Ten days ago I had the honour to teach a group of speechwriters at Queen’s College in Oxford. This one day training was part of the annual conference of the European Speechwriters Network. One of the subjects that we discussed in the group was the new European trend to glorify the past. Not – like the Americans do – to claim an even greater future, but to ‘take back’ what we had. Orbán, Johnson and Baudet are the ultimate examples of these new European renaissance-hugging populists.
As it was a training I challenged the group to write a speech in this new populist style…
This was the exercise (Brian is the man behind the Speechwriters Network and very much a Remainer):
“Brian finally snapped: he is going to take back control and will make a speech during the banquet that the European Speechwriters are NOT leaving the European Union, whatever may come….
He asks you to help with his speech and tells you he was very inspired by Thierry Baudet and is convinced that everything was better for speechwriters in the fifties, the renaissance, and of course during the Roman Empire.
Help Brian make a speech with impact…”
We had a brainstorm, every member of the group wrote down their ideas and @MattGreenlough put it together into this wonderful speech, which he read out during the banquet:
“Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.
For the sick while there is life, there is hope.
Friends, I am here to tell you there is still hope, although our position today is a dangerous one.
The European Speechwriters Network is teetering on the edge of calamity, as we face being cut from the European Union.
From our Brussels womb untimely ripped.
We should not, can not, will not let that happen.
Aliis coluit non sibi. This is the mission of the speechwriter. From the dawn of the earliest civilisations, through the trials and tribulations of human history, we have been there, quietly crafting. Crafting words that, when spoken by the right people, to the right audience, at the right time, can change the course of history. We have seen it happen.
• the ancient Greeks
• the Roman Empire
• Renaissance Europe
And now the EU itself.
Try and tell me it wasn’t a speechwriter who took the unwieldy European Coal and Steel Community and edited it into the more palatable European Union.
This is our heritage.
Friends, we didn’t have just one dream, we had dream after dream, and the power of our words made into glorious reality the ambitions of our continent.
Veni vidi Vici.
Would Caesar have triumphed with a battle cry of “I popped in, had a look around and I smashed things up a bit!”
Never have so many owed so much to so few.
Would Churchill have properlry honoured the Battle of Britain by saying: “lots of people have to thank a small number of other people for doing a really good thing”?
Our words shape history.
But now we have an enemy.
An enemy named Brexit.
An enemy who wants to break the symbiotic relationship between speechwriter and speaker.
An enemy who wants to break away from the European Union. An enemy who thinks speechwriters are better off alone.
Friends, the Brexiteer Barbarians are at the gate.
It is one minute to midnight. It is time for us to act.
Do not fear. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
This is an enemy that can be beaten.
For this enemy has clearly never read a book. If they had, they would know that the history of humankind is a history of working together to build things bigger than ourselves. Historia magistra vitae eat testis temporum.
Today we have a new dream. A dream to create a nation state. Not just a nation state, but a member state.
A state comprised of speechwriters.
For we need the European Union and the European Union needs us.
Looking on the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, a Prussian historian described the descent from an enterprise that once prized culture and writing – calling the remains a “chaotic mess of rotted imperial forms and unfinished territories.”
It also became almost impossible to get a decent kebab.
A terrible lesson from history.
A grave warning for a future without Speechwriters.
Our new member state will allow Europe to flourish in deed and in word.
Our brave new venture will be known as the state of Ciceroland, a land of creativity populated by the greatest of the great speechwriters.
We will not allow Brexit to hinder our craft, indeed from our new home we will spread it from far away countries in the North all the way down to the Iberian peninsula.
We will oversee the revival of traditional European philosophy, art and culture. And we will safeguard the economic future of wordsmiths throughout the land.
It is in our very own economic interest that we fight for open borders, global trade and the continuity of the European Union.
Do not misunderstand me – I do not wish for world peace.
Life in the garden of Eden is boring. There is not much to say. But as soon as the snake appears and makes mischief, there is conflict.
And conflicts are the most important ingredient of good stories and speeches. In other words, conflicts positively influence the demand for our services as speechwriters.
But before we can shamelessly profit from the misery of other people’s battles, we have our own war to win.
Our own place in history to secure.
Our own member state inside the European Union.
Let no-one say that when they came for the speechwriters, we did nothing.
No, we shall go on to the end.
We shall write in Oxford, we shall write on the Isis and the Thames, we shall write with growing confidence and witty hashtags on the internet, whatever the cost may be, we shall write best man speeches, we shall write briefing papers, we shall write in the fields and the streets, we shall write in the hills; and our membership of the European Union we shall never surrender.