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.

Douglas Carswell – with and without paper.

Douglas Carswell MP is the Member of Parliament for Clacton. With Daniel Hannan he is co-author of The Plan – an excellently provocative book. He has a blog with a huge readership: he posts almost daily, and his posts are gratifyingly succinct. He is also author of the recently published and thought-provoking The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, a book of two halves as the title suggests. The first half is deliberately rather dispiriting and the second half is gloriously inspirational. I heartily recommend it: if you haven’t read it, treat yourself for Christmas.

In the May ’11 Auracle newsletter I included the following pair of speeches by him, as illustration of the difference between his delivery when reading from a script and when shooting from the hip.

Here is Carswell at a debate in Westminster Hall. As an example of great speaking it leaves a certain amount to be desired. I attribute much of this to the rather stilted style of debate that the environment and protocol probably dictate. At the very least he is obviously operating against immovable time constraints. Anyway, for whatever reason, he is using a script.

Here is the same man without a script. He begins speaking at 1:45.

The first example in Westminster Hall benefits by being far higher definition video footage. It took place nearly three years after the other example, so he has three more years of experience and maturity under his belt (at his age it is relatively significant). As an MP in a Westminster debate he is in more familiar surroundings, and addressing people that he probably knows. In other words he has almost everything going for him. Except the script. He is not bad with a script, but unless you are very skilled – like, for instance, Boris Johnson – there’s always that slight feeling that the words are coming off the page, in through the eyes and out through the mouth without really being processed en route. With whatever intensity he originally wrote the words and still feels the message, he is coming across as a bit of … a Talking Head.

In the second example the sound isn’t very good; the lighting isn’t helping the video quality; it’s probably being shot on a domestic camcorder so it’s relatively blurry. Also he was only 37 at the time, and there is noticeably less self-assurance in his demeanour: his nervousness shows in the way he fiddles with that folded piece of paper in his hands (his notes). And yet because he isn’t reading the speech you cannot help but feel that this man really means everything he is saying. The transparent sincerity is even enhanced by the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’.

The lesson to be learnt is that taking steps to rid yourself of the necessity for paper is really worthwhile. Don’t worry about the occasional error or halting delivery.  If anything that will enhance your standing with your audience.

It’s the live theatre effect. I tell my casts in stage shows not to worry about small errors. It is these, and the ever-present danger of total cock-up, that make live theatre more exciting.  Anyone who wants to see performances that are always seamlessly flawless should go and see a film.

You can break free of paper: The Face & Tripod will show you how.