It is a week since Mrs. May launched a broadside on Russia in her Mansion House speech. An empty speech, sadly. Too many empty threats.
She castigated Vladimir Putin’s efforts to disrupt the democratic process, and she stirred the American cess-pit of suspicion with a rather short and shitty stick. That much, we all remember. But it wasn’t exactly memorable – was it.
Back on the 20th of January this year, however, we heard another speech in which something smelly started getting up our noses. I defy you to quote from that one, either. Perhaps Mrs. May listened more carefully, knowing she’d have to nurture a tempestuous relationship with that controversial figurehead and (I use the term loosely), ‘orator’. Donald J. Trump. The man who said he’d ‘Make America Great Again’. Who knows what she heard.
Thankfully, our nation is Great already.
Here, we are fortunate to have had many leaders – monarchs and ministers of all kinds – who’ve listened to their peers, pondered the circumstances, and understood the true meaning of individual, political greatness.
Previously, on that same date, in 1926, our nation watched the sun come up to mark the new reign of a young King with the ascension of Edward VIII.
Demonstrating courage in the face of adversity; commitment; self-sacrifice; and humility in the acquiescence of his duty – his reign was remarkably a-political and devoid of speeches therein. It turned out to be a fairly short-lived, long-lived affair – but I digress.
A government – or a monarchy – is never led by one person, alone. The arena is too great; the task, insurmountable. Only a united team of well-informed people may prioritise the best interests of a nation. Efficiently. Effectively.
However, it is the figurehead, the leader, who sets the example – sets the tone – and determines whether or not a government will ever completely capture the hearts and minds of the people it serves.
It is the leader, to whom we turn. It is the leader, on whom we depend. It is the leader, whose words we seek to voice our aspirations.
The evidence for this was set before us not by Edward – and not by May this week, either – but by a Briton who, ironically, has been in residence at the White House for some time. I refer, of course, to the bust of Churchill by the sculptor Jacob Epstein.
From its position outside the Treaty Room, or its new home inside the Oval Office, this incarnation of our then Prime Minister may cast a mindful shadow in the days ahead. While the length of a shadow may be interminable, one hopes – with profound and prophetic levels of pragmatic disappointment tucked into our ‘kerchiefs – that its burden could be intolerable, for anyone who remembers what leadership speeches REALLY sound like.
Last week, we heard a speech. Good or not, we have great speeches by which to measure its worth: Winnie’s final words, again, on the 20th January, but this time in 1940, during his House of Many Mansions speech:
In the bitter and increasingly exacting conflict which lies before us we are resolved to keep nothing back, and not to be outstripped by any in service to the common cause … the day will come when the joy-bells will ring again throughout Europe, and when victorious nations, masters not only of their foes but of themselves, will plan and build in justice, in tradition, and in freedom a house of many mansions where there will be room for all.
Apposite, n’est pas. How sad it is by comparison then, that I cannot quote any part of Mrs. May’s Mansion House speech without first looking it up. Can you?