The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion “This House Has No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Police Force“. It is by any measure a sensitive subject so I intend to cover four of the speeches in the debate. By the way, in case there be any doubt, the Majesty in question is Her Britannic Majesty.
I shall be examining speeches by Anthony Stansfeld and Damian Green MP in opposition, and Graham Stringer MP and David Davis MP in proposition. I start with Anthony Stansfeld
What an extraordinary opening sentence! What was he trying to achieve with it? It has nothing to do with the matter in hand. Was it a clumsy attempt at ethos, waving his PC credentials at his audience through his association with a conference on Female Genital Mutilation? He could merely have told us that he was a police commissioner.
Oh dear! He’s reading, and not very well. His audience is instantly switched off to a measurable degree – listen to the onset of coughing.
At 1:05, just as the camera cuts away to David Davis looking underwhelmed, Stansfeld suddenly sounds more genuine. He is recounting, interestingly and relevantly, how he led an investigation into the Hong Kong police some years previously. We see Davis’ face turn back to him in interest, but we have to wait till the camera cuts back to Stansfeld to find that he has lifted his eyes from the script and temporarily is shooting from the hip.
That half-minute passage is infinitely stronger than what preceded it and, sadly, what follows it, because having concluded his Hong Kong story he pauses and returns tediously to his bloody script. We can’t see him but I can imagine David Davis yawning. Right there you have a really dramatic example of what I bang on about in this blog ad nauseam. Too few people know how easy it is to dispense with any paper assistance whatever forever.
If I had advised him I would have kicked the FGM reference into the long grass and opened with the Hong Kong story, which is powerful ethos; and then I’d have created with him, and stories that I would probe out of him, a structure wherein he could have shot the entire speech from the hip. That would have made a strong and compelling argument, instead of the insipid series of bromidic recycled platitudes that he reads to us here. Camera shots of the audience show them to be no more whelmed than David Davis.
What puzzles me is Stansfeld’s service background. In my experience the British armed forces are very good at getting their people to speak well. I have worked with many retired service personnel and merely had to steer them towards a more civilian- or business-friendly focus. All I can assume is that since becoming a Police Commissioner he has been infected with Civil Service politically safe blandness. In public speaking that amounts to castration.
What a pity!