President's Visit: Clinton's Short Goodbye That Was Long on Policy; Chief Reporter Paul Dale Joined the Audience for Bill Clinton's Final Speech on Foreign Soil as President

The Birmingham Post (England), December 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

President's Visit: Clinton's Short Goodbye That Was Long on Policy; Chief Reporter Paul Dale Joined the Audience for Bill Clinton's Final Speech on Foreign Soil as President


Byline: Paul Dale

As audiences go, it was a sort of thinking person's party conference. The hall was crammed, security was tight and the politics were intense.

The guest list at the University of Warwick, if not quite the full gamut of New Labour glitterati, was certainly a gathering of the great and good. The collective brainpower must have been incalculable.

Roger Liddle, Tony Blair's policy adviser, was there along with Prof Kumar Battacharya, head of the Warwick Manufacturing Group and a key Labour adviser on industrial matters.

Sir 'Sonny' Ramphal sat close to scientist Prof Stephen Hawking. Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU, a leading union moderate, lent his presence along with Baroness Shirley Williams and Bob Worcester, chairman of Mori opinion pollsters.

Even the radical feminist Germaine Greer was keen to hear what the most powerful man in the world had to say.

There was an unmistakable sense though, in this predominantly soft-left audience with a giant social conscience, that President Clinton's valedictory mini-tour of Ireland and Britain had been slightly tarnished by events across the Atlantic. The underlying message coming from the Clinton camp during the past three days is that this President is handing a more prosperous and peaceful planet to his successor.

We now know, of course, that the Clinton script did not have quite the happy ending he would have wished. The next President will be Republican George W Bush, rather than Democrat Vice President Al Gore.

A splendid university choir ended an hour-long performance with a spirited rendition of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. President Clinton may make merry in this, his last Christmas at the White House, but next year will be bleak rather than happy for the Democrats.

Most of the 1,000 guests had been seated for almost two hours before the President and Mr Blair arrived. A keen sense of anticipation filled the room for what University vice-chancellor Sir Brian Follett labelled 'history in the making'.

High in the gallery sat a young woman wearing a pair of red reindeer antlers on her head. A reminder that we were, after all, in a university and there were 300 students in the audience.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott entered the room to a burst of applause. Looking embarrassed, he promptly sat in the seat reserved for Mrs Clinton.

A beaming President strolled on stage, accompanied by an even more beaming Mr Blair.

The body language between President Clinton and Mr Blair is astonishing. Like the old friends they are, they sat and joked, occasionally whispering to each other, as Sir Brian Follett made an introductory speech.

Sir Brian quoted Shakespeare and risked a joke. 'We are only 20 minutes away from Stratford-on-Avon ... by motorcade.'

The audience laughed politely. The stony-faced men in raincoats did not. Perhaps Secret Service operatives are forbidden to laugh, or maybe they just didn't get the joke.

President Clinton's speech was as wide-ranging as it was thoughtful and well received.

In a little over 40 minutes he spoke passionately about what the developed world had to do to help countries where abject poverty is a way of life.

Although advances in technology and globalisation had brought untold wealth to America and Europe, the people of Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union were in danger of being left behind. …

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