Hannan dazzles at the Oxford Union

My brother expressed to me disquiet over this blog. He felt that it covered the performances of speakers that were so good that readers might be fed unreasonable expectation. Upon my probing further it emerged that the only posting he could remember was Daniel Hannan. On that sample he had a case. Hannan is about as good as they get.

At an Oxford Union debate in November 2012 he had to be at the top of his game because, as we saw in my previous posting, he was preceded by a barnstorming performance by Cornel West. Indeed he begins his speech by suggesting that he should just agree and have done with it – “…but while I’m on my feet I’m going to say one other  thing…” and then he says a great deal. The Motion was ‘The House Would Occupy Wall Street’ and Hannan was speaking against it

The Oxford Union, despite the formal garb, lends itself to animated delivery. You think you know what decorum means? In rhetoric it means blending to your advantage with the prevailing environment. Hannan doffs his “smooth as a kitten’s wrist” image, replacing it with enthusiastic energy.

The enthusiastic energy [anadiplosis] begins with the last thing the audience had expected to hear from him. He castigates the bailing out of the banks. These students, fed on a diet of mainstream media, thought they knew what all politicians of the right stood for and he is determined to disabuse them. He creates a slow-building auxesis whose impetus is so strong that he perhaps stuns the audience into missing a potential laugh at 1:30. No matter: without breaking stride he throws it away, forges on and is rewarded with full-blooded applause at 2:18. He’s got them! Now with the assistance of a little pantomime he gets a huge laugh at 2:37. The auxesis continues to its punch-line for which he unexpectedly takes the top right off the volume to underpin the earnestness of his central message which is that corporatism is not the same as capitalism, This is the end of his beginning.

He swings into the main body of his speech; and my pulse quickens. He is using a Tripod structure. He even gives us a Contents Page! Has he read my book?  Not as far as I know, but then I merely codified and named the structure: creating it for yourself is hardly rocket-science. This is truly magnificent. His message is crystal clear, transparently sincere and solidly argued. As he swings into his closing you feel that though Cornel West brilliantly grabbed the audience’s emotion and heart, if the vote goes with the head Hannan must win.

The closing is another auxesis. He had told them at the beginning that the Occupy movement was misdirected, aiming at the wrong target. Now he closes the circle (has he read my book?) listing for them the buildings they should be occupying, intensifying example upon example till … aargh! He spoonerized the punch-line! The micro-structure that lead to the punch-line was pretty as could be and should have climaxed triumphantly. In the event it was a bit of a smudge. It was momentary, half-way only, corrected after a mini-second, probably didn’t matter at all to the audience; but if I were in his shoes I know I’d be kicking myself black and blue. I am not: I can look at it with my nose further from the canvas, and I am convinced it didn’t matter. I doubt that he sees it that way.

Dan Hannan is really outstanding. Could I help him improve? In terms of his material I could really help only by being a sounding board; and with this speech I’d have to be picking nits off nits. There is one area that bothers me slightly. He makes much use of vocal colour-tone, and does it very effectively. The trouble is that when he goes dramatically quiet he loses some intelligibility. It’s because his voice is not trained.

So what about my brother’s disquiet? Can I help others to reach this standard? Yes and no. It depends on them. Hannan certainly has natural ability; but don’t make the mistake of supposing that he emerged from the womb doing this. He has worked hard. Any candidate that came to me asking for that level would have to want it very much, and be prepared to put in the work! And some have done all of that.

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