A reader in the USA, Chun Chan, recently wrote to me suggesting that I should examine the speaking of two of my countrymen. We looked at Douglas Murray a couple of weeks ago: today it is the turn of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Chun suggested a speech that starts at 2:11:35 here. It is a very good example of J.R-M’s speaking skill even though it takes place in the relatively formal environment of the British House of Commons; but I hope Chun will forgive me if I turn instead to his performance in the bear-pit atmosphere of the Oxford Union.
There was a debate in late October 2013 on the motion, This House believes that the EU is a threat to democracy. J.R-M was speaking for the proposition.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has an accent even more plummy than mine. He makes me sound like Ali G. His Wikipedia page suggests that this has been a hindrance in his career; but it also says that he defies the matter. Good. Like everyone else on the planet, the most interesting, engaging and compelling he can be is when he is himself. Furthermore an accent, like any mannerism, is only distracting if the speaker is boring. J.R-M dramatically fails to be tedious.
He is a very good speaker. He shoots from the hip; he is fluent, articulate, compelling, and his arguments are well assembled for maximum clarity.
The only cause for a slap on the wrist in this instance is that he exceeds his time by nearly three minutes. Thirty percent over-run is grounds for the naughty step. We can quickly find how it happened: he spends nearly three minutes gleefully and ruthlessly filleting the opposition’s previous arguments. This is excellent but no excuse, because it is predictable. Surely he realised that they were likely to say things with which he disagreed? Surely he had enough confidence in his own ability to swat them? Surely he knew himself well enough to realise that he would be unable to resist the temptation to do so? He should therefore have allotted a section of his time for the indulgence of this.
The speech is fun to watch, and J.R-M blasts away with a will; but it’s a bit of a turkey shoot. You could hold a debate on many aspects of the European Union, and I really want the UK to do so, but the democratic deficit is such a gaping cavern that it’s hard to see where there could be much of a challenging argument. I look forward to watching speakers from the opposition. I am fascinated to see what they try to say.
There is, of course, the definition of ‘democracy’. There are regimes who appear to define it as a dictatorship that strives for the good of the people, with or without the consent of the people, not even bothering to ask the people. I tend to assume that it is by this rationalisation that East Germany (German Democratic Republic) could in the past and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea) can in the present use these names with anything approaching a straight face. The EU often pontificates pompously on democracy, lecturing and hectoring on the subject. They must be assuming the same mindset as Kim Jong-un.
Having an easy argument to win doesn’t make the speech one jot easier to make. As a spectator sport, watching the daylights being kicked out of a marshmallow begins to pall after a minute. Jacob Rees-Mogg maintains the entertainment to the very end.