12 April 2012

Militant verb-avoidance in Miliband's latest speech

In the internet age, we can often can read a speech, free from any 'embargo', before it's actually been given - as with one we'll be hearing from Ed Miliband later today (posted on Politics Home at 9.53 a.m. this morning).

One thing that struck me about it was that there were rather a lot of sequences without any verbs, a practice pioneered in some of Tony Blair's early leader's speeches to the Labour Party Conference. But I'm no more convinced by it now than I was then.

Reading Miliband's forthcoming speech also reminded me that verblessnes is not something I recommend in my speechwriting courses either.

It also made me realise that I'm not quite sure why I don't and wonder whether I should.

Maybe it's because all these verbless phrases and isolated participles come across as disembodied lists that make it sound like the speaker's reading out the blobs/bullet points on a PowerPoint slide.

Or maybe I'm just an old fogey who's too preoccupied with the conventions of grammar to have noticed that the language of public speaking has changed.

If it has, I'd welcome your advice on whether you think it's a change for the better.

In the following sequences from the speech, the few sentences with verbs in them are singled out in italics:

Nobody will be in any doubt that change is necessary for our country.

Unemployment rising.

1 million young people out of work.

Living standards squeezed for all but a few at the top.

Irresponsibility still being rewarded in huge pay rises and bank bonuses.

And there are problems that go beyond one government.

Long hours.

Wages not going up.

Costs rising.

Strains on families.

Worries about the future.

An economy not working for working people.

I have changed where we stand.

Equality of sacrifice and fairness of reward matter.

To me.

To Labour.

To Britain.

For too many years, some of the most powerful in society thought no-one could stand up to them even if they were ripping people off.

Energy companies.

Train companies.


Even media companies.

I have changed where we stand.

No company is too powerful to challenge.

Standing with people in tough times is what counts.

To me.

To Labour.

To Britain.

That we are the party for the tougher times not just the easier times.

I have changed where we stand.

Changing our economy with:

Better quality jobs.

A living wage.

Making sure that businesses can get the money they need to grow

This matters.

To me.

To Labour.

To Britain.

And I am proud to lead a party affiliated to three million working people through our link to the trade unions:

The nurses who look after the sick.

The teaching assistants who teach our kids.

The shopworkers, the engineers, the bus drivers.

But I know we can do more.

We do it by making promises we know we can keep.

Not image over substance.

Not fake change.

But by offering a different direction for the country

That is where I stand.

That is where Labour stands.

With you, on your side in these tough times.

That's what we're fighting for in these local elections.


Plato said...

Fascinating - and explains why his speeches sound so odd.

Joel said...

Surely the point is that these are not really sentences at all. If you replace the full stops with commas, colons or hyphens then they make much more sense and are grammatically correct. The full stops are just to signal to the speech maker to slow down or give emphasis and should really be corrected for the written version.

Anonymous said...

I used to spend the whole of October err. Potatoing. Is this an example of verblessness? Dsa99uk

Adam said...

Perhaps an aversion to 'doing words' relates to his and his party's impotence and lack of policies. It's in keeping with the strategy of identifying problems but not offering solutions.

Anonymous said...

'Rising', 'squeezed' and 'rewarded' are verbs.

Adam said...

Maybe it's fine in small doses, but sounds odd if over-used?

Anonymous said...

I think the intentional effect of these list is that they are difficult for the listener to get a grip on. The intention is to make a point by flooding the listener with a great volume of examples. The speaker backs up their poiny by showing that there are seemingly innumerate evidences of their point, an effect which is enhanved if the listener feels strongly about any one of the items.
I think that it is often successful in this quest, but equally that it is rather inelegant - and certainly doesn't aid intelligent and precise political debate.