Danny Dorling – a fish out of water

In October 2012 The Cambridge Union Society held a debate with the motion This House Believes Class Runs BritainIn passing, I’d like to say that the CUS has a better organised online presence than the Oxford Union.  With the former there is a web page dedicated to the debate details; with the latter you have to try to hunt them down. Danny Dorling opened the case for the motion, and I’d like to thank fellow bloggist, Geoff Chambers, for drawing my attention to it.

My instant reaction was, why? The excellent CUS web page, mentioned above, tells me that also speaking for the motion is Ken Livingstone. What possessed them to put Dorling on first? I’m sure he’s a charming man, but he’s a fish out of water. The answer is that they were holding Livingstone back to field questions and summarise at the end. In the above video Dorling’s speech runs from 3:00 to 13:25.

Did I say a fish out of water? He says it too, though not quite in those words. But even before he admits being new to this environment his body language is screaming it. Look how his hands are all around his mouth in his first seconds of speaking. This is a classic terror symptom. Throughout the speech his hands periodically worry themselves behind his ears, which is likewise a stress symptom that we met before towards the end of this posting. (You can see another type of stress here, where a well-known sportsman is repeatedly worrying behind his ear and showing us that he’d rather be in the shower than doing this dumb interview.)

Take the environment out of the frame and Dorling is actually expressing himself quite well: there’s a neat anaphora that starts at 3:17 – “you worry about…”.

More than once in articles on this blog I have protested that your accent is part of you so you should honour it. I’m therefore disappointed by his assertion at 5:20 that if you live for any time in Newcastle without adopting the Geordie accent you are a ‘complete idiot’ and ‘very arrogant’. I’m sorry but I classify going native as a mark of insecurity.

At 5:30 he says that he’s not going to shower us with statistics, because they could be challenged by subsequent speakers. That looks like insecurity again (I’m trying to be charitable). The class issue, he says, is more of a gut feeling. Ah yes! Assertions backed up by essentially nothing are suitably unverifiable: don’t we love arguments like that – particularly from professors?

At 7:07 he tells us that he’s never spoken in a debate before (I told you so!). All right, there’s a first time for everything. I don’t suppose he’s ever dived off a 10-metre board either, but it might occur to him to learn something before trying.

What is it about public speaking that, although it is widely recognised as one of the most stressful things you can do, it doesn’t dawn on most people to seek help? How many seriously bright, knowledgeable and insightful people have been featured in this blog and been seen to fail dramatically to do themselves justice? The right guidance can turn a terrifying minefield into a pussy-cat playground.

When will they ever learn?

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