Katy Clark, a study in neglect

In November 2013 The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion, “This House Believes Socialism Will Not Work”. A couple of weeks ago we looked at a speech by Dan Hannan in proposition to the motion. Today let us see what Katy Clark, a Labour member of the British Parliament, had to say in opposition to the motion.

The short answer is that she said almost nothing, but took nearly ten minutes to do so; and what is particularly telling about that is that she opened with a claim that she has spent a great deal of her time considering what socialism is. I have no doubt at all that this is true, but she neglected to pass on any of her deliberations here. I find it difficult to find evidence of any preparation at all for this speech. The nearest she came to any substance (and it wasn’t near enough) was in reply to her opponents.

One of them had apparently spoken of Jamaica, and as she had lived there for a time she took the cue to tell us something about what she saw as the socialist struggle there. Except she didn’t. She listed a catalogue of reforms that were apparently attempted, but allegedly thwarted by the CIA. Matters got so serious that she and her family had had to leave. You would have thought that there was a story there, and there undoubtedly is, but she failed to tell it. All we got was a list of assertions, skimming across the surface like a pebble, no evidence, no statistics, no illustrations, no narrative, no substantiation.

That was one of the stronger passages.

I kid you not. Having done with Jamaica she reverts to her principle theme which essentially is that of voicing in dozens of different ways, “things can be done better”. 

John Redwood, from the opposing side, rises to his feet to interject a point. Instantly she is galvanised into what passes for action. She picks up a piece of paper and proceeds to list historical people and events that she claims represent the socialist struggle down the ages – such as The Levellers, The Chartists, The Tolpuddle Martyrs, etc. Again, the list is merely a list. Could she not find a moment to explain why any of them supported her case? Apparently not. [In the case of The Levellers, my memory is that Messrs Thompson, Perkins, and Church were holding out for things like the sanctity of private property – which may explain why Clark was not prepared to enlarge on them.]

That was the other stronger passage.

After it, she returned to more substance-free variations on the theme of “things can be done better”.

Members of parliament are busy people, not just in The House but in their constituencies. On her website is the legend, “working hard for North Ayrshire and Arran”, and I’m sure that’s true. Perhaps she did not have enough time to spend on preparation for this speech, or did not make enough time believing that she could motor-mouth well enough to busk it. There’d be some justification in that: she can motor-mouth, and the audience lapped her up. But knowing that you are speaking safe, dog-whistle platitudes to an Amen-Corner does not justify this level of neglect. I felt she did herself no favours.

On a slightly different point, she would do herself a big favour if she lowered the default home for her hands by about an inch. Holding them so high under her bust is unbecoming.

John Redwood shows passion

I was chatting a few days ago to a friend who reads this blog occasionally. He observed how many lousy speakers there were around. I managed to resist pointing out that if this opinion was based on my blog he didn’t know the half of it. I discard far more than I cover, and you may take it that I do not do so on the basis of their being too good. For every speech I critique here I watch perhaps five that don’t warrant the effort because they don’t have a facet that I find interesting, because they are boring or because they are just bad.

On a foray in search of something interesting I happened upon a series of speeches in the British House of Commons. It was the debate in October 2011, triggered by an online petition for the UK to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union. I’ve seen many examples of John Redwood speaking, and have tended to pigeon-hole him as staid, safe and unexciting. Here though he was a different beastie!

No script: no notes: just passion.

In answer to those who claim that without a script the quality of your syntax is in danger of fading, I say just take a look at the following list…

  • 0:08 Anadiplosis on the word ‘democracy’
  • 0:17 Anaphora – “it has been humbled”
  • 0:28 Anaphora – “they not only…”

Not bad for half a minute!

  • 1.30 Anaphora – “Go to …”
  • 2:35 Anaphora – “I cannot …”
  • 2:58 Anaphora – “This house was great …”
  • 3:28 Anaphora – “We need to …”

The whole speech lasted less than four minutes, was beautifully structured, clear, powerful, and far from syntax-lite.

So where was the staid, safe and unexciting speaking that I have seen before? Whence came that passion? The subject matter might have something to do with it, but also it has been said often enough that the House of Commons is like a club. Redwood has been a member for more than a quarter of a century and evidently he feels in his element here, far more perhaps than out in the rest of the world. He may feel that in the rest of the world he has to be more circumspect. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, that’s the way to do it.