In September, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) will elect a new leader. One of the names currently being bandied about as a front-running candidate is Anne-Marie Waters. The mainstream media characterise her as ‘far-right’, which is an interesting description for one who has repeatedly tried to stand for Parliament as a candidate for the Labour Party, and ‘bigot’, which is modern parlance for holding views at variance with whoever is misusing the word.
On 28 February she took part in a debate at the Oxford Union. The motion was This House Believes Islam is a Religion of Peace. Waters was one of the speakers in opposition.
She opens a little untidily, with an unprepared section referring to speakers and apparent comments that have preceded her. We have to guess at the precise nature of those comments. I have no particular quarrel with this as a technique for opening as it indicates, for one thing, that she has been listening. A beautifully parsed series of opening sentences will never quite convey the same sincerity, or determination to get to grips with the truth.
Sadly the untidiness, in the form of a malapropism, spills over into the beginning of what appears to have been prepared. She says “theocracy” when she means “theology”. It’s a small thing, but when you use big words it pays to check them. Particularly when you are speaking to university students, some of whom may even spot the mistake.
Almost immediately afterwards she really gets into her stride, with a catalogue of the factors and occurrences that cause people to be uneasy about Islam. It’s quite a list, carrying a very powerful message, and one of her opponents tries unsuccessfully to interrupt it. She moves on to discuss Saudi Arabia, which she calls “the birthplace of Islam”.
(Later in this debate, one of her opponents tries witheringly to point out that when Islam was born Saudi Arabia didn’t exist. That’s the equivalent of denying that Stonehenge was built in Wiltshire: technically correct but indicative of the feebleness of the rest of your case.)
Waters is a copy-book example of both the power and the weakness of impassioned, undisciplined speaking. As she nears the end of her speech she’s all over the place. I habitually point out to my trainees, as I would certainly point out to her, that you can see at Political Party Conferences how the grass-roots firebrands and the hyper-polished parliamentarians can learn much from each other. Passion is worth buckets of technique; but it’s still worth while for the impassioned to acquire technique, the better to express the passion.
Particularly if wanting to lead a political party.