Nigel Farage has stopped gurning!

In July 2013 Nigel Farage delivered a speech in Canada, at the invitation of Preston Manning. I rather think, though I have failed definitely to establish it, that the event took place at the Manning Centre in Calgary.

He begins at 1:50, but if you jump straight there you will miss Preston Manning’s introduction. There is a telling round of applause at 1:10, which shows us very clearly that, on this occasion at least, Farage is among friends and will be pushing against an open door. This will make a change from banging heads in Brussels.

As part of his preamble Farage utters at 2:17 a sentence that shows us very clearly that this speech was delivered last year and not this.

Farage is a good speaker.

He shoots from the hip of course, but that’s easy. The quality that will always grab an audience is transparent conviction and the willingness to express it. Farage has this by the bucketful, which is what puts his speaking so far above that of the leaders of the other three leading political parties in Britain. Detractors call him brash, but for people outside the Westminster bubble, bored with the duplicitous wittering of the witterati, that’s scarcely a criticism. Obvious sincerity will compensate for a dearth of speaking technique; and incidentally Farage is not short of technique.

I have a particular allergy to a habit some speakers have for telegraphing their gags. There is one alleged comic, based in Britain, who utters a loud “err!” just after every punch line, to cue the audience’s laughter. It occasionally works, but it’s so lame! Farage used habitually to pull a “here comes a good one” face, and I have written that he would do himself a favour if he stopped it. Nowadays it is so slight as to be essentially non-existent, and I applaud him for that.

Recently Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal-Democrat party in Britain, challenged Farage to a broadcast debate on the EU. Farage of course picked up the gauntlet, and suggested that Cameron and Ed Miliband should join the party. They hastily cited pressing appointments. It should be an interesting match nonetheless.

Cameron: wall-to-wall weasel words.

I am unable to describe this as a speech critique, since that title implies disinterest in the content. I have made it clear in the past that I chose to work on the skill of public speaking in the business rather than the political world as the latter’s oratorial requirements tend to fill me with contempt.  While driving to catch a train I listened on the radio to some of Cameron’s speech, and I was relieved to arrive at my destination and have a good reason to switch it off.  I have since forced myself to watch the whole thing.

At first I was puzzled at the wholesale joy with which the speech was greeted by even the most cynical and euro-sceptic members of the Conservative parliamentary party. My puzzlement was short-lived. Taken at its face-value the speech can be seen as undiluted triumph to any euro-sceptic. Any concern that remains hangs directly upon the Prime Minister’s credibility; and no parliamentary party member will publicly impugn his leader’s integrity except under circumstances far more immediately crisis-laden than this.

Nevertheless privately they will have spotted the plethora of weasel words. The nature of these critters is that they are tiny, thrown away, easily missed yet crucial.  For instance at 2:55 he talks of the EU needing to “retain” the support of its peoples. Retaining something assumes that it currently has it. Does it?  I don’t know, and neither does he or anyone else. The indications seem to be that it doesn’t. After all when France and the Netherlands held referenda on the European Constitution, both countries emphatically threw it out. The EU re-branded it as a ‘treaty’ and refused to ask them again. Blair and Brown tied themselves inside out, finding spurious arguments to avoid asking the British people, and I had the impression that similar pantomimes were being enacted in other countries also. The exception was Ireland whose own constitution insisted upon a referendum, and we all remember what happened there. The Irish voted ‘no’ and the same EU that always scorns referenda suddenly converted long enough to insist upon another. Assuming therefore, in defiance of available evidence, that the EU currently has the support of its peoples requires an Olympic leap of faith; yet with that tiny word “retain” Cameron did just that.  Weasel!

At 3:45 Cameron describes  the EU as “the anchor of freedom and democracy”. Democracy?  See my previous paragraph, and then also factor in how they unseated the elected premiers of both Greece and Italy in favour of their own placemen. Weasel! That democratic deficit, 500 million European people being disenfranchised by a few hundred bureaucrats, is for me the strongest case against the EU. EU apologists never address it. Cameron, of course, even implied the opposite.

The above came in addition to the oft-repeated, preposterous assertion – encapsulated in the ridiculous Nobel Peace Prize this year – that the EU had anything to do with the peace that has reigned in Europe since 1945. Are they really claiming that, but for the Common Fisheries Policy, we’d all be gripped by an uncontrollable urge to invade Poland?  When the EU’s devotees trot out this sort of demonstrable rubbish I find it very difficult to believe they are sincere, because I’d rather not believe that they are stupid.

At 5:10 he starts in on an analysis of the British national character. Do my ears deceive me or is he saying that being locked into the EU, which has raised protectionism to an art form, is indicative of Britain keeping its face open to the world?  Weasel!

This is the vein in which this garbage continues to spew out.

With my rhetor hat on I cringe at the sort of florid catalogues to which his speech-writer has subjected him and us.  At 4:20 is an example I can hardly bring myself to quote, but here goes, ” …from Caesar’s legions to the Napoleonic Wars, from the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the defeat of Nazism we have helped to write European History…” If I had included that in an essay at school it would have come back with a red line through it. Quite right too: it’s ghastly!

Also with my rhetor hat on, I have sadly to report that he resurrected that emetic device that appalled me at his 2011 Party conference speech. He periodically utters what he fondly believes to be purple passages straight to camera. That just oozes smarm! Watch him doing it, if you can bear, at 4:45. And it it is repeated often

The overall speech actually says nothing constructive. Though he does speak the dread words, “in/out referendum” the ifs, ans, and buts are so prolific that he has more escape routes than a black and white war-film. His record suggests that he’d use them too. I’d advise no one to hold their breath.

I have no political affiliation, rather disliking the party system – though understanding its practical advantages. I am old enough to have got the vote when ballot papers did not even include the party affiliations of candidates (I seem to remember it was not permitted till 1969).  I am passionate about democracy, and I have watched the political class salami-slice it away. A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, if it happens, will be a chance for the British demos to flex its muscles, rap the Establishment over its smug little knuckles and demand that they have the arguments put properly before them – rather than being palmed off with the bland assertions to which we have become accustomed. The gaping democratic deficit is probably enough to make me unswayable, but still I want a reason to open my mind enough for them to try.

I mentioned that Cameron’s speech has allowed him too much wriggle-room. Expect him, on his past record and that of the EU itself, to use it. But just suppose we do reach the day when a referendum actually gets officially put in the calendar. Stand by then for an acceleration of weasel. Cameron does here hark forward to that time. At 31:20 he actually attempts to equate leaving the EU with leaving NATO. How dare he!  The one involves every detail of our lives being subject to the petty whims of unaccountable pen-pushers: the other concerns solemn mutual defence treaties between independent sovereign countries against third party aggression. They are not remotely equivalent, and he knows it. I say again, how dare he!  It is that sort of thing that causes this speech to disgust me.

And there’s one further thing. At 37:00, in closing, he says that he will campaign to stay in “with all his heart and with all his soul”. What about all his whips? I wouldn’t put it past him.

Douglas Carswell spoke for this week – 16 months ago.

This is my one chance to post on this blog this week: I shall be working away for the rest of it. I read that it has been announced that the British Prime Minister’s postponed speech on the UK’s relationship with the EU is now scheduled to take place in London this Wednesday morning. Therefore this offering by Douglas Carswell seems pertinent. He was speaking at a meeting of the Tax Payers’ Alliance at the Conservative Party Conference in September 2011.

First sentence: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we need an in/out referendum”. Not a lot of ambiguity is cluttering up the landscape at this point. He has something to say, and seems to have given the speech a Face. The opening statement is immediately followed by statistics concerning the support it has; and that in turn is hotly pursued by perhaps his most telling theme at this juncture. He prepares us for a lengthy paralipsis.

He makes the point that this should not be merely a drive for us to leave the EU, that the expected result of a referendum should not have any bearing on whether it takes place, but that a referendum should be held simply because it is the right thing to do. And then comes that paralipsis. For the above reason we must “put to one side”… and there follows a long list of what we must “put to one side” and not here discuss.  Each item in the list has just a sentence or two attached to it, with just enough there to make his sympathetic audience bridle each time a little more at the way the EU interferes wrongly with our lives. That process lasts more than a minute. If you want an illustration of paralipsis as a rhetorical device, here it is. It also represents a pleasing example of anaphora, because for each element in that list he begins with, “we must put to one side…”

There follows an extended argument concerning why it is the right thing to do – Conservatives, Labour and Libdem leaderships have all in the past promised it, all have reneged, so the question can hardly be settled by a general election. All those parties contain plenty of supporters for a referendum. The democratic deficit must be cut. The AV referendum demonstrated how easily it could be done.  Etc. He also points out what a mess the Westminster elite have made of it so far.

Any regular reader of this blog is likely to be wearily familiar with my hate for paper-driven speaking. For the first three and a half minutes Carswell’s notes on the table persist in occasionally drawing his eyes, and every time his rhythm suffers. Thereafter he warms to his theme and is transformed. The argument just pours out of him that bureaucrats, practitioners of top-down design, can hardly be trusted to make a balanced judgement on bowing to the will of the people. He’s magnificent then, so why does he not so arrange his material that all the speech has the fluency of the last seven and a half minutes? It is not difficult to do.

[I’m going to beat a personal drum here on the theme of this speech. I want an in/out referendum for a reason that none of these people ever seem to raise – Carswell didn’t, though he did urge his audience to “trust the people”. I want it not so much for the referendum but the attendant campaign. I am sick of being metaphorically patted on the hand and told by some monumentally unimpressive SW1-type not to worry my pretty little head about it. I want both sides’ arguments right out there: the cost/benefit analyses, the proper on-air debates between equal and opposite heavyweights, the blithe assertions properly challenged. I couldn’t give a tuppenny toss that some dreary plutocrat (still less a dozy bureaucrat) wants us to stay in, unless we have his/her reasons properly argued. And the more the referendum is deferred the more I infer that the above is exactly what the eu-phile camp wants to avoid.]

Carswell closes by obliquely pointing out that the UK is not the only country suffering a democratic deficit from the EU, and that an initiative by Britain might generate a domino effect so that half a billion Europeans, currently disenfranchised, might finally have a say.

Who’s up for a game of bullshit bingo on Wednesday?  Is anyone making a book on the weasel-word-count? Will I, next weekend, be writing a critique on a brilliant bit of statesmanship or another spineless cop-out?  Will the speech, indeed, be delayed once more? Let us see.

2012 Political Party Conferences

Last year I devoted two Auracle newsletters to analysing speeches from all four main party leaders. This year I restrict myself to brief summaries.

I can summarise them communally.  Much better all round than last year. I have to add a rider with an observation I have made before, namely that people in my niche – business executives – could not get away with spouting some of those toe-curling banalities. “I believe we should leave the world a better place than we found it.” Can you imagine the tumbleweed moment that would greet that if one of my trainees dared utter it? One of the party leaders did; and it was greeted with applause. Today I have firmly put their content beyond my brief.

I will address them chronologically.

Nigel Farage consistently fulfils Cardinal 1: he always has strong, clear messages. He was more matter-of-fact and less bellicose than he can be, and thus conveyed an air of increased maturity. Also he has learnt to avoid pulling silly faces to signal that he has a joke brewing. He remained dead-pan while describing van Rompuy as his good friend, and was rewarded with a bigger and better laugh.

Nick Clegg was incomparably better than his defensive, insipid and fractious offering to the March conference at The Sage.  From a good robust opening that culminated in 12-second applause at 2:32, on through a well-placed anaphora at 3:38, this was a very good speech.  He had notes, but he barely looked: he shot this speech from the hip.  No doubt the backdrop of party faithful (also present for Miliband) is something that focus groups and consultants have insisted upon; but not only do I dislike the practice, I feel sorry for the individuals concerned. Constantly on camera they have to sit still and look interested.  Imagine how many votes a yawn could cost!  I would like to work on Clegg’s diction.  It seems to be clear, but too much goes AWOL.

Ed Miliband presented a delivery that was light-years improved on last year. Someone (not I) has tried to get him into the ‘note-free conversational sincerity’ style that I preach. If you rammed me against a wall, demanding a guess, I’d hazard that a stand-up comic has been working with him. A monumental non sequitur in the first minute signalled to me that he was not as relaxed as he was trying to convey. Also sometimes this casual style looked a little as if it had been painted on by numbers as opposed to coming from within; but a huge amount of progress has been achieved. He included a pretty epistrophe, beginning at 17:00, but I shall not comment further on his material.

David Cameron drove me nuts last year with a dreadful trick of periodically delivering what was fondly believed to be a killer sentence straight to camera. It was excruciatingly smarmy. Clearly someone else thought so too, because this year that gimmick had been euthanized. We know he can speak without notes: he did it when campaigning for the party leadership. Why then was he using Autocue here? I think the answer probably has to do with shortage of time, the pressure of office, and large amounts of data. Though the delivery was less sexy than Miliband’s, it was more secure. He is evidently seeking to portray statesmanship while avoiding the epideictic nonsense that we found in All Gore a few posts ago.

I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for those that work on these speeches. It’s too easy for me to criticise from the wings. They have to thread their way through a horrendous minefield of competing criteria. If ever I were called in on a job like that, I would try very hard to restrict my terms of reference to diction and demeanour in delivery, and abdicate any responsibility for the rubbish they were called upon to utter. And that is why I shall very probably never be called.