Damian Green not a copper’s nark

The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion “This House Has No Confidence in Her Britannic Majesty’s Police Force“. It is by any measure a sensitive subject so I intend to cover four of the speeches in the debate.

I have already examined speeches by Anthony Stansfeld, Graham Stringer MP, and David Davis MP. Finally, today, we look at the speech in opposition from Damian Green MP.

Damian Green used to be a TV presenter. Before that he was in radio. For nine years he was a broadcast journalist, and for twice as long as that he has been a Member of Parliament. Many might assume that this would guarantee his public speaking skill. My experience shows that this is not necessarily so. For one thing broadcasters don’t see their audience, and for another Members of Parliament do too much of their speaking in the chamber where everything is rather stylized. Let’s see.

This is an amusing opening. The audience enjoys it enough not only to laugh, but one person tries to applaud.

He has at his disposal various pieces of weighty ethos, not least his spell as Police Minister, but he mentions that only obliquely. Instead he brings up his arrest in 2008, on suspicion of “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”. While he was in opposition, a junior civil servant had leaked him documents that seemed to indicate failings on behalf of the government’s handling of Home Affairs. The arrest was highly controversial, seemed to be entirely political, and he was released without charge after a few hours questioning. Politicians on all sides were intensely critical of the actions of the police. This story might seem at first sight almost to be reverse ethos, till Green points out that no one will now accuse him of being a ‘copper’s nark’.

The speech is well delivered. Like David Davis he looks at his papers very sparingly and then usually to get a name right in some story. After the comedy of the first minute, this is coldly focused purely on the arguments he is promoting.

He tells the notorious story of the cold-blooded gunning down of two unarmed police officers, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, just two days into his spell as Police Minister. He is illustrating the deadly hazards of being a police officer, but surely this is a straw man argument. Everyone knows that the police have a dangerous job, but how can this excuse corruption like the manufacture of evidence or the taking of bribes? Being the victim of persecution does not paint you virtuous: how you react to it might, but the police too often not reacting properly is the other side’s case.

In terms of his debating strategy he seems too eager to chase down these blind alleys. He does it right up to his parting shot, “…recognize that the police out there are doing a tough job, and that most of them do it really well” That’s virtually saying, “…only some of them are villains”. Or try this, “It’s really difficult being a brain surgeon, and most of them won’t kill you.”

I haven’t been able to find out which side won the debate, but on the basis of the speeches I’ve heard I know which way I’d have voted.

Graham Stringer: apologetically formidable

The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion “This House Has No Confidence in Her Britannic Majesty’s Police Force“. It is by any measure a sensitive subject so I intend to cover four of the speeches in the debate.

I have already examined a speech by Anthony Stansfeld, and I shall be covering one by Damian Green MP both in opposition. The proposition speeches were from Graham Stringer MP and David Davis MP, and today we examine the former.

My word, but that’s a very clever opening! He immediately conveys sorrow that he finds himself on this side of the debate. He takes no satisfaction in criticizing the police force. Also he tells us that he had expected to be debating with the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester who has failed to appear – perhaps because he is currently under criminal investigation. In the process of telling us this he has also added the ethos that he is a Member of Parliament for Manchester.

I have watched this opening several times and am convinced that he is sincere. If not this would have been not just very clever but desperately devious, because his case is virtually home and dry in less than two minutes. Nevertheless he hastens to tell us that this is not the main burden of his argument. That comes perilously close to paralipsis, and less than a minute later there’s an example that comes even closer.

Graham Stringer is a formidable debater. His apologetic demeanour camouflages great skill.

He proceeds to recount some very telling, Manchester-based, examples of appalling police negligence. He gets quite impassioned during this process, so much so that words tumble over themselves and certain sentences come out wrong. It doesn’t matter: these are Neil Armstrong moments that illustrate the strength of his feeling.

He closes with a reiteration of his sadness to be criticizing a force that contains so many fine and conscientious officers. I sense the audience with him all the way. He is good.


P.S. Stringer told us that one of his opponents had failed to show up, yet the opposition had the full complement of speakers. That possibly explains Sam Barker. Barker had puzzled me. He is young, possibly still a student, and all the signs are that he is prodigiously talented as a speaker. He has good stage presence, yet his speech, despite being quite skillfully fashioned, is pretty hollow. It has a Face, “Who do you call?”  but not much else. Could it be that he has stepped in at the last minute to fill the gap has thrown a speech together largely in his head and shot it from the hip? David Davis obviously enjoys the effort, and is right to do so.

Sam Barker: remember the name. I am sure we are going to come across it in future.

Anthony Stansfeld – gelded by paper

The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion “This House Has No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Police Force“. It is by any measure a sensitive subject so I intend to cover four of the speeches in the debate. By the way, in case there be any doubt, the Majesty in question is Her Britannic Majesty.

I shall be examining speeches by Anthony Stansfeld and Damian Green MP in opposition, and Graham Stringer MP and David Davis MP in proposition. I start with Anthony Stansfeld

What an extraordinary opening sentence! What was he trying to achieve with it? It has nothing to do with the matter in hand. Was it a clumsy attempt at ethos, waving his PC credentials at his audience through his association with a conference on Female Genital Mutilation? He could merely have told us that he was a police commissioner.

Oh dear! He’s reading, and not very well. His audience is instantly switched off to a measurable degree – listen to the onset of coughing.

At 1:05, just as the camera cuts away to David Davis looking underwhelmed, Stansfeld suddenly sounds more genuine. He is recounting, interestingly and relevantly, how he led an investigation into the Hong Kong police some years previously. We see Davis’ face turn back to him in interest, but we have to wait till the camera cuts back to Stansfeld to find that he has lifted his eyes from the script and temporarily is shooting from the hip.

That half-minute passage is infinitely stronger than what preceded it and, sadly, what follows it, because having concluded his Hong Kong story he pauses and returns tediously to his bloody script. We can’t see him but I can imagine David Davis yawning. Right there you have a really dramatic example of what I bang on about in this blog ad nauseam. Too few people know how easy it is to dispense with any paper assistance whatever forever.

If I had advised him I would have kicked the FGM reference into the long grass and opened with the Hong Kong story, which is powerful ethos; and then I’d have created with him, and stories that I would probe out of him, a structure wherein he could have shot the entire speech from the hip. That would have made a strong and compelling argument, instead of the insipid series of bromidic recycled platitudes that he reads to us here. Camera shots of the audience show them to be no more whelmed than David Davis.

What puzzles me is Stansfeld’s service background. In my experience the British armed forces are very good at getting their people to speak well. I have worked with many retired service personnel and merely had to steer them towards a more civilian- or business-friendly focus. All I can assume is that since becoming a Police Commissioner he has been infected with Civil Service politically safe blandness. In public speaking that amounts to castration.

What a pity!

John Waters: The People’s Pervert

On 30 May, 2015, John Waters delivered a Commencement Address to students at Rhode Island School of Design. I am indebted to a reader of this blog, and friend, Duncan Goldie-Scot for drawing it to my attention.

I discourage speakers from trying to get a laugh out of a hierarchical hello [hh]. This is because, by their very nature, these things nearly always crop up on heavyweight occasions. Here we have a speaker who is of the same mind. He has obviously been brought in to be as subversive as possible, yet he delivers his hh dead straight. He beams at the audience’s applause immediately the hh finishes, but he doesn’t monkey with it during the saying.

Immediately thereafter the subversion begins. He launches into an ethos the equal of which none of us is likely to have heard before or will hear again. Waters is studiously one of a kind and wants us to know it. He quotes an epithet attached to him by the press, “The Prince of Puke”. Also did you think I dreamed up that title above? It is lifted, untampered, from this speech.

There is an interesting detail, though. He concludes the ethos by quoting that People’s Pervert title, and then, “I am honoured to be here today with my people”. This is instantly greeted by whoops and applause from the students. Waters returns another beaming smile; but whereas the beam that concluded the hh was full of triumph and delight, this one is rather shy.

He launches into an account of his extraordinary career, “I wanted to be the filthiest person alive!” That pretty well sums it up. His message to the students is that they should in their work be true to themselves, however mad and artistically disruptive that might appear to the rest of the world.

The students lap it up, and presumably the school staff booked him with their eyes open, but I wonder how the students’ parents are enjoying it. I foresee family arguments wherein a need to support themselves fights against a compulsion to create things for which the world is not ready. Some of these students will earn good and secure money designing for large corporations, others may travel today’s equivalence of painting feverishly in the South of France, fighting against mental illness, cutting off an ear, dying penniless and leaving a legacy of work that will keep auction houses in a manner to which they want to be accustomed. Most will hover somewhere in between, jealous of the ones on the extremes.

That is the nature of art and the tragedy of artists. I’ve known many: even some fairly mad ones. You might expect the most outlandish, the ones that fearlessly produce stuff that seems to make no sense at all or that outrages your sensibilities, to be hard-nosed and thick-skinned. Not so. In my experience, the crazier they are the more insecure. And that takes me straight back to the shy smile that John Waters gave the warmth of the students’ welcome. He’s been hugely successful, but I see vulnerability. Perhaps it is that which helps to make this speech not just funny but so appealing.

I just wish he hadn’t thought he had to read it. Also, if you are going to say “Prince of Puke” and People’s Pervert” you need to learn how not to pop the microphone.

Redmond O’Hanlon: still crazy after all these years

There is a quotation attributed to Danny Kaye –

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.

I had a school friend. In fact we were together at two consecutive schools. That means we spent the best part of a decade being educated at the same establishments. On balance I’d say he was marginally less naughty than I, though it was a close thing. In half a century since then I have periodically caught sight of his distinguished career as a naturalist, explorer and author, throwing more paint on his canvas than would be good for most people’s health. He is Redmond O’Hanlon, and having one day online caught sight of a video of his making a speech, I had to go and look.

For heaven’s sake! Whoever posted this video could have chosen a better still picture.

The absence of ethos tells me that either he has been introduced or that he is so well known to this audience that introduction and/or ethos is redundant. The easy-going opening, together with his casual garb, rather reinforces the opinion. A warm decorum is established: he and his audience are comfortable with each other. If I am wrong and he was previously unknown to these people, I doff my cap. Nothing can relax an audience more quickly or thoroughly than a speaker treating them like old friends. The tactic is not speaker-proof: unseemly over-familiarity can be counter-productive. O’Hanlon has got it right.

There follows a stream of fascinating and delightful anecdotage.

It is idle and wrong to assume that if you have been to interesting places and seen interesting things and had interesting experiences then anecdotage just falls into place. To be a raconteur requires real skill.

You have to play to your strength. Peter Ustinov, for instance, was a superb mimic and used that ability to make his stories sparkle. O’Hanlon has written several successful books recounting his travels, so he is practised at painting word-pictures to make his stories come alive. Nevertheless, as we have observed very many times in this blog, writing is not the same as speaking and being good at the one does not automatically make you good at the other.

O’Hanlon has one particular quality on his side: he is prepared to make a fool  of himself. He waves his hands around, he makes silly noises, and the audience enjoys it. But still, lest any reader thinks that I’ve revealed a golden secret, that tactic is not speaker-proof either. I don’t know whether he had to die a few times before he got it right, or whether it was always a natural ability, but he’s got it right now. This is a lovely piece of speaking and great fun to watch.

Speaking personally I am delighted to find that age has not wearied him nor the years condemned. More importantly, he remains as charmingly bonkers as I remember. That is (you might say) satisfactory.

Aaron Porter and butter

The Oxford Union has recently posted videos of a debate held with the motion – This House Believes Popular Support is Enough to Justify a Platform. I find it depressing that such a motion is even regarded as worthy of debate in a prestigious seat of learning. Unpopular support is enough to justify a platform: no support is enough to justify a platform. Stick a box at Speakers’ Corner or any appropriate place, climb on it, start speaking and you have a platform – a justified platform. If no one listens that’s your problem. If people dislike or disapprove what you say they walk away and leave you lecturing the pigeons. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the concept: it’s a quaint little custom called Free Speech.

At random I’ve picked a speech in this debate. Aaron Porter is speaking in opposition.

Porter speaks well. If you don’t know who he is and have not clicked the link on his name let me tell you that he used to be President of the National Union of Students in the United Kingdom. Doing a fair amount of speaking would obviously come with that territory, so you might expect him to be good – though this blog has shown that it does not necessarily follow.

Right at the beginning he gives us ethos. Without directly doing so he waves his NUS credentials at us, harvesting some applause in the process. I can’t tell you how much, because an unsubtle editing point reveals that it was cut.

He lays out his stall. His opposition is in the lack of qualification in the motion. So within seconds he reveals himself as a ‘butter’. He classifies himself one of those who believe in free speech, but… There’s a very old saying that everything before “but” is bullshit, and this is no exception. Butters do not believe in free speech. Nevertheless he is free to speak so let us listen on.

He uses butter words like “safe”, “comfortable”, “trusted”.

Speech is not free unless it can be uncomfortable and unsafe. And as for being trusted – well – trusted by whom? And how do they know till they hear it? And why should anyone give a toss what a self-regarding little boy chooses to trust?

Since he is picking at the actual wording of the motion, so shall I. He seems to assume that the provision of a platform is implicit in the motion – but he’s wrong. The wording of the motion speaks of ‘a’ platform, not this platform nor any specific platform. Of course a Society like the Oxford Union, or any private club, is entitled to foster its blinkered prejudice and willful ignorance by denying its platform to anyone they please, but that’s none of the motion’s concern. The motion’s concern is in the denying of others the opportunity to say or hear what they choose. When people arrogate the right to hold sway over someone else’s platform you have something ugly. How do they justify that arrogance? Listen further.

There is an even nastier undertone to come. He makes the distinction between a ‘learned’ gathering like this and others that are less so and therefore less equipped to cope with unsafe, uncomfortable or untrustworthy content. He has yet to grow out of the fallacy that less educated means less intelligent. (These days so much of education seems to consist of idea-sapping indoctrination that I could entertain the possibility of the reverse being the case.)

At any rate that is the basis on which every authoritarian, dictatorial regime is built. “I am cleverer and more virtuous than the plebs, so I will decide what they will hear, read, see, believe, think, do.”  It is a self-serving philosophy that is misanthropic and malevolent. It is a philosophy that invents cretinous concepts like ‘hate speech’. It is a philosophy that culminates in a gunman breaking into a conference in Copenhagen, spraying bullets around, and killing people.

It stinks.

Nevertheless I’ll defend his right to smear his stinking butter on a platform.

Patrick Moore – the climate realist

The Heartland Institute hosted ICCC9 – the ninth International Conference on Climate Change – in Las Vegas from 7 – 9 July 2014.

With a debate like the climate one I find my sympathies instinctively tending towards the side that shows its workings. I want to be able to take my own look at the data in question. Many years ago I noticed that whereas sceptics fell over themselves to cite chapter and verse to support their theories, alarmists tended to restrict themselves to unsubstantiated assertions and infantile name-calling (often aimed at anyone who dared protest that they weren’t showing their workings). Part of the name-calling involved the term ‘anti-science’. This was rather rich coming from those who were never prepared to engage in a debate on the science, preferring to hide behind the risible debate-killer “the science is settled”. At any rate I looked at the source data as hard as a non-scientist is able, and closely followed the debate from the standpoint of a rhetorician. I also followed the money. The alarmists’ assertions collapsed before my eyes. As far as I am concerned the game was up many years ago. The global warming movement has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with politics – and pretty questionable politics at that. With any friends who continue to espouse this dead hypothesis I no longer bother to argue: I merely invite them to look more closely.

Greenpeace’s most famous dropout, Patrick Moore, spoke at ICCC9 on 8 July.

I believe this is the first time on this blog that I have failed to attach to the first mention of the speaker’s name a hyperlink to biographical material. There is a good reason: nothing you can read will give you a more comprehensive overview of Patrick Moore’s environmental career than the beginning of this speech. Till 5:15 it is wall-to-wall ethos.

His slides during this section are purely wordless pictures, which is good, the words he speaks are scripted, which isn’t. He doesn’t seem to be reading from the lectern, so why do I believe it is scripted? It’s in the rhythm. The pauses and links between sentences are unnatural in their duration. Also it’s in the stumbles and self-corrections which have ‘script’ written all over them. He appears not to be reading, so he is reciting: he has learnt it. He did not need to. He is perfectly capable of speaking all of this spontaneously. For some reason he just does not dare. Reciting a learnt script is not true shooting from the hip: it doesn’t have the sparkle that so seduces audiences.

Then he turns to why he left Greenpeace and to the main message of his speech, the essential climate-realism that he preaches. Now – disastrously – his slides are smothered in verbiage. Watching the video of this speech, we can pause it to read it all; but the audience in the hall cannot do that. They can listen to him or they can read the slides, but not both. He has set up his slides in competition to himself. Why, in heaven’s name, do so many speakers make this mistake?

Curiously, just as the slides get submerged under words, Moore starts to sound spontaneous. Now I believe that he is shooting this from the hip.

At 8:35 he gets into a muddle over his slides, Things start coming up in the wrong order. This may not be his fault, but having too many slides is his fault.

I am not anti-slides: I am anti-words-on-slides. I know that in speeches like this speakers feel they need to give chapter and verse to back up what they are saying. They are right: look at my second paragraph above. Therefore consider something along the lines of …

The IPCC in their report said on page xxx, “///////////////”.  

You will find the precise quote and its context on page y in the conference program.

By all means show pictures and graphs, but wherever possible restrict your words to graph labels only. You will be astonished how liberating that is. The fewer slides you have the less chance there is for things to go wrong. A trainee of mine had to conduct an all-day workshop the day after attending my course. He later told me that during my course he was mentally pruning down his dozen slides. By the time we parted he was determined to use just two. In the event he didn’t use even those – or a script, or notes. He shot the entire day from the hip with no slides, and received ecstatic feedback.

There is absolutely no added credibility or emphasis in the audience’s being able to read the words you are speaking.

Back to Patrick Moore! This is a very good speech. From 10:36, just after the hiatus with the mixed up slides, he gets into his stride. His speaking is now spontaneous and impassioned, and his slides get much sparser with words. At that point he becomes, frankly, awesome. He knows his stuff inside out, and it pours out of him with all the authority which his 40 years of experience as an ecologist have generated.

Just compare this with Al Gore’s ghastly sci-fi film, An Inconvenient Truth. Go check the facts.

Go figure.