1 December 2010

Child of Thatcher or son of Brown: the power of contrast strikes again

After Wikileaks had revealed that William Hague had described himself and other top Tories as 'children of Thatcher', it had been widely expected that Labour leader Ed Miliband would mention it during today's Prime Minister's Question Time.

Less expected, perhaps, was that David Cameron had not only anticipated it too, but had also come ready with a neat contrast up his sleeve in case it came up.

And so it was that the PM's "I'd rather be a child of Thatcher than son of Brown" was instantly picked up in the TV studios, made mass appearances on Twitter and will no doubt be the only line that get's quoted or remembered from today's proceedings in the House of Commons.

For students of rhetoric, it was sheer delight to see the power of the contrast striking yet again.

You can find out more about the different types of contrast and how to use them in Lend Me Your Ears (especially pp.182-190). Or you can see a variety of video clips, transcripts and discussion in the selection below.

Shades of Nye Bevan and Oscar Wilde?
Cameron's performance today reminded me of a couple of stories about Aneurin Bevan and Oscar Wilde that are relevant to anyone who wants to excel as an ex tempore speaker.

Renowned as a brilliant parliamentary speaker, Bevan apparently didn't leave everything to chance. His preparations for speaking in debates apparently included anticipating the most likely Tory heckles and composing witty ripostes, just in case they happened.

I also heard it said of Oscar Wilde, originator of so many famous quotions, that he would go to parties equipped with a list of witticisms in his pocket that he could trot out if the opportunity arose.

Whether or not either of these is true, I don't know, but they do point to a practical tip that David Cameron already seems to be putting to good use.


hsramdnih said...

Thanks for the post Max. You can see how ready Cameron is for that and how excited he is by the opportunity - as soon as Miliband makes the point (0.07) Cameron is visibly desperate to get to the dispatch box and Osborne leans forward to urge him on.

(by the way I very much enjoyed the link to the older Tom Peters post as well).

Max Atkinson said...

Quite so - and I wish I could lip-read and figure out whether Hague was saying something along the lines of "There's your full toss - now hit it for six!"

Glad too that you liked the Tom Peters clip, which gets about as close to a 'content-free' presentation as anything I've ever seen (apart from comedy speeches and sermons from Peter Sellers and Alan Bennett).