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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“I heard the other day of a quite senior minister who has not been rung for the last six years by the political editor of the newspaper in his local city because he, the minister, can be relied on to say absolutely nothing. No one has ever written a profile of this minister. As he transacts the business of his department, he might as well be wearing a cloak of invisibility. One cannot help wondering whether his own family have any idea of who, politically speaking, he is, for even if he knows himself, he lacks the command of language needed to explain himself to anyone else.”

Andrew Gimson, musing on the terrible communications skills and speech-making calibre of our political class.

21 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • RRS

    Perhaps in the U K, as in the U S, we can observe that the capacity for the formulation of meaningful political speech is derivative of thought; such that the absence of meaningful thinking generates vacuous speech.

    It may well be that there is no longer a “political class,” drawn to service from identifiable social strata; but in its stead collections of “non-thinking” opportunists driven by personal objectives and the resultant limitations.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Maybe they should call on the talents of the best rhetorician in UK politics today – Nigel Farage. But I rather suspect they would rather eat worms.

  • Rob

    Six years in office. Sounds like a remarkable success story from his perspective.

    No one in the media is interested in what a Conservative Minister has to say except to trip them up and get them sacked. I can’t blame him for saying nowt.

  • Paul Marks

    If anything a person says can be used to DESTROY them (and in this “PC”, Frankfurt School of Marxism, world it CAN) then perhaps it is the safe policy to say nothing.

    Calvin Coolidge is supposed to have said “I have never been hurt by what I have not said” – although actually Calvin Coolidge’s speeches were often both interesting and brave.

    President Coolidge was also the last President who really had a Classical education – as opposed to Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy who PRETENDED to Classical learning they did not really have. Calvin Coolidge did not need an army of academics to write things for him and put quotes in his mouth – he actually knew the stuff himself.

  • And one could say both of them [May and Corbyn] are simply behaving like most other members of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet, for whom poverty of language has become an indispensable means of saying the bare minimum about whatever they may be asked about, or indeed of saying nothing at all.

    This sounds to me like the environment in which a Trump can appear and flourish.

  • Actually Jacob Rees-Mogg has excellent presence & delivery. And say what you like about Boris, no one fails to notice him or listen to what he is saying 😆

  • bobby b

    “As he transacts the business of his department, he might as well be wearing a cloak of invisibility.”

    Sounds like my perfect government.

    I want representatives, administrators, and managers, NOT “leaders.” God save us from “leaders.” I want a functioning competent government that fixes the roads and catches the crooks and guards the borders, and that doesn’t pursue the dreams and aspirations of the self-concerned great orators and spellbinding convincers.

    If I never learn a government employee’s name, he’s likely doing his job. When I learn it, it means he’s trying to lead me where he wants me to go. He needs to be concerned instead with where I want him to go.

    Of course, sometimes things go off the rails, and then we do need some leaders to get us back on track. Thus, Trump is well-timed. But once things are no longer crazy – once we beat back the tide of insanity and stupidity and resume being a functioning society – then I want the nameless managers and infrastructure-administrators back.

  • James Strong

    JRM is indeed a fine orator, as is Farage.
    Tony Benn was also very good.

    But since I now have the chance to say what I like about Boris, here goes –

    Boris reminds me of Michael Foot as a speaker. Both prone to rambling, with speech rhythms that depart too far from normal spoken language.

    I acknowledge that Boris appeals to many people; I just can’t see why. His judgement is poor, a recent point is that Briish/Iranian woman in Iran, when Boris foolishly said that there she was there training journalists. And it doesn’t matter if what he said was accurate or not, it could and should have been left unsaid.

    And he lacks courage. He wimped out of standing for the leadership 2 years ago. Gove did NOT stab him in any way, Gove simply stood himself.Boris was shocked that there was someone who didn’t share Boris’s sense that Boris was entitled to it.

    And recently Boris didn’t resign from the Cabinet until AFTER David Davis had resigned.That is not the mark of a leader.

    The ideal role for Boris would be as party chairman making speeches at the party conference to fire up the membership.

    But for judgement? Bearing in mind that what gets to the PMs desk is often stuff that is beyond the ability of others, is Boris the man you would want to ponder and decide on major difficult issues? Not for me.

    And our PM has to deal with heads of government of other countries. After years of public buffoonery does Boris have the gravitas for that? In my opinion, no.

    JRM on the other hand – a clear thinker, a clear speaker and principled. A man who should be pressed to serve the country, not show off for the country as Boris would.

  • James Strong writes:

    But for judgement? Bearing in mind that what gets to the PMs desk is often stuff that is beyond the ability of others, is Boris the man you would want to ponder and decide on major difficult issues? Not for me.

    Whilst not wishing to disagree overall with James on Boris, does not this particular comment of his apply well to the current PM?

    In fact, for me, it is a serious struggle to think of senior UK MPs (of any party) who are obviously suitable candidates for the job of PM: that impress a majority of their own party MPs and likely voters for that party.

    Best regards

  • >who has not been rung for the last six years by the political editor of the newspaper in his local city

    The UK has local papers with ‘political editors’? Really? As in a real political editor? Or just a hack who gets sent to cover the Mayor’s announcements?

    James, it is true that Boris is disorganised and (in some respects) cowardly, and sometimes lacks judgement. But the scary thing is that pretty much every other Tory (apart from Rees-Mogg and maybe a coupe of others) is a far worse prospect than him.

    I’d have to diagree about Gove, though. Gove didn’t just stand himself. Gove and BJ had worked out, in detail, a deal whereby they would stand as a package team, and then Gove pulled out at the very last second to run himself. To be fair to Gove, he pulled out because he thought Boris was screwing up, and he thought could do a better job. Unfortunately that turned out to be disastrous miscalculation for the country.

    >Sounds like my perfect government.

    But they’re not saying nothing because they’re getting on with the job of doing what the voters want. They’re saying nothing so as not to draw attention to the fact that they’re doing what the voters DON’T want.

  • pete

    Another possible reason why the minister has not been phoned by the political editor of his local paper is that the paper doesn’t have one any longer.

    Most local papers now operate on a shoestring budget with low paid inexperienced staff and hardly cover local politics at all.

  • James Strong

    ‘Gove and BJ had worked out,in detail a deal…’

    I didn’t know that. Time for me to think again.

    And no, my knocking of Boris was not meant to be any sort of praise for the FFC. I don’t want her exercising her judgement on difficult issues either.

    I can’t think past JRM. I was a big fan of David Davis,especially when he resigned over 42 day detention without charge, but I fear he is past his best.

    If there were a single transferable vote for 5 candidates who are strong for Brexit, I’d put Boris at no. 5. JRM at no. 1. Sadly I can’t think of another 3 likely names.

  • “And say what you like about Boris,” (Perry de Havilland (London), August 14, 2018 at 8:46 pm)

    If Boris were to replace May, I would say “About time!” I would of course say something similar if she were replaced by David Davis or JRM – or almost any Brexiteer with a brain-cell.

    Just above, James Strong has noted an earlier error about Boris and Gove so I need not labour it. The cartoon at the time of Gove stabbing Boris and skewering himself in the process was a good summary. (If anyone “wimped out” it was Leadsom, who, as the only Leave candidate left standing after Gove’s fiasco, should have forced the vote to go beyond parliamentary party to the overall party.)

    Over in the states, they have Donald, not Hillary. I’ll take Boris over May-with-risk-of-Corbyn. I’ll also take other options, if offered.

  • terence patrick hewett

    I think that Lord Emsworth and McAllister would do a good job.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    bobby b: “I want representatives, administrators, and managers, NOT “leaders.” God save us from “leaders.” I want a functioning competent government that fixes the roads and catches the crooks and guards the borders, and that doesn’t pursue the dreams and aspirations of the self-concerned great orators and spellbinding convincers.”

    The issue is getting to this benighted situation, and that calls for politicians who have the rhetorical skills to boil down complex arguments into memorable expressions so that the public can understand. Reagan had that skill, as did Mrs T.

    Plodding politicians may be fine if we had very limited government and a small state, but we don’t, so to get to a better place, we require people who can illuminate.

  • Alisa

    Bobby seems to be talking about government functionaries, while the post seems to be about politicians.

  • bobby b

    Actually, Alisa, JP has it mostly right. What I said was aspirational, in the sense that I look for government to be composed of only functionaries doing their (limited) jobs – there being no place in a limited government for “politicians” at all. They should be the people we hire to clean our streets, not our moral and emotional leaders.

    If we want the wisdom of wise people, we should listen to wise people, distinct and apart from government, because when we put those people into government, it makes government into something that it shouldn’t be. We could always have an elected Council of the Wise, unconnected to government, to guide and exhort us without coercion.

    As JP said, “The issue is getting to this benighted situation”, (as I acknowledged in my original comment), but so long as we look to government to be our “leader” instead of our “staff”, we’ll never get there.

  • Alisa

    JP did get it right, but it has nothing to do with what I wrote, not as far as I can tell.

    I look for government to be composed of only functionaries doing their (limited) jobs – there being no place in a limited government for “politicians” at all.

    But what would those jobs be exactly? When I say ‘politicians’, I mean legislators (at least in the context of this post, because the person it deals with is one).

    Personally and ideally I’d rather live in an anarcho-capitalist “utopia”, with no government as that term is currently understood. But unfortunately, none of this is personal, and nothing is ever ideal.

  • bobby b

    “But what would those jobs be exactly? When I say ‘politicians’, I mean legislators (at least in the context of this post, because the person it deals with is one).”

    Again, we end up with the distinction between “representative” and “leader.”

    True representative legislators work at making laws that their constituents desire. They assemble with other representatives and vote based on the desires of the majority of their constituents. If there is argumentation and advocacy to be done, it ought to be done within the constituency, between those voters. There ought to be little need for legislators making wonderful speeches to other legislators, because the legislators’ votes ought to be determined already at that stage.

    “Leaders” take on this mantle of advocacy themselves, and end up pushing for legislation that they themselves desire, and they seek to convince everyone – including their own constituents – of the correct path. I want legislators to see themselves simply as a way to fit all of their own voters into the congressional hall for the vote on the legislation, not as moral arbiters. It might be more efficient to allow legislators to be “leaders”, making moral choices because they have been selected as The Wise, but it always leads to government becoming our bosses, which is backwards.

    Yeah, this is utopian. Getting there is damned near impossible, and human nature seems to yearn for a smarter voice to guide and lead us. But I still like the idea of the Town Meeting.

    This construct leaves plenty of room for the great orator to convince the constituents of the correct path. But the role of great orator ought to be distinct from any place in government. It ought to be a private, officially-powerless role.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry – you have put an image in my mind…..

    Calvin Coolidge, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Boris Johnson – having a conversation on some matter of current concern.

    But with the conversation being conducted in either Latin or Ancient Greek.

  • Alisa

    “Leaders” take on this mantle of advocacy themselves, and end up pushing for legislation that they themselves desire, and they seek to convince everyone – including their own constituents – of the correct path.

    I don’t think that this is how this works, quite the opposite in fact: constituents base their choice of representatives on the proclaimed opinions and positions of the latter. Moreover, the former are repeatedly disappointed when the latter fail to live up to those election-campaigns proclamations.

    I see the root of this problem in the representative part of the system – not that I necessarily advocate anything like a ‘direct democracy’, as such a system would be very likely to present a different and no-less serious set of problems.

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