A speechwriter’s guide to the divide

U.K./Europe speechwriting shepherd Brian Jenner gets over his shock at the Brexit vote, describes implications for speechwriters.

I was on an overnight ferry to Saint-Malo on the night of the referendum result. I went to sleep confident it would be a narrow win for 'Remain'. I got up and dressed at 7am, because we were in a cabin without wifi. I went up to see the TV on deck and saw the strapline along the bottom saying Britain had voted to leave the European Union.

I was in shock. I felt nauseous.

Ever since, I've been going through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Which are of course the five stages of grief.

John Yorke spoke at our spring conference in Oxford about how the five stages of grief offer a good way to understand how we process new information and turn it into effective stories. 

You can listen to his talk here.

Lies and Speechwriting

How did the 'Leavers' win?

They told the story that they imbibed as teenagers from Mrs Thatcher about Britain being a great nation that could control its destiny.

BBC documentary maker, Adam Curtis, dealt with this a few years ago. You only need to scroll down and watch the first 60 seconds to get the hang of it.

The programme has much to say about speechwriting. The cause for alarm is that, as Curtis points out, there are other stories. And the ghosts they involve may have consequences for the break up of the United Kingdom.

Elites, Bankers and Experts

The other narrative the 'Leavers' selected is even older. 

The stories about bankers, elites and experts.

We've been there before with attacks on 'corrupt clergy'.

Read Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium. What happens, in the extreme version, is that the revolutionaries take over and they very quickly run out of money and end up using violence to maintain their position. One Amazon reviewer describes it thus: 

'The picture Cohn paints of late Medieval Europe is one of economic insecurity, societies in rapid transition, political disenfranchisement, disease and natural disasters, creating a rich soil for religiously inspired revolutionary movements.'

What were the signs?

Our 2013 conference in Brussels was disrupted by huge building projects destined for a new President of the European Council. They seemed to be grandiose and impractical constructions. 

Northcote Parkinson described the 'new headquarters' syndrome. His example was how the British spent $500m building a naval base in Singapore in 1939, which was lost soon after.

In the same way Crossrail – the new Underground rail network for London – is likely to open about the time London property prices finally crash and a great diaspora out of the city begins. 

It's not just our membership of the European Union that comes to an end, it's the vision of what the European Union can be. 27 nations will also have to rethink.

Implications for Speechwriters

I have a favourite saying I got from a rabbi: Resentment is unproductive so learn the three things one can never change.

1) The past

2) The truth

3) Another person

This is useful for speechwriters because it's our job to reflect on truth, interpret the past and imagine the future. 

While modern politicians spend their days rushing around without pausing for thought, we're the ones applying a creative imagination, sitting in an office, with our books, staring at the ceiling, trying to find words. 

The UK Speechwriters' Guild morphed into the European Speechwriter Network because we got more and more speechwriters requesting to join from places like Holland and Denmark. Calling it the UK Speechwriters' Guild, we created the impression that they might not be welcome.

It was an natural evolution. Becoming European has been a natural evolution for all the businesses, legal systems, political parties and academic institutions of our nation states. 

Can we go backwards?

I found this on David Boyle's blog. He quoted what William Morris wrote in A Dream of John Ball about the paradoxical nature of political change.

I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.

Reasons to be Cheerful

I'm glad that the vision of an independent United Kingdom has won. The Tory headbangers will not be able to use Europe as a scapegoat any longer.

We're out—so the economic and social consequences are their responsibility.

Does England wish to exert the democratic right to become like Albania before the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Our electorate will no longer be able to send rebels and subversives to the European Parliament.

Those politicians will no longer have a platform or, more importantly, funding, unless they are elected in to office in the UK, which to date has been a lot more difficult.

Paradoxes are everywhere. We're witnessing the emergence of a stronger European consciousness. The passion of the pro-EU demonstrations hasn't been seen before. 

We'll still need to experience the joy of listening to each other, having conversations and learning from each other about effective communication. Europe is about our private lives, as well as our public lives.

Andreas Kluth, Berlin correspondent of The Economist, gave a talk  at our conference in Amsterdam about Angela Merkel in 2014. He wrote a super book called Hannibal and Me.

This book explains how winners often become losers and losers become winners.

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