Liz Truss: Whitehall Farce

On 17 December 2020 the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss, MP delivered a live-streamed speech from the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) in London. It received a great deal of publicity at the time: The Independent called it “bonkers”, and it seems that bits of the transcript were redacted from the government website. They may have been edited out here also, for all I know.

Let’s have a look…

She is introduced by Robert Colville, director of the CPS, and immediately I am wincing. Many, if not most, inexperienced speakers have a problem with their hands. There are reasons and simple solutions with which I shall not tire you, but the very worst thing to do with your hands is to stick your thumbs in your pockets. Again I’ll spare you the several paragraphs I could add here in explanation.

Colville begins with his thumbs in his pockets. In fact he seems deeply unhappy throughout this introduction, and although it is barely one minute long I can’t wait for it to finish. Within seconds of Truss starting I’m wishing Colville had gone on longer.

What is it about Whitehall? I am reminded of a speech I covered on this blog in November 2012. William Hague, a superb speaker in real life, had spoken in his then capacity as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and done it like a lobotomised automaton. Though I have supplied a link to that posting you can see only my comments because it seems that some official, so embarrassed by the speech, has removed it. I sympathise.

Is there a Whitehall Civil Service department responsible for advising ministers how to deliver official speeches? If so I recommend that it be broken up forthwith and its staff reassigned to occupations more suited to their talents. I suggest scarecrows. The incompetence hereby manifested throws light on much else that emanates from the cvil service in Whitehall.

Lis Truss is an able politician. She doesn’t speak like this. No one speaks like this. I’m not referring to the essential message, which is fairly reasonable – though appallingly structured – I refer to the way it is being put across. It wouldn’t be less engaging if written in Klingon. This bland monotone, periodically punctuated by huge meaningless pauses is simply ghastly.

The Big Pause is an excellent speaking device with a wide range of beneficial uses. Deployment at random between sentences is not one of them.

I fell asleep at one point, and when I awoke was unable to establish what I had missed. I confess it was all so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to go back over it. Therefore I can’t tell you whether there are edit-points in there to indicate redaction. I was past caring.

Bill, Ben and Stan

This period between Christmas and the New Year is one in which I prefer not to get too serious. Nevertheless I still browse for interesting speeches and interviews. Thus it was that I happened upon a late and lamented performer, whom I had known slightly, interviewing a man who had contributed generously to my very small childhood.

Though I earn my living helping people to speak I am a fan of nonsense-speak.

Peter Hawkins was a voice-artist who supplied the speaking for many famous TV stars, including the Daleks. But many years earlier my infant self used to hear him speaking “Oddle-poddle” (yes, they even gave it a name), the language spoken by Bill & Ben the Flowerpot Men. I even dared to speak it a bit myself.

Stanley Unwin was a hero to my youthful self. I would clamour never to miss his appearances on television and loved his performance in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Again I would try to imitate. In the nineties, when I produced and presented an arts programme on BBC Radio, I recorded with him a long-form, broadly biographical, interview. The recording subsequently required heavy editing, as we would regularly dissolve into laughter. He was a lovely man.

I will leave you with the one interviewing the other. It is introduced by the late Robert Robinson.

Happy New Year.

Dan Crenshaw brightens

A friend asked me to stop posting so many political speeches. I sympathised, and challenged him to find me current speeches that are not political. Politicians, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the media and Big Tech, have closed down the world in defiance of science, so the flow of all normal speechmaking has dried up. Therefore …

Here’s a juicy four and a half minutes from a week or so ago in the US House of Representatives. Dan Crenshaw doesn’t mince his words, even though he feels the need to read them.

He wades into the conduct of Nancy Pelosi, and what he calls the hypocrisy displayed by lockdown-supporting politicians who break the rules. I call it lying.

After all, if you vote for a policy while your behaviour shows that you don’t believe in it, isn’t that a form of mendacity? The trouble is that with lying being the favoured currency of politics, it’s as un-newsworthy as “Dog bites man”.

At 2:46 Crenshaw mentions the viral video of Angela Marsden. If you haven’t seen it, have a look here –

And now register how many seats are occupied in the House of Representatives to hear Crenshaw’s speech. More people need to know about this, but the media won’t help.

Jonathan Sumption’s coherent sense

People are not making speeches at the moment, for reasons I don’t need to explain. For this blog I can mine reserves of historic speeches, and I have done so, but part of the interest I get from critiquing speeches is to learn what views and arguments people are currently promoting.

On the other hand people are being interviewed. The essential difference with an interview is that the speaker is fed questions which dictate the direction of the conversation; and it is a very large part of the public speaking skill to address the direction your conversation would have taken had the audience been able to dictate it.

Lord Sumption, erstwhile Supreme Court Justice, has made no secret of his disapproval of the government’s policies concerning Covid 19, and here is an interview on the subject. It was broadcast in May of this year.

I’ll admit that I did have an actual speech that Sumption had made a few years ago, but I decided against covering it because the subject matter was way out of date and because to my intense irritation he slavishly read every syllable of the wretched thing.

You will see that I have supplied a link to that discarded speech in order that students of public speaking can see for themselves that, by reading it, Sumption made himself not a jot more articulate than he is being here in this interview, while sacrificing a huge portion of the perceived sincerity that spontaneity would have granted. But back to this interview …

What would be beyond belief had we not experienced it is that this interview, and Sumption’s excellently articulated arguments in it, were broadcast half a year ago and politicians are still pursuing the same asinine policies. How dare they have the impertinence to arrogate the right to consider Christmas to be within their gift!

It is not only disgraceful it is politically foolish. The arguments they promote in the name of “science” have become visibly and risibly threadbare and widely debunked by substantial scientific authority. The various degrees of lockdown have done manifestly more damage, not only culturally, socially and economically, but even medically, than the coronavirus ever could. This is vandalism conducted behind a smokescreen of a disease whose puny fatality rate is losing ground to that of hay fever.

The trouble with official idiocy on this scale is that conspiracy theories take hold. When no one is capable of being quite this stupid the only apparent explanation is that there is something else going on. And there are some very plausible and alarming explanations being aired which, if they are only slightly true, suggest that the people concerned are dangerous lunatics.

Patricia Sandoval and redemption

In the last few weeks I have twice covered Pro-Life speeches, here and here, a detail that seems to have not escaped the notice of YouTube’s algorithms. I found myself being offered another.

Patricia Sandoval, author of Transfigured, delivered this speech on 10 February, 2018, in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Turlock, California. Its write-up suggests that it is pretty powerful, but on the grounds that this subject can be uncomfortable I was prepared – at least I thought I was.

The video begins with post-speech interviews with members of her audience, a section that obviously is building up for us the speech that is to follow. At 3:35 she begins.

This isn’t the first theocentric speech I’ve discussed here. In March 2013 on this blog I covered an Oxford Union Debate, dubbed The God Debate. Well known thinkers had a right royal ding-dong about Christianity. I’ve had other arguments of varying ferocity on the subject. I’ve had a speech from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet I think this is only the second speaker on this blog to begin with a prayer, and the other was a Hindu.

Over the years many trainees have expressed surprise that I do not criticise them, as others have, for waving their arms “too much”. Exaggerated gestures bother me only when they are phoney. I detest phoney. If you are naturally an arm-waver then you must follow your nature, to refrain from doing so would be … phoney.

Sandoval’s nature seems to dictate that her hands are relaxed only when they are busy. And it’s not just her hands that are expressive, she speaks with her eyes, with her face, in fact with her whole body. This woman is so deeply into the driving seat of her message, so filled with its passion, that watching and listening becomes compulsive.

She epitomises my dictum that passion is worth bucketfuls of technique, but the ideal is to have both. She has both: she is a very fine speaker, made even better by white hot passion.

The passion is born out of the life she has led, wherein she had three abortions in quick succession, went downhill, lost her faith, lost everything else – and I mean everything including her hair – till she hit, so to speak, the rocks on the seabed. At that point her soul cried out for help which came via someone called Bonny.

It would be impertinent for me to attempt to recount her story when she does it so well. It’s not a pretty story, it needs a very strong stomach in places, but it is uplifting.

Including a three-minute video at the end it lasts almost exactly an hour. There follow a range of supportive snippets, including a gentleman who tells us that her book is even tougher than her speech. Fair warning!

Antonin Scalia chats with authority

When, a handful of weeks ago, I covered a four-year-old speech by a university law professor who has since become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court – The Honourable Amy Coney Barrett – I learnt that she had clerked for another Supreme Court Justice, the late Antonin Scalia.

That suggests to me that he might have been something of a mentor to her. In my experience, good mentors teach you to think properly. They should not feed you their opinions, but help you to refine the faculty to form your own.

I wouldn’t claim to be able to discern that quality from a speech, but I was interested to find out how good a public speaker he was (outside the Court), so I found this from June 1997. He was speaking at the 7th anniversary dinner of the Acton Institute.

Richard L. Antonini delivers the introduction, and does it well. He starts with a good joke. Inevitably this is followed by a potted CV of the guest speaker who begins at 7:15.

First impressions are important, so I always like to give mine. The audience greets him with a standing ovation and the first we hear from him coming faintly through the applause are his protestations, “no, sit down, sit down”. I like that. I also like, once the audience lets him speak, how he begins with an amusing anecdote about the pronunciation of his name. This is homey, fireside chat stuff: excellent for relaxing an audience (in passing, relaxing your audience is a wonderfully effective way of relaxing yourself).

He speaks about the US Constitution. He tells us that he has a prepared text, but doesn’t want to use it so he barely looks down at all. He shoots this from the hip, and does it brilliantly well. It’s a riveting, fascinating talk.

In the early nineties, when I began coaching this skill, formal oratory (speaking at your audience) was still very much alive and I fought against it. Today to my satisfaction a style of ‘conversational sincerity’ is in fashion. I mention this because this speech was delivered back in June 1997, and Scalia’s speaking style was right up to today’s. He was decades ahead of his time.

(Sadly, the same can’t be said of his microphone. Relatively primitive, it “pops” like crazy! He should have spoken across it, not into it.)

True, after-dinner speeches were already less formal than those from platforms in halls, but Scalia has another wonderful quality. I mentioned “fireside chat” further back, and that style even seeps into this Constitutional seminar. He is speaking with his audience. That is the key to excellent communication, and one that I try to instil into my trainees.

His status helps. When you are recognised to be a huge authority on the matter in hand, you feel less need to get all stiff about it. But, as I tell my trainees, you are also a recognised authority on the matter in hand.

Why the hell do you think they wanted you to speak about it?

I almost envy Amy Coney Barrett having him as a mentor. Almost, because I was equally blessed.

Jimmy Page: no gadfly

In November 2017, the Oxford Union hosted one of their ‘Full Address and Q&A’ evenings, this one with Jimmy Page as the speaker.

For reasons that are not important here, I went almost overnight during the sixties from overwhelming passion for pop/rock music to losing all interest. I mention this because when I first came across this video my reaction was “who’s he?”, and now I realise that I must have missed this legend by a hair’s breadth. Apart from a little peripheral research my knowledge of him today comes down to what I learnt from this talk, which is good because I harboured no pre-conceptions.

Apart from a few minor nerve symptoms that almost no one would notice, he controls his Hump extremely well. This is impressive because though no stranger to audiences this is not his usual environment. Nerve control is notoriously unportable.

He’s shooting this from the hip, which is easy provided you have a clear structure supplying you with a route map. His clear structure is chronological – autobiographical.

I am almost instantly absorbed because I was learning to play the guitar at the same time as he was. When he talks of being inspired by Lonnie Donegan, I nod knowingly and stand by for another name that I know will come. I don’t have to wait long. Bert Weedon and his book, Play in a day, kicked-started more rock guitarists than you could count.

My absorption is strengthened by learning that he worked as a session musician before he found fame. I went into the theatre and production, and therefore know the huge respect in which session musicians are held. This was not some gadfly, parachuted in from nowhere, but one who learnt his craft in serious depth.

As you might imagine, I have now been playing a lot of his recordings. The boy can play! What have I missed for more than half a century?

The talk ends at 13:14; he then sits and takes questions. That is just as interesting!

Gianna Jessen: born to speak

In 2008, at Queen’s Hall in Parliament House in Melbourne, Australia, an audience was treated to a speech from Gianna Jessen. The day was 8 September, the eve of a debate to decriminalise abortion in the State of Victoria.

Gianna Jessen exists because she confounded a Planned Parenthood abortionist by being born alive.

My having no medical training I cannot confirm whether her suffering from Cerebral Palsy is a legacy of the attempts made to thwart her birth, but I am qualified to declare that the condition doesn’t impede the quality of her speaking in public. Or if it does then heaven knows how well she would have been able to speak otherwise. My word, but she’s good!

And she wastes no time in demonstrating her skill. The timing of her big pauses, the first as early as 1:36, is nano-second perfect, and she is already getting laughs when others would still be battling their hump.

I tell my trainees, and I’ve said it before on this blog, that passion is worth bucketfuls of technique; but the ideal is to have both. Jessen has both, but far more importantly she is prepared to express her passion with vehemence. She has plenty to be passionate about.

Passion, brilliant timing, and laughs: it’s a formula whose result is spellbinding

Tomas Schuman and prescience

Tomas Schuman was the adopted nom de plume of Soviet KGB operative Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov after he defected from the Soviet Union in 1970. He was given asylum in Canada, studied political science for two years at the university of Toronto, and afterwards worked as a journalist..

In Los Angeles in 1983 he delivered this lecture.

He’s a proper speaker! All he holds in his hands is a piece of chalk for writing on the blackboard behind him. Even today, speaking without notes is regarded in some quarters as a bit of a circus trick; in 1983 it was considered almost on a par with black magic. Here he shoots from the hip for more than an hour, because he knows that – far from magic – it is dead easy.

On the other hand this speech is spooky in its prescience. We today possess thirty-seven years of hindsight that was not available to him, yet we find his projections to be frighteningly accurate. There are several occasions when he delivers shivers to the spine, one such begins at 09:09.

Let us not overlook, however, that his political studies at Toronto, dovetailing with his inside knowledge of the workings of Lubyanka Square, must have given him an unequalled insight into international shenanigans. His professors at Toronto would have been well advised to have requested tutorials from him. They probably squandered the opportunity, but we can listen and learn.

His central theme is that the most effective invasions are not from force of arms but from subversion, and this speech analyses how it is achieved. It begins with demoralisation and it culminates in crisis.

Lacking our hindsight he didn’t know that the Iron Curtain was destined to come down eight years after his speech, yet his prescience still holds because the subversives continue indoctrinating with their revolting dogma.

Being a very old video, the picture goes rather haywire at about 38:50. I strongly advise you to stay with it though, because the sound remains sound, and worth hearing, and the picture returns to normality after about ten minutes. Also, after that, you won’t want to miss what he says at 53:50.

If the Sahara ever becomes a socialist state there’ll be a shortage of sand

I don’t think you should miss any of it. I shall probably listen to this several times more.

Josh Hawley and Civics

The process continues of nomination leading to appointment of a new Associate Justice to fill the US Supreme Court chair that was vacated by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The President’s nominee is Amy Coney Barrett, who appeared on this blog two weeks ago.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began its confirmation hearing a week ago on 12 October with an opening statement by Sen. Josh Hawley.

As Judge Coney Barrett will not be speaking at this point, her face is largely covered by a mask. Hawley’s opening sentences of welcome are warm and friendly, and Coney Barrett smiles in response. How do we know that a masked person is smiling? Because the person in question smiles with her eyes. I find that appealing and significant.

Hawley congratulates her on how calmly she has coped with the nomination process this far, and swings immediately into how the media, and some politicians have focussed on her Catholicism, and whether that will influence her legal decisions. My reaction is that surely no one reaches this legal level if their reputation contains even a sniff of that sort, but this is not where Hawley is going.

Hawley (a lawyer himself) goes to Article VI of the US Constitution which specifically prohibits any religious test attaching to office, and so we get a Civics lecture. He makes the point that being an Article, this precedes the Bill of Rights and accordingly is a cornerstone of the very edifice of the United States. (It occurs to me therefore that any questions that are put to Coney Barrett about her faith are unconstitutional regardless of her answers.) He hails this freedom of faith as being one of the hallmarks of American Exceptionalism.

Hailing, as I do, from a country where even today the monarch or even someone too near it may not be a catholic (not that the monarch has any political power) I marvel at the foresight and wisdom of the US Founding Fathers at building this, nearly a quarter of a millennium ago, into the very bones of their body politic.

This is a good speech, looking forward to constructive questions concerning Coney Barrett’s legal credentials, legal philosophy, and her approach to the law. Hawley closes with the fervent wish that this confirmation process will see the final cessation of any faith issues attaching to appointment to office.