The Sketch: Speech writers wanted - ordinary people need not apply

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The Independent Online

When they were looking for speech writers in Whitehall they advertised a test. Use the following words to write a ministerial speech, they said, and there followed 20 linguistic units we have come to know well. Choice. Contestability. Markets. Personalised services. Dignity. Social exclusion. Dependency culture. Local autonomy. Devolved responsibility ... on and on they went. It is the administrative language of the political class. It may be the most powerful reason why ordinary people are not connected with the political process.

Sarah Teather talks like that. Most of them do. Her speech on education was a mix-and-match speech that could be delivered by any political party. It was Whitehall wind. She says she's against it, but exemplifies it. She seems to have opinions on education. She demanded a system that served the individual not the state, and empowered people to be independent and free, with no more one-size-fits-all. There was lots of no-more-one-size-services. She wanted to trust people instead. And she put in what focus groups say they want: "passion". "[ENTER NAME]: You have failed our children!"

The main effect was a surge of sympathy for Tony Blair. He has done everything the Lib Dems wanted. Applied far more funds to public services than they dreamt possible, produced a whole structure of choice and individualised learning they all talk about, only to have chipmunks like Sarah Teather demanding he do what he's doing as though it was her idea all along.

On the other hand, she's the one who disposed of Charlie Kennedy back in Westminster; she will always have that.

A lady from the Shetlands told us that it took her 14 hours by ferry to get to a cinema. Her nearest rail link was in Denmark. Her words were like water soaking into parched coral. A real person saying interesting things in language we knew from conversation. How rare, how welcome it was.

And then on to the ghastliness of the final big report-back. It was the Trust in People: Make Britain Free Fair and Green report of the Meeting the Challenge Working Party. You may be able to add some punctuation to make sense of it.

Alex Wilcock denounced everything to do with this wretched piece of pulp. The title was bad enough, in his view, there being three of them. There was Ming's preface but it didn't connect with the introduction and the chapters were incoherent and unrelated to each other as though they'd been picked up from the floor in a random order. There was no summary and the two most important themes were buried in paragraphs 3.2.4 and 4.3.1. A seven-year-old boy had a better grip of structure, narrative and memorable detail. "What is it good for?" he asked. "If nothing, what's the point in voting for it?" A heroic question (unanswered).

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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