Patrick O’Flynn depletes his effectiveness

In November 2014, on the day that the United Kingdom Independence Party in the guise of Mark Reckless was easily gaining a parliamentary seat in a by-election at Rochester & Strood, The Cambridge Union was holding a debate under the motion –

This House Believes UKIP has been Good for British Politics

Opening for the motion was Patrick O’Flynn MEP, economic spokesman and Director of Communications for UKIP. A Director of Communications should be a very good communicator. Shall we see how he managed? He begins at 2:45 and ends at 13:07

It is well-established that if you plan to use any humour at all during a speech you should get your first bit in as early as possible. O’Flynn throws away a tiny bit in the first ten seconds, and then at 3:05 he embarks on more humour which he chooses not to throw away. There are old gags, very old gags, pitifully senile gags, and there is this one. He gets away with it via a well-established device of being seen to quote someone else, and even commenting on what a poor joke it is. Incredibly, he actually harvests a chuckle.

O’Flynn proceeds to spend ten minutes reading something he (or someone) wrote some time previously, and thereby delivers a speech which could and should have been many times more effective.

It is examples like this that are making this blog sound like a cracked gramophone record. In nearly 200 postings probably more than 70% of them have involved my castigating speakers who use paper. For more than twenty years I have been tearing paper out of the hands of speaking trainees, teaching them how to do without and proving to them that they can deliver long, data-rich speeches easily, safely and thereby far more effectively than those sad souls that are dependent upon a script or notes. It is not rocket science: in a single morning I could have O’Flynn binning his paper for ever.

Without paper, shooting from the hip, he would shed that emasculated, listless delivery. He would really drive that message with inspiration, fervour and energy. And probably, even without my having specifically to focus on it, that dreadful right arm moving up and down aimlessly like Andy Pandy’s would actually start gesturing in a manner that would mean something.

There are six speakers in this debate. I haven’t watched any of the others yet, but I think I shall return. What are the chances of any of them having graduated beyond paper?

Gawain Towler shoots from the hip.

I recently had occasion to correct a small error that Gawain Towler, Chief Press Officer for UKIP, had made in a Tweet. I was pleasantly startled to receive a direct message in seconds, conceding the point. This sort of straightforward integrity doesn’t come down the political road too often these days, so when I had a moment I went searching for any speeches he might have made. Does this characteristic appear in his speaking? I found this …

We don’t see the very beginning, which is a pity. I always say that making a speech is like flying a plane insofar as the most difficult, hazardous, and revealing moments come during the takeoff and the landing. We are here denied the chance to witness his leaving the ground, though when we join him he is still climbing rapidly.

He’s nervous! That right hand on the back of his neck is a classic indicator. I’ve highlighted this before, perhaps most notably in the penultimate paragraph here. Also this whole opening is clunky as hell. It takes till around 1:30 before he begins to get into his stride. This could be simply because of hump, but that’s no excuse. If nerves have a habit of getting in the way of your first couple of minutes, then address the problem and bloody fix it! There are ways.

He has a hand-problem, and needs to find for himself a default position for his hands – one that feels and looks right. Crossing arms, as he does around the 2-minute mark, is a no-no.

I’m being a little harsh, but only in order to balance up the praise that is to follow.

He shoots the speech from the hip. Anyone who doesn’t know that this is an obsession of mine hasn’t read this blog much. People have told me they think it’s a risky circus trick. It is not a trick but dead-easy; and if you know how to do it properly it is at least as safe as reading from a script. The subliminal signals it sends to your audience are all positive – chiefly that of sincerity.

You may detest everything that Towler stands for, and disagree with every syllable he utters, but you surely cannot doubt that he is sincere. Here is a politician who, if you vote for him, you know what you will get. And that as a quality is scandalously rare these days among the dung-beetles that pass for politicians.

(No: ‘dung-beetles’ is wrong. Dung-beetles actually clean up the stuff they clamber over.)

The main body of this speech is a good bit of speaking. He establishes a decorum that works, and puts across a clear and unambiguous message. His style is that of ‘conversational sincerity’ which is what the market favours these days. If I were advising him I would like to help him sort out his hump, his opening, and find a default position for his hands. I would want to help him structure his material a little better to add clarity. I would meddle with essentially nothing else. But actually I reckon he’s perfectly equal to sorting these things out for himself

His takeoff was dodgy – what of his landing? His landing was an epistrophe on the word “better”. It was a little beauty!

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.

2011 Party Conferences, Part 1: Farage & Clegg. October ’11 Auracle Newsletter

September customarily sees the political parties holding their conferences; and the chattering classes get wildly exercised over the trading of insults and the peddling of policies.  I on the other hand have a reason to look at the speeches through different eyes; and I thought I’d share some analysis with you.  I had intended today to trawl through four leaders’ speeches – Farage, Clegg, Miliband and Cameron – but then realised how long that would make the newsletter.  I have therefore taken pity on you, and will look this month only at Farage and Clegg, saving Miliband and Cameron for November.
In recent years leaders have taken to topping and tailing the conferences: delivering a businesslike keynote at the beginning and then a high-profile closing speech (the latter tending to be judged on the basis of the length of its standing ovation).  You might think that fairness dictates that I should compare like with like, but I am not treating this as a competition: I just want to analyse the most technically interesting speech from each.
 
Taken chronologically, this was the first of the four.  He chooses to buck the trend by making his opening keynote speech the main course, using the closing speech as a “go-out-and-tell-the-world” rallying cry lasting less than six minutes.  Therefore I shall address the keynote.
Even this, at less than eighteen minutes, is an admirably concise offering.  He declines to monkey around to soften up the audience as I have seen him do in previous years. Instead he goes straight for the jugular. He conforms to the first cardinal rule in The Face & Tripod, jumps into the driving seat, and certainly has something to say. The wealth of passion and energy that he pours into his pronouncements is what you’d usually expect from a grass-roots firebrand rather than a polished parliamentarian. Many might find this regrettable, hankering after the smooth manners and scrupulous courtesy that you find from, for instance, Daniel Hannan; and unquestionably Farage’s bull-in-a-china-shop manner is a gift to the mainstream media, from the BBC upwards, who seek to paint him as a loony extremist. But look closely and you realise that he is far from merely a bluster merchant.
On a technical level he has learnt the claptrap technique of marrying heavy-duty triads with corresponding hand gestures – and it works every time.  Not one opportunity for a round of applause goes AWOL.  He juggles all those esoteric rhetorical devices like epistrophe and anaphora and even paralipsis.  He embodies my favourite quote from W.B.Yeats: “Think like a wise man but express yourself like the common people”.  This is one smart cookie!
One reservation: though he never begs laughs, he does have a tiresome habit of signalling his humour by making a weird face.
I search in vain for weasel words.  What you see is what you get: look at the unequivocal policy statement at 08:25.  Yes, I know that the lower your chances of getting elected the easier it is to be frank, but still…
The speech needs a Face, but in every other respect I come away from it admiring the skill of the speaker.
  
Nick Clegg – Liberal Democrat – 21/9/11    
[This was originally posted on YouTube in three parts.  Since then some copyright issue has caused Part 3 to be blocked in the UK.  However the remaining two parts are quite long enough!}
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3 – for those who might be able to view it and have the patience to do so.
Clegg’s closing speech from the Lib-Dem conference totals nearly three quarters of an hour.  He starts with two or three long pauses – a tried and tested technique for setting a measured pace, slowing down your own pulse and getting on top of your nerves.  Having done that he turns his attention immediately to getting his audience on his side by indulging in a schmaltzy tribute to them.  It’s easy to be cynical about that; but he and his parliamentary colleagues have been under the cosh from their own side, and he is conforming to the second cardinal in The Face & Tripod: having analysed his audience he is stroking their egos.  The stroking concludes with a simple “Thank you” followed by a nano-pause for applause which never comes, so he skilfully leaps straight back in to hide the silence.  He has a more emphatic claptrap just around the corner, drives harder for it, brings in some rather more positive gestures – and gets the applause.  [N.B. the word, “claptrap” has for centuries meant a rhetorical device for getting an audience to applaud whereas today it also tends to mean “rubbish”. I use it in the traditional sense.]
Applause is a powerful drug, and this dose seems to put fire in Clegg’s belly.  At 03:05 he employs a clever use of political Left and Right, describing how the two wings view his party in their respective ways – the implication being that the Lib-Dems are slap in the middle.  Just after the 4-minute mark he throws up a possible Face for the speech, “Not doing the easy thing, but doing the right thing” and as the speech goes on he reinforces it.  The whole thing seems to be going pretty well, but – 
Weasel Words Alert!  Suddenly he wheels out some words and phrases that sound good and noble till you look more closely.
 
  • “People before Politics”.  If there’s a conflict, what does that say about your politics?
  • “Nation before Party”.  Similarly, if you imply a conflict, what does that say about your party?
  • “Populism.”  This is a favoured buzzword in political circles.  It is a stealth device to express contempt for the electorate, and get away with it.
(I have been asked about my attitude to weasel words as a rhetorical device.  It can best be summarised by the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not be found out.)  He speaks of the party having to move from, “the easy promises of opposition to the invidious choices of government”.  It seems mature of him to admit that there have previously been easy promises.
So much for the first of the three parts; and already I’ve used up a lot of space.  But the second section can be quickly characterised as a catalogue (albeit sometimes passionately listed) of facts and figures.  Notice how he keeps naming names through all of them, and look at my Chapter on Proper Nouns in The Face & Tripod.
 
The third section seems to take a leaf from Farage’s book.  He gets worked up and passionate; and anyone who has done a course with me knows how I commend that as a device (so long as you keep it under control).  The rhetoric gets rather hollow – a bit along the lines of declaring that everyone should be made happier, without really engaging with the tiresome detail of explaining how – but my brief is with the quality of the speech and not the validity of the message.  This passion is centred on his explaining why he’s in politics, and as such it has the weakness of self-justification, of pleading.  It would have been stronger had he invited his audience to reflect on why they were in politics, and then invited them to share in his vision.  
I would have cut at least twenty minutes from that speech. I don’t care where: it just needed to be shorter. Aside from that, and subject to my comments above, I felt he did a pretty good job. He is saddled with an image of being young and effete: bright but immature: driven but naive. Given all of that, and given the position in which he finds himself, with his party’s support haemorrhaging since the formation of the coalition, he had a very difficult brief. In the main I felt he distinguished himself a lot better than some of the familiar faces in his audience would have done.