Douglas Carswell could be brilliant

Published on YouTube on 17 February, 2016, was a speech by Douglas Carswell as part of Daniel Hannan’s “Time to Leave?” series of speech-fests.  We have seen several of these before – here, here, here, and here.

Now it is the turn of Douglas Carswell who is not only UKIP’s single member of parliament but also co-author with Daniel Hannan of The Plan. They published it a few years ago, and my copy is shabbily well thumbed, unlike my copy of his The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy which is in my kindle. Carswell is also a prolific blogger. Nevertheless we are here to explore not his writing but his speaking.

My pleasure at his excellent bald opening is quickly reduced by the realization that he has notes on the lectern and that he is using them, over-using them. Speech notes exert a tyranny: the more you use them, the more you perceive a need for them. That need inhibits your capacity fully to engage your audience, and also your ability to shed your opening nerves. I am expecting nerve symptoms to show for longer than they should.

At 0:31 he utters the tautological “Who still believes that any more?” It is a minuscule syntactical error, but he wouldn’t have made it usually. He staples the otiose “any more” on the end to buy time to look at his notes, because he is still too nervous to pause.

At 1:50 his nerves have reduced enough to allow a pause, and he sinks into one that is too long and completely unnecessary while he searches on the paper for the words “estate agents and bankers”. That pause would have been no longer if he’d fished those words out of his memory, and would have felt shorter to us if he had been looking at us.

Every time his eyes go down to the lectern my heart sinks a little, because we in the audience are being just a tiny touch alienated by his being more concerned with that paper than he is with us. And he does not need to do it. I am a quarter of a century older than he is, and have reached that age when I regularly have to ask my wife to remind me of things like names, yet I would not need those notes. None of my trainees would be allowed them. He doesn’t need them either – he just thinks he does.

At 6:48 he seems to make an error of terminology, an error which he keeps repeating. He speaks of the EU and the Single Market as being synonymous. As I understand it, they are not synonymous, though they overlap. The Single Market is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement which includes the EU, but the latter takes matters further into a Customs Union. It is the Customs Union, with its busybody bureaucracy, control-freakery, authoritarianism and anti-democracy, from which Brexit would cause Britain to withdraw. Being already a signatory to the EEA Britain would still have membership of it and therefore, with some realignment during the two-year period specified under Article 50, remain in the Single Market for as long as it chose to do so. That is my understanding. If I am mistaken no doubt someone will correct me.

I have a different sort of problem with Carswell’s terminology later, and this is one of those things that I drum into my trainees – simplicity of words. At 11:28 he says, “This country is Germany’s biggest single export market”. OK, yes it is, but this is bureaucrat language, just as a couple of sentences later words like “principal beneficiaries of trade”. It’s not that we don’t understand those words – as bureaucratese goes, it’s quite mild –  but I invite you to imagine how much more powerful would be his argument if he called Britain “Germany’s biggest customer”. Everyone, as well as bureaucrats, is familiar with the concept of “a customer”, and will readily relate to the argument that it’s unlikely you would kick your biggest one in the teeth.

As often happens on this blog when I am dealing with a good speaker, I have been rather picky here.  Carswell is good: of course he is, he has the votes to prove it. I just think he could easily be brilliant.

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