Arts, Venue

David Owen at the Autumn Literary Festival 2019

With a strong fiction writer presence at this Autumn’s Literary Festival, Lord David Owen’s attendance marked a very different kind of conversation theme than previously seen. Former Labour Foreign Secretary, co-founder of the Social Democratic Party, and author of multiple books, his most recent interest has been the election of President Donald Trump and how he has changed during his term in office.

Over the years, Lord Owen has taken a particular focus on the manifestation of hubris and narcissism (which he feels are “pretty close” in nature) in politicians post-election. It come as no surprise that Trump makes an excellent subject for this study although what Lord Owen considers different about Trump to other politicians, is the strong element of showmanship he brings to the oval office, claiming that “Trump Tower has moved to the White House”. And yet, to label Trump as suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (which has been the trend previously) is almost to give him an excuse for his behaviour, rather the bravado and stretching of the truth exhibited should be seen as honed skills he used to increase popularity.

After a good exploration of this subject, Lord Owen turned to more classic examples of the acquisition of hubris: Tony Blair and President George Bush Jr. during their two terms as Prime Minister of the UK and President of the USA respectively. Blair attained this condition after winning his first election, which explained why he began ignoring his cabinet and focusing on his personal relationship with Bush. Lord Owen also notes how this started the trend of Prime Ministers acting on their own impulses rather than careful consultation of ministers.

So far, I had found myself agreeing with Lord Owen enormously, particularly when considering the state the UK and USA find themselves in politically and socially. In this time of ‘fake news’, his statement that we “each need to understand each other much better” is a sound basis for an improved future. Yet soon after this declaration Lord Owen and I parted ways in our views as he refused to be questioned on Brexit or Boris Johnson apart from to say that in the past, he had suggested Johnson should be “treated as a joke”. After having spent three-quarters of his interview exploring showmanship and the dangers of narcissism, to take the man now leading our country at face value seemed more than a little short-sighted. It should also be noted that Lord Owen had also been a staunch leave promoter during the run-up to Brexit.

The antidote to hubris according to Lord Owen is “to be surrounded by people who you are happy to have criticise you” and yet that was not how the conversation at the Literature Festival felt last Wednesday night. I found myself forgetting there was another man on stage as Lord Owen monologued for significant periods with no counter. As mentioned above, when Brexit was even implied, he became vehemently opposed to the line of enquiry, wanting to focus on his latest book about Trump. What seemed to be lost was the fact that this was not a book tour and he was not here to give a lecture. He was also not going to get much criticism from the audience that evening which was made up almost entirely by the white and over fifties. While what Lord Owen in studying is a fascinating area and could explain a great deal about why politics has taken the turn it has, his overarching message became muddled with his personal views and left me not wholly convinced.

Get the chance to listen and gain new perspectives on Wednesday 6th when the Autumn Literary Festival continues with Mary Beard.


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Martha Griffiths

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May 2022
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