7 March 2016

Max Atkinson becomes an FAcSS

2 March 2016

Dear Dr Atkinson

Conferment of the Award of Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences

Following the recent nominations process, I an delighted to advise you that, by order of Council, the Award of Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS) has been conferred on you for your contribution to social science. Congratulations on this significant achievement. I attach a list showing all the new Fellows conferred in the Spring 2016 round.

There is an opportunity to be welcomed formally to the Academy and to have your framed certificate presented to you by the president, Professor Sir Ivor Crewe FAcSS at the forthcoming AGM and annual lecture, which will be held on the afternoon of Thursday 30th June 2016  in London....

welcome to the Academy. I hope it will not be long before we see each other at one of our events. Look out for regularmreports on the latest news and events via out website, www.acss.org.uk and in our monthly eBulletin.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Anderson
Executive Director

3 December 2015

Can rhetorical excellence be inherited? PART II

When I first started studying political speeches (as published in Our Masters' Voices) one of the most impressive public speakers of the day was the late Tony Benn. Last night's House of Commons debate on Syria ended with a fine speech by his son, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.

Perhaps not quite as good as his Dad, but applause is extremely rare in the House of Commons. And most of the commentators in the media last night (and today) attributed the government's majority of 10x the Conservative's overall majority to his speech.

Looking at the number and names of Labour MPs who voted for the government's motion, one cannot help wondering how long it will be that Jeremy Corbyn can survive as leader - or how long the Labour party can survive without another breakaway party emerging like the SDP of the mid 1980s.

On yesterday's evidence, such a party would be considerably bigger than a gang of 4....!!!


Hilary Benn M.P:
Thank you very much Mr Speaker. Before I respond to the debate, I would like to say this directly to the Prime Minister: Although my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition and I will walk into different division lobbies tonight, I am proud to speak from the same Despatch Box as him. My right honourable friend is not a terrorist sympathiser, he is an honest, a principled, a decent and a good man and I think the Prime Minister must now regret what he said yesterday and his failure to do what he should have done today, which is simply to say ‘I am sorry’.
Now Mr Speaker, we have had an intense and impassioned debate and rightly so, given the clear and present threat from Daesh, the gravity of the decision that rests upon the shoulders and the conscience of every single one of us and the lives we hold in our hands tonight. And whatever we decision we reach, I hope we will treat one another with respect.

Now we have heard a number of outstanding speeches and sadly time will prevent me from acknowledging them all. But I would just like to single out the contributions both for and against the motion from my honourable and right honourable friends the members for Derby South, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Barnsley Central, Wakefield, Wolverhampton South East, Brent North, Liverpool, West Derby, Wirral West, Stoke-on-Trent North, Birmingham Ladywood and the honourable members for Reigate, South West Wiltshire, Tonbridge and Malling, Winchester and Wells.
The question which confronts us in a very, very complex conflict is at its heart very simple. What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the yoke, the cruel yoke, of Daesh? The carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we face from them. It could have just as easily been London, or Glasgow, or Leeds or Birmingham and it could still be. And I believe that we have a moral and a practical duty to extend the action we are already taking in Iraq to Syria. And I am also clear, and I say this to my colleagues, that the conditions set out in the emergency resolution passed at the Labour party conference in September have been met.
We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Isil, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.
So the United Nations is asking us to do something. It is asking us to do something now. It is asking us to act in Syria as well as in Iraq. And it was a Labour government that helped to found the United Nations at the end of the Second World War. And why did we do so? Because we wanted the nations of the world, working together, to deal with threats to international peace and security – and Daesh is unquestionably that.
So given that the United Nations has passed this resolution, given that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – because every state has the right to defend itself – why would we not uphold the settled will of the United Nations, particularly when there is such support from within the region including from Iraq. We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries, standing together shoulder-to-shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.
Now Mr Speaker, all of us understand the importance of bringing an end to the Syrian civil war and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. They are the best hope we have of achieving a cease-fire. That would bring an end to Assad’s bombing, leading to a transitional government and elections. And why is that vital? Both because it will help in the defeat of Daesh, and because it would enable millions of Syrians, who have been forced to flee, to do what every refugee dreams of: they just want to be able to go home.
Now Mr Speaker, no-one in this debate doubts the deadly serious threat we face from Daesh and what they do, although sometimes we find it hard to live with the reality. We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.
We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc. 130 people in Paris including those young people in the Bataclan whom Daesh – in trying to justify their bloody slaughter – called ‘apostates engaged in prostitution and vice’. If it had happened here, they could have been our children. And we know that they are plotting more attacks.
So the question for each of us – and for our national security – is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility? And if we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much – including Iraq and our ally, France.
Now, France wants us to stand with them and President Hollande – the leader of our sister socialist party – has asked for our assistance and help. And as we are undertaking airstrikes in Iraq where Daesh’s hold has been reduced and we are already doing everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria – should we not play our full part?
It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq. The House will remember that, 14 months ago, people were saying: ‘they are almost at the gates of Baghdad’. And that is why we voted to respond to the Iraqi government’s request for help to defeat them. Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobani. Now of course, air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh – but they make a difference. Because they are giving them a hard time – and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.
Now, I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh – who target innocent people.
Now on the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there’s been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the government must, I think, better explain that. But we know that most of them are currently engaged in fighting President Assad. But I’ll tell you what else we know, is whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number. And so to suggest, Mr Speaker, that airstrikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war has come to an end is, I think, to miss the urgency of the terrorist threat that Daesh poses to us and others, and I think misunderstands the nature and objectives of the extension to airstrikes that is being proposed. And of course we should take action. It is not a contradiction between the two to cut off Daesh’s support in the form of money and fighters and weapons, and of course we should give humanitarian aid, and of course we should offer shelter to more refugees including in this country and yes we should commit to play our full part in helping to rebuild Syria when the war is over.
Now I accept that there are legitimate arguments, and we have heard them in the debate, for not taking this form of action now. And it is also clear that many members have wrestled, and who knows, in the time that is left, may still be wrestling, with what the right thing to do is. But I say the threat is now, and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces. Now we heard very powerful testimony from the honorable member for Eddisbury earlier when she quoted that passage, and I just want to read what Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan regional government high representative in London, said last week and I quote: ‘Last June, Daesh captured one third of Iraq over night and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan region. Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France, and the actions of our own Peshmerga, saved us. We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We’ve pushed them back, and recently captured Sinjar. Again, Western airstrikes were vital. But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.’ And that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one, if we are serious about defeating Daesh.
Now Mr Speaker, I hope the house will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues on this side of the House. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have – and we never should – walk by on the other side of the road.
And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.

Can rhetorical excellence be inherited? PART I

Ed Jacobs (Left Foot Forward):

Hilary Benn showed us what Labour is missing


I have been a member of the Labour Party for fifteen years and never have I witnessed anything like yesterday.
MPs had a grave decision to make – to support military action against ISIL in Syria or not.
The debate started on a poor note. The prime minister failed to give a clear explanation of his figure that 70,000 moderate Syrians were ready to provide the boots on the ground needed to back up air strikes.
His decision not to apologise for his remarks that those opposed to military action were somehow ‘terrorist sympathisers’ was also an error of judgement that diminished the standing of the office that David Cameron holds.
Then came Jeremy Corbyn – head down in his notes, he simply faced a barrage of noise from the Conservative MPs, failing to answer head on his views about the air strikes currently taking place in Iraq against ISIL, strikes undertaken at the invitation of the Iraqi government itself.
The new, honest politics obviously did not extend to answering a straight question with a straight answer. The sight of deputy leader Tom Watson with his head in his hands said it all.
But then came Hilary Benn. Since agreeing to serve under Jeremy Corbyn Benn has been placed in a difficult, if not impossible position. He was forced to clear up the mess created by Corbyn’s failure to provide leadership on the UK’s place in the EU, and over Syria he has been propelled to play the statesman role that the leader of the official opposition is incapable of doing.
Benn’s speech last night was well and truly electrifying. The passion, the energy and the clarity that he brought to the argument was the kind of speech that neither Cameron nor Corbyn could deliver. It was a speech of a prime minister in waiting.
Jeremy Corbyn sat stony faced throughout, not even able to muster a ‘well done’ on the delivery of a great speech to his shadow foreign secretary.
The Labour Party now faces a crunch moment that it has to confront head on. Yes, Labour members voted overwhelming for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party but sometimes reality has to hit us.
Jeremy Corbyn is not a prime minister in waiting. His poll ratings are tanking further (if that were possible) among those voters who ultimately decide who governs the country.
His inability to present a united front on crucial security issues would pose severe difficulties of the UK’s position in the world if he were, by some fluke, ever to make it to Downing Street.
But worst of all has been his attitude to his parliamentary colleagues. Yes, he called for an atmosphere of tolerance as MP after MP has faced abuse for supporting military intervention in Syria, but it was he that sent Labour MPs to face the wolves last weekend, leaving them to stew. It was shameful.
Members of the parliamentary Labour Party and the country as a whole know the truth. For all his admirable qualities and principles, Jeremy Corbyn cannot and will not win a General Election. Hilary Benn showed yesterday what an effective, coherent opposition should look like.
Air strikes over Syria are now being undertaken in defence of democracy. In the UK our democracy is in peril thanks to the absence of a credible opposition to hold the government to account.
The Labour Party cannot go on like this. Something, and more specifically someone, needs to change and change now.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter
(Part II will include Hilary Benn's speech in full).

29 November 2015

Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr Max Atkinson Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation

European Speechwriter Network & UK Speechwriters' Guild

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 from 18:30 to 20:30 (GMT)

This event is open to anyone who has been inspired by the work of Dr Max Atkinson.
Join us for the presentation of Dr Max Atkinson's Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the understanding of speechwriting and public speaking.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

Graham Davies

Phil Collins
Over wine and nibbles, you can circulate with others who share the unusual expertise of putting words into someone else's mouth.
The ticket includes wine and nibbles and speeches from top people who have been influenced by Max's ideas.

The UK Speechwriters’ Guild supports the professional development of speechwriters by organising conferences and training.

Our purpose is to:
  • show the value of good speechwriting to individuals and organisations
  • invite the best speechwriters to explain their craft
  • share trade information, with hints, tips and examples of fine speechwriting

We want to shape a thriving international industry.

We welcome new members and those wishing to develop the skills of speechwriting and public speaking for professional purposes.

For more details go to: http://www.ukspeechwritersguild.co.uk
Do you have questions about Dr Max Atkinson Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation?Contact European Speechwriter Network & UK Speechwriters' Guild

21 November 2015

NGOs in Putin's Russia

I have just been invited to a conference in Oxford. The reply to my request for more details went as follows:

Dear Professor Atkinson,

Thank you so much for your interest in our seminar. It'd be a great honor for us if you decide to join our debates in Oxford in January. My only concern is that I can hardly be more specific about the audience at this stage. There will be around 80-90 journalists from different regions of Russia (relatively young, average age 35). The group is now being composed, and as soon as my colleagues give me more information, I'll be happy to share it with you. 

As for the School, we are an NGO based in Moscow, but forced to organize most of our seminars abroad due to the latest law on foreign agents. 

We've been holding seminars on Media and society for the last 20 years, and we believe we represent a unique source of top level Russian expertise, and the strongest of our experts are our journalists. We gather (especially for this seminar) young journalists from all over Russia and post soviet space (Eastern Europe including) and give floor to the best experts and journalists so that they could discuss all the vital issues. Our seminars are built the way that experts give a short talk (20-30 min) followed up by an hour of discussion. We also include panel debates, round tables, screenings and meeting film directors.

Yours sincerely
I--- B-------------

Vaguely puzzled by this, I sent a copy to my brother, who has a degree in Russian and follows events there more closely than most media commentators in the UK.

His reply:

What fantastic proof of your standing in the field. Very impressed.

NGO (non government organisations) are such an interesting story in Russia. They are now all but banned as the Putin govt regards them as foreign agents. The first major casualty was the British Council which I believe was headed by Kinnock junior. 

Russian journalists are very brave. They suffer from intimidation and even murder. Anna Politkovskaya was an example.

Good luck with your lifetime award presentation next week.
D and B!!!

20 November 2015

Lifetime Achievement Award: letter from an 80+ year old friend

Recently, I received a personal letter from someone I first met over 30 years ago. At the risk of sounding as though I'm blowing my own trumpet, a slightly edited version is reproduced here:

'Dear Max

'Congratulations on being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the UK Speechwriters' Guild. It seems to me I knew you as a boy when you came to the Political communication conference at the University of Essex and I met you for the first time. I would have thought then that it shouldn't have taken so long to receive such an award, given your training of your protege, Ann Brennan, to test the water at the SDP Party Conference in Buxton. Her standing ovation was in itself a Lifetime Achievement Award.

'And I know someone had to teach Paddy Ashdown how to speak in short sentences, beginning with a subject, adding a verb and closing in the object of the sentence. I wish more politicians, indeed more graduates, would read your books.

'I am sorry that I will not be there to cheer you on, particularly when you use your own techniques to ensure a rousing round of applause.


' Sir R----- W-------- KBE DL.'

The full story of how an appearance at the conference referred to by RW changed my life was told in 10 episodes in this blog a few years ago - HERE: http://maxatkinson.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/claptrap-10-academic-acclaim.html

What was not mentioned there was that, before I had finished presenting my paper at the conference, RW passed me a note saying: 'I must have a copy of your book to review in my column in The Times.' 

Whether or not he did review it in that newspaper, I don't know. But our paths have crossed in interesting ways over the years since then - and I am grateful to him for quite a lot of things that he and I both remember....

5 November 2015

Bonfire night, halloween and goodbye to "penny for the Guy"???

For former pupils of St Peter's School, York like me, 5th November is an annual reminder of our deprived childhood.

Because Guy Fawkes also went to the school, as too did some of the other gunpowder plotters, bonfires and fireworks were banned - on the grounds that burning an old boy was deemed to be 'bad form'.

Some years ago, whilst listening to some primary school children reading on 5th November, my wife told one of the children that her husband had gone to the same school as Guy Fawkes.

"Oh" said the child, "Did he know him?"

It seems that Bonfire night has been progressively eclipsed by Halloween night - a rather new import from the USA. The first time I heard "trick or treat" was about 35 years ago, and that was only because we lived near a US air base in Oxfordshire - and were visited by American children. 

The whole thing now seems to have got completely out of hand with fancy dress, pointed hats and pumpkin lanterns. There have even been some nasty accidents with cheap outfits catching fire. But not as many as there once were when anyone of any age could buy as many bangers and rockets as they liked.

So maybe we Old Peterites now have a valid reason for not bothering to feel deprived about not going out on a cold wet night to watch a fireworks display. 

I do still miss children asking for "a penny for the Guy?" - which i haven't heard for quite a few years.....