Princess Mabel naturally.

In November 2017 the Oxford Union hosted a talk by Princess Mabel van Oranje. She chairs an organisation called Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.

Her speech lasted a tad more than thirty minutes, and the rest of the time consisted of questions.

She’s a natural speaker, and that’s wonderful! We watch the real person, with no speaker’s mask, expressing transparently genuine, unselfconscious passion.

She’s a natural speaker, and that’s a problem. We are bombarded by a relentless flow of words, most of which fail to stick.

Natural speakers are probably the most difficult to coach. I watch this, knowing that if this speech were properly structured it could say at least as much, with considerably more productive impact, with much better memorability, in two thirds of the time. I also dread the possibility of anyone trying to structure the speaker. That glorious naturalness should never be allowed to be compromised.

Greg Lukianoff and the 1st Amendment

I have lost count of the number times I have covered on this blog speeches extolling the virtues, or condemning the restriction, of free speech. I can though remember the first time: it was in November 2012 and a Christopher Hitchens speech which he had delivered at a debate in 2006. Here we are, twelve years after that debate, and free speech is under worse attack than ever.

My interest in the subject must be obvious. My occupation is my obsession and based on communication. In my opinion anyone who strives to curtail communication is either imbecilic or possessed of dangerously questionable motives; and it seems that most of western academia, officialdom, and too many of our political representatives can be thus categorised. It’s worse than depressing: it’s frightening.

I hate the word ‘hate’ when it is used as a legal adjective.

Here we see a lecture on Free Speech delivered by Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE – The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It was at Williams College, Massachusetts, in April 2014.

Check out the size of the audience!

As part of his opening ethos Lukianoff amusingly introduces himself as a specialist 1st Amendment lawyer. We in Britain do not have a 1st Amendment: we do not even have a written Constitution to amend. What this lecture tells us is that even with full constitutional backup to protect it the USA has free speech problems pretty much as severe as ours.

Generally I would disapprove of his slides carrying so much verbiage, because of the risk that the speaker can find himself in competition with himself. But when he sticks important, historic, Supreme Court rulings on the screen, then to quote key passages from them I have to say I think it works by dint of the weight of the passages.

I find him a joy to listen to because he lays out his arguments with stunning clarity, but then he’s a lawyer. In half an hour I find the whole free speech thing more cogently expressed than I have heard elsewhere.

He actually goes on for more than half an hour, finishing and inviting questions at 34:30, but the last four minutes are specifically aimed at American students and the benefits of FIRE membership. Then it’s questions.

This speech was four years ago, since when these matters have appeared to have got worse even though the official political culture, if not the culture of  academe, has turned through 180 degrees. For my own private interest I must go and find what he is saying now.

Thierry Baudet: nearly fantastische

Late in 2017 The Oxford Union hosted a debate on the motion, This House Believes the Decline and Fall of the European Union is Upon us. One of the speakers proposing the motion was Thierry Baudet.

Baudet is Dutch, which of course means that – like many Northern Europeans – he speaks English better than most English people. I have almost rid myself of resentment of this, my late wife and mother of my sons having been Danish; but how well does one of these linguistic geniuses deliver a speech? Let’s find out.

Immediately I delight that other than that little piece of paper, visible in the still shot and presumably bearing bullet-point signposts, he is shooting from the hip. I think he looks at it only once. Because none of my trainees needs even that little paper I am tempted to put this tiny failing down to whatever crumb remains of language barrier. I’d be wrong. When researching him my eye was caught by another speech described as “Fantastische”, and though I could understand not a word and though that audience audibly enjoyed it, I can tell you that it was read from a script. Could it be that for him public speaking is actually easier in English?

I am thrilled to be able smugly to point out an error. Where the noun is ‘instability’, the adjective is ‘unstable’. Yes of course it’s an anomaly, but what’s new? – this is English. He repeatedly describes the EU as ‘instable’. He’s absolutely right in his diagnosis, just wrong in his idiom.

I thought that Oxford Union debate speeches were allowed eight minutes, but he has bells rung at him when he has barely cleared six minutes. This seems to unsettle him a little. It’s a pity because he is both articulate and coherent, and he certainly has the measure of the EU – and not just its instability. He kicks its dogma.

Among other things you will find that he effortlessly demolishes the fallacy that past European conflicts in general and WW2 in particular were built on nationalism. The reverse was the truth.

He’s good. He’s very good. He’s nearly fantastische.

Rowan Atkinson pleads for insults

All over the western world at present there is a battle for and against Free Speech. In 2012 there was launched in Britain a movement to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, the section dealing with ‘Insulting Speech’, and the Campaign chose a splendid slogan “Feel Free to Insult Me“.

One of their celebrity supporters was actor Rowan Atkinson, who delivered a speech at a parliamentary reception on 16 October 2012.

Oh no, he’s reading it!

It’s a disappointment that he of all people would stifle some of the impact of his delivery this way, but to me it’s not a complete surprise. Actors spend their working lives speaking without reference to paper, and they also spend their working lives pretending to be someone else. Here Atkinson is being himself in public, something that many actors find uncomfortable – shyness is surprisingly widespread in the profession. Blackadder or Mr Bean could shoot this from the hip without any trouble, so could anyone if they knew how, so could Rowan Atkinson but here he prefers not to. The rareness of his giving broadcast interviews suggests that he is shy, it is well known that he battles against stammering, and it would not surprise me if his script here is a weapon in that battle.

We can at least expect him to read very well. He does of course.

He quotes from the brilliant Constable Savage sketch in Not the Nine o’Clock News, and this is almost as funny as the sketch itself, because it is the same voice speaking the lines – and the same brilliant timing. To those of us old enough to remember, this is a predictable inclusion in the speech but no less welcome for that.

At 7:15 he expresses the hope that this campaign will begin a process that will “slowly rewind the creeping culture of censoriousness”.

The speech was delivered five and a half years ago and it was a nice and noble try. However that creeping culture has now become an intemperate gallop.

Andrew Norfolk and Augean Stables

Here’s a speech with a horrifying message that was posted on line in October 2015, and I’ve only just discovered it.  It is even more relevant now than it was then.

Andrew Norfolk, now chief investigative reporter for The Times, tells us a story that we do not want to hear but we absolutely must.

Almost a bald opening. The only preamble is “Thank you”.

The story that unfolds is chilling, made even more so by Norfolk’s cold delivery. He indulges in no histrionics, speaks almost in a monotone, and speaks slowly and deliberately. It just shows that when the narrative thread is strong enough (and great credit must be laid at Norfolk’s feet for a superbly built structure here) you don’t need to add anything.

I think that some of the delivery style is forced upon him by virtue of his battling a stammer. I am sure I spot symptoms, and if I am right then even more credit is due him for how well he manages. My regard for this man builds by the second.

The story he tells has become sadly familiar.  He speaks of how he reported, again and again, stories of mass grooming and wholesale rape of underage girls in Rotherham. It was greeted in the main by deaf ears or recrimination. More such examples of it continue to be revealed – the latest, concerning Telford, in the past week – and we get progressively more persuaded that we are looking at the tip of a huge iceberg.

The blindness of the eye turned to it by the Establishment is a national outrage. The BBC and Parliament had to be repeatedly goaded by LBC, Spiked Online, and others to begin muttering reluctantly about the Telford scandal. Perhaps it felt that a mere 1,000 underage girls being mass-raped was not sufficiently newsworthy.

Concurrent to that are disgraceful cases of persecution by officialdom of anyone who dares to speak of it publicly.  Again last week, an American girl – Brittany Pettibone – was detained for forty-eight hours by immigration officials before being deported. Her crime was her intention to interview someone called Tommy Robinson on this very subject. You may recognise Mr Robinson’s name as a dangerous far right extremist jailbird, which is certainly how he has been painted by the media, but that is not how the students of Oxford University viewed him after an hour long speech at the Oxford Union. I covered it here.

When the sort of conduct that Norfolk describes is allowed to flourish with impunity it could be described as negligence: to persecute anyone who dares to exercise free speech on the subject has no possible excuse. It debases our entire country.

This is not a partisan issue. All parties are party to it. I mean the wanton ignoring of the crime. It permeates the administration of our entire country. The way it continues to be studiously ignored is in its way as bad as the crime itself, and remember that the crime involves thousands of sexually abused little British girls.

Who is there with the integrity, energy, and spine to root this out? I chose that metaphor verb with deliberate care, because the roots of this go very deep. It is like Japanese Knotweed. It has spread unchecked, and is now ubiquitous. It needs to be purged it at its roots. The official collaborators are everywhere, in politics, the civil service, the judiciary, academia, the media. Don’t bother to tell me that other countries are as bad – I know that and it’s no excuse. We have to destroy it here because in the mean time it is destroying us.

Laura Ingraham braves it

One of the speakers at the Republican National Congress at Cleveland Ohio in July 2016 was Laura Ingraham.

I tend to limit my coverage of speeches at American national congresses because they’re so damn noisy. I just get less opportunity to see the subtler nuances of a speaker in this environment. National congresses don’t do subtle.

At the time, this speech hit the headlines via accusations that Ingraham had performed a Nazi salute. I went online, looked, rolled my eyes, shook my head wearily, and forgot about it. She had waved as she came on stage, and they freeze-framed it. That is the cheapest and easiest way to smear anyone at all. Apologists for the left fight a constant battle to paint Nazism as right wing because their eternal embarrassment is that Hitler considered himself a socialist. That’s not idle opinion: it’s in his writings.

Reflecting recently I wondered what it was about this speech that caused the media desperately to resort to such a pitiful device. Shall we see?

Oh dear! Since I last watched this, they’ve edited out her entrance. What a stupid mistake! Now the casual viewer might assume that there really was a Nazi salute. You however can have a look here.

75 seconds in, and we see the first reason they had to smear her: she’s supporting Trump. A few more seconds and she’s expressed concern that the Obama administration had caused the USA’s prosperity to decline. How dare she! Everyone knows that anything short of idolatry concerning Obama is racist – at least, that was the orthodoxy then.

Equally reprehensible is positive reference to the American Dream, yet less than 3 minutes from starting she’s covered how her parents worked and worked to buy their children an education and how there is dignity in any job. This is incendiary stuff!

Another reason that I tend to avoid national convention speeches is that when you are preaching ‘to the choir’, when you could almost walk on, pick your nose for a minute and walk off to cheers of adulation, speeches can too often turn flabby. A speech usually needs an element of opposing stress to keep it tight. Despite this, Ingraham does keep it tight, and she does more.

If she has a filter she’s left it at home. From 12:00 she tears into the Obama administration in general and Hillary Clinton in particular. She then tears into the press gallery, accusing them of not doing their job in exposing corruption. She tears into the pollsters, the lobbyists, the consultants, all the occupants of what we even this side of the Atlantic now know as The Swamp. She almost shrieks her peroration.

Did I mention opposing stress? The crowds roaring their support in the hall are a tiny proportion of her overall audience, and she knows it. Had Clinton won I wonder where Ingraham would be now. Since January 2017 it has increasingly emerged not only that most of the media were in Obama’s pocket – we already knew that, not only that the IRS had been disgracefully politicised – we knew that too, but that this corruption had metastasised into the DOJ and FBI. This is the swamp whose mopping-up continues today.

Had Clinton won, Laura Ingraham’s non-existent Nazi salute might have been the least of her worries.

Marc Kasowitz and frustration

In 2017 The Oxford Union hosted a talk by Marc Kasowitz.  They do not tell us the precise date, but the video was posted on line in November.

The name was not familiar to me, but it took mere seconds to establish that he is a lawyer, and among his clients is President Trump. As expected, the comments below the posted video had its fair share of rudeness; but what shocked me was reference to Kasowitz being Jewish. I am at a loss to know what difference this is supposed to make.

He reads his preamble. He even reads the details of his birth. I mention this not to pour scorn on him but to highlight how so many believe that paper is an antidote to nerves. It isn’t: it is one way to battle The Hump, but not a very good one. Paper makes a lousy comfort blanket, but he is persuaded to play it this way.

He spends the first fifteen minutes speaking about his father, a scrap metal dealer. Had I been advising him, I should have tried to dissuade him from this because it is notoriously difficult to do without curling your audience’s toes. I’d have been wrong: he pulls it off. Although he makes no bones about idolising his father, he does so in a manner that is as comfortable, matter-of-fact, and unsentimental as can be achieved. He also manages to cast forward, explaining how following his father’s ethos in business helped his career as a lawyer. Perhaps obeying the Fifth Commandment comes so naturally to the Jewish culture that it requires no stage management. For my purposes this section does something even more important: it periodically lifts his eyes from that wretched paper so that he engages the audience and liberates his natural ability as a raconteur. More. I want more of that.

He begins talking about his legal career, swiftly moving to the founding of his own firm. My interest quickens when he promises to recount some case histories – more raconteuring!

The case histories are at least as interesting and absorbing as expected, and Kasowitz comes across as personable. His eyes do lift from the paper often enough to lift the spirit of the talk, but seldom enough to cause me severe frustration.

His talk concludes at 37:30, and he swings into Q&A. I wonder what they’ll ask about…