Kemi Badenoch bowls a Maiden

I first came across Kemi Badenoch shortly after the recent British General Election when I saw a Twitter trend on the subject of this new Member of Parliament. It seemed that many wrongly assumed that she was a Labour Party member. Like her I am trying to work out what gave them that idea.

Her maiden speech in the House of Commons has been widely lauded. Shall we make our own judgement?

A quarter of a minute in and she starts giving us a rundown of some of the hardships she experienced when growing up in Nigeria. I know why she’s doing it; I don’t blame her for doing it; but I suspect she would join with my lamenting that she needs to. Ethos is important, but this veers towards pandering to the identity politics and ‘privilege checking’ that is all the rage at the moment. Nevertheless if that is the game people are playing and you can beat them at it so dramatically, you’d be foolish not to. And she’s smart enough to get a partisan argument into it.

Nor do I blame her for reading a script. A maiden speech is a rite of passage that you simply have to get past, and I suspect that using a script is conventionally required. Not to do so might make you look like a smart-Alec. If the eye misses out a line (at 3:09) causing the sort of stumble that you don’t get when you are shooting from the hip then your best course is simply to laugh it off. Badenoch simply laughs it off.

She throws in a lovely Woody Allen quote, beginning at 4:16. I have heard it before, but not for a time and certainly not put in this context; so I laugh as readily as the MPs in the house. At 5 minutes she does even better: she makes me want to cheer.

I don’t know enough about the genre to tell whether just under five and a half minutes is a conventional length for a maiden speech but, convention aside, I found its length pretty well perfect. It said enough, yet met the oldest and best showbiz maxim of all – leave ’em wanting more.

I am sure we will hear more of Kemi Badenoch.

Douglas Carswell – with and without paper.

Douglas Carswell MP is the Member of Parliament for Clacton. With Daniel Hannan he is co-author of The Plan – an excellently provocative book. He has a blog with a huge readership: he posts almost daily, and his posts are gratifyingly succinct. He is also author of the recently published and thought-provoking The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, a book of two halves as the title suggests. The first half is deliberately rather dispiriting and the second half is gloriously inspirational. I heartily recommend it: if you haven’t read it, treat yourself for Christmas.

In the May ’11 Auracle newsletter I included the following pair of speeches by him, as illustration of the difference between his delivery when reading from a script and when shooting from the hip.

Here is Carswell at a debate in Westminster Hall. As an example of great speaking it leaves a certain amount to be desired. I attribute much of this to the rather stilted style of debate that the environment and protocol probably dictate. At the very least he is obviously operating against immovable time constraints. Anyway, for whatever reason, he is using a script.

Here is the same man without a script. He begins speaking at 1:45.

The first example in Westminster Hall benefits by being far higher definition video footage. It took place nearly three years after the other example, so he has three more years of experience and maturity under his belt (at his age it is relatively significant). As an MP in a Westminster debate he is in more familiar surroundings, and addressing people that he probably knows. In other words he has almost everything going for him. Except the script. He is not bad with a script, but unless you are very skilled – like, for instance, Boris Johnson – there’s always that slight feeling that the words are coming off the page, in through the eyes and out through the mouth without really being processed en route. With whatever intensity he originally wrote the words and still feels the message, he is coming across as a bit of … a Talking Head.

In the second example the sound isn’t very good; the lighting isn’t helping the video quality; it’s probably being shot on a domestic camcorder so it’s relatively blurry. Also he was only 37 at the time, and there is noticeably less self-assurance in his demeanour: his nervousness shows in the way he fiddles with that folded piece of paper in his hands (his notes). And yet because he isn’t reading the speech you cannot help but feel that this man really means everything he is saying. The transparent sincerity is even enhanced by the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’.

The lesson to be learnt is that taking steps to rid yourself of the necessity for paper is really worthwhile. Don’t worry about the occasional error or halting delivery.  If anything that will enhance your standing with your audience.

It’s the live theatre effect. I tell my casts in stage shows not to worry about small errors. It is these, and the ever-present danger of total cock-up, that make live theatre more exciting.  Anyone who wants to see performances that are always seamlessly flawless should go and see a film.

You can break free of paper: The Face & Tripod will show you how.