30 March 2012

An orator returns to the House of Commons



Twitter has been alive with tweets expressing mixed feelings about George Galloway's return to the House of Commons via the Bradford West by-election.

But his his Wikipedia entry ends with quotes from three newspapers about his public speaking ability:

The Times finds that he has "the gift of the Glasgow gab, a love of the stage and an inexhaustible fund of self-belief." The Guardian finds him "renowned for his colourful rhetoric and combative debating style" and the Spectator once awarded him Debater of the Year.

His victory speech (above) may have kicked off with a slight over-statement, but is a timely reminder of the shortage of competent orators among our current Members of Parliament.

Love him or hate him, students of rhetoric and oratory should welcome him back and look forward to an improvement in the quality of House of Commons debates, however slight the impact of a single member is likely to be.

21 March 2012

Early childhood doubts about becoming a farmer?

Thanks to my late mother's cine camera, I was able to splice together some clips of life on the farm in the early 1950s for my older brother's 70th birthday party last weekend - which I used to tell a story of why he grew up to become a farmer and I didn't.


Scene (1): Harvest, where both of us appear to be working quite hard.

Scene (2): Me on a trolley helping (or pretending to help) him to feed the pigs.

Scene (3): Skating, with one brother falling flat on his face.

Scenes (4-5): Action replays of the above (in case it happened so quickly that you missed it).

Scene (6): Our first combined harvester (in the days when there were no health & safety concerns about children riding on farm machinery).

Scene (7): Another combined harvester and some fatherly coaching on modern farming.

Scene (8): Older brother working hard, while I lean on a fork wondering whether this is the job for me...

Scene (9): Still photo of farming brothers from the nineteenth century. This was used by our grandfather (on the left) to boast to his grandchildren that his worn-out brush demonstrated what a hard worker he was compared with his idle older brother, whose brush was hardly worn. As a younger sibling, however, I've always been unconvinced by this. After all, is it really any surprise that the older brother has bagged the new brush for himself and left the younger one to make do with one that had seen better days?

19 March 2012

Kate makes her first speech as Duchess of Cambridge



At the time of posting, more than 300 people have watched this on YouTube, so here's a chance to predict which excerpts (if any) will be replayed on television news programmes this evening.

Comments (so far) by YouTube viewers include:

"The Duchess's First Speech Was Well Done. The Broken Up Speech Was Actually Done For The Children. Children Need To Be Able To Hear A Few Words At A Time To Understand A Speech. Well Done!!!!"

"Extremely annoying how she reads the script every 2 seconds, that was most likely written by her PR team."

"clear, professional, and sincere speech. job well done for being her first."

"speak up!"

"well done god save the queen."


But what do you think - and which will be the soundbite(s) for tonght?

12 March 2012

Clapping Clegg's condemnation of economically rational behaviour?

A line in a speech sometime makes me sit up and think twice about it and/or whether the politician really meant what he said - like this from Nick Clegg's speech to the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference over the weekend:

"Let me tell you, there are few things that make me angrier as the unemployed struggle to find work, as ordinary families struggle to make ends meet, as young people struggle to get on the housing ladder: the sight of the wealthiest scheming to keep their tax bill down to the bare minimum is frankly disgraceful" (about 50 seconds in):



The line in bold got me wondering whether it was fair comment or a rather too easy way to get some much needed applause - to which my answers are "no" and "yes".

If "scheming" means consulting accountants and if the advice they give you is legal, what exactly is it that's "frankly disgraceful" about anyone keeping "their tax bill down to the bare minimum"?

Or is Mr Clegg suggesting that we should all be volunteering to pay more tax than we should?

Of course we can sympathise with people struggling to find work, to make ends meet or to get on the housing ladder. But is this an adequate reason, excuse or justification for condemning the wealthy for their economically rational (and perfectly legal) behaviour?

Is this a new version of 'liberal economics' - or am I missing something?

6 March 2012

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: First English translation of Putin's victory speech

At the end of my previous blog post, I complained that the Western media - including newspapers like The Times, which used to boast that it was a 'newspaper of record' - hadn't bothered to publish an English translation of Vladimir Putin's victory speech (HERE).

So I gave up searching Google and turned to Twitter in pursuit of the elusive text, where a Russian speech guru's perceptively dry tweet seemed to explain all: "You see, the real problem with Putin's victory speech is that nobody cares enough to even transcribe it let alone translate it."

Luckily for readers of this blog, the winner of my Putin Christmas speechwriting competition, who also happens to be my brother (@dsa99uk) - perhaps the only person in the UK with degrees in Agricultural Economics and Russian - has come up trumps with the following translation (and David Atkinson's speech for Putin can be seen HERE).

As far as I know it is the first English translation of the speech that's been published so far, and you can watch and read it here:



Vladimir Putin:
Dear friends!

I particularly want to thank all the citizens of Russia who took part today in the election for President of the Russian Federation.

Special thanks, of course, to those who have gathered here today in Moscow, to all those who supported us in every corner of our vast and boundless country.

Thanks to everyone who said "yes" for a Great Russia.

I once asked you: "Will we win?"

We did win!

We won in an open and fair contest! [
Crowd cheers]

Thank you friends, thank you!

We won in an open and fair contest.

But it was not only the election for President of Russia.

It was a very important test for us all, for all our people, it was a test of political maturity, of independence, and of self confidence.

We have shown indeed, that no one can enslave us.

No one and nothing can enslave us.

We have shown that our people are truly able to easily distinguish between the desire for progress and renewed political provocation that has only one objective - to destroy Russian sovereignty and usurp power

The Russian people have now shown that in our country such choices and scenarios will not pass.

THEY SHALL NOT PASS. [Putin shouts]

We won today, thanks to the overwhelming support of the overwhelming majority of our voters, we won a clear victory.

We will work honestly and hard.

We will achieve success.

And we call on all to unite around the interests of our people and our homeland.

I promised you that we would win.

We did. We won. Glory to Russia.

(Translated by David Atkinson).

5 March 2012

Scripted & unscripted presidential victory speeches: Putin v. Obama



If you've been following the debate about scripted versus unscripted speeches (HERE), Putin's victory speech gives us a chance to review two comparable examples.

Those of us who don't speak Russian, of course, have to make allowances for any loss of impact arising from our having to rely on the simultaneous translation.

According to those who believe that speeches read from a written script sound (and/or look) 'less authentic' than those that don't, Putin is presumably the clear winner over Obama when it comes to delivering an effective presidential victory speech.

But that, predictably, is the exact opposite of the impression I got from these two specimens.

I also know that I don't feel in the least bit motivated to do a line-by-line analysis of Putin's speech along the lines of the one I did of Obama's back in 2008 (HERE).

Nor am I at all surprised that no national newspaper (or any other media outlet) has approached me for a technical comment on Putin's speech - and would be more than a little surprised if any of them bothered to do so.


P.S. Why hasn't the media published a text of Putin's speech?
Having spent quite a while on Google looking for things like "text of Putin's victory speech", I was surprised to discover that - unusually for what one would have thought was an important enough speech to merit full translation - none of our major media outlets has bothered to publish a verbatim copy of the text.

Needless to say, I think this is a great pity, as some of us are still old-fashioned enough to want to make our own assessments of politicians by hearing the actual words that come out of their own mouths, rather than having to depend on media-selected quotations or commentaries.

And, in this particular case, the few remarks that were translated did seem to be interesting and important enough to deserve full translation.