at the Embassy in South Africa grappling to end apartheid and Geoffrey Howe was no longer Foreign Secretary. I have no idea if Elspeth Howe contributed to it, but she is a feisty woman and no doubt would have had privileged opportunities to make her views known to her husband...

The full text of the Howe speech is here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199091/cmhansrd/1990-11-13/Debate-1.html#Debate-1_head1

It reads very much like his own work - careful and measured to a fault. Apart from the rather clunky cricket metaphor, it is in itself fairly unmemorable as a piece of rhetoric (see eg the warm words for the UK joining the ERM, which did not work out so well).

It nonetheless achieved its legendary status not for what it 'said', but for what it did - namely signal head-on an irreversible dissatisfaction with Mrs Thatcher from one of her previously most loyal colleagues, and so from the heart of her own ranks. It opened the way to her speedy downfall.

It achieved that by attacking Mrs Thatcher and her approach to Europe in a firm, principled but also impeccably honourable Hovian understated way.

Which perhaps is why it was so devastating in its unique way, as a more explicit/'obvious' and/or insulting attack by Sir Geoffrey could have been dismissed as uncharacteristic, unconvincing petulance.

See eg the contrast between the Dan Hannan go at Gordon Brown and the other UKIP EP speech by Nigel Farage which UKIP are now busy pushing out, as per the comment here above. Which is better and has more impact if you are a student of speechwriting? The more spontaneous, vehement Farage club? Or the more mannered but deft Hannan rapier?

All this reinforces the point in that terrific book on communication by Frank Luntz. 'Words that Work': "it's not what you say - it's what they hear".

And, more, what they remember?