Ann Widdecombe devastates

This is the last of the speeches from the Oxford Union Debate on the motion This House Supports No Platforming.

For the motion we have heard from Robert French and Mariah Idrissi. We should also have heard from Naz Shah MP; but she upheld her devotion to the motion by refusing to speak unless Katie Hopkins was no platformed, which the Union refused to support.

Against the motion we have heard from Toby Young and Katie Hopkins. Now, closing the opposition case we have Ann Widdecombe. It took more than six-and-a-half years and more than 400 blog postings for Ann Widdecombe first to appear here, and she appears for the second time within seven weeks. That previous time she ranted for two minutes, let’s see what she can do in twelve.

I have never seen a more effective ethos-laden opening. Nor can I imagine one. This promises to be quite a speech. [If you clicked that link to my Glossary page, I suggest you keep the tab open…]

Need I even bother to point out that she shoots the entire speech from the hip? All proper speakers can and do, and this is very definitely a proper speaker.

Her structure is a clear narrative thread that takes in examples – mainly during her lifetime (which corresponds pretty closely with mine) – of speech kept properly free, despite offence and hurt; of those who improperly suppressed speech; and concludes with a few extremely abhorrent views which should never be afforded the protection of being silenced. And the brilliance is not restricted to what she says but how she expresses it. In giving examples, she paints very strong word-pictures to give maximum impact to the point she makes. Also she knows her rhetoric technique.

For instance, at 1:41 she launches into anaphora, and not any old anaphora, but one which echoes what is probably the best known example in English literature. Many might not be able to cite act 2, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Richard II, but are still familiar with “this royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, this earth of majesty,” and so on. And that’s what Widdecombe echoes, sending her words deep into where we live. This is skill of a very high order.

There’s also humour, including a nice moment at 6:50. The official charged with the timekeeping passes her a note. She picks it up, reads it, and says, “Two minutes more? No I need at least five.” Her calculation is correct to the second.

In her peroration she homes in on something I raised when analysing an earlier speech, and about which I am particularly passionate: free speech is not just about people’s right to speak but more about people’s right to hear.

This must be a strong contender to be hailed as the best speech I have covered on this blog. She is devastating!

I am not in the least surprised to learn that the debate’s motion was resoundingly defeated. I congratulate The Oxford Union.

Charlie Kirk and obscure words

On February 28 at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, there were speeches from some notable American Conservatives, including the President. One was by Charlie Kirk, Founder and Executive Director of Turning Point USA.

Another organisation has, in the past few days, declared Turning Point to be extremist. Knowing a little of that other organisation that could be regarded as a badge of honour, and I am interested to learn what Kirk has to say.

I wish he weren’t carrying that sheaf of paper when he enters. He barely looks at it through the speech so he doesn’t need it. If he had entered empty handed it would have done wonders for his initial impact.

The opening minute is a little messy, which is not unusual among those who have yet to learn the secret, but at 01:13 he’s into the driving seat. The opening salvo concerns how the left is unable to debate, having no case to argue, so expends all its energies in cancelling debates and no-platforming people. That is why students are politically crippled.

Though he may not know the words (why should he?) he loves anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce (you might want to have my Glossary page ready); and he uses them very powerfully.

At 02:58 he launches into epistrophe – “…you do not mean well” – which morphs into symploce – “If you wanna … you do not mean well”. It goes on and on, powered by a steady auxesis and culminates in ecstatic applause. Another epistrophe-cum-symploce begins at 05:17. A huge anaphora appears at 06:35, with a massive nine elements. Another anaphora kicks off at 07:56, though with just a paltry four elements. At 10:54 his peroration begins with a three-element anaphora.

When someone like me analyses a speech down to a bunch of obscure rhetorical terms, you might expect that speech to be talking-by-numbers and therefore dull. But Cicero and other ancients only coined these terms because they swayed audiences. Kirk’s audience is in the palm of his proverbial.

The boy’s not bad.

Trey Gowdy doesn’t need a speaker’s platform.

In April 2012 the U.S. House Oversight Committee held a hearing to look into what appears to have been egregious waste by the General Services Administration [GSA]. Quite late in the process, Trey Gowdy delivered his own summary of what had been going on.

We have met Gowdy before on this blog. The previous time he was delivering a formal speech to students, and I described him as a speaking phenomenon. Here he is not on a speaking platform but essentially delivering an impromptu monologue, and my opinion of his speaking ability has – if anything – increased. I have said before on this blog that passion is worth buckets of technique, and the dream ticket is to have both. Here Gowdy is displaying passion, and conveying it with consummate skill. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the tongue when wielded by a such master is still mightier.

The background to this issue is very clearly laid out here. It’s a relatively short read, and a good way to understand what has caused Gowdy to be so exercised. This matter concerns not my country, but I find myself easily transposing the circumstances across the Atlantic, seeing parallels, and getting likewise exercised.

The above clip begins with forty seconds of  Gowdy putting questions to Brian Miller, The GSA Inspector General, and then Gowdy sets off.

Immediately we get the gist. He is comparing the difference between spending our own money and dipping our paws into a bottomless fund, fed by coercive tax. Most of us could make quite a reasonable fist of that; but not many when talking of a charitable gift (beginning at 1:00) would come up with,

I hate that you robbed yourself of the satisfaction of knowing what it feels like to do it yourself instead of spending someone else’s money to do it.

The amazing thing is that in this monologue that isn’t particularly exceptional. Every time he makes a point he finds a new, different, and particularly telling way of couching it. At 2:25 he even dips into the Book of Exodus to compare the GSA’s profligacy unfavourably with the Children of Israel in the desert, and the parallel is flawless.

He swings into an auxesis at 4:00 with anaphora on the words, “what’s the penalty…”, but when he comes to his actual peroration he doesn’t keep the crescendo going, but suddenly drops into bitter contempt.

Yes, I know that as a District Attorney he will have examined and cross-examined witnesses countless times, and addressed juries as often, and his skill has been honed in the process, but this is mind-blowingly effective.

Since this occasion, and in fact since he was last on this blog, Trey Gowdy has been appointed Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. What a sound choice!

 

US Defense Secretary cheats brilliantly

Usually when I’ve been working with someone on their public speaking there’s a sentence I trot out at or near the end of the session. “It’s just xxxxxx talking.” [Insert your own adjective.] The sentiment behind what I’m saying is that we can wrestle with analyses and techniques till hell freezes over but in the end you are doing nothing more sophisticated than talking. Get a handle on that point, dismiss the mystique, and your mindset is going to be in a good place.

So when a couple of days ago I happened upon this tiny clip of film of the United States Secretary of Defense, recorded apparently by a phone while delivering an impromptu speech, I was delighted.

The best advice that I ever give concerning the art of impromptu speaking is, CHEAT. Always have something up your sleeve. Let’s see what James Mattis has up his sleeve.

There’s no grand opening, just a jocular exchange of banter concerning how they’ve ambushed him. We need to bear in mind the extraordinary bond that prevails between comrades in arms; and Mattis was a Marine Corps General.

Opening banter over, Mattis just xxxxxx talks. Look at his body language: hands in pockets, casual stance, head swinging backwards and forwards so that everyone sees his face (and we periodically almost lose his voice). He’s just xxxxxx talking. No ceremony.

My book on business speaking has a strange title, at least it’s strange to anyone who hasn’t worked with me on their speaking. It contains the word Face, which is the name I give to that phrase or sentence that you give your speech to identify it and make it memorable. There are no prizes on offer for spotting the Face of this tiny little casual talk.

We got two powers; the power of inspiration, and the power of intimidation.

I would take a lot of persuading that he hasn’t said that before. It doesn’t matter: it’s damn good and it instantly identifies this little talk for ever. He’s simultaneously obeyed two prime pieces of speaking advice: give your speech a Face, and in case you suddenly have to deliver something impromptu always have some gold up your sleeve.

And his peroration? “Listen to your NCOs, now. So long.”

Less than three minutes and a brilliant piece of speaking. He needs saluting.

President Trump: polished

On 6 July in Warsaw President Trump delivered a speech to the people of Poland.

It was greeted in general by the press in the USA and UK with a warmth that was rather luke. That’s not a surprise: Trump Derangement Syndrome has become so modish among the chattering classes that it even has a name – that one. A few minutes research through the English language sections of the Polish press yields a very different story: they lurved the speech.

Why don’t we have a look for ourselves?

We join it in the middle of joyful chants of “Donald Trump”, before a wreath-laying ceremony which itself is followed by a brief speech by the First Lady. I have seen this described as ‘predictable schmooze’, though I reckon its actual existence is unpredictable. I have failed to find in my memory another FLOTUS speech under these circumstances. It is competently delivered, contains a little meat in the schmooze, and I doff my hat to her for it.

After more chanting of his name, POTUS begins at the six-minute mark.

The sound on this video suffers from sporadic bursts of very loud amongst long periods of rather quiet. I believe that this is caused by Automatic Volume Control. AVC can be a blunt instrument that worries during big pauses and winds itself up to look for sound in the silence. Added to that, I think it has been programmed also to adjust the volume on the ‘atmos’ microphones that are supposed to feed us the audience response. Audience applauds, POTUS pauses, microphone system has panic attack trying to catch up with what is happening, POTUS starts speaking again, and blasts our eardrums. I comfort myself that though we are getting our feed of his voice from the same microphone as the audience they are unlikely to share our volume craziness.

He is using AutoCue, or equivalent. Even before we spot the perspex screens, we know that this speech is one of those which absolutely has to be scripted. Very soon after he starts we also get glaring confirmation at 7:35 when he has to correct himself. Having said “sincere” he tells us that he means “sincerely”. No one says the former when they mean the latter, so he has to be reading. If reading and the script scrolls up too slowly and the last syllable is on the next line the mistake is easy. I reckon the error comes from the AutoCue operator, which I mention only because that is very rare indeed. They tend to be brilliantly skilled. The smoothness with which Trump makes the correction is also skilled. He is only a minute-and-a-half in, and already in complete control.

The early part of the speech is more diplomatic schmoozing – how could it be otherwise? There’s a warm moment when he names Lech Walesa who is in the audience and stands for a bow. But as the speech progresses the subject matter gets more purposeful. What I particularly like is the judicious mixture of that which is spoken for the benefit of the onlooking world and that which is aimed at his immediate audience.

One device he uses to achieve this is by expressing a link between the two countries as co-representatives of the free West. Poland is one of the European countries that has paid its agreed share of the cost of NATO, and now is resisting huge pressure from Brussels to take a proportion of the gigantic influx of migrants – or, to put it another way, bail Merkel out of her madness. Poland is accustomed to huge pressure, and Trump goes out of his way to itemise some of the many ways it has been tossed on stormy seas over the centuries only for its spirit to triumph.

The speech gets very powerful at 18:50, talking of Soviet occupation, leading to his recounting the holding of a Mass in Victory Square on 2 June 1979 by Pope John Paul II. He culminates in a spellbinding moment where he speaks of the million in that square who “did not ask for wealth, did not ask for privilege”. They wanted God.

He goes on to highlight the inroads of those who would destroy what western civilisation has achieved. This is another wonderfully powerful section, not least because of his referring not only to the threat of the enemy from without but also the enemy within. This section alone would make this speech a triumph, because – script or no – he gets firmly in the driving seat of his message and presses the throttle.

For his peroration he swings at 36:00 into an account of Jerusalem Avenue in the Warsaw Uprising. I doubt there’s a soul in that audience that does not know the story, but won’t mind hearing it again – particularly while the whole world is listening. The final auxesis comes out through more chanting of “Donald Trump” and is greeted by a standing ovation which is very definitely not a hollow formality.

That’s a bloody good speech!

Donald Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea. Though he may have flaws, he loves his country, what it has achieved and what it stands for; and that’s unfashionable among the self-regarding, self-appointed elite in the USA. But what they particularly can’t forgive is that so do the electorate that made him President.

 

Theresa May be a Good thing.

On 17 January Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered a speech which had been eagerly awaited by many. Since the people of the United Kingdom, on 23 June 2016, had decisively voted to leave the European Union the country had seemed to be stuck in limbo. For the benefit of non-British readers, allow me to outline the background.

Mrs May’s predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, had called the Referendum. He had announced, in a highly publicised speech in January 2013, that he intended to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, and then put this expected new dispensation to the British people in a referendum during 2017. In 2015 there was a General Election in which this promise of an EU Referendum was a central plank of his campaign. He won the election, launched this renegotiation in a fanfare of trumpets while many of us marvelled at how radically he had watered down his promised demands, went off to Brussels, and came back with essentially nothing. The little he claimed to have been agreed was not remotely binding, and even that was disputed by many European politicians. He rushed into the referendum, rather earlier than originally promised, on a platform that we should vote to remain ruled by this ‘reformed’ regime. Nevertheless he undertook that in the event of the British people voting to leave he would immediately trigger Article 50, the EU exit door, and lead the exit negotiations.

The referendum took place, the people voted for Brexit, and Cameron immediately vanished. He simply welshed on all assurances and left everything for someone else to sort out. That someone turned out to be Mrs Theresa May. Her principal problem was that incredibly the British governing establishment had put no contingency plans in place against the vote going for Brexit, so she had to start from scratch. Thus for six months the country was in limbo, with several establishment figures openly attempting to thwart the expressed democratic will of the British people who in turn were supported by little more than periodic assurances from Mrs May and her cabinet that Article 50 would be triggered before the end of March.

This speech had been loudly heralded as a key piece of progress report.

An opening pause. Immediately I am encouraged.

This video, originally a live, streamed feed, occasionally shows live tweets commenting in a separate window. At 11:07 there is one which expresses the hope that the speech gets more interesting. I can understand this up to a point, because in laying out her stall Mrs May has needed to cover very many bases. I however am in possession of information not then available to that tweeter: there is half-an-hour still to come.

Do you have more than 40 minutes to listen to the whole thing? If not I can recommend two short excerpts that summarise effectively. This is so much better than my cherry-picking quotes. It’s safer too, because of being less susceptible to my confirmation bias.

Between 31:08 and 31:43 she very clearly summarises all that she has thus far covered. If you want to stick with it to 32:58 you will hear how she intends to keep her cards face-down,

 “because this is not a game, or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake.”

You may find that this satisfies your curiosity or that it excites your appetite to hear more. Either way, I whole-heartedly commend all this speech.

The other excerpt is her ending. I recommend that you pick it up at 38:55 with the words, “I don’t believe…” I have heard worse perorations, and didn’t care that it had no auxesis, because the content and the occasion did not call for it.

Only a few days later she delivered another big speech, this time in the USA. In it she was busy massaging the ego of a huge ally, but still I felt that she meant what she said. It is this quality that I like. Even if I don’t always agree with everything she says and stands for, I don’t feel embarrassed that she is representing my country. That speech did call for an auxesis to herald the peroration, and it got it. If you don’t listen to the whole thing you can pick up the peroration at 33:00.

Like or loathe her political position, she does not beat around its bush. More and more I sense that this woman is a WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get – and I find that hugely refreshing after the dismal succession of duplicitous twits that have been representing us for a quarter of a century. (The word ‘twits’ was a slight edit from the first word there.)

She makes me feel strangely optimistic.

Douglas Murray knows his stuff

On 23 January 2014 the Oxford Union conducted a debate with the motion This House Believes postwar Britain has seen too much immigration. 

We have previously examined a speech from Baron Singh in opposition to the motion, and today we look at a speech from Douglas Murray in proposition.

Douglas Murray is not new to this blog.  I have previously looked at his speaking herehere, and here.

When Murray speaks everything seems to be spontaneous. This could be either because he just wings all his speeches, or because he is extremely good at artifice, or because he has learnt how to prepare and structure a speech so that he always knows where he is and where he is going and trusts himself to say spontaneously what needs to be said at any point. I have no doubt that it is that last. It is what I teach my trainees (of which Murray is not one). It is not particularly difficult, but it does require you to know your subject. Murray knows his subject.

He opens with an apology for not being in a dinner jacket, and harvests an excellent laugh in the process.

When moving on to the matter at issue, he puts his hands over his face and rubs his forehead at a particularly critical moment. It beautifully underpins the words that he is speaking concerning the seriousness of the subject. Is that spontaneous or choreographed? I don’t know, but it is every bit as effective at conveying un-self-conscious sincerity as Kate Hoey’s adjustment of her clothing in my previous blog posting.

He bombards his audience with telling statistics, fierce arguments and heartfelt views. His papers on the dispatch box are there for reference not for prompting, and he mines the references skilfully – even throwing back at his opponents data from surveys they had quoted. Murray is very good at this.

But it is his peroration that really puts the icing on this cake.  From 08:33 he kicks down to go into his big finish.  I say ‘big’ but the term is relative: Murray likes to play with intensity rather than volume. If you watch any of it, watch that last section. The applause from the audience is instant, sincere and well-deserved.