Mark Reckless and betrayal

On 27 September, 2014, at the United Kingdom Independence Party conference in Doncaster, the party leader – Nigel Farage – took the podium for a publicized half-hour speech.

Who knew? Judging by the response to Mark Reckless’s first sentence, eleven words which occupied more than a minute till he could start on the second, interrupted as it repeatedly was by thunderous applause, very few in that auditorium had prior knowledge. I have racked my memory in vain to recall Twitter rumours.

I regularly here praise speakers who shoot their speeches from the hip, while castigating those who need to prompt themselves with notes or worse still scripts. Many regard shooting from the hip as a risky circus trick. It is neither risky nor a trick. It is safe and easy if you know how, and it tells the audience a lot of good things about you and your message – things like sincerity, command of your subject, and so on. Mark Reckless shoots this speech from the hip.

His structure for the first half is simple. He lists a series of promises that he made in good faith to his constituents when elected. He concludes the section devoted to each promise with the words, “I couldn’t keep that promise as a Conservative; I can keep that promise as UKIP.” Had he stayed with the Conservative Party therefore he would have betrayed those who voted for him, his party masters having broken a succession of electoral promises.

He says, early in the speech, that Members of Parliament are – with a few honourable exceptions – not representatives of their constituents in Parliament but agents of a political class. Within minutes of this speech being delivered the Conservative Party spin machine swung into action with announcements in which the word “betrayal” was bandied about.

Who is the betrayer: who the betrayed?

He had betrayed his party. They confirmed all he’d said by implying that loyalty to party trumped loyalty to electorate.

The last of his list of promises he couldn’t keep as a Conservative concerns the EU. This prompts a swing into an analysis of the issue. He proceeds to unpick the spin from the truth, and in the process makes some prophesies as to the political sleight of hand we can expect. Today, a month later, we can see some of that has already happened.

I hold no political party membership, and resent being made as cynical towards the party system as I have become. Is UKIP the answer? I have no idea. But my endless watching of speeches gives me a well-honed bullshit sense. I have to say I believe that this man means what he tells us. And I commend his famous last sentence.

We are more than a star on somebody else’s flag.

Nigel Farage has stopped gurning!

In July 2013 Nigel Farage delivered a speech in Canada, at the invitation of Preston Manning. I rather think, though I have failed definitely to establish it, that the event took place at the Manning Centre in Calgary.

He begins at 1:50, but if you jump straight there you will miss Preston Manning’s introduction. There is a telling round of applause at 1:10, which shows us very clearly that, on this occasion at least, Farage is among friends and will be pushing against an open door. This will make a change from banging heads in Brussels.

As part of his preamble Farage utters at 2:17 a sentence that shows us very clearly that this speech was delivered last year and not this.

Farage is a good speaker.

He shoots from the hip of course, but that’s easy. The quality that will always grab an audience is transparent conviction and the willingness to express it. Farage has this by the bucketful, which is what puts his speaking so far above that of the leaders of the other three leading political parties in Britain. Detractors call him brash, but for people outside the Westminster bubble, bored with the duplicitous wittering of the witterati, that’s scarcely a criticism. Obvious sincerity will compensate for a dearth of speaking technique; and incidentally Farage is not short of technique.

I have a particular allergy to a habit some speakers have for telegraphing their gags. There is one alleged comic, based in Britain, who utters a loud “err!” just after every punch line, to cue the audience’s laughter. It occasionally works, but it’s so lame! Farage used habitually to pull a “here comes a good one” face, and I have written that he would do himself a favour if he stopped it. Nowadays it is so slight as to be essentially non-existent, and I applaud him for that.

Recently Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal-Democrat party in Britain, challenged Farage to a broadcast debate on the EU. Farage of course picked up the gauntlet, and suggested that Cameron and Ed Miliband should join the party. They hastily cited pressing appointments. It should be an interesting match nonetheless.

2012 Political Party Conferences

Last year I devoted two Auracle newsletters to analysing speeches from all four main party leaders. This year I restrict myself to brief summaries.

I can summarise them communally.  Much better all round than last year. I have to add a rider with an observation I have made before, namely that people in my niche – business executives – could not get away with spouting some of those toe-curling banalities. “I believe we should leave the world a better place than we found it.” Can you imagine the tumbleweed moment that would greet that if one of my trainees dared utter it? One of the party leaders did; and it was greeted with applause. Today I have firmly put their content beyond my brief.

I will address them chronologically.

Nigel Farage consistently fulfils Cardinal 1: he always has strong, clear messages. He was more matter-of-fact and less bellicose than he can be, and thus conveyed an air of increased maturity. Also he has learnt to avoid pulling silly faces to signal that he has a joke brewing. He remained dead-pan while describing van Rompuy as his good friend, and was rewarded with a bigger and better laugh.


Nick Clegg was incomparably better than his defensive, insipid and fractious offering to the March conference at The Sage.  From a good robust opening that culminated in 12-second applause at 2:32, on through a well-placed anaphora at 3:38, this was a very good speech.  He had notes, but he barely looked: he shot this speech from the hip.  No doubt the backdrop of party faithful (also present for Miliband) is something that focus groups and consultants have insisted upon; but not only do I dislike the practice, I feel sorry for the individuals concerned. Constantly on camera they have to sit still and look interested.  Imagine how many votes a yawn could cost!  I would like to work on Clegg’s diction.  It seems to be clear, but too much goes AWOL.


Ed Miliband presented a delivery that was light-years improved on last year. Someone (not I) has tried to get him into the ‘note-free conversational sincerity’ style that I preach. If you rammed me against a wall, demanding a guess, I’d hazard that a stand-up comic has been working with him. A monumental non sequitur in the first minute signalled to me that he was not as relaxed as he was trying to convey. Also sometimes this casual style looked a little as if it had been painted on by numbers as opposed to coming from within; but a huge amount of progress has been achieved. He included a pretty epistrophe, beginning at 17:00, but I shall not comment further on his material.


David Cameron drove me nuts last year with a dreadful trick of periodically delivering what was fondly believed to be a killer sentence straight to camera. It was excruciatingly smarmy. Clearly someone else thought so too, because this year that gimmick had been euthanized. We know he can speak without notes: he did it when campaigning for the party leadership. Why then was he using Autocue here? I think the answer probably has to do with shortage of time, the pressure of office, and large amounts of data. Though the delivery was less sexy than Miliband’s, it was more secure. He is evidently seeking to portray statesmanship while avoiding the epideictic nonsense that we found in All Gore a few posts ago.

I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for those that work on these speeches. It’s too easy for me to criticise from the wings. They have to thread their way through a horrendous minefield of competing criteria. If ever I were called in on a job like that, I would try very hard to restrict my terms of reference to diction and demeanour in delivery, and abdicate any responsibility for the rubbish they were called upon to utter. And that is why I shall very probably never be called.