• Posted on : September 18, 2016
  • Posted by : Tom Fletcher

I'm in New York for the UN General Assembly. This is a week that really matters - the UN has its flaws, but it remains the best idea for promoting global citizenship that humans have had so far. Lots of brilliant people are working hard to get real results. There are important moments on education (including the launch today of the report on how we raise the money to get 75m young people back to school) and refugees (with President Obama hosting a big summit). There will also be the usual diplomatic speed dating, beauty contests and arm wrestles.  

I've written before on this blog about how to wade through the platitudes that accompany these big global conferences. Here is a guide to the one size fits all podium speech:


Hope For a Better Tomorrow, Today and Tomorrow

Mr Secretary General, your excellencies, distinguished and honoured guests.

(Translation: this is going to be a long one, so I'm going to flatter you all by making you feel important. And remind everyone of how important - sorry, humbled - I am to be addressing you. I'm a bit annoyed the SG isn't here, but will passively aggressively leave him in my remarks).

It is indeed an honour to be speaking at this podium. The United Nations embodies all that is finest in our collective effort to spread peace and prosperity to all mankind. 

(Translation: I know that the last 143 speakers said this, but its really not my fault that my country is near the end of the alphabet. And after 70 years, there is only so much left to say. And in any case, the TV coverage in my country will only show this speech. By the way, I'm firing someone for leaving me in the graveyard speaking slot? And are those cameras on?).

My country stands ready to work with all of you in support of global peace, development and goodwill. 

(Translation: Well maybe not North Korea, but let's not quibble at this point.)

My country wishes to promote warm, cordial and ever improving bilateral relations with you all.

(Translation: again, not with all of you. But hopefully these adjectives are sufficiently fluffy and meaningless. Please don't nod off at the back).

So let us be united in our diversity. And diverse in our unity.

(Translation: yes, it was a long flight).

Ladies and Gentleman, we have waited too long. 

(Translation: my predecessor dropped the ball).

It is a minute to midnight.

(Translation: a bit of jeopardy helps get your attention, eh? But please don't check whether we used this phrase in previous conferences).

We need a strategic, global, strategy, which is both globally strategic and strategically global.

(I'm a statesman, and would not rule out a run for UN Secretary General if the current candidates get vetoed for being potentially too independent).

We face no greater challenge than (delete as appropriate) climate change/health/education/poverty/terrorism/proliferation. 

(Translation: which is this year's priority issue again? Oh, never mind).

When I meet young people from Singapore to Sudan to Syria, they remind me that children are the future.

(Translation: did you see that photo of me in fetching khaki with that famous actor/actress and a refugee?).

And so the time to act is now. 

(Translation: actually it was several years ago, but I wasn't in office then).

Or we face peril.

(Translation: please wake up at the back).

So let us work together.

(Translation: don't expect us to actually fund anything ourselves).

This requires genuine leadership.

(Translation: and you're looking at a genuine leader, folks).

So let us build bridges, not walls.

(Translation: we all - except Russia - hope Hillary wins, but can't quite say that just in case. This should generate knowing applause).

And so today I pledge to explore new consultations on potential new ways to overcome new challenges with new determination, new purpose and new vigour.

(Translation: please don't check what we actually do or spend. This idea is very much in the, ahem, pilot phase, but it was the best we could come up with on the plane over).

And I will bring the world together in my capital to set out a new path.

(Translation: blanket coverage, back of the net. My domestic political opponents will be seething. Let's schedule for three months before my next elections. Can we make sure Trudeau comes?).

Let us promote collaborative, multi stakeholder, inclusive pathways to leverage our collective solidarity and goodwill.

(Translation: I'm hoping that no-one will understand what this means, but will think it sounds practical).

That is why today I am calling for us to Stop Poverty.

(Translation: that should make a decent hashtag, #StoPoverty. Should get more hits than the rival plans. Maybe we get a special emoji?).

Let us restore hope.

(Translation: I'm a bit like Obama, honestly).

Let us reach out to youth, and build sustainable civil society partnerships. 

(Translation: should help me look modern, and the NGOs we fund asked us to give them a shout out in return for welcoming my leadership in announcing my new initiative).

Bright future. Comprehensive action. Global engagement. Inclusive sustainability. Multi-disciplinary plans. Networks. Interconnected world. Globalisation.

(OK, my speechwriters are playing bingo now).

I am humbled by your support.

(Please back my specific idea, and not all the other ones you've heard this week. Until the next summit, when I'll have a new one).

Together, we can end (insert global challenge). And build a brighter tomorrow. Today and tomorrow. For all our children. And for all our tomorrows. Today. Thank you.

(Translation: please applaud now. Right, I'm off for lunch, followed by an exhausting afternoon of bilaterals, brush bys, pull asides, 'grip and grins'. See you next year, assuming this reverses my negative polling with the humanitarian vote).


Some quick points here:

1. We need to find new ways to make the huge amounts of great work at these vital events more meaningful and accessible to the public. That takes more than a hashtag and a civil society side event.

2. Leaders need to get much better at executing global policy, not just announcing it. And we need to get better at holding them to account for pledges made.

3. Please do take a look at my last post for an idea for global education if you want something more practical to do. We think it is a way to make a genuine impact.

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