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Ian went on the March For Europe the other day. This is what he found…

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The Article 50 Bill has passed, Ian has a brand new job, what could go wrong?

A new Ian Bowler video for you…

Right, with PMQs coming up tomorrow – here’s a look at last week’s jokes, what they got right, and what they got wrong…

“Not so much the iron lady as the irony lady” (3:41)

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This one’s just a disaster from start to finish. Badly written, badly delivered, and vague enough that it sounds like it might be a compliment.

  • There’s no link between setup and punchline, Delivered separately it’s quite difficult to remember what the irony is that Jeremy mentioned in the setup. It might even have been worth mentioning the word irony before, because there’s quite a conceptual leap to be made.
  • This is a laboured pun. Not impossible, but more difficult than some kinds of jokes to deliver well. It requires getting the audience on board and acknowledging that the joke is weak and that you’re enjoying its weakness. Jeremy does none of this. He doesn’t make eye contact with anyone except the Speaker, and delivers it like he thinks it’s a good line. It’s not a good line.
  • The inflection is wrong. I’d advise using a rising, incredulous inflection or putting a huge pause after “Not so much the iron lady…” and seeing if the audience will do some of the work for you. Again, acknowledging the weakness of the gag is the key to pulling something like this off.
  • However, there’s no such thing as an “irony lady”. It fundamentally doesn’t make sense as a statement. That hobbles this joke as it’s always going somewhere that isn’t going to make sense when you arrive.
  • It’s hugely context-specific, and isn’t going to stick in anyone’s memory unless you’ve done a lot more work to establish that Theresa May is full of irony somehow. Maybe at the end of something like: “She wants to represent the will of the people, but has never won an election to anything; she wants to being back parliamentary sovereignty but sideline parliament; she wants Britain to be a global power, but seems determined to annoy large chunks of the globe! She’s not so much the iron lady…”
  • Eye contact. Throughout this exchange, Theresa May, as ineffective a speaker as she largely is, makes eye contact with the Opposition benches, and is unafraid to turn and gesture to her own. She makes a point of closing her notes as she’s getting up (with a finger in so she can find what she might need to later). Jeremy Corbyn only makes eye contact with his notes or, occasionally, the Speaker. This does him no favours at all.

“I’ve got a plan. He doesn’t have a clue.” (4:55)

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This is solid, but so confident is Theresa of her delivery here that she veers into actual caricature of a disapproving gossip serving tea at a jumble sale.

  • Much better written than her jokes usually are. This is a simple balancing statement with a contrast between its two halves. Here is one statement (“We have a plan”). Here is another (“He doesn’t have a clue”).
  • The lengthy petard-hoisting quotation works better for her than it does to Jeremy, although he tries in at least three question to do the same to her. Partly because she’s quoting his own words at him, whereas he’s trying to tie her to other ministers, and partly because it’s simply a better-selected quotation. It ends with its killer line.
  • The quotation – of course – isn’t saying what she’s saying it is, but it doesn’t matter because the look of incredulous despair and change it tone sell it utterly and distract you from the fact that the quotation is entirely reasonable.
  • This is the best performance I’ve seen from her. Withering contempt seems to be effective as a stance from her, and she seems to actually relish it, as opposed to the concerned statesman she’s tried to pull off before.

Not many jokes this week. Theresa had the much easier job, in that hers was better written and easier to deliver, but she also did a better job with what she was given.

If you are intending to use humour in a speech it’s essential that it look like it’s coming organically from you. Very little is more awkward than someone trying to do a joke they’re not happy with. Corbyn’s pun seemed forced on him, May’s scorn seemed real.

Full disclosure: I’m part of TTW, a company that teaches this sort of thing to people who have to talk in public. If you’d like more of this sort of thing, do get in touch.

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This all feels a little redundant now.

I was going to say this felt like a pretty simple choice between principles and practicalities.

I was going to say that the principle of less-opaque government, closer and more responsive to the people it serves was a good one, and an important one.

I was going to say that when a decision will have a material impact on your quality of life, it’s entirely valid to choose to vote based on that rather than on principle.

I was going to ask how the people who boasted of watching Suffragette with their daughters were going to explain the fact that they were trying to make sure that the votes the Pankhursts fought for meant less and less.

I was going to ask the warriors for freedom from the tyranny of the state how they could justify leaving the only organisation that guarantees the free movement of people and things across state borders,without state interference.

I was going to point out that small businesses producing ebooks and digital products – the sort of low-overhead businesses of innovation we should be encouraging – were being killed by the VATMOSS rules, which lowered the VAT threshold to, effectively, zero for anyone selling  a PDF of their self-published novel within the EU.

I was going to point out that a couple of weeks of Brexit speculation had wiped more off the FTSE than years of EU membership would have cost.

I was going to cast a disparaging side-eye over intelligent people who claimed there was no difference in how democratic the EU is compared to how democratic the United Kingdom is.

I was going to cast a disparaging side-eye over people complaining about a ‘democratic deficit’ who have never once complained about the House of Lords or a monarch who vetoes bills she doesn’t like before they even get to the House of Commons.

I was going to point out that you’re not reclaiming your sovereignty when you intend on giving it straight to an actual sovereign.

I was going to explain that a bigger constituency means that your vote is worth less (something the same people I’d have explained it to seemed to understand when the Tories were planning on ditching 50 MPs and making each constituency bigger).

I was going to explain that I’d never really found any compelling argument that Britain was the ideal-sized unit in which democracy should reside.

I was going to bemoan the fact that the RemaIN side seemed dull and technocratic and seemed to accept the EU as a necessary evil rather than making a positive, European case for a more-hopeful future.

I was going to bemoan the fact that the Brexit camp had the inescapable whiff of a mid-life crisis, its rhetoric a tubby husband who resents having to go to work all day whilst living with a wife who’s gone off him and children who barely notice him. A man who, holding his stomach in in the mirror, remembers when he had a full head of hair and there was that girl at that party and once he spent a whole weekend smoking weed and listening to Derek and Clive and he’s sure he could have all that again. A man who believes that moving out and finding himself a flat and making a new start and really having a proper conversation with the girl in the sandwich shop will sort his life out once and for all.

I was going to make the case that no one has mentioned the fact that British foreign policy was, for hundreds of years, the maintenance of a balance of power in Europe. We meddled, we made alliances, we got involved in wars, just to make sure that the French and the Germans never made an alliance of which we weren’t part. We recognised – Wellington recognised, Churchill recognised, every statesman for centuries recognised –  that a united Europe, with Britain on the outside is the most grave threat to its existence. And we are preparing to give up our foremost foreign policy aim for no distinguishable benefit. Not only that, we’re doing it because we’re afraid there will be more integration, a common foreign policy, a common defense policy, the very situation we could both prevent and ameliorate the worst effects of if we were in the EU. To give away a United States of Europe of which the UK isn’t a part seems foolish, short-sighted and potentially suicidal.

I was going to point out that Tony Benn and Bob Crow all made solid, left-wing arguments for leaving the EU.

I was going to point out that they were both dead, and instead we had Farage and Johnson and Gove.

I was going to say that pointing to all the good things the EU has done for us which we wouldn’t have had otherwise is implicitly mistrustful of democracy and your fellow citizens. It is a failure of the left that they have not made the case compellingly enough that the people of Britain haven’t demanded them at the ballot box.

I was going to say that pointing to the pressure on public services and blaming it on immigration was simply a canard, and a dangerous one. The provision of infrastructure is the job of government and if there aren’t enough hospitals or schools it’s not the fault of the people in the hospitals or schools, it’s the fault of a government that prioritises reducing inheritance tax over building schools, and building HS2 over building hospitals.

I was going to say that the example of the Lisbon Treaty, whipped up to avoid referendums on a new constitution after France and Ireland rejected a new constitution, but consisting of most of the same things a new constitution would,  showed how resistant it was to reform.

I was going to say that given the structure of Article 50, which will make the two-year negotiation process as difficult as possible for any country that wants to leave, and before the conclusion of which no trade agreements can be negotiated, reforming the EU from within and exacting concessions from within (Thatcher’s rebate, Major’s EU opt-out, Blair’s Schengen exemption, Cameron’s rejection of “ever-closer union”) is much more likely to succeed than attempting an amicable separation.

I was going to note the irony of being suddenly lectured by those who had previously been fiscal conservatives on a trade deficit being a good thing because “they want to sell things to us.”

I was going to say that this wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as evidenced by the fact that – for many people – it’s the second time in their life they’re getting to make this decision.

I was going to say that question is not “Is the EU in its current form a good organisation?” but “Do you – right now and under these circumstances, on a fixed timetable – think Britain should invoke Article 50 and start the process of leaving the EU?”

I was going to say that you have to vote for the campaign you get, not the one you wish you’d had, and a vote for something carries an implicit approval of its campaign.

I was going to point out that the Vote Leave posters had finally shoved me firmly into the RemaIN camp. The nudges and winks and sly undertones of arguments and posters about Turks were appealing to the worst in human nature, a campaign of undisguised race-baiting and division, and one in which I – in good conscience – could not reward with my vote.

I was going to point out that saying you wanted to leave the EU because we didn’t want “our noses rubbed in diversity”, the fact that the background for the Vote Leave website’s header is MIGRATION in tabloid type, and the outright lies told about the proportion of migration that is from within the EU (more than half is from outside) was turning this from a campaign about the way in which we’re governed into a nasty, septic flirtation with nationalism.

And then yesterday happened.

So I think we have to face up to what the practical implications of a Brexit vote are.

Very simply, if we vote to leave, that will have immediate, practical consequences, and to pretend they will not happen or do not matter is to wash our hands one too many times in my view.

Simply, a victory for the Leave campaign with strengthen the in-party positions of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

Both Johnson and Farage are in the middle on an inter-party struggle for power.

Farage is desperate to keep control of the party, away from the more libertarian positions of the Carswells. He is unashamed about stoking racial tensions to cement his position (he doesn’t like hearing foreign languages on the train, he doesn’t want his nose rubbed in diversity, and he doesn’t want Romanians moving in next door), to the point where he will happily stand in front of a poster that recreates Nazi propaganda to stoke fear about refugees. He’s had to fight off challenges from within the party (and demoted Suzanne Evans because he disagreed with her), but a vote for Leave will cement his position atop the UKIP dunghill for the foreseeable future.

(Here’s a quick reminder: UKIP Welsh Assembly Member Neil Hamilton walked around the Reichstag giving Hitler salutes when he visited as an MP and also gave speeches to Italian neo-fascists in the late 1960s.)

Whether or not Boris “grinning piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” Johnson would make it to the party membership vote for party leader we don’t know, but we do know that his position has been immensely strengthened with them by his visible leadership of the Leave campaign.

We also know that he doesn’t mean what he says. His own great-grandfather was Turkish and he made a very effective documentary about Turkey’s role in developing the idea of civilisation and why it should be allowed into the EU.

Now he rails against the swarthy Turk, beefing over here with his hairy forearms to do unmentionable things to our green sward. And being a venal and empty spouter of whatever’s convenient isn’t perhaps the worst thing in the world, except that in this case he’s deliberately stoking the most dangerous of tensions (without any belief in their truth)  for political gain.

And, of course, on day after the referendum, Donald Trump will arrive in Britain. If we’ve voted to leave he will claim it as a great personal victory: “It was always my opinion. I have some great opinions. Let me tell you, opinion-wise I’m a very wise man. I know all the opinions. Huge opinions.”

This referendum has been characterised, on the whole, by the things we don’t know: the economic effect of leaving, how EU citizens living here now would be affected, what the process would be.

But we do know this:

A vote to leave will have the immediate, practical effect of putting two of Britain’s political parties, and a great round of coverage on American television networks, into the hands of men who are unafraid to flirt with fascism, nationalism, and racism.

So I’m voting to remain. And I hope you will, too.

 

 

Sir Ian Bowler revealed his position on EU membership today. Here’s the startling video. https://youtu.be/v5CKyzOJJAo