First time I’ve seen Northern Irish leader Arlene Foster speak in the flesh. Impressed.
She was at the British Chambers of Commerce conference. The morning had dribbled by without much to note.
But when Mrs Foster arrived at the lectern just before lunch she made an obvious impact. The business audience stopped toying with their mobiles.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was given 20 minutes to rattle through a speech which tried to assure this capitalist audience that his socialism would not wreck the economy
You could sense them thinking ‘hmmn, this one’s at least a grown-up, and tough’.
The BCC represents small businesses and is more entrepreneurial than the Confederation of British Industry.
CBI conferences are infested by sharp-suited careerists haloed by eau de cologne. The BCC lot are older, mouldier, less corporate.
An initially breathless Liam Fox, arriving with seconds to spare, had been the morning’s first guest.
He gave a breezy, can-do speech which argued that the gloomsters saying Britain was heading for a ‘black hole’ were wrong.
Foreign investment was at a record high, as were tech start-ups and employment, with manufacturing booming.
You could sense them thinking ‘hmmn, this one’s at least a grown-up, and tough’. She is pictured in Brussels on Tuesday
‘Some black hole!’ said Dr Fox. Eurocrat briefings about how Britain would be punished for Brexit were ‘not the language of a club but the language of a gang’.
After Fox, the turkey: Rebecca Long-Bailey, 38, Labour’s trade spokesman. For ten minutes she shouted at these hardened business leaders, lecturing them on how to run their firms.
When, in her Mrs Merton voice, she started talking of her ‘mission-orientated industrial strategy’, a businesswoman in front of me laughed in contempt.
Ms Wrong-Daily sounded unfamiliar with both numbers and her text – she managed to turn ‘scourge’ into two syllables.
‘It’s been an absolute pleasure,’ she yacked as she ended. The feeling was not exactly mutual and she departed for her Salford & Eccles constituency without any pause for questions.
Relief (of a sort) was provided by a suit from the Drax energy group, one of the day’s sponsors.
He gave a marvellously leaden speech which included the American jargon ‘pro-sumers’.
Conference organiser Adam Marshall later said it was ‘a word we all need to come to terms with’. But not use, please.
An initially breathless Liam Fox, arriving with seconds to spare, had been the morning’s first guest. He gave a breezy, can-do speech which argued that the gloomsters saying Britain was heading for a ‘black hole’ were wrong
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was given 20 minutes to rattle through a speech which tried to assure this capitalist audience that his socialism would not wreck the economy.
It included the phrase ‘rentiers and speculators’, a term generally used only by hard-Left political theorists.
Mr McDonnell did at least earn a laugh when he turned to International Women’s Day and tried to talk about ‘the glass ceiling’ – and it came out as ‘the glass seagull’.
And then Mrs Foster. She is not an MP but she leads the Democratic Unionist Party and is therefore vital to Theresa May, whose government depends on the DUP for parliamentary numbers.
She took to the stage within a few seconds of IRA-admirer McDonnell’s departure.
She drily observed that it was at least unlikely that she would be repeating anything he had said.
Though the audience had heard Mr McDonnell with respect, it warmed to her. She spoke in an unhurried, positive way about Brexit and what it could bring.
There was something unshowy, grounded, adult about her. She sounded about 40 years older than Ms Long-Bailey, even though there are only nine years between them.
She explained how she had been brought up on a farm in County Fermanagh, and how her ‘Daddy’, a policeman, had one evening crawled into the kitchen at her home on all fours, stained in blood, having been shot by the IRA.
As a girl she was also in a bus attacked by the Provos. A child near her was badly hurt.
‘I don’t want to see a hard border,’ she growled, but it angered her, and it was ‘an insult to the people of Northern Ireland’, to hear the border issue being used ‘as some kind of bargaining chip’ by people who had hardly ever stepped foot on the island of Ireland.
Utter silence in the hall. A powerful moment.