A revelatory new year

3:00pm Friday 4th January 2013

What do Germaine Greer, Michael Portillo, Dr David Owen, Dr David Starkey, Ann Widdecombe, George Alagiah and rugby legend Alastair Hignell all have in common?

They have all delivered lectures in the Memorial Hall at Dauntsey’s School as part of the Mercers Lectures series.

The independent school has close links with the Mercers Company, one of the livery companies of the City of London, because the school’s founder William Dauntsey was a Mercer.

The Mercers underwrite many of the activities at the school and have financed building work there. Pupils can join the Society of Mercers Scholars and become Freemen of the City after completing some relatively undemanding tasks.

But the Mercers lectures, open to the public but designed to edify the student body, have really put the school on the map, alongside its impressive record in sporting and dramatic achievement.

Speakers are open to questioning, which can sometimes be quite tough, as in the case of Sir Win Bischoff, chairman of the Lloyds Banking Group, who was apologetic to a fault about the banking world’s role in the economic downturn.

Michael Portillo luxuriated in the notoriety of his political demise when he was trounced in the General Election of 1997 when he spoke in October. A Portillo Moment has come to mean the public humiliation of any political figure who has been guilty of the heinous crime of hubris.

Hubris, or self-congratulatory pride, is a medical condition according to Dr David Owen, who came to Dauntsey’s to promote his book In Sickness and in Power. Many politicians suffered from it and died of it, not least Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Tony Blair, claimed the former Labour Foreign Secretary.

Ann Widdecombe unexpectedly supported the media that dubbed her Doris Karloff, among other names, by arguing for the importance of the freedom of the press in this country when she visited last year.

The former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Ann Owers, held her audience spellbound in May 2010 as she described how Care in the Community for mental health patients has deteriorated into Care in Custody.

More recently Dr Tony Hayward gave a blow-by-blow description of the nightmare that descended on him when the Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded in flames in the Gulf of Mexico and polluted a swathe of the Lousiana coastline.

His grilling by American politicians and press revealed a rather unhealthy Anglophobia, which was not helped by his unguarded aside that he “wanted his life back”.

The title of his talk, Leadership in Adversity, was not in any way intended to be ironic.

Dr David Starkey is well-known for his acid remarks on radio programmes such as The Moral Maze and Any Questions? but he was in conservative mood when he addressed the audience on the value of the monarchy during his visit in September.

Although the lecture series has ended for 2012 there is more to look forward to in the new year. Former Guardian journalist and the descendant of a long line of intellectual giants, Polly Toynbee, visits on January 30 to speak on Dogma and Disarray: Cameron at Half Time.

Director general of the CBI John Cridland follows on March 5 while two days later Peter Marks, the chief executive of the Co-operative Group, shares his wisdom.

The lectures are free but booking is advised. Ring (01380) 814500 for more details.

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