The Oxford Union recently held a debate to mark the 80th anniversary of probably the most (in)famous debate the Union has ever held – “This House would under no circumstances fight for its King and country”. We have seen the opening speech by Ben Sullivan for the motion, and Rory Stewart against it. Today we watch Ben Griffin’s contribution to the proposition.
Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. Ambrose Bierce
That still picture of Griffin has cleverly selected the most benign facial expression in the video. His default is a ferocious scowl. Griffin is angry. His anger, however, is not “sudden, and quick in quarrel”. Griffin’s is long-term, cold, brooding, carefully considered fury. He has no plans to regret this speech.
If you do not know who he is, click his name in my first paragraph. You will find a bucketful of ethos. Right or wrong, Griffin has earned the right to speak as he does. In passing, while we are in my Glossary, just look at decorum and consider what he does to it.
This speech is profoundly uncomfortable for the listener; yet it is compulsive listening. Nearly nine minutes pass in a flash. We are left feeling battered and bruised but wiser.
At 4:00 Griffin launches into a long asyndeton catalogue of words that are so non-PC as to get him arrested anywhere else.
At 1:58 we have a close-up of Malcolm Rifkind. He has been British Secretary of State for Defence. What do we read into the intense concentration in his features? Is he thinking, “Yes, but”? He has been in a position to view a bigger picture than Griffin; but I suspect he is welcoming an opportunity to be exposed to the stark reality of the coalface.
At 6:47 we have a close-up of a troubled Rory Stewart, the previous speaker. He is a politician but was a soldier. Though he is representing the opposing argument I get the strong impression that he and Griffin have at least as much common ground as disagreement. I could say more, but here I must stick to Griffin.
What of Griffin as a speaker? He has so much to say that he epitomises the first chapter of my book, The Face & Tripod. We see how much that alone negates any failings elsewhere in his technique. What if I were asked to coach him? Would I try to improve his grammar or syntax? Would I hell! There are not that many mistakes, and those there are merely add muscle to the message (and that includes the single, hilarious malapropism). I might venture a few small adjustments to the sequence of the speech, but I am already basking in his use of anaphora and epistrophe. And what a peroration that is! Really my principal contribution would be to free him from his dependency on paper.
Meanwhile, it was a privilege to watch this speech. In fact the whole debate is shaping up with huge promise.