David Miliband, one-time candidate for leadership of the Labour Party, is somewhere behind these windows waiting to be joined by a worthy chunk of Oxford’s intelligentsia for a post-lecture reception.
This evening in the Sheldonian, which he last visited 30 years ago to receive his first class degree, he argued that support for refugees is a global public good (yup, I agree) which requires reform of international policy (yes, you’re probably right there). His context was that the sort of globalisation we have grown over recent years has pitted politics against economics (OK, working hard here, those examples kind of make sense, now you say it). Our international relations have operated to the detriment of all but the elite (not sure quite how you got there but it certainly sounds right).
(Actually, did he just say that or did I make it up?)
He was poised, confident and eloquent (I was out of my depth and doing my damnedest to remember each argument beyond the end of each paragraph). He balanced the erudite with bonhomie. He flattered those of his questioners he knew with references to their own work. (Oh! So that must be Will Hutton way down there in front of the podium!) He had the most exquisite put-down I’ve ever heard for one of those irritating people who uses a ‘question’ as a pretext to present their own long thesis: ‘Wow, that reminded me of quaking in a tutorial as I tried to work out one point I could remember and address.’ (Hmm, even if I’d been to Oxford I doubt I’d feel assured enough to say that.)
As I came out I bumped into an American friend. ‘Having heard him,’ she said, ‘I can’t imagine why his brother won the leadership.’
Until that moment, I'd been thinking how important it is to have eloquence and intelligence on the side of refugees. Suddenly I was flung back to the 2010 Labour leadership hustings. I heard myself telling her how abused we felt then by spin and how his slick, fluent delivery fed into that, felt self-serving and hypocritical. About how Ed’s younger-brother stumbling uncertainty somehow seemed more engaged and truthful.
And suddenly I realised (you already know that I’m slow on the uptake) that it’s been quite a while that the spin doctors have been grooming us for alternative facts; that it was a good 15 years ago that the dodgy dossier should have prepared us for fake news.
If I’d had more intelligence I’d have seen Trump coming.