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.

Jim DeMint displays personable warmth

On 22 May 2015 – just a couple of weeks after the UK General Election – the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) presented their Edmund Burke Award to Jim DeMint, President of the Heritage Foundation. Daniel Hannan, Secretary-General of the AECR Board, having made the presentation DeMint opened his acceptance speech with a comment addressed to him.

“Daniel, if I could only speak with as much fire and passion as you can…”

I wish I could watch the speech to which he refers. A handful of weeks ago I was complaining that Dan Hannan didn’t put enough fire and passion into his speaking.

DeMint’s principal failing in this speech is familiar to all regulars of this blog. He is reading it. Every fault in the flow is caused by that alone. Whenever he inserts an ad lib ‘aside’ his fluency leaps up. His nervousness at the beginning (what I call The Hump) is prolonged way beyond its natural life simply because of his adherence to that script. He could easily throw it away. He doesn’t know he could, but he could. His engagement with his audience and his enjoyment of the whole process would soar.

DeMint is personable. He addresses his audience with a quiet warmth that is appealing. This causes me to reflect upon a particular dissonance in politics.

The left claim the high moral ground, declaring they represent the philosophy of love and care. They portray the right as hating and uncaring. Only last week in Britain we saw video footage of delegates and press arriving at the Conservative Party Conference, and having to run a gauntlet of screaming, shouting, and spitting. I can never remember the equivalent happening to arrivals at a conference of a left-wing party. So who here is displaying hate?

DeMint is a leading member of the Tea Party movement, whose central philosophy is one of low tax, small government and individual freedom and responsibility. Yet the image painted by their political opponents is one of raging racism and hate. I invite you to watch this man speak, listen to what he says, and try to spot the raging racism and hate. If you fail to find any of either, what does that tell you about those who accuse him?

All those I have met who share his political persuasion also share a belief in people. They want them to have more control over their own lives, trusting them to live up to that responsibility. Does that sound like hate to you?

Professional acting is not for adults

Sir Alec Guinness, so the story goes, had just delivered a talk to a school when a boy rushed up to him. “Sir, sir,” said the boy eagerly, “I want to be an actor when I grow up.” The Great Man looked at him a little pityingly.   “My dear boy,” he said, “you can’t do both.”

When I was a stagestruck teenager, I saw a TV interview with Alfred Hitchcock. He made me bridle at his patronizing attitude to actors. These were my gods, and he referred to them as if they were not very bright children. It was not till I became a professional actor that I found he was right. That was one reason that, despite having enjoyed a certain measure of success, I packed the profession in: I wanted to spend my working hours in an environment of more intellectual weight.

There were exceptions, of course. but in general I found that actors who lived by artifice were so focused on skin-deep appearance that they held opinions that were built on sand, opinions that were as shallow as damp linoleum. “All you need is love” rather summed it up. It was not that my opinion sometimes differed from theirs, it was that they were incapable of backing up their arguments with anything more substantial than what made them feel good.

I said that there were exceptions, and I know that the shallowness of the theatrical existence is a source of pain to many pros. A hugely successful actor with whom I worked in the 60s was recently quoted in an interview as saying the whole business was bullshit. This morning we awoke to the tragic news that Robin Williams had apparently taken his own life. I would not dream of claiming that it was shallow showbiz rather than pathological depression that caused him to die by his own hand, but I don’t suppose it helped.

Daniel Hannan, who is no stranger to readers here, recently tweeted a fresh link to an article he blogged in April 2011. In it he pondered why actors get treated by the media as omniscient, and get invited to pronounce on so many unsuitable topics.

The answer is simple. They are unusually articulate. Articulacy is their stock-in-trade. That, coupled with the fame that will cause viewers and listeners to pay attention, makes them a gift to producers. Who cares that they have nothing worth saying when they say it so beautifully? And the relationship is symbiotic: performing fleas can keep their names and faces in the public consciousness by popping up all over the media.

The ones who actually have something worth saying tend to keep their own counsel.

I now have the best job in the world. I get to work with people of substance who are bright; who create things and wealth and jobs; who may have opinions at odds with mine but who defend them with data. My role is to liberate their latent coherence and make them at least as articulate as any actor. And I am told I am good at it. So when I drive home after delivering coaching, and if on the radio I hear some tiresome luvvie elegantly spouting hollow drivel, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am redressing the articulacy imbalance, one person at a time.

Eamonn Butler – what a pity!

On 13 February, 2014, the Oxford Union held a debate on the motion, This House Believes Thatcher Saved Britain. Speaking for the motion was Eamonn Butler.

The audience enjoys his opening gambit. Hard on its heels, he makes a reference to something a previous speaker had said, and he harvests an even bigger laugh. He plays the audience a little more, tickling them with some gently quirky stuff, letting them recover themselves, and when they are least expecting it he hits them with an absolute beauty, and floors them! This is seriously skilful use of humour. Very few people – and I include stand-up comedians here – will reap a round of applause for a joke this early. What a fabulous opening! I don’t remember seeing better.

And then he turns to his cue cards, and a huge amount of the impetus he has wonderfully created goes gurgling down the drain.

Watch carefully, and you will see that whenever he looks down at his cards his fluency suffers. Over and over again he lifts his head, shoots a short section from the hip, regains some momentum thereby, looks back down again and immediately it’s as if he has hit the brake pedal. That use of paper is disastrous.

Why do I keep banging on about this in this blog?  Because they nearly all do it. Why do they do it? Because they think they have to. Why do they think they have to? Two reasons –

  1. they don’t know how to structure their material well enough to make paper redundant, and
  2. they don’t believe that even then they could manage without it.

But they could. Anyone can.

Butler isn’t anyone: potentially he is phenomenally good. His use of humour – not just the selection of excellent material, but the superbly timed delivery – show that. Incidentally he doesn’t use up all the humour in his opening: he hits them several more times – and always unexpectedly.

A month or two ago, when dealing with a speech by Dan Hannan in this same hall, I stressed how important it is to be scrupulously courteous when dealing with heckling – or the more subdued equivalent that you get in this environment. Watch how Butler handles an interruption. Yes, it is courteous … isn’t it? Or is getting an enormous laugh at the expense of the questioner by use of a single word a form of discourtesy? You decide.

In my wake, as a speaking coach, there are several hundred people – very few of them with anything approaching this man’s natural skill – who have cheerfully waved goodbye to the use of script or notes. You may therefore imagine with what frustration I see this speech so sadly diminished by the speaker’s dependence on bloody paper.

What a pity!

Theodore Dalrymple: finger-lickin’ talking head

In November 2013 The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion, “This House Believes Socialism Will Not Work”. We have recently looked at speeches by Daniel Hannan for the proposition and Katy Clark for the opposition. Today we turn again to the proposition to examine a speech by Theodore Dalrymple.

Before I go any further let me comment on that still picture that illustrates the video. He is about to lick his fingers the better to turn a page. Any regular reader knows what I plan to say about that, but first allow me to quote from my book The Face & Tripod.

“If you lick your fingers to turn (or slide) pages, it not only looks slightly naff but they dry out very quickly so you have to keep repeating the naffness. If you smear lip-salve on your fingers beforehand, you should not need to lick them.”

If you think it odd that someone who is as averse as I to using scripts should nevertheless offer advice on doing so, you haven’t read the book. There are occasions when a script is unavoidable.

This is not such an occasion – or shouldn’t be. That still picture tells you that, though a doctor who has probably presented many papers, Dalrymple is a talking head and has not properly learnt how to speak in public. Which is a pity because he has a lot to say that is worth saying.

I have for many years enjoyed reading his articles, and periodically dip into the kindle version of a collection of his essays entitled Anything Goes. I am currently 48% through it (O the joys of digital precision!). He is very widely travelled, and has experienced life at its rawest. He is widely considered dyspeptic and pessimistic, but humour hides not far below the surface. (A professed atheist who assumes a pen name with ‘Theodore’ in it has his tongue not far from his cheek.)

There’s humour in this speech, and the humour harvests laughs. His material is good, but it is written material. I have made the point many times in this blog that written English and spoken English are subtly but significantly different beasties.

Dalrymple is idiosyncratic. I like idiosyncratic. He is opinionated. I like opinionated. He has the wisdom to have resisted shop-window pieties like political correctness. He is able to express regard for his fellow man without lapsing into the moist-eyed misanthropy that is so fashionable.

I have never met him, but I would like to – not least for the opportunity to tear that bloody paper out of his hands and show him how easily he could do without it and how much better his public speaking would then become.

Daniel Hannan inspires at Runnymede

[I posted this in January 2014.  This month, June 2015,  sees the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, so this seems an appropriate time to revisit the speech. Also you should see a new video Hannan has made at Runnymede.]

On Friday 13 September, 2013, The Freedom Association hosted a lecture at Runnymede entitled

Magna Carta: the Secular Miracle of the English Speaking Peoples.

It was delivered by Daniel Hannan; and my being currently about halfway through his excellent book How we invented freedom & why it matters I have to say that choosing him for this lecture was not merely inspired but downright inevitable. Not only is he a magnificent speaker, not only has he studied Magna Carta’s historical significance in considerable depth but there was no danger whatever of his breaking the first Cardinal Rule in my book, The Face & Tripod. He was never going to limit himself to speaking about Magna Carta: he was always going to drive an impassioned message on the subject.

I don’t expect regular readers of this blog to expect me to do much here except use up my year’s supply of superlatives before 2014 is a week old. Indeed this is a copy-book example of speech-making. Unless you happen to be a student of speaking you could well stop here and just enjoy a fabulous lecture. Nevertheless if Hannan were consulting me there is one facet of his delivery on which I should dearly like to work.

He is speaking in the open air (never easy), competing with the sound of falling rain and periodic passing aeroplanes, and I am certain he is not amplified. He has a microphone clipped to his tie but I believe that to be only to supply a clean audio feed for this video. This means we are hearing him from a range of about eight inches. His audience is rather further away than that, and it is the way he is projecting that persuades me that there is no PA system. It is a very tough test of vocal delivery. Can you spot what he is doing wrong?

His vocal projection is that of the super-conscientious. His enunciation is excellent without suffering from death-by-consonants. So what’s my beef?

He commits disproportionate syllable stress. If you have a look at this posting (and I hope you do) you will see where I have discussed it before and save me having to repeat myself too much, except that here I have a recording for illustration. Before I begin citing illustrative examples, though, I invite you to look briefly at 11:29 in the video. There you get an idea of the distance of his audience. Remember, you and I are hearing him from only 8 inches away so you need to imagine how much of what we hear will have been dissipated on the way to his audience.

Here is a far-from-comprehensive list of syllables (and sometimes whole words or even phrases) that are faint, or in some cases almost inaudible. Unless otherwise stated, they are at the ends of the words or phrases. 4:12 “victory”; 5:88 “Englishmen”; 7:30 “foundation of modern freedom” (almost all of that was lost); 8:40 “not the king’s law”; 11:05 “as it were” (I had to replay that to check on what he said); 18:40 “authoritarianism” (I think).

Just as with Bill Stuart-White in that posting of mine in August, this flaw comes not from laziness but from a laudable desire to be expressive. There are occasions when Hannan deliberately goes very quiet for reasons of drama, and I have no quarrel with that – though I urge him to turn up the sibilance when he does – but he still needs to make every syllable heard. It’s something I discuss at length (along with my own journey down this very same path!) in my little booklet, Every Word Heard.

I have devoted five paragraphs to picking nits off nits. I wouldn’t have bothered, except Daniel Hannan is about as good as they get. When you have worked hard enough to get that close to excellence, people like me owe you the homage of showing you how close you are.

Christopher Monckton – very good indeed!

Search online for references to Christopher Monckton and you quickly learn that he does not have opponents so much as enemies. You also learn how often those enemies have managed to find excuses not to debate him. Let’s find out the reasons for both of those. Here he is speaking to the International Free Press Society in Canada in March 2012.

He is introduced by Eva Ryten, Director of IFPS, Canada. By her own claim she had just three minutes notice, but the introduction is delivered with fluency and assurance – even through the few ‘ums’ and ‘errs’. She completed it in two minutes and even included an amusing anecdote. She’s good.

Monckton is very good. He epitomises the current fashion for conversational sincerity. He delivers material that is beautifully arranged for maximum coherence and impact, and does so with crystal clarity. Grudgingly I highlight his capacity for delivering a lengthy address, filled with data, without the aid of script or notes. It earns the highlight because it is so rare. I am grudging because it should not be rare. It is easy. All my trainees can do it.

He begins at 2:13 and ends at 28:05. The rest is Q&A. The questions range widely in their subject matter but his answers are every bit as coherently answered, and still without paper.

When we are looking at someone this good, it is time for me to get out my finest nit-picking tweezers. He adjusts the microphones, and does so correctly: when he speaks there is no popping. So far so good.

His first words bother me. “My Lords – that’s me…”. I’m sorry, but even a humorous, self-mocking reference to your own peerage is slightly tacky. I know it has become a sensitive subject for him, with people challenging whether he is actually a peer. He is: he’s a viscount by inheritance but the doubt arrived via the fact that he may not sit or vote in the upper house since its reforms. Perhaps that’s why this is in there and I’ve seen him use it on other occasions; but if I were advising him it would be cut.

It is immediately followed by a well-road-tested throwaway line, “I can’t wait to hear what I’m going to say.” It’s not original, but who cares?  it’s a good one.

And then…

“A prostitute, a politician and an engineer were in a bar…”. Anyone who has done a course with me – or even read my book – will tell you that this is virtually guaranteed not to get a laugh. Sure enough, it doesn’t. Was it meant to?  I’m not altogether sure. It has a message that is at least semi-serious and might have exonerated it but he adds a detail concerning “a viscount’s coronet and an old-Harrovian tie”. Re-read my previous paragraph and know why I’d want to remove the whole thing. My only hesitation comes from uncertainty concerning the research he has conducted into this audience (one of them is wearing a Guards’ tie). It may be that he has satisfied himself that this sort of thing will resonate well with them. He does need here about a minute of something to get the audience settled, but I’d be inclined to find something else. If he is particularly enamoured of this story – and in fairness it is a good one – then he should use it elsewhere in the speech.

Regular readers might have noticed how I get mightily exercised about the first minute or two of a speech, often merely referring to the whole of the rest in relatively few words. A speech is like the flight of an aeroplane inasmuch as most of the crucial danger is in the take-off and landing. Once it’s up it largely looks after itself – particularly if the pilot is as expert as this. Monckton lays out his case and expresses it with ruthless power. Small wonder his opponents’ fear has morphed into hatred.

I earlier mentioned conversational sincerity which is the style that audiences seek nowadays. The Monckton variety has none of the silky smoothness of Hannan nor the buffoonery of Boris – though funnily enough, off the platform, he often uses buffoonery to draw attention to his cause. His speaking delivery is matter-of-fact and deliberate, in fact it is blunt. Not for the first time in this blog I find myself drawn to the quotation from W.B.Yeats – Think like a wise man but express yourself like the common people. He speaks slowly in order to be thoroughly understood. Any slower and it might seem patronising. Where Hannan embellishes with elegant phrasing and erudite quoting, Monckton underpins his arguments with truckloads of data and devastating logic. He has done his homework; and if you debated him you would be very foolish not to have done yours, and even more foolish to attempt to fudge any facts.

Perhaps that’s why his enemies seem to restrict themselves to ad hominem sniping from a safe distance.

[added 17/3/13 – or they use fair means or foul to try to prevent his being heard at all. How confident is anyone of their argument when they seek to silence opposing views?]