Rupert Myers needs to learn

In November 2014, on the day that the United Kingdom Independence Party in the guise of Mark Reckless was easily gaining a parliamentary seat in a by-election at Rochester & Strood, The Cambridge Union was holding a debate under the motion –

This House Believes UKIP has been Good for British Politics

The debate was opened by Patrick O’Flynn for the proposition. He was followed by Rupert Myers for the opposition. In this video Myers begins at 13:30 and finishes at 24:55.

Myers opens with a harmless little stunt involving sipping from a glass of beer – “This is to demonstrate that I understand UKIP”. A member of the audience points out that for it to represent UKIP it should be bitter not rather insipid-looking lager. Myers’ rejoinder is along the lines of, “if you want to be bitter, wait till after the debate”. Not brilliant but quick, and the audience enjoys it. He is personable, and good with his audience.

Thereafter he buries himself in his script and my heart sinks. He is a talking head. He is a barrister, a man who earns his living speaking in Court, yet gives every impression that he’d want the support of a script before giving you his date of birth.

Ye gods man, get a grip! Lift your face and simply speak! It really isn’t so sophisticated a process, and you will find that what emerges is a lot more engaging and compelling than this tedious regurgitation of something you thought of earlier.

There are a few reasons and occasions that compel a speaker to use a script. One such is a need to fit a very precise time slot. These debate time slots are not very precise: you have ten minutes, but do not have to use it all, and can get away with over-running a little. This is a big and forgiving target which he contrives to miss. Myers gets repeatedly warned about over-running and still adds 15% to his allotted time. Furthermore his warnings make him gabble ridiculously. So having a script fails him for that too.

And that is really all I have to say about the delivery of this offering.

As to the content, I’d rather not comment because in a debate it is the other side’s job to do that. I am not only critiquing these speeches one at a time I am deliberately only watching them individually. At this stage I have no idea what is coming next from the proposition, but there could be straw on the carpet.

Patrick O’Flynn depletes his effectiveness

In November 2014, on the day that the United Kingdom Independence Party in the guise of Mark Reckless was easily gaining a parliamentary seat in a by-election at Rochester & Strood, The Cambridge Union was holding a debate under the motion –

This House Believes UKIP has been Good for British Politics

Opening for the motion was Patrick O’Flynn MEP, economic spokesman and Director of Communications for UKIP. A Director of Communications should be a very good communicator. Shall we see how he managed? He begins at 2:45 and ends at 13:07

It is well-established that if you plan to use any humour at all during a speech you should get your first bit in as early as possible. O’Flynn throws away a tiny bit in the first ten seconds, and then at 3:05 he embarks on more humour which he chooses not to throw away. There are old gags, very old gags, pitifully senile gags, and there is this one. He gets away with it via a well-established device of being seen to quote someone else, and even commenting on what a poor joke it is. Incredibly, he actually harvests a chuckle.

O’Flynn proceeds to spend ten minutes reading something he (or someone) wrote some time previously, and thereby delivers a speech which could and should have been many times more effective.

It is examples like this that are making this blog sound like a cracked gramophone record. In nearly 200 postings probably more than 70% of them have involved my castigating speakers who use paper. For more than twenty years I have been tearing paper out of the hands of speaking trainees, teaching them how to do without and proving to them that they can deliver long, data-rich speeches easily, safely and thereby far more effectively than those sad souls that are dependent upon a script or notes. It is not rocket science: in a single morning I could have O’Flynn binning his paper for ever.

Without paper, shooting from the hip, he would shed that emasculated, listless delivery. He would really drive that message with inspiration, fervour and energy. And probably, even without my having specifically to focus on it, that dreadful right arm moving up and down aimlessly like Andy Pandy’s would actually start gesturing in a manner that would mean something.

There are six speakers in this debate. I haven’t watched any of the others yet, but I think I shall return. What are the chances of any of them having graduated beyond paper?

Walter Williams and Liberty

It has not escaped the notice of YouTube that I have more than a passing interest in speeches; so they keep waving suggestions under my nose, so to speak. One such recently was a speech delivered by Dr Walter Williams to the Heartland Institute. Though Heartland posted this on YouTube only a couple of weeks ago, the speech was delivered in 1994. A brief search revealed that there are plenty of his newer speeches on line but I decided to stick with this one. Its title is The Role of Government in a Free Society.

Nice opening! The most effective way to use humour early in a speech is by keeping it restrained and thrown away. He did both and it worked.

A regular reader will expect me immediately to castigate him for reading this rather than shooting it from the hip. However, there is one thing that puts me on weak ground when I am dealing with what is essentially a lecture. ‘Lecture’ literally means ‘reading’. Williams would undoubtedly deliver this better if he shot it from the hip, though he might take some persuading. But watch this and you see that, every so often, he raises his head from his script and delivers sometimes quite a long aside, and always that section is more engaging than the scripted bit from which he digressed. Let’s move on.

The reason I decided to work with this speech is that he determinedly takes his topic as far upstream as possible and addresses first principles. With something as fundamental as freedom it’s obvious to look at fundamentals, because from there you can see clearly to conduct a debate over pragmatic compromises.

When it comes to liberty, few speakers bother themselves with fundamentals. This speech was delivered twenty years ago, since when the word ‘liberty’ has moved even further from its true meaning. Today successive governments work with a corrupted interpretation of the word that is frighteningly Orwellian and getting worse. Furthermore the mainstream media, both in print and broadcasting, are enthusiastic collaborators. The media may affect political posturing with partisan tribalism, but a need for ever-swelling government with steadily increasing control from ‘above’, is universally accepted by the self-appointed intelligentsia as a given.

If you don’t believe me, try to imagine the BBC or its equivalents around the world broadcasting this speech today. I bet you can’t, any more than you can imagine schools or universities allowing their students to be exposed to such dangerous material. If I may misquote Mark Anthony, “O freedom thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason”.