There is a well-worn lexicon of how you describe speeches in Westminster. Anyone giving a “thoughtful” or “wide-ranging” speech has ambitions for higher office. Anyone explicitly talking “beyond their brief” is about to run for leader.
Email comes in. Would I like to come and see Nick Gibb give a wide-ranging speech, going beyond his brief to talk about capitalism?
Yes I would. But surely not?
The speech was in Edelman PR’s palatial offices. Outside journalists surged against crash barriers and bellowed at the crowd. Surely, surely not?
(In this instance, no. They were there to cover the Labour NEC argument about Brexit on another floor.)
Inside all was calm and luxury. The office had a bar. Beautiful People walked around carrying MacBooks. Nick Gibb was the only person wearing a tie.
The venue had no seats. Instead, there were tiered benches with plumped cushions. We reclined and drank artisan coffee from the free bar.
The event started with an introduction from someone Beautiful who explained that Edelman works with some of the world’s biggest companies to strengthen and improve their reputation.
There was a beat.
“I’m here to talk about the crisis of capitalism,” Gibb said, brightly.
Surely, surely not.
To be honest, readers, I’ve sat through a lot of his speeches.
The venue had no seats. Instead there were benches with plumped cushions
Like an experienced teacher using a well-worked lesson plan, they’re none the worse and much the better for being honed over time. Government drawing on evidence. Trusting teachers. Emphasis on knowledge. Shout out to a few favoured schools. Quick genuflect to Hirsch. Exit stage right.
I want to talk about musical theatre, he said.
I bolted up from my plumped cushion.
Apparently, so runs the thesis, we can trace the decline of Conservative principles both to the fact that no one explains them to young people, but also that some companies are bad. And that’s why middle-class young people who go to the theatre to see terribly left-wing musicals clap and cheer them, and vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
We hit the phonics section. I relaxed. “We have changed the way we teach reading”, Gibb said. And then moved on.
What? This is like going to a Rolling Stones gig and them not playing Brown Sugar because they want to “show some new songs”. SAY PHONICS, YOUR FANS DEMAND IT.
We are a nation of innuendo, he continued. We love Carry On and Mrs Brown’s Boys. He paused and looked up. “Don’t we, Mrs.”
By this point my jaw was hanging low over my artisan coffee.
But he wasn’t done. Technology companies were in his sights. But it was important for him to be clear that they aren’t all bad. For example – and I promise you this is an exact quote – “A question that once involved a trip to the library can now be answered by a simple tap on a screen that we all keep in our pockets. As an education minister, and as a citizen of course, I welcome that.”
As someone said on Twitter, this now sounded like one of those kidnapping calls where you say something you would never normally do to indicate you’re being held against your will.
And then it was over. Courageously for the chair, he addressed the elephant in the room. Was this a leadership speech?
I’m not running, Gibb said. Well, that’s what leadership contenders often say, countered the chair. This one means it, Gibb replied.
My neighbour stiffened. HE’S CONFIRMED IT, he gasped. HE SAID “THIS ONE”.
As I poured myself another artisan coffee, I did what the schools minister would surely want us to do, and considered the evidence. A wide-ranging speech indeed. Fulsome praise for the prime minister. An attack on Jeremy Corbyn. A manifesto for what the Conservative party should do in future.
Surely not. I mean surely not.
So, points for a love of musical theatre and approval for “just googling it”, but disappointingly no phonics, and no Hirsch.