Bernard-Henri Lévy & Douglas Murray. Class.

In May 2017 Zeitgeist Minds hosted a debate between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Douglas Murray, under the title Can Europe survive the new wave of populism?

Douglas Murray has featured on this blog five times before, though not for a couple of years. I indulge myself by watching his speeches much more often than that, because he is just so good. Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) I vaguely knew by reputation; but somehow he had escaped my attention here.

This debate is introduced and moderated (very well, incidentally) by Zeinab Badawi.

It’s taken more than six years and 418 critiqued speeches for me to get around to watching BHL’s speaking. How … on … earth?

I sit, hypnotised by his voice, his gestures, his pace, his emphases. They are all unashamedly idiosyncratic. These are Gallic idiosyncrasies, certainly – particularly with respect to his accent (about which more later) but they are also personal idiosyncrasies; and I love that.

I urge my trainees to be themselves, and that is what BHL is being in abundance. The first time I watch I barely listen, other than vaguely registering that I disagree with what he is saying, but I am in awe of how he is saying it.

Before this video began I had thought that he would have to be very good to go three rounds with Douglas Murray, and he certainly is. Now I find myself wondering how resilient Murray will be. Will he blend his decorum with BHL’s (which is very compelling), or will he have the strength of will to establish his own? I should have had more faith. From the starting gate his tone, rhythm and style are distinctly his own, almost exaggeratedly and defiantly so. I am really enjoying this!

I don’t particularly want to go into the arguments presented because the two of them do it so well themselves. There’s a certain amount of sparring over the definition of ‘populism’, whereas I would have challenged BHL’s cavalier use of ‘Europe’ when he means ‘EU’, but that’s a detail.

After each of them making his 8-minute (ish) opening statement, each has a 2-minute rebuttal, then Badawi questions and challenges each. She unwittingly supports a point Murray makes (about Huguenots) while intending to contradict it, which is mildly entertaining, and then she turns to BHL. At 27:15 she quotes to him a French term, apologising for her pronunciation. That’s wildly entertaining!

BHL speaks very good English, but with an accent so thick you could slice and dice it with a wooden spoon, yet an English speaker apologises for her French pronunciation. We all seem to do that, and I’ve often wondered why.

This debate is really enjoyable, not least because it has become a rarity to find opposing viewpoints being discussed intelligently, with civility and mutual respect. This is class.

Daithi O’Ceallaigh is sincere

A reader/trainee/friend, who happens to be Irish, emailed me to complain that I was banging on too much about Brexit. It was amusing not just because most of my blog correspondents tell me the opposite, but because of all my reader/trainee/friends the most ardently pro-Brexit is likewise Irish.

The principal reason that I’ve recently explored so many speeches about Brexit is that there are so many currently around; and I surely don’t have to explain why that is.

Nevertheless that email did prompt me to pull out a speech from my ‘to-do’ pile. It is pro-EU, and delivered by a distinguished Irishman.

Speaking in February 2018, here is Daithi O’Ceallaigh.

Instantly I warm to him. That lectern is a handy piece of furniture to lean on, as distinct from a repository for a script. And he leans on it in a manner that suggests that he just wants to feel closer to his audience – excellent body language! From the outset it is clear that he is speaking with us, not to or at. Also as time goes on it is confirmed that he is shooting from the hip, and any paper on that lectern will hold no more than bullet points.

A proper speaker.

When David Cameron first announced the EU Referendum I welcomed it on this blog, saying that I looked forward to hearing the arguments in the campaign. I was pro-Brexit, but wanted to hear well-reasoned attempts to sway me. In the event I was disappointed by Project Fear and puerile name-calling. That trend has continued ever since, and the current move towards political betrayal is a scandal that besmirches both Westminster and Whitehall. I would add the BBC to that, except they were already an embarassment.

This speech by O’Ceallaigh is the sort of thing I wanted to hear. He is evidently intelligent, sincere, and has proper arguments.

Has he swayed me? No, but if I were Irish, he would have come closer. Being patriotic doesn’t mean you hate other countries, or you’re doing it wrong; but where there’s a conflict of interest we all have to look after our own first. In the event of the oxygen mask being deployed, put on your own before your child’s. Nevertheless it’s more than self-interest.

Every one of his arguments is predicated by the assumption that if it’s not ordered by Brussels it won’t be done (or done properly). It is a variety of bureaucritis, a condition suffered by nearly all bureaucrats: essentially tunnel-vision. It is understandable that when all your working life is spent in a bubble of bureaucracies they assume in your mind an aura of indispensability; but history repeatedly shows that to be false. Bureaucracies are dispensable. They are a luxury, occasionally welcome but always expensive. They make excellent servants but dreadful masters.

If you dispute my term “tunnel vision” I refer you to his dismissal of the Irish Republic’s Irexit movement which he describes as a minority sport. At 1:30 –

There’s absolutely no doubt about the commitment of the Irish government, and the complete Irish political class, to staying within Europe.

I believe him. It is evidently also true of Britain. But the political class – riddled with bureaucritis – is not the country. The people are the country, and in Britain the country spoke and over-ruled the political class. And the political class continue to try to thwart the country.

I like this man, not just as a speaker – as a person; but I believe his misgivings, considered and sincere as they are, to be misguided.

Patrick O’Flynn tells the EP

On 3 April in the European Parliament, there was a short speech delivered by Patrick O’Flynn MEP.

Only a couple of weeks ago I received an email from a trainee, a well-known accountant, who did a course with me more than a decade ago. He was telling me with satisfaction that feedback after his speeches nearly always marvelled at how he spoke without notes.

All my trainees can speak without notes.

Readers of this blog will know that I do not consider anyone a proper speaker unless they speak without notes, whether for five minutes or sixty.

You do not even need to see Patrick O’Flynn here to know that – worse than notes – he is actually reading a script. You can hear it clearly in his intonation. Two and a half lousy minutes, and he has to read a script!

It’s a hugely important speech, with a hugely important message that I hope dearly all listeners will heed, yet he robbed it of a frightening amount of its impact by not having learnt how properly to speak in public.

Tony Benn: Democrat

I seldom agreed with Tony Benn‘s politics, but was always conscious that his views – however misguided I might find them – stemmed from his passion for democracy.

He died before the EU Referendum took place, but more than a year after David Cameron promised to hold one.

Here he is talking about it.

Can you imagine what he would have to say about the current parliamentary machinations to betray the largest democratic mandate in this country’s history?

Yanis Varoufakis: Euro problem

In 2018 the Oxford Union hosted an address with Q&A from Yanis Varoufakis. Finding out the precise dates of these talks is never easy, and these days I have neither the time nor inclination to fish around, but I reckon that a few clues suggest it was mid-November.

The talk was entitled The Euro Has Never Been More Problematic.

Yes, well he’s done this before. 

He even makes it clear that he has spoken at the Oxford Union before. Yet at the beginning I still see nerve symptoms – tiny ones, admittedly, but it confirms that everyone experiences a hump. Better speakers hide it better and dismiss it more quickly, but everyone gets one.

This is a fine piece of speaking. It could be improved; for instance I found myself having to spool back a couple of times to clarify points he was making. His live audience couldn’t do that, and it indicates that his structure could be refined slightly.

When working on trainees’ structures, I usually do it under the guise of making it easier for them to deliver without prompting from script or notes. Nevertheless I also point out that good structure carries a more important byproduct of making the speech easier for the audience to follow, and we always need to keep an eye on that byproduct. Varoufakis has comfortably outgrown the need for paper prompting, so he needs to factor in a conscious effort to discipline his structure for coherence. Though he speaks excellent English, his accent adds a hurdle to his coherence. The hurdle is small, but it will be enlarged for those students in this audience for whom English is likewise not their first language.

[Regular readers of this blog will have spotted that when speakers are as good as this I just get more picky.]

I am reluctant to comment on what he says, because he makes his arguments very well as you’d expect from a politician. He has been round the block a few times, so he is well informed. Nevertheless what I call ‘politician blinkers’ cause him, in my opinion, to be misguided in two or three areas; but I’d rather not get bogged down in that.

The Oxford Union are to be congratulated yet again on platforming a good and wide range of speakers.

Gisela Stuart in the lions’ den

On 12 September Gisela Stuart was in Ireland, addressing The Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA). Her talk was entitled Why the Brexit Referendum Result must be Honoured.

Though many of my political opinions are at odds with hers, Ms Stuart has long struck me as one of the more admirable of British politicians. (Though she is no longer a Member of Parliament she continues to be a politician, occupying the Chair of Change Britain.) I’d often seen her interviewed on television, but I had never heard her delivering a speech. I was eager to amend that, so was delighted when I found this.

The introduction is made by Daithi O’Ceallaigh, erstwhile Irish Ambassador to London. It’s less than a minute and a half long, says what it needs to say. and he very properly never once looks down at the papers in front of him. If you find that unsurprising in such a short section, you haven’t read many posts on this blog.

Whether or not you chose to learn about the IIEA by following the link on their name (above), the word “European” and the ring of stars on the wall behind the chairman’s table bear a strong clue to the europhile nature of this gathering. Therefore Ms Stuart’s opening, slightly jocular, remark about walking into the Lion’s Den is explained. This audience is probably adversarial, possibly hostile, but being Irish it will be courteous.

And it is apparently with that view in mind that Ms Stuart pitches the decorum of this speech. The tone is gentle, reasoned, considered, and epitomises what I call the ‘conversational sincerity’ style of speaking which, I’m glad to say, has replaced the fashion for formal oratory that used to prevail. Perhaps this is her customary style of speaking, I don’t know, but it is certainly right in this setting.

It’s a beautiful speech and describes more calmly and lucidly than anyone I’ve seen why we the people voted leave, why we the people are heartily sick of the dog’s dinner that is being made of the process, and why we the people don’t think much of our political representatives at the moment.

I commend it.

 

Anne Marie Waters trusts the people

Anne Marie Waters (hereinafter AMW) spoke at a meeting in Oxford on 30 May this year. Was it at the Oxford Union? The panelling in the background suggests it was, though Oxford presumably has other panelled rooms. She has been on this blog before.

If you click the link on her name (above) you will be taken to a Wikipedia page in which you will be fed a stream of pearl-clutch nuggets, including “far right”. I no longer know what “far right” means, though recently the most consistent definition I have found is “having views at odds with the bigotry of the Guardian and the BBC”.

This morning I saw that Twitter has suspended her account. I wonder whether this says more about the Establishment in general and Twitter in particular than about her.

Let’s see for ourselves whether she has horns, a forked tail, and spews out violent hate.

[The speech ends at around 44 minutes, after which there are questions.]

For three decades I have been coaching people in public speaking, during which time the fashionable speaking style has become steadily less formal. I welcome this movement, because it counters what in my book I call The Communication Paradox. Briefly this states that the better you are at communicating across a table, the more difficulty you have on a speaking platform. I urge my trainees to think in terms of speaking with their audience as distinct from speaking to or – worst – speaking at.

AMW speaks with her audience. She has pushed the boundaries of speaking informality as far as I have seen. She addresses her audience as you would if talking to friends in your kitchen. The audience embraces this to such an extent that we hear her speech punctuated by audible comments, one of which begins a digression so egregious that we can see that a chunk has been edited out.

On her previous visit to this blog I described AMW’s speaking as having undisciplined passion. Here she has introduced a small measure of discipline, though the speaking is still messy. The interesting thing is that the mess is a key part of its strength. The obvious lack of polish screams sincerity. You can search as hard as you like, but I contend that you will find no signs of artifice; so we are left with the conviction that though we might disagree with her she means what she says.

So what does she say? Do we hear hate? Do we hear swivel-eyed extremism? Do we hear Nazi propaganda? Is she urging us to wear masks, riot in the streets, set fire to cars?

No, she is telling us to trust the people.

HOW DARE SHE!