Last week was an important one for this political X-Factor reality show, where pitching success is all about the Q&A. Setting aside the content, which for the most part held few surprises, how well did the contestants perform? Did they command the stage? Did they engage with their audience?
For all, the panel was the same. Not exactly Spanish Inquisition nor even would-be Simon Cowells. Deliberately low-key, decently British, they lacked cohesion and with over long preambles gave time for considered response, with less chance of the gaffe.
Last week’s main contestants.
The Spin Doctor, Alistair Cambell. An entirely predictable reprise of his bully boy attack dog in ‘lawful’ defence of his master. Past its sell-by date, as the master no longer has power, and the television show, The Thick of it, is so much better than the real thing.
At least he is not a lawyer. In the words of a sixteenth century proverb,”The devil makes his Christmas pies of lawyers’ tongues”.
Lawyer Number One, Sir Michael Wood used all the right words then and he articulated them again in his replies. He had made the legal position clear, “we would not have a leg to stand on”. Regrettably, actions speak louder than words and when ignored he remained silent, remaining in post, rewarded with the gong. Result, largely ignored again.
Lawyer Number Two, and outright X-Factor Winner was Elizabeth Wilmshurst. Having resigned seven years ago as a matter of principle, she might have been expected to use the enquiry as an outlet for her justifiable outrage. Instead she arrived unburdened with supporting files, composed and almost serene such that her carefully chosen words, ‘like a scorpion’s sting,’ ridiculed this “lamentable” affair.
Lawyer Number Three, Jack Straw, but not as Wilmshurst scathingly put it “an international lawyer.” Another predictably reasoned performance, smoother and less interesting now lasered, he managed to sit reasonably on the fence both supporting and distancing himself from Blair. His theme song ‘I am a survivor’.
Lawyer Number Four, Lord Goldsmith was “calm and reassuring like chocolate” and used legalese at its most opaque, sheltering behind his role of looking after ‘my client’, always a good get-out. Except are we not his client? As Quentin Letts put it .. “over-rehearsed tones, his unctuous attempt at modesty, his amazing lack of human sorrow..”
Lawyer Number Five, ex-PM, Tony Blair had as expected mastered his brief, he certainly mastered the panel and as ever displayed his mastery of the art of public performance. Six long hours of sustained brilliance, the strong body language, expressive with his hands, the practised use of his spectacles, the studied pauses for thought and careful acknowledgment of the questioner.
It was all there, a master class apart from one vital ingredient, something that was once his trademark, the ability to make an emotional connection with his audience. This was a cold performance with no Princess Diana moment.
Why? Simple. We are not his audience, he has no need or wish to engage with us. His audience is corporate America where a righteous Rambo commands top dollar, regrets rather less.
Wherever law ends , Tyranny begins” . John Locke.1690