Who can watch Tony Blair’s cringe-making speech to the Women’s Institute conference in 2000, amid the slow hand-clapping, without feeling an urge to run to the stage and whisper quietly in his ear: ‘it’d be better to leave now Tony, just go’? Tory leader William Hague later smashed the point home: "It is the mark of an out of touch prime minister that you don't know why you're out of touch".
Outgoing mayor Annette Crowe displayed that same brazen confidence that comes of arrogance and ignorance. In her valedictory speech, she launched a ferocious attack on her newly acquired political enemies, principally Cllr Liz Harvey. All gone were the conventional niceties of political diplomacy, of focusing on achievements and offering heartfelt thanks to the people of the town for their support. What should have been a dignified vote of gratitude turned into a diatribe of jaw-dropping poison and malice.
Looking out of the Community Centre windows at the blossoming May trees, at a cat jumping onto a window sill, at laughing couples walking hand in hand along Lawnside Road, I was reminded that the world is a joyful place of simple pleasures. Life goes on, the seasons turn. Returning to Mrs Crowe’s speech, it was if that beautiful scene outside was being doused in petrol and burned to its skeletal outlines. Whatever was she thinking?
As she unfurled her paean of hate, there came on her face a smirk of satisfaction, almost of sadistic pleasure. From the audience of seventy came many cries of “shame” and “cheap”, amid hissing and booing. It must have been a surprise to her that this, her moment of vengeful triumph, the ‘naming and shaming’ that she had promised around the town, aroused not so much admiration but sickened revulsion.
There was a time when I liked Annette and counted her as a friend. Despite the rough edges, I used to think she was at heart a kind, sensitive person. This may account for that rogue pang of sympathy I felt. That she had so ill-judged the mood of the audience, of the occasion, of the ethics and decorum that were demanded of her, provoked a brief urge to still her voice and lead her away from temptation.
It passed. The sheer corrosive nastiness of her words were like bleach to the collective conscience in that room. People shuffled out at the end of the meeting, aghast and traumatised. As she tossed her long blond locks this way and that, turned her pages gleefully and stared shamelessly at the audience, what we saw last Thursday was a Donald Trump-like figure: boastful, sure-footed, abusive and proud of the spotlight, a narcissist. Here was yet another Ledbury Town Councillor, an ex-Mayor who had turned bad. How many more must there be before sanity returns to this town? Is that gold-plated Mayoral chain cursed?
Here is the video of her speech.