Peter Hitchens does not laugh

In early summer 2017 the Oxford Union held a debate on the motion This House Believes A University Should Be A Safe Space.  The Union had the sense to defeat it. On 20 June I covered one of the opposition speeches. It was from Peter Tatchell, whose performance I found disappointing. Perhaps that was one reason I didn’t bother with any more of the debate at the time.

Another is that I no longer critique speeches by students. I have done, and have regretted it. From my position of advanced years I cannot satisfactorily take any public position on either the speech or its delivery. If I praise it I can be considered patronising: if I condemn it I am being unkind.

Then recently my eye was caught by a clickbait caption, Peter Hitchens laughing at Loony Students. It turned out to be the final opposition speech from that same debate.

That is a magnificent opening, largely for what it doesn’t stoop to say. The device is a variety of what I call tactical omission. We watching, with the data immediately available to us can have no idea what he means; and even the audience in the hall is left thinking back to the previous speech to try to work it out. Meanwhile in an irreducible minimum of words he has been brutally scathing. I now know to what he refers, though I had to submit to some ghastly research. I shall say no more (see my second paragraph above), except to confirm that Hitchens is right.

The clickbait caption is a lie, and I should have known. Clickbait usually is. Peter Hitchens has been known to laugh, but not in my experience at his opponents in a serious debate. He may give them a good kicking, eat them, chew them over, spit them out, but not laugh. He is unusually courteous in his destruction, much more so than his late brother.

He shoots this speech from the hip, looking at his papers only for the purpose of reading quotations, and is able to do so because of how well he has structured it. It makes it easy for him to know where he is at any moment, and therefore where he then has to go. The byproduct of this, and even more important, is that the speech and its message are easily followed and digested. Given that this last is the prime imperative for any speech you might understand why I ceaselessly castigate those who mistakenly believe that they cannot deliver a speech without burying their face in a script.

Hitchens definitely doesn’t laugh.

 

 

Denis Prager: Israel and Hamas

When President Trump this month stepped up and declared that the USA would move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, he honoured a campaign promise that was likewise made by Presidents Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama (though in all their cases they dishonoured it). Logic therefore has it that he should have been praised. Instead there was histrionic clutching of pearls not so much by that trinity but by too many of the world’s current senior politicians and mainstream media, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves. The BBC, with characteristic disingenuousness, said that Trump had overturned “decades of official US policy“, carefully overlooking that US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 and has had it on the books with bipartisan support ever since.

I was immediately put in mind of this speech from Mordechai Kedar in which he explained how though Jerusalem was historically Israel’s capital it has never been the capital of any muslim potentate. I also recalled seeing a speech which was made in a debate in 2015 at the Oxford Union by Denis Prager. I nearly covered it then, but for some reason didn’t. Perhaps this timing is better.

The debate’s motion was This House Believes that Hamas is a Greater Obstacle to Peace Than Israel. In passing, I think this Learned Institution actually meant “…greater obstacle than Israel to peace” though their wording is unintentionally just as true.

Regular readers will know that I love it when speakers speak their minds, whether or not I agree with them. There is no mealy-mouthed fannying-about here: Prager goes straight for the jugular.

This speech is so important for what he says that, rather than criticise how he says it, I shall merely point out a few things. For instance…

Prager describes how President Reagan was greeted by howls of anguish and condemnation when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. In retrospect no one can respectably deny that Reagan was right, of course. The body count alone is witness.

He discusses how that highlights the extraordinary way that academics, for whom unfashionable opinions are worse than wrong ones, still pay lip service to the bizarre notion that no culture may be deemed superior to any other even though the societies they create are manifestly so. (Bureaucrats, prelates, and other classes of self-regarding citizenry tend to be just as bad.)

We get a little comic relief in the shape of some female on the opposing side who is desperate to interject and displays body language like a spoilt primary school pupil. Eventually he allows her to liberate her ‘killer point’ and proceeds ruthlessly to crush it.

One reason this speech is so relevant today two years after being delivered is that President Trump’s declaration caused Hamas to claim that he had “opened the gates of hell”. If that meant they would lob missiles into Israel, then what’s new? Trump evidently doesn’t give a rat’s corbyn what Hamas says, and already the carefully choreographed flag burnings, lovingly broadcast on TV, have largely fizzled out. Claims that this would impede the peace process are risible: it hasn’t been going anywhere for years. There are plausible reasons to suppose it will accelerate it.  Back to Prager …

He opened with cries of incredulity that this motion was even up for debate. It’s difficult to disagree, though for those of us passionately devoted to freedom of speech it’s encouraging to watch as a preposterous notion is destroyed, not by diktat but by reasoned argument.

Patrick Minford is nearly tickety-boo

On 2 October, 2017, The Bruges Group held a meeting at the Great Hall in Manchester. Inevitably the theme was Brexit, and the meeting was addressed by a series of experts on the subject. We recently looked at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s speech. It was immediately preceded by one from Patrick Minford. Sadly the online video of that speech is in two parts, and I’m far too impatient to fiddle around with that, so instead I have gone back to another Bruges Group meeting in November 2016, also addressed by Professor Minford.

The messiness of his opening can, I think, be put down principally to nerves. It reeks to me of Hump. The speech dramatically comes together at 1:17 when he addresses the question “What was the Brexit vote for?” He gives his answer and the audience gives his answer a round of applause. Just imagine if that had been his opening – a bald opening. He’d have received that spontaneous applause within 15 seconds of starting, which would have done wonders for his Hump, and his opening would have been clean and mess-free.

Of course I understand the pressure that says that you must acknowledge and thank a gracious introduction. I equally understand the real value of the little bit of self-deprecating humour concerning the previous time he spoke there, but there are ways of satisfying both those imperatives while still starting with a hump-busting bald opening.

At any rate, from that point you can sense his nerves evaporating down to a manageable level while his natural capacity for thinking on his feet builds proportionately. A couple of minutes later he is going like a train.

I’d like to say that thereafter everything is tickety-boo, and it very nearly is because he knows his subject and can talk the hind-legs off a donkey. With a little bit of minor tweaking to the structure he wouldn’t need even that little scrap of paper that he uses as a comfort blanket. He could shoot the whole thing from the hip, everything would be tickety-boo, and that’s the way I like it.

Dambisa Moyo is wonderful

In September 2016, One Young World held a summit in Ottawa, Canada. It was addressed by Dr Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid, a book that is well worth reading.

Kate Robertson, co-founder of One Young World makes the introduction, and huddles throughout. I don’t think she’s cold – not in September: I think she’s genuinely star-struck, and her words seem to bear this out. The introduction is just long enough to say what it needs to say, and short enough to infect us with her excitement.

Moyo enters from upstage, silhouetted against a brightly lit backcloth. It’s a nice production touch and I begin to feel impressed. By the time the greeting embraces are concluded she is fully front-lit as she heads for the lectern where the microphones are, except – what’s this? – she’s already speaking, we can hear her clearly, and she’s nowhere near the lectern yet. She must be wearing a radio mic, and the sound engineer is on the ball.

I have been accustomed over the years to castigating conference organisers for stage-management shortcomings which are usually technical, may be small, but are irritatingly symptomatic of a lack of professional care. I have so say, on the basis of this talk, that this seems to be a flawlessly-run conference. Bouquets all round.

Moyo more than upholds that standard. She is a very fine speaker indeed. Here we have a little over twenty minutes of stunningly well structured speech, shot throughout from the hip. If you want to see unembellished excellence on a speaking platform, here is a prime example.

If you are puzzled by that adjective ‘unembellished’ let me explain. I search in vain for any artifice. I am convinced that she is striking that most difficult of all poses: she is being herself, and that is why her message is so powerful. There is plenty in what she says that I find debatable, and would enjoy debating it, but that subtracts not a jot from my admiration of this speech.

You may think that one who tours the globe making such speeches would be bound to be brilliant, but if so you haven’t seen much of this blog. Trust me: it doesn’t follow.

This is wonderful.

 

 

 

Peter Thiel: rich in substance

I came across this speech by Peter Thiel at the National Review Institute Summit. It is difficult to establish exactly when it was delivered, as the video was posted on YouTube on 14 March this year, whereas the National Review Institute website dates their summit on 16 & 17 March. One thing we can surmise from the introduction by Rich Lowry is that it took place very shortly after the Presidential Inauguration, and I reckon we are looking here at late January; though puzzlingly Thiel refers to Obama as ‘the current president’, and significantly never mentions him by name at all.

I was interested to witness a speech by Thiel, not just because he is a billionaire but because he is unusual in being a rare republican billionaire. I found other speeches, but chose to cover this one.

Rich Lowry’s introduction lasts six minutes, and he shoots it from the hip which pleases me. I am also pleased that he isn’t fawning completely over his introducee. He leaves us in no doubt that he is less than happy about the (then) very new Trump presidency, and Thiel had very publicly supported the Trump campaign. But then, they are both of the Right which is more tolerant than the Left.

Thiel also shoots from the hip. Perhaps his principal message is that for the past decade, or thereabouts, there has been a startling change in electronic human interaction; but in more substantive areas like energy, travel, manufacturing, the USA has lost what had appeared to be an irresistible momentum. He seems to put this down chiefly to everything being regulated to a standstill.

He is quite obviously highly intelligent and very well read, but the speech suffers here and there from being not clearly structured and therefore a little incoherent. He knows what he is trying to get across, but sometimes for us the thread is difficult to follow. He is a chess player of international standing, and if I try rather clumsily to use a chess metaphor it’s as if he is trying to describe a particular game to those of us unable to hold that many moves in our heads.

Some would say that this would have been solved by his having a script, and to a degree they’d be right, but the price would be a dreadful loss of spontaneity. Here is another of his speeches that is obviously read off a teleprompter; and it makes makes my point by being smooth, fluent and consequently rather tedious.

The choice is not either/or.  You can have both spontaneity and clarity. You just need to know how.

At 29:22 he closes his speech elegantly with a slightly distorted quote from Dylan Thomas; and then we move into Q&A, not with questions from the floor but an interview with Rich Lowry who introduced him.

Here, as so often happens with speakers like this, Thiel comes into his own. The questions provide him with the structure he needed earlier, and the result is clarity.

Thiel is a man who needs to be heard, because there’s so much substance there, but he also needs to be better understood.

 

 

 

 

Jacob Rees-Mogg: a long investment.

On 2 October, 2017, The Bruges Group held a meeting at the Great Hall in Manchester. Inevitably the theme was Brexit, and the meeting was addressed by a series of experts on the subject. One of them was Jacob Rees-Mogg, a very fine speaker, so I haven’t wasted the opportunity to bring the speech here.

I enjoy listening to his speaking not only because of his articulacy, coherence, his skilful delivery, and so on but because I admire the man. The beautiful balance of his arguments is not artifice. His old-fashioned manners and cut-glass accent may suggest that he is cold, distant and out of touch, but his record dramatically belies that. There are examples of his having, for instance, courteously drawn the claws of quite hostile opponents on TV panel discussions.

He is introduced by Barry Legg, Chairman of this meeting and indeed of the Bruges Group. JRM, as I shall call him hereafter for brevity, begins just after the 4-minute mark though you may like to join at around 3:50 in order to understand his first sentence.

Preliminaries over, he tells his audience that if people take the trouble to come to these meetings, for whatever reason, he wants to engage with their arguments. He is as good as his word. At this same meeting there is disruption from invading protesters waving banners saying “Tories Out”. Before bouncers can evict them, JRM approaches one in order to exchange thoughts. You can watch the episode here.

Of course JRM uses no paper. At 6:38 a bell is heard tolling in the distance. He instantly utters a throw-away quip, being well rewarded with a laugh. This sort of spontaneity is one of the hallmarks of those who shoot from the hip. Audiences love both, and both are absurdly easy.

The speech was well received by the Twitterati at the time it was delivered. I am pleased to agree.

Evan Sayet says it

A friend tweeted a link to an article entitled He Fights, published in Townhall. The columnist was Evan Sayet. I commend the article.

Even when I disagree with expressed opinions I am always impressed when writers or speakers have the guts to skewer or bypass the fashionable flim-flam in which PC pieties clothe themselves, to go right to the core of a matter with ruthless muscularity. Evan Sayet takes no prisoners. Immediately I went looking for examples of his speaking, and found plenty. Here is perhaps the most recently posted. It was delivered only in August, at a picnic in Los Angeles hosted by The American Freedom Alliance.

I don’t know the precise circumstances of this speech, even his introduction by Karen Siegemund is cut short on this video, but clearly from the venue, his clothing, and the relaxed way he interacts with his audience this is a very informal gathering. My instinct is that his material is a series of road-tested modules which he is stitching together on the hoof. To many rookie speakers that would be magic: to one who has worked his apprenticeship it is actually not very difficult. I may be wrong, he may have spent many hours preparing it: when you are this good everything looks easy.

Be careful though, for anyone who is not this good it could be a pathway to disaster. Many months ago on this blog I gave a severe kicking to a British politician whose speech to a gathering in Dublin was a disgrace. He insulted his audience by having been too bloody idle to prepare at all.

I see little point in my telling you what Sayet says when he says it so well for himself. Nevertheless I would advise any British reader here, even if you don’t follow American politics his message translates very clearly indeed to the circumstances this side of the Atlantic.