Lord Deben insults the intelligence of his audience.

The Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin hosted a keynote speech in July 2014 by Lord Deben.  The IIEA’s own website tells us that his theme was ‘Energy and Climate Change’.

Having been in his audience on one occasion I can personally vouch that Deben is a skilled speaker. Let’s see how well he does on this occasion.

What sort of opening is this? It can most charitably be described as a stumbling-in. Within a very few seconds I have the impression that, his knowing his own adept capacity for motor-mouthing off the top of his head, he has barely given this speech any thought at all. He is going to have to do better than this with an audience of people who are not only intelligent but too busy to put up with being fed inconsequential burble for the next half-hour. I reckon he has worked out the same thing from the faces in front of him.  Why else would he direct so much of this early guff at the conference chairman beside him? Could it be that this is the nearest he can find to a comfort zone? I hope not, because the chairman doesn’t look overly impressed either.

Deben lards the burble with some rather lame flannel in an attempt to ingratiate himself, but I don’t think it’s working. We can see only the backs of the heads in the audience front row, but I find the angles of some of those heads a little ominous. The chairman is shooting some nervous glances at the front row also.

Five minutes in, and my hands are over my face. He has said nothing that could not have been covered in fifteen seconds. This is pitiful!

He then tells us that the UK Climate Change Committee, which he chairs, is independent. He proceeds patronizingly to explain and explain and explain, with helpful gestures, what independence means. If the members of this audience have IQs above room temperature, and I have every reason to suppose that they do, they already know better than he does what independence means. He seems to have a very strange idea of it, because he tells us he is so independent that he owed his appointment to ministerial patronage.

Next he lists (or rather doesn’t) the committee’s personnel. Deben surely knows the basic rule that proper nouns of all descriptions are hooks that retain the audience’s attention, yet where are the names of his committee members? From 8:16 till 8:45 he wriggles and squirms while trying to remember one of their names. He gives us several details about the gentleman in question, almost down to his inside leg measurement, but no name. An achingly long pause, punctuated by ‘ums’, ‘ers’ and screwed-up eyes staring into the middle distance tell us very eloquently that he has forgotten the name. He attempts to camouflage this appalling faux pas by then describing, but not naming, other committee members as if this was his intention all along. It doesn’t wash!  He has goofed, big time. There are numerous ways to remember such data, including writing them down for God’s sake, but he’s too bloody idle to do any of them.

That I fear is the pattern for the entire speech. He waffles around for half-an-hour with all sorts of ill-considered, misguided and badly expressed nonsense that says nothing and gets no one anywhere. The nearest he comes to any sort of message arrives with his peroration. At around the 26 minute mark he begins to make it very clear what anyone who has peered more than an inch below the surface of the matter already knew, namely that the climate change movement is not about science but politics. It is a device to edge us towards world government. The creed (the best word for it) is political and imperialist and very, very dangerous.

As for the quality of this as a piece of speech-making, what can I say? I see bad speeches by people who haven’t learned how, by people who have all manner of difficulties and problems, but this man can speak. As a result, this disgusts me.  He has insulted his audience. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Jonathan Portes is not optimal

On 20 November 2013 economist Jonathan Portes delivered a talk at the Institute for International and European Affairs entitled Crisis and recovery in Europe: what have we learnt?

In addition to my evaluating the quality of the speaking, I was eager to hear what he had to say. After all, probably the most important thing for him to have learnt is what caused the crisis in the first place, particularly when as one of the chief holders of Britain’s economic reins at the time Portes could justifiably be held to have been one of the prime architects of said crisis.

I am slightly allergic to the starting of sentences, let alone whole speeches, with “So…” but that’s probably my age. I am trusting the quality will pick up. It doesn’t. This must count as one of the handful of dreariest openings I have ever had the misfortune to hear

The only thing that can be said in its favour is that Portes does eventually lay out his stall by giving us a pair of little triads by way of a contents page for his speech – “diagnosis, prescription, prognosis: how did we get into this mess, what have we been doing since we got into this mess, where do we go from here?”. That could have been inspired by my book, and was looking as if something constructive was coming.

After a sustained period of verbal wandering around aimlessly he declares that “fiscal policy was not the cause”. Got that? Not his fault. He admits that fiscal policy was “not optimal”. (This is bureaucratese for “piss-poor”.) There remains an obvious and so far unanswered question, namely what then was the cause? He addresses this, and the next minute or so could have come from a Monty Python Spoof as he “ums”, “errs”, and generally meanders, restarts several sentences, and finally pins it on the US, the Chinese, and “structural imbalances”. I half expected him to blame it all on global warming or the tooth-fairy.

As convincing speaking goes, this is not optimal.

He is in general shooting from the hip. His frequent glances down at the lectern are really so as not to get caught by all the unconvinced eyes that I feel sure are in the room. The curious thing is that there comes a time in the speech when I want him to look more at the lectern.

At 15:40 he puts up a slide with a graph on it, and for quite a while he speaks to the image on the wall. Had he been speaking through his left ear or his left shoulder the microphone would have picked it up wonderfully: in the event, the sound is not optimal. I reckon it likely that he has that graph and later ones in hard-copy on the lectern, in which case he merely needs to glance over his shoulder to acknowledge the image on the wall but otherwise he can keep his face to the audience, his sound to the microphone and look at the graphs in front of him. Just after the 31-minute mark when he turns over his paper he shows me I was right.

This speech would cure an insomniac.

Readers of this blog, in which I rail so often at those who bury themselves in scripts, might be tempted to conclude that all they have to do is find a way to do without paper and everything will be tickety-boo. I’m sorry but there’s a little more to it than that. You need to structure your material in such a way as to make it easy for you to drive your message. Before that you need a message. Before that you need to understand your subject. Albert Einstein is quoted as follows –

If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

Considered on that basis, this speech shows that Portes’ understanding of economics is … not optimal.