Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

GB – good speech, well delivered

Posted on 4 March 2009 | 7:03pm

I watched Gordon’s speech to Congress in the company of BBC journalists as I was commenting on it for The News Channel. Half way through, I could tell they were listening more intently than is often the case. Then when I heard Jon Sopel say ‘this is better than his usual…’ (as near as a politician gets to praise from a journalist) I knew it was going well.

The only communications that works in modern politics is authenticity, and the reason it worked as a speech was because it was authentic Gordon Brown. He could have made it to any audience, from a Labour Party fundraiser or poverty-fighting charity to a gathering of financial institutions or the next G20 summit. I hope people try to see the whole thing, not just the clips and the surrounding blather on the news bulletins.

I thought it was interesting to see an American audience react so positively to the line that whilst we support the free market, we do not support values-free markets, and that the values of the good society need to be applied to the good economy too. It was rich in values, the values of his politics, Labour politics and progressive politics in general. Hence the focus, albeit with a backdrop dominated by the economic crisis, on the environment and Africa. I found his description of the boy killed in Rwanda, whose final words were that the United Nations would help, genuinely moving.

Such a pitch is clearly easier with a Democrat rather than a Republican President, but it seemed to go down fine on both sides of the aisle. I also liked the Biblical touches and the references to his father’s influence upon ‘son of the Manse’ Brown.

There was a strong message in there for the Americans that they have to work ‘for and with the world,’ and when he started to go through some of the problem areas which need to be addressed for the future success of the global economy, you began to see the outline of the agenda for the forthcoming G20 Summit.

I said here a few days ago that some speeches matter more than most. This one mattered, for short, medium and long-term reasons. The short-term judgement will be decided by the immediate reaction of public and media; the medium term rests upon what comes out of that G20 process; the long-term, most important of all, on the impact of those decisions.

So it’s a three stage process aimed at leading the world from recession to recovery, showing the values and the policy decisions required to do so. The first stage went well.

  • Alina Palimaru

    The Ted Kennedy moment was well-received in the galleries… Read More… He is very popular here. U.S. as “indispensible, irrepressible nation” went well too. “Fear” vs. “faith” in future, good.

    Robust economic argument, putting it into perspective for Americans that protectionism is more detrimental than anything else! “New frontier is that there is no frontier” — excellent!

    Regarding “global new deal” — so far reactions have been mixed, because it confuses people: does he mean international body monitoring global economy, or just a global concerted effort by nations…

    The Rwandan child example was heart-wrenching but brilliant!! Hammered the point, some here welled up!

    But I must note…GB is no TB… I am not sure there was a “hand of history on our shoulder” moment.

  • Vic

    Sorry, Alastair, but the time for talk is long over. If we’re only just past the ‘first stage’ then someone needs a rocket up their backside. People are losing their jobs, their homes and their self-esteem.

    We need these bright, innovative people to Get Things Done. Every day is a day nearer the next mortgage payment, which we may not be able to make.

  • Gabrielle L-P

    Well said and a well crafted blog AC

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Vic: You make a good point, but I think GB has been getting things done as well.

    Moreover, this type of talking is necessary for high-level international protocols..

  • paul robinson

    you could tell slight nerves in voice at beginning,but the pm sounded sincere and surely at this time everybody must give support especially when our leader is abroad.

  • AC

    Vic,when I talk about the three stages, I am referring purely to what I think GB was setting out to achieve today, in relation to the international agenda he is pursuing. As has been widely recognised in the States and elsewhere, he was one of the first major leaders out there with an explanation and with action to deal with the immediate impact of the crisis. But now it really is time to get the global agenda sorted. I was not saying, and do not accept, that he has done nothing up to now

  • Vic

    There’s no doubt that we must maintain international protocol – no doubt. But does it need to be GB?

    But things have got to move faster. We can slap backs, but things are desperate. What the British public wants is reassurance here, not in the US. We need a leader here, making the most of technology and the common touch to reach every single person who is worried about how they are going to pay their bills nest month.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Vic, again, good points.

    However, as you have seen, national economies are inextricably linked with the global infrastructure. When the boom is in force, most countries will benefit. When the bust comes rolling, we are all tied to the disease. And the response must therefore be collective. In the face of a crisis like this one, whatever each country does, individually, will have a miniscule impact on itself and the others. Collective action “for and with” each other is the way to go.

    Stipulations like “Buy American” for instance (see scandal last month) would be catastrophic for the UK and other countries. So GB has done a lot domestically, but by galvanizing the Americans to abandon protectionism, will do even more for Britain.

  • karl burge

    I feel inmy heart the yanks are going to go down a protectionist route whether we like it or not or whether it makes sense or not…in much the same way they went down the ‘dont give a damn’ route on Kyoto. Good speach from GB though but the most important parts were heard in silence and the parts which were empty soundbytes (helping the poor) were cheered and aplauded…doesn’t look promising to me.

  • Rob Atkins

    They’re certainly a courteous lot in America aren’t they ? 17 standing ovations, 18 according to the BBC (and 26 according to the always balanced Robert Peston-Brown).

    I’m impressed especially because he must have told them all these problems started in America. What he didn’t ? Why on earth not ? That’s what he’s always saying over here …

    And it was a brainwave of Brown to use that particular speech to say a heartfelt sorry for his own part in the failure of the banking system ? What he didn’t do that either ?

    So, no change at all then. The Labour Party is going down at the next election and won’t be visible for a generation. Still, could be worse eh ? They could still be in power and have to sort out this almighty mess they’ve made of the economy….

    Always fun to contribute to these blogs !

  • Brian Moylan

    Dear Rob Atkins 🙂

    I don’t know how many standing ovations you counted? you are of the Murdoch school I must presume, you agree with his reporter’s analysis.
    I thought it was a good performance abroad supporting an ally, you may disagree though 🙂
    Goodnight 🙂