After I had posted my previous post here I reflected that I really should see the other guy. Wearing big boots I had waded into the arguments deployed by Aaron Porter when speaking at an Oxford Union debate in opposition to the motion, This House Believes Popular Support is Enough to Justify a Platform. Though conceding that Porter was a good speaker, I had given his arguments a kicking.
It takes two to tango, so how had the proposition performed? I selected Tom Slater to be its representative on this blog. As Assistant Editor of Spiked, which sponsors Free Speech Now, he was likely to be on the side of the saints. How well did he put his arguments?
He spends his first minute setting out his stall. He refers to a (then) very recent example at King’s College London where some speech had been disallowed. The story will have been familiar with his audience, but does not concern us here. What does concern me is that he shoots this section from the hip.
For that first minute we see the real, live, spontaneous Tom Slater. Here and there the delivery stumbles slightly but the stumbling reinforces the appearance of spontaneity.
At 1:10 he turns to a script, and the delivery of the speech immediately suffers. The content is sound enough, and well argued, but now there is paper representing a metaphorical screen between him and his audience. I find it interesting and encouraging that he is obviously aware of this. Unlike some, he does not bury his face in the script but lifts his face to the audience as often and for as long as he dares. Sometimes he succeeds for quite sustained periods, and always the quality of delivery lifts. His efforts to escape from the script tell me that if he could be shown how to discard paper for ever he would be much happier. If I am right he should contact me.
He is a very able debater. At 5:18 there is an interjection which lasts a quarter of a minute. With a single throw-away word he dismisses it so crushingly that he draws a considerable laugh from the audience.
At 4:35 Slater says that his editor, Brendan O’Neill, should have been present. Immediately my ears prick up. Does he mean that O’Neill should have been merely present? – or speaking in the debate? – or that O’Neill should have been making this actual speech? If the last is the case, and Slater is a last-minute stand-in for his boss, perhaps he is reading O’Neill’s script. If that is the case then I have not only to forgive him but actually congratulate him on doing it remarkably well. I have seen people reading their own speeches far less coherently than this.
Brendan O’Neill has been covered in this blog several times, most recently here. On that latest occasion I noted with satisfaction how he had evidently worked at writing his script in spoken, as distinct from written, English. I also observed that he employed camouflage devices to hide that he was reading the script. (I didn’t bother at the time with the technical detail that O’Neill was not actually using paper, but reading from a tablet.) And here now I see O’Neill’s assistant editor struggling to not read a script which may be his own but just might be O’Neill’s.
My frustration builds. The evidence points to two blokes with hugely important things to say, both conscious that the saying is hampered by the reading, but not realising how quickly they could be set free. People believe that paperless speaking is some sort of magical circus trick. In a sense it is; but, as any magician will tell you, many of the best illusions are ridiculously easy to perform. This is one such,