Douglas Murray and excellence

On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.

Taking speakers in the same sequence as in the conference, we have thus far watched speeches from Henryk Broder from Germany and Vebjørn Selbekk from Norway. Today’s speaker is from Britain. He is a man who has appeared on this blog so often that it is almost time to give him his own parking space. The last time was only two weeks ago. He is Douglas Murray.

Excellent speaking is nigh impossible to define. It is this intangible, illusive thing that I earn my living helping people to help themselves to achieve. It is built on a fiendishly complex alchemy of being yourself, answering your audience’s perception of you, engaging with them at as high a level as possible, and offering your case with maximum clarity and digestibility so that even if the audience disagrees with your message they understand your arguments. If you can do all that while still entertaining you are getting somewhere. Defining it may be difficult, but you know it when you see it. For me this speech gets about as close as you can get.

I am not alone. Listen for other sounds in the room. Occasionally there’s a response when he wants there to be – a little laugh here, some applause there – but otherwise there is pin-drop silence. People simply want to listen to him – as do you, so you will not welcome this exercise (but unlike the audience in the hall you can wind back and re-listen).

Regular readers of this blog are accustomed to my castigating speakers for using scripts or even notes, so they might expect me to point out that Murray sometimes lowers his eyes to the lectern. I tell my trainees, as I also tell readers of my book, The Face & Tripod, that sometimes you have to be prompted by paper – e.g. you have so many speaking engagements that you cannot keep all those different mind-maps in your head. Those who have learned how to speak without the aid of paper, handle paper better than those who haven’t. Murray’s few glances downwards never interfere with the astonishingly tight bond he has with his audience. He really owns them.

When, at 22:20, his speech finishes and his Q&A session begins you may find yourself so spellbound that you listen to all that too. I did.

Vebjørn Selbekk: a study in courage

On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.

We have already seen the speech by Henryk Broder from Germany. Today we shall examine the contribution by Vebjørn Selbekk from Norway.

I’m afraid he’s reading. All the comments that I expressed concerning Henryk Broder reading his speech apply here. That includes the view that nevertheless I’d prefer to hear him reading this than not hear it at all.

As with Broder, I skipped to the Q&A at the end to see whether his spontaneous English speaking was strong enough to shoot from the hip. It is. At 25:09 there’s a long, spontaneous and eloquent anaphora in answer to a question. There was a little bit of “um” and “er” in his answers, but that doesn’t bother me. When people complain to me that a speaker has too much “um” and “er”, it bothers me only that people notice. If people notice, it means that they are not sufficiently absorbed by what the speaker is saying. As with any other mannerism my advice to speakers is not to try to avoid it, but to get more interesting so that people no longer notice.

Within seconds of Selbekk beginning to speak I became so gripped that he could have been wearing a pink woolly cap with a bell on it for all I cared.

His story is horrendous, and shames too many people. The picture it paints of the political establishment is a scandal. When you think of that posturing row of self-satisfied people at the front of the Charlie Hebdo march in Paris a year ago, and overlay that image with the craven appeasement that has nurtured the constant flow of abominations in the name of a religion whose name apparently means “Peace”, it represents an international outrage.

Today it seems that an unguarded reproof of Islamism on Twitter can get you charged with a Hate Crime.

Hate? At 8:00 Selbekk describes the tide of death-threats to which he was subjected as a “Black and muddy wave of hate”. That is an appropriate use of the word. The mild sort of expressed disapproval that these days apparently lands you in court is not.

Islamophobia? I have just sought a definition of “phobia” from Google. Here is the answer: an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. If anyone can tell me what is irrational about not wanting your throat cut I’d be interested to learn it.

People in general want to get on peacefully with people in general. When a faction within those people misbehaves, and disturbs the peace, it is the duty of the delegated authorities to stop them. Is that what we have seen happening?

Selbekk shows us with stark clarity what happens when delegated authorities – and I mean governments the world over – neglect that duty. The world is paying the price.

I salute Selbekk for his courage, as I salute everyone involved with this conference.

Henryk Broder was right.

On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.

Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities. I have spent many happy times there. My late wife was Danish, my sons are half-Danish, and I have many in-law relatives there. I salute The Danish Free Press Society and its President, Katrine Winkel Holm for holding the conference and her sister, Marie Krarup, member of parliament, for hosting it. The first speaker was German, Henryk Broder.

Broder begins with a charmingly quiet ad lib section, almost under his breath, extolling the virtues of Copenhagen.

Then, when he turns to his script, my heart sinks. He has already proved to my satisfaction that his English is good enough for him to shoot this speech from the hip, yet he is reading it. In the process he takes a big percentage of the stuffing out of it. He either does not know how to prepare a speech to be delivered without the assistance of paper, or he does not trust himself to try. He could easily do it. The only excuse is the language. It would be a very good excuse – I could not deliver a speech in German to save my life – but not only does that tiny opening section indicate that he speaks English very well, but ten minutes of Q&A after the speech absolutely confirm it. What a pity!

Nevertheless I would infinitely prefer to hear these words read than not hear them at all. It is a beautiful piece of writing, and a magnificently argued message. It is measured, tempered, sober, yet devastatingly well aimed. I know there will be some who do not share his sentiments; but surely no one would dare to challenge his prescience, uttered more than three months before New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Being shown to be right goes a long way towards being proved to be correct.

Compare his warnings, now already justified by events, with the weaselly wittering of those who disgracefully and lamely try to blame Cologne on the victims.

He closes with a quotation from Winston Churchill. It is the cherry on the icing.

Daniel Hannan: the host speaks

Over the past few weeks we have examined several speeches by a range of different people at a series of conferences around the UK, chiefly I think at universities, all of them examining the relationship between Britain and the EU and all of them hosted by Daniel Hannan. Though he has been on the blog very many times I think we ought now to hear from the host himself.

This will draw to a close – at least for the time being – my visits to these conferences. Though the subject matter involves actually escaping from a protectionist cabal, masquerading as a continent, it is by definition Eurocentric, therefore parochial; and I like wherever possible to look outwards with this blog.

You can tell from Hannan’s first few words that this speech follows that of Frederick Forsyth whose speech we explored on 18 December.

I don’t intend to revisit my quibble concerning his diction. I did that enough here. Nor will I bang on again about how he should loosen up a little. In fact, though there are still slight signs of my former concern, it is largely eradicated; and here he is much looser than he can be. I wouldn’t dream of claiming credit for either because I wouldn’t believe the claim myself, and anyway that is not what matters. What matters is that Hannan was always extremely good (which is why I got so picky) and here he is downright phenomenal. This is a brilliant piece of speaking.

It is not just the delivery, but also the construction. He starts by appearing almost to insult the audience, but not actually doing so – a great way to grab attention. And he uses that to catapult himself into a lengthy and very clever paralipsis.

He wants to make this speech upbeat. I’ve seen him make this point before about how British exit from the EU too often is couched in negative terms. It is not difficult to criticise the EU, but he wants to speak optimistically about the bright sunlight awaiting Britain outside.

And that’s what he does. Stunningly well. He weaves myriad facets of life both in and out of the EU into an irresistible tapestry. It is extremely seductive – but then, Brexit always seems to be. He even explodes the dreary status quo myth. You would really have to hate this country not to be swayed.

For fairness and balance I should post more speeches in favour of remaining in the EU, and I’ve managed to cover two; but neither did their cause any favours so that hardly constituted balance. I shall keep searching.

From my next posting I shall begin serialising speeches from an international conference, dealing with a somewhat international issue.

No, not climate change.

Douglas Murray knows his stuff

On 23 January 2014 the Oxford Union conducted a debate with the motion This House Believes postwar Britain has seen too much immigration. 

We have previously examined a speech from Baron Singh in opposition to the motion, and today we look at a speech from Douglas Murray in proposition.

Douglas Murray is not new to this blog.  I have previously looked at his speaking herehere, and here.

When Murray speaks everything seems to be spontaneous. This could be either because he just wings all his speeches, or because he is extremely good at artifice, or because he has learnt how to prepare and structure a speech so that he always knows where he is and where he is going and trusts himself to say spontaneously what needs to be said at any point. I have no doubt that it is that last. It is what I teach my trainees (of which Murray is not one). It is not particularly difficult, but it does require you to know your subject. Murray knows his subject.

He opens with an apology for not being in a dinner jacket, and harvests an excellent laugh in the process.

When moving on to the matter at issue, he puts his hands over his face and rubs his forehead at a particularly critical moment. It beautifully underpins the words that he is speaking concerning the seriousness of the subject. Is that spontaneous or choreographed? I don’t know, but it is every bit as effective at conveying un-self-conscious sincerity as Kate Hoey’s adjustment of her clothing in my previous blog posting.

He bombards his audience with telling statistics, fierce arguments and heartfelt views. His papers on the dispatch box are there for reference not for prompting, and he mines the references skilfully – even throwing back at his opponents data from surveys they had quoted. Murray is very good at this.

But it is his peroration that really puts the icing on this cake.  From 08:33 he kicks down to go into his big finish.  I say ‘big’ but the term is relative: Murray likes to play with intensity rather than volume. If you watch any of it, watch that last section. The applause from the audience is instant, sincere and well-deserved.