Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yay! Paddy!

Old Tallie on LDV has come up with a devilishly attractive poll as to the best living Lib Dem orator. He's come up with an excellent list: Paddy Ashdown, Evan Harris, Simon Hughes, Lembit Opik, John Pardoe, Cyril Smith, Jeremy Thorpe, Shirley Williams.

I have had the honour of listening to all of those, bar Cyril Smith, speak in the flesh.

John Pardoe's oratory, performed via a bullhorn from the top of a Land Rover parked outside Lloyds Bank, Bude, first got me hooked on the Liberal party when I was still in short trousers. He is a big bear of a man and would really let rip about the inequities of the Tory/Labour governments.

I think some of the old Liberal party speakers became great orators because of the desperate position the party was in. Jo Grimond certainly had to sing for his supper. And Jeremy Thorpe had a real talent for "hooking" you. I think he particularly honed this speaking in the open air over the noise of livestock in North Devon.

Lembit Opik is a very passionate and enthralling speaker. He's come in for a fair amount of stick over the years. Indeed, I have put the boot into dear old Lembit on several occasions. But you have to hand it to him - he knows how to make a great, powerful speech.

For making my choice it was down to Shirl the Whirl or Paddy Pantsdown.

Shirley Williams is the most logically enticing speaker I have heard. She is so intellectually on top of every matter she addresses that she just blows you away with her assemblage of facts, logic and passion.

But I have cast my vote for Paddy. Sometimes when he was leader, some passages of his speeches were rather formulaic - the sort of Ikea of the leader's speech world - assemble by numbers. But my goodness, when he got going he could really work the conference up to the most almighty lather so that you walked out the hall on a cushion of air vowing to run over a cliff if Paddy told you to.

If I was to pick out one thing which Paddy said in the speeches he made over the years it would be his use of the Hughes Mearns quote to describe John Major in Downing Street:

Yesterday upon the stair I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. I wish that man would go away.

This quote was used later about Tony Blair. But Paddy used it at a time when John Major really was looking absolutely pathetically hopeless and ineffective in Downing Street. He used the quote as the crescendo to a piece about the uselessness of the then Tory government and it perfectly and humourously summed up with the whole sordid mess. Oh how we laughed!

I'm delighted to report that Paddy has opened up a respectable lead in the poll but there's still time to vote.

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