England Ashes victories: 2010 & 1953



My parents bought their first TV set just before the coronation in 1953. Tiny black and white screen it may have been, but it did enable us to watch Dennis Compton (right) hitting the winning run that regained the Ashes in the final test match at the Oval (scorecard HERE).

I'd like to watch it again - so if anyone knows of an internet link to it, please let me know.

P.S. Thanks to 'pje' for entering the link to what I was looking for in the comments section - the British Pathe film can now be watched below.


PowerPoint Christmas circular competition result

This year's competition, inspired by the rise and rise of the Christmas circular letter, invited readers to take this art form to a new level of tedium:

All you have to do is to design a PowerPoint show for posting online to keep all your friends and relations up to date on the wondrous achievements of your children, the latest antics of your cats and dogs, your exotic holidays, etc., etc., etc. Whether you stick to the truth or tell a pack of lies is entirely up to you.

Laura Goldberg, who will be receiving a signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears for producing such a masterful blend of banality, boastfulness and fake sincerity.

She lost a few points early on in the show for being rather too clear and persuasive, concentrating as she did on three children and three pets, about the first few of which there were three blobs.

But she made up for this by earning bonus points for screwing up such a promising start by abandoning the structure completely, for no apparent reason and without any rational explanation whatsoever (from slide 5 onwards) - thereby demonstrating one of the many types of audience distraction commonly inflicted on audiences by PowerPoint presenters.

Hello dearest friends.

We are delighted to inform you of our family news this year.

Our children are splendid
Tom Cooper Ellis Joy Jones (15.5yrs)
  • Upgraded school shoes from velcro to laces
  • Makes us smile every day.
  • We're very proud.
Our children are splendid
Calum Ben James Marcus Oliver (17yrs)
  • Spelt out word for female breast on his calculator.
  • Most creative in expression.
  • Destined to be a writer.
Our children are splendid
Timothy Alfred Jack Louis Daniel (19yrs)
  • Reached second gig venue on Guitar Hero World Tour.
  • Very talented.
  • On his way to rock stardom.
Our pets are bothersome
Tom (cat)
  • Lives largely in own world.
  • Brings home assorted fish for our supper.
  • Salmon. Haddock. Plaice.
  • Makes a mess.
Our pets are bothersome
Harry (dog)
  • Is deaf as a post.
  • Munches treats a little too loudly.
  • Plays Elgar on our piano.
  • Irritates the family.
Our pets are bothersome
Dick (hamster)
  • Thinks himself a Houdini.
  • Escapes regularly, with not a tooth mark in sight.
  • Cage security grows by the day.
  • As does our resentment.
Happy Christmas
Lloyd-Kennedy-Davies family XXX

Anoraks' Corner: Two Christmas TV speeches

In case you missed them, as I did, here are two Christmas messages for you to catch up on.

YouTube scores (so far): Ed Miliband, 8,970; The Queen, 2,744 (though the former was posted four days earlier than the latter).

Favourable reactions in YouTube comments suggest that Miliband is in the lead (so far).

For what it's worth, I thought there was something a bit odd about both of them, but have yet to figure out exactly why. See what you think:

Last minute Daily Telegraph Christmas quiz

With only 24 hours left for you to enter my main Christmas Quiz (HERE) and inspired by the standards of journalism propagated by the Daily Telegraph over the past 48 hours (for more on which, see HERE), here's a last minute Christmas competition:

The said 'quality' newspaper has offered you the chance of sending their tape-recording buggers to bug a conversation between any two people in the world, a transcript of which will be published in the Daily Telegraph (and on this and Robert Peston's BBC website blog).

All you have to do is to name two unsuspecting victims on whose conversation you would like to eavesdrop.

Optional for anoraks: Write a short transcript of what they might be saying.

The winner will receive the same prize as the winner of my main Christmas competition - with the added bonus of an indeterminate amount of fame among readers of this blog and my followers on Twitter.

'Telegraph' or 'Sleazygraph': the ethics, uses and results of covertly recorded conversation

Following the covert bugging of Vince Cable by two people sent by the Daily Telegraph to pose as constituents attending his surgery, the media has been making quite a meal of it.

Yesterday, Twitter was buzzing with gleeful journalists speculating about what Cable will or should do, what Cameron and/or Clegg will or should do, what Miliband will or should do, etc., etc., etc.

Among the scores of journalists and bloggers who'd been tweeting about it since the story broke (not to mention reporters on all the main TV news programmes), I'd only noticed one who, towards the end of the day, expressed any reservations at all about the way the Daily Telegraph had acquired the story, when Sue Llewellyn (@suellewellyn) dared to ask on Twitter (at 17.49) :

'Anyone else feel uneasy about the whole idea of secretly taping someone?'

To which I replied: 'Yes, I've been tweeting about it all day.'

Why the unease?
There are a number of reasons why I've risked 'coming out' as more sanctimonious than most Twitterers, bloggers and mainstream media journalists.

My initial reaction was that it hardly seemed news that politicians say things in private conversations that they wouldn't dream of saying in public. After all, has anyone ever come across any community, society or organisation where people don't spend quite a lot of time saying things behind the backs of other people that they wouldn't say to their faces?

Then, as the story gathered pace, I began to worry that no one else seemed to be in the least bit concerned about the implications of so-called 'quality' media outlets, from the Telegraph to the BBC, using covert bugging, publishing and broadcasting of private conversations as a perfectly acceptable way of gathering news (or should that be 'creating news').

It struck me as being at best unethical and at worst illegal.

Whatever temporary damage the 'sting' or 'honey-trap' (or whatever else you want to dress it up as) may have done to the reputations of Vince Cable and the coalition government, there remains a bigger question: what long-term damage has been done to the UK media, now that the supposedly 'quality' end of it regards it as perfectly normal and acceptable to operate with such a cavalier disregard for ethics and legality?

I have no idea what the answer will turn out to be, but do know that what we've witnessed over the past couple of days makes me shudder to think about it.

Why am I getting so worked up about it?
Since starting t0 tweet about this yesterday, I've been asked why I've been getting so worked up about it. I've even been accused of being motivated by a partisan desire to defend Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats in their hour of need.

Nothing could be further from the truth - which actually goes back more than a decade before the LibDems had come into being to a time when wrestling with the ethics of covertly recording conversations was part of my everyday life.

Much of the data on which conversation analysis was built derived from tape-recorded phone calls. The late Harvey Sacks, one of the founders of the approach, set the ball rolling with a PhD at Berkeley that was based on tape-recorded phone calls to a suicide prevention agency (in which the callers were almost certainly completely unaware that their conversations were being recorded).

Research by two of the other foundational figures, Gail Jefferson and Emanuel Schegloff, as well as that by scores of investigators since, also depended, at least in part, on covertly recorded conversations.

The methodological challenge
The reason why covert recording was considered important was that a central objective of conversation analysts was to establish a rigorous method for observing 'naturally occurring' interaction - rather than relying on answers to questionnaires (e.g. sociology), artificially contrived experiments (e.g. psychology) or invented sentences (e.g. linguistics).

If people were warned in advance that their conversations were being recorded, so the argument went, it might influence or distort the way they spoke, therefore disqualifying the resulting tapes as pure 'naturally occurring' data.

But I know of no one who ever embarked on such work who did so lightly or with devious motives in mind. I don't know of anyone in the field who has not spent endless hours thinking and talking and worrying about the ethical dilemmas confronting us. Nor do I know of anyone who has ever breached the fundamental confidentiality of the taped conversations, let alone anyone who has ever betrayed, damaged or exploited any of the speakers involved in order to benefit themselves.

Scientific and public interest as legitimate defences?
I am certain that the analysis of covertly recorded data was at the heart of some major advances in our understanding of how conversation works.

But I do still have occasional doubts about whether 'scientific' interest really was and is a legitimate defence for what so many of us have done. I also remember a sense of relief from any such worries when I first started studying recordings of political speeches - which had the advantage of already being in the public domain.

Had anyone at the Daily Telegraph or the BBC suffered from similar worries, it would be nice to think that they would never have collected or used such ethically troublesome data in the way that they did.

The depressing thing is that I don't think any of them can have cared enough about the ethics (or legality) of what they were doing to have given such matters a second thought. Nor do I think they can have given much thought to the new standards of media reporting that they were helping to establish as 'normal'.

As for whether the media's 'public interest' defence is any less valid than the 'scientific defence' of conversation analyis is, of course, for others to decide.

At this stage, all I'd say by way of mitigation is that I don't know any conversation analyst who has ever been guilty of either betraying the confidentiality of those being recorded, or of exposing or exploiting anything they might have said for personal or commercial gain.

What made Brian Hanrahan's famous contrast so memorable?


"I counted them all out and I counted them all back."
There's hardly a media report today on death of distinguished BBC journalist Brian Hanrahan that doesn't refer to his famous line from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes during the Falkland's war in 1982 (37 seconds into the above).

Not only did he use repetition and contrast, but he followed it up with a list of three adjectives to describe the mood of the pilots, who were "unhurt, cheerful and jubilant."

Where did the line come from?
There's interesting report in today's Guardian, which includes the following:

'He used that form of words to get round military censorship of media reports – and it became the title of his book about the conflict, co-written with fellow correspondent Robert Fox...

'He was on the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes during the Falklands war when the first air strikes started taking place on Port Stanley in May 1982. Naval officials placed severe restrictions on what he could report, particularly in respect of the numbers of sorties flown by the Harrier jets.

Fox told the BBC today that in order to get round the restrictions, Hanrahan colluded with the "raffish Old Etonian intelligence officer" Rupert Nichol, who told him that they had both seen the same number of planes going in and coming back, and "that was the way he should go". Hanrahan turned the idea into the line he used on his broadcast.'

Why so memorable?
Hanrahan's contrast had already become memorable by the time I was writing a chapter on the way in which rhetorically formatted statements are likely to get noticed and quoted (Ch. 5: 'Quotability') for my book Our Masters' Voices, which came out two years later.

And the question of what makes a particular speech, or a particular line from a speech, memorable is one that has fascinated me ever since. In a post a couple of years ago (HERE), I ventured the suggestion that it helps if it strikes the right chord with the right audience in the right place at the right time - all of which are arguably true of this line from Hanrahan.

In another post, I noted that memorable lines, such as the most famous one from John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech, aren't always recognised as 'memorable' straight away (HERE).

Indirectness v. Directness
I still think, however, that part of the answer to why rhetorically formatted lines are so effective at grabbing the attention audiences is that they tend to be less direct ways of saying things that, if said directly, would hardly have been noticed.

Consider, for example, whether Hanrahan's line have been so widely reported and remembered if he'd selected a more direct way of reporting the same thing, such as "All the planes returned safely"?

I very much doubt it, just as I doubt whether anyone would have noticed if Margaret Thatcher had said "No one is going to make me change my economic policies" rather than her most memorable contrast "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning."

The idea that indirectness works better than directness is consistent with other research into conversation, which suggests that, in many and perhaps most contexts, there is a preference for saying things indirectly rather than directly.

As I said of these examples from Hanrahan and Thatcher in Our Masters' Voices (pp. 162.163): 'these more direct modes of communication leave nothing whatsoever to the imagination and little or no effort is required to be able to see the point' - and of the less direct options '.. to identify and appreciate the point being made, people have to put their brains to work. The increased mental effort involved in decoding interlocking contrasts and lists may increase the chances that particular message will remain in listeners' minds..'

Christmas competition, 2010

Last year I had a bit of a rant about Christmas circulars and the rise of undisciplined writing in the digital age.

Working with clients since then, I've become increasingly concerned by the way in which more and more companies and organisations are abandoning the use of MS Word to write conventional prose in favour of using MS PowerPoint for preparing reports, proposals, internal and external corporate communications, etc. (for more on which, see HERE and HERE).

As the latest of this year's circulars fluttered to the floor from today's delivery of Christmas cards, I realised that this trend has yet to spread from the professional world of work to the domestic world of communication between friends and relations.

Christmas competition 2010
Readers are therefore invited to pioneer a new kind of Christmas circular.

Forget Word, forget prose, and forget about buying paper, envelopes and stamps.

All you have to do is to design a PowerPoint show for posting online to keep all your friends and relations up to date on the wondrous achievements of your children, the latest antics of your cats and dogs, your exotic holidays, etc., etc., etc. Whether you stick to the truth or tell a pack of lies is entirely up to you.

How to enter
Entries should be emailed to me via the link at 'View my complete profile' in the left-hand column before 24 December 2010. If your entry is made up nothing but bullet points, you may prefer to enter it in the comments section below.

The winner will receive a copy of Lend Me Your Ears signed by the author. The runner-up will receive a copy of Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy, also signed by the author.

Access to the winning entries (and any other startling contributions) will be made available online some time after Christmas.

Orwell Blog Prize, 2011: a request for help from readers

I've had an email suggesting that I should nominate this blog for the 2011 Orwell Blog Prize, details of which can be found HERE.

The entry form asks for a list 10 posts between 1 January and 31 December 2010 on which the judges can deliberate - which is all very well except for two rather obvious problems:
  1. There are 196 to select from (so far).
  2. Authors are never the best judges of their own work.
So I'd very much appreciate it if readers could let me know - either by email via 'complete profile' in the left-hand column or in the 'comments' section below - which post(s) you've liked the best, found most interesting, intriguing, instructive, amusing, etc.

If you've time to go back over the year, you can access a complete list of blog posts during 2010 via the link on the left.

Background from Owell Prize website
The Orwell Prize 2011 is now accepting entries, opening on Thursday 21st October 2010 and closing on Wednesday 19th January 2011. All work published for the first time between 1st January 2010 and 31st December 2010 is eligible. All entries must have a clear relationship with the UK or Ireland (which might include, but is not limited to, citizenship or residency of the author or the work being published first or only in the UK or Ireland) - (my emphases).

The Prize is self-nominating – somebody involved in the production of the work (author, journalist, blogger, publisher, agent or editor) must enter it. If you’ve come across some great political writing this year which you think should be considered, please contact the administrator or discuss on our blog.

Once the administrator has received your entry, you should receive a confirmation email. Please get in touch if you haven’t received one after a few days.

After the entry deadline has closed, a list of entries will be published on this website.

Should prime ministers sing songs?

One of the videos currently available on the Sky News website is an extraordinary clip of prime minister Putin singing the Fats Domino hit I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill at a charity concert:

The sight of a prime minister singing took me back more than 30 years to the last time I remember seeing it happen - when James Callaghan kept the TUC guessing about whether he'd call an election in October 1978 (when he might well have won) or defer it to 1979 (which he did and lost to Margaret Thatcher) with his rendition of Marie Lloyd's Waiting at the Church.

On the basis of these two specimens, Putin comes across as the better singer of the two - and, unlike Callaghan, is unlikely to have done his future prospects any serious damage.

Naughtie's gaffe: 'C', 'K' & 'U' sounds or 'Freudian slippage'?

I've been a bit late catching up on news of James Naughtie's 'slip of the tongue' on BBC Radio 4's Today programme last week because I was away on holiday when it happened.

But I did hear about it and started wondering, as I did on hearing of Gordon Brown's claim to have 'saved the world', whether it would turn out to be yet another case of an 'error' being triggered by sounds of nearby words.

Now I've been able to listen to it, I can report that this is exactly what appears to have happened. As you can see from the transcript and hear in the audio-clip below, the hard 'c' or 'k' sound came just before and twice in quick succession immediately after the dreaded 'slip' - and, when a speaker is reading, he can see sounds and rhymes coming up before he's actually read out some of the earlier words (including the 'u' sound that also comes both before and after the error):

"First up after the news we're going to be talking to Jeremy Kunt-Hunt the culture secretary about broadband.."

As such, it was a fairly ordinary example of what the late Gail Jefferson described as a 'sound-formed error' (as too was Gordon Brown's 'saving the world' gaffe).

But, as I noted of Sarah Palin's recent North Korean 'slip of the tongue' - an example of the related 'category-formed error' - 'The trouble is ... that media commentators (and other experts) love to find deeper meaning in such errors, regardless of how they were formed. As Jefferson pointed out in her original paper, many alleged 'Freudian slips' turn out to be 'sound-formed' or 'category-formed' errors.

And on Radio 4 last Monday, it hardly took an hour for just such an expert to pop up in the very next programme, Andrew Marr's Start the Week - where one of the guests, David Aaronovich of The Times, was there to plug a series of programmes he'd made on ... er.. Freudian Slippage:

'C' , 'K', 'U' - or 'Freudian slippage'?
Although I've always been mystified by the extraordinary intellectual influence of a theory as thin on empirical backing as Freud's (unless it really is just that id, ego and superego amount to a particularly impressive example of the persuasive power of three-part lists), there's one thing about all the reports I've read about Mr Naughtie's gaffe that makes me wonder whether there might be more to all that sexual gobbledygook than I'd thought.

After all, everything I've seen about the story in the media refers to the four-letter word in question as C*** and not, as I did in my transcript above, as Kunt.

Could this, I wonder, along with the coughing and sniggering to be heard in the two audio clips, be firmer evidence of 'Freudian slippage' than anything said by Mr Naughtie last Monday morning?

At the risk of blogging my own trumpet...

Arriving home after a blog-free week in Tenerife, I found a Google Alert directing me to a rather positive review of these pages on the politics.co.uk website (HERE).

I've long thought that blogging is a bit like writing books, as you never quite know whether you're hitting the mark(s) you were aiming for until you get unsolicited feedback from readers.

So to come across a review like this is not only very encouraging, but also helps to make it seem worth blogging on for a bit longer:

'Knowledgeable, well-written and occasionally witty - rather as one would expect from a professional communications consultant.

'Well laid-out without being visually stunning, Max wins points for plenty of functionality, links and videos.

'He seems to be on something of a crusade against the heinous practise of powerpoint presentations, which lends this blog a unique flavour.

'Not many blogs out there focus so much on politician's presentation style, so this makes a nice addition.

'Regular posting and decent opinion pieces round out what is a thoroughly impressive piece of work.'

I also take it as quite a compliment that Politics.co.uk awarded it the same score (8/10) as Iain Dale's Diary, one of the country's top-rated political blogs.

Blatter the bureaucrat or Blatter the bully?

Blatter the bureaucrat
If you can bear it, here's Blatter the bureaucrat announcing FIFA's decision on which country should host the 2018 World Cup:

Blatter the bully
Now, again if you can bear it, here's Blatter the bully pushing President Zuma out of the way to present the cup to to the winners earlier this year:

Blatter the boor
As I pointed out then - in Bad manners from Blatter as he bags limelight to present the World Cup - there was a time when FIFA allowed heads of state to present the cup. But that, of course, was before Blatter and his boys took over.

Interestingly, the original YouTube video of this that I embedded in the post back in July suddenly stopped working, as it had mysteriously become 'unavailable'. Could it be, I wondered that FIFA had been so embarrassed by Blatter's boorish behavior that they'd had it removed?

In the light of today's announcements from FIFA, how they reached that or any of their other decisions remains a mystery.

So too is whether anyone will have had the decency to warn the Russians that whoever is their president in 2018 will need to bring shoulder-pads to the final.

WikiLeaks News: Are Vladimir Putin and Vladek Schebal by any chance related?

Watching the chess match in the James Bond film From Russia With Love last night, I couldn't help wondering, as they do in Private Eye, whether Russian politician Vladimir Putin and Polish film actor, the late Vladek Schebal, were by any chance related?

Probably not, as Wikipeda assures us that Mr Shebal 'excelled in playing cold, sinister villains'.

P.S. 16th December - and another one
Today I must thank Patrick Hennessy, political editor of the Sunday Telegraph for drawing my attention to another candidate via Twitter (@PatJHennessy): Putin's true look like is much closer to home. It's @paulwaugh. Separated at birth...

I can see what he means, but don't know enough about Mr Waugh to know whether he's as good at 'playing cold, sinister villains' as he is at writing about them:

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.

Prince Andrew cool under fire on Sky News - except that he wasn't under fire at all!

Looking at the latest selection of video clips on the Sky News website a few moments ago, I was struck by three things that seemed a bit odd about this one.
  1. Prince Andrew didn't seem as defensive as I expected him to be after the Wikileaks allegations about his being rude about various people, newspapers and countries at a business brunch in Kyrgyzstan.
  2. He seemed much more careful about what he was saying than the Wikileaks story suggests that he sometimes is.
  3. No interviewer puts in an appearance, let alone one who might have exploited the rather long silences by coming in with a challenging question or two.
Then all suddenly became clear when I noticed the box in the top right hand corner of the screen - revealing that this was recorded nearly a year earlier than any of the other nineteen (current) videos featured on the same web page.

Or rather his coolness and the absence of any interrogation was what became clear. What didn't was why Sky News replayed it alongside all their other clips about Wikileaks without so much as a word of explanation.

Ed's weekend Miliramblngs

Yesterday, I was struck by a line in an interview with Ed Miliband by Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 live (partly transcribed HERE), in which he said something that seemed a bit short in the precise and decisive departments:

"I think I can fairly sort of certainly say to you now, Nicky, that's unlikely to be the biggest priority for the country."

Part of that interview was trailing the speech he was going to make today at Labour's National Policy Forum (transcript HERE). So stand by, I thought, for a bit more precision and clarity in his first major speech since paternity leave.

A seasoned reporter has trouble following him
Just after Mr Miliband had started speaking, I noticed that Sky News reporter Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkall) had suddenly got busy on Twitter whilst listening to the speech - with a series of tweets that included the following:
  • Miliband speaking without notes. Multiple accusations that govt is arrogant.
  • Miliband. There are 5 things we (Labour) need to do.
  • 1. "Need to reconnect. Talk to people" Must be one of the most over-used phrases.
  • 2. Need to give a voice to Labour Party members. Will help create better policy.
  • Finally a spot of clapping. Thought the audience might have dropped off..
  • Sorry, lost track, I can't count. Apparently must-do number 2 is the need to change the economy.
  • Miliband: "We have to under-promise and over-deliver." Is that a subtle address to the criticisms of lack of substance?
  • Miliband jokes about Cameron going 2 arctic with huskies early in his leadership. But it got Cameron headlines & Miliband needs some of that.
  • Summary: Miliband wants Lab Party to reform and focus on economy, climate change and liberties. Party must hold conversation with voters.
I was intrigued that a professional television news reporter was losing track of the five-part structure Miliband had announced and didn't include all of them in his summary. Maybe the structure would be easier when reading rather than listening - so I turned to the transcript (HERE).

Clearer for readers than listeners?
But the written version also seemed to be a bit lacking in the precision department - and actually sounds, at least to this reader, rather rambling and incoherent as you're reading through it. Keeping track of the five-part structure announced at the start is quite hard work and involves having to re-read some of the segments to check whether he's on to a new point or still on the previous one.

As you'll see from the following outline of the structure as it unfolds, things really start to go astray after the 4th one starts with a "But". And is the "one other thing" the fifth or an extra one that he's added to the fifth?

"So I want to talk to you about the five things that I think we need to do....

"First of all we have to be a party rooted in people’s lives....

"Secondly we have to change our economy and we have to understand how we need to change our economy....

"Thirdly we need to change our approach not just to markets, but to government as well....

"But fourth we also need to think about not just the relationship of the individual to the market and the relationship of the individual to government but also the thing that probably matters most to all of us in this room, the relationships between individuals....

"There’s, one other thing which is the way we do our politics....

(Miliband's summary of the 5 points)
"We’ve got to change in terms of the way we are rooted in people’s lives, and you are essential to making that happen. We have to change in the way we think about our economy, the way we think about government, the way we think about community and indeed in the way we think about politics too."

Two tips for Mr Miliband
  1. Stop trying to copy the walkabout 'script-free' style of speaking that played such an important part in David Cameron's surprise victory in the Tory leadership beauty parade. The PM is pretty good at it, but most politicians are not (on which, see also HERE, HERE & HERE).
  2. Do some homework on how to structure a speech so that your audience will find it easy to follow, on which Chapter 9 of my book Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations might be as good (and cheap) a place to start as any.

Sarah Palin's North Korean slip of the tongue: what we heard and what we'll make of it

For American politicians, talking about North Korea seems to be a bit of a minefield.

When Hillary Clinton threatened North Korea with "consequences" for its misconduct, she prefaced her dire warning with a large number of 'pre-delicate hitches' (HERE).

Now we have Sarah Palin telling us that she wants to "stand by our North Korean allies".

As she's also trying to convince her fellow Americans that she's a credible presidential candidate, it's hardly surprising that her gaffe was not only noticed, but has also become a big news story around the world.

But however much her opponents may be hoping that it will damage her reputation, the most likely explanation of it is that it was a rather common type of 'slip of the tongue' - i.e. what the late Gail Jefferson, one of the founders of conversation analysis, described as a 'category-formed' error (HERE)

Sound-formed errors
Two years ago, a similar gaffe from Gordon Brown attracted widespread media attention when he claimed to have saved the world.

However, as I pointed out at the time, there were four 'w' sounds in the sentence that ended with "world", which he quickly corrected to 'banks' (video and comments HERE). In other words, it looked like a fairly typical example of what Jefferson had described as a 'sound-formed' error, namely one that was triggered by a repeated sound in the words spoken just before the 'wrong' one came out.

Category-formed errors
A similar type of conversational 'error' described by Jefferson was what she called the 'category-formed' error. This is when the word that comes out means something that's related to the one intended - a common example of which involves selecting a word that means the exact opposite of what we meant, e.g. right instead of left, hot instead of cold, black instead of white, etc.

Viewed in these terms, Palin's use of North for South therefore sounded like a fairly typical example of a 'category-formed' error.

Freudian slips or slips of the tongue?
The trouble is, of course, that media commentators (and other experts) love to find deeper meaning in such errors, regardless of how they were formed. As Jefferson pointed out in her original paper, many alleged 'Freudian slips' turn out to be 'sound-formed' or 'category-formed' errors.

But, as I discovered when doing a radio interview on Gordon Brown's 'saving the world' gaffe, the media isn't very interested in a such mundane explanation of slips of the tongue when there are alternative that are 'deeper', more sensational or more damaging.

Once it's out, it's anyone's
In case opponents of Mrs Palin think that I'm trying to offer her a neat way of getting off this particular hook, I should mention that there is also some encouraging news for them from one of the other founders of conversation analysis, the late Harvey Sacks - who used to say about talk: "Once it's out, it's anyone's".

He didn't just mean that you can't 'un-say' words after they've already been said, but that they're available for anyone to analyse and interpret in whatever way they like. And that is precisely what the media is doing in this particular case.

Blueprint for a truly representative House of Lords

Regular readers will know that I take a very dim view of the way members of the House of Lords are selected - and actually think that the half-baked changes that Labour dragged itself into making during its thirteen years in office have made it an even greater embarrassment to a modern democracy than it was before 1997. As I wrote in a post nearly two years ago:

'...there’s still unfinished business and more work to be done. To take but one example, the Blair government finally got around to abolishing the hereditary principle as a basis for membership of the House of Lords, but has left us with entry qualifications to the upper house that are as far removed from any democratic principles as could be imagined.'

Before that, we could at least mount a sort of defence - namely that the House of Lords was a feudal anachronism that successive governments had never quite got around to doing anything much about.

A 'predominantly elected' House of Lords?
Then, for all the coalition government's talk of major constitutional reforms, David Cameron's prime-ministerial debut at PMQ held out little hope for radical change when he declared his support (twice) for a "predominately elected" House of Lords - which sounded suspiciously like an assurance to the undemocratically selected miscellany of former MPs and party cronies that they needn't worry about being forced to vacate their cosy retirement home in the other place.

I do recognise, of course, that there might be a problem with a completely elected House of Lords - especially if its members were elected by a more proportional system than that used for electing MPs to the House of Commons - as it could set off a power struggle between the two houses as to which one had the more democratic mandate.

Listening to me banging on about how to bring real reform to the Lords is something my unfortunate family and friends have been forced to put up with for years.

The most interesting solution so far has come from one of my daughters-in-law. And, with the spectacle of yet more cronies being parachuted on to the red leather benches, it seems as good a time as any to share Anne's proposals with a wider audience.

Membership that's fair and representative
The principle of public service is at the heart of her system for allocating seats in the House of Lords - which would be as representative of the general population as it's possible to imagine and has the following advantages over all the other proposals I've ever heard mooted:
  • Equal numbers of male and female members would be assured.
  • The age distribution would be an accurate representation of that in the population as a whole, thereby eliminating the current bias in favour of the elderly.
  • Representation of different ethnic groups would reflect the proportion of them in the general population, unlike at present.
  • The occupational and socio-economic background of members would also reflect that in the population at large.
  • Members would hold their seats for a fixed term, and not for the rest of their lives.
  • Political motivation to obtain a peerage would be eliminated.
Too good to be true?
Er, no. We already have a well-proven, practical and efficient system that's been achieving all these benefits simultaneously - and has been doing so for a very long time.

Until now, however, it's only been used to select members of the public for jury service.

So why not also use it for selecting members of the public for service in the House of Lords? After all, if juries are capable of playing such an important part in applying the laws of the land, the same people would presumably also be just as capable of revising new laws.

The next step?
A few important modifications to the way jury members are recruited would obviously have to be introduced - e.g. geographical representation, number of members, length of service, how frequently should new members be appointed, remuneration, training, etc.

But it's surely not beyond the wit of government to appoint a Royal Commission, chaired perhaps by a judge or constitutional lawyer, and including at least one psephologist and the CEO of IpsosMORI (and/or other polling companies who know about sampling) to sort out the details and devise a system that would work.

I'd be more than willing to serve on it myself. Unfortunately, however, I don't think it will ever happen.

Other posts on the House of Lords

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, 20 years on from her resignation...

When I was doing the research that led to my first book on public speaking (Our Masters' Voices, 1984) Margaret Thatcher was the leading British politician of the day and provided me with much of the data analysed in the book - for which I was and still am extremely grateful.

Later on, when I was writing speeches for former LibDem leader Paddy Ashdown, she provided much raw material for lines that were more or less guaranteed to get rapturous applause.

But those were only two of my debts to her. Another was that I've often summed up my professional life by saying that it came about as a result of being both a victim and a beneficiary of Thatcherism.

Victim of Thatcherism
This was because of the appalling damage her governments inflicted on higher education and research in the UK, not to mention what they did to my standard of living or the two years of insecurity that came to a head in 1981 - when her Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph commissioned Lord Rothschild to investigate my then employer (the Social Science Research Council) with a view to making a case for closing it down.

Luckily, he didn't oblige, concluding that it would be a 'gross act of intellectual vandalism' to do so. The compromise accepted by Thatcher and Joseph was to delete the word 'science' and elevate the importance of their favoured discipline with a new name: the Economic and Social Research Council.

Beneficiary of Thatcherism
A few years later, the benefit from Thatcherism came when Nigel Lawson's budget of 1988 reduced the top rate of income tax to 40%. That was the moment when and the reason why I decided to risk leaving the groves of academia to become a self-employed consultant and author (links to a fuller story of which can be found in the final post of the Claptrap series HERE).

To that extent, I can claim to be living proof that the official economic case for Thatcher-Reagan tax reductions, namely that they would unleash entrepreneurial zeal, worked in at least one case.

The cricketing simile that put an end to her innings
To mark the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher resignation as prime minister, links to some of my writings about her, both from Our Masters' Voices and this blog, are reproduced below.

I also thought it appropriate to mark the occasion with a clip from the speech that fired the starting gun for what turned out to be a rather quick sprint to the end - coming as it did only 21 days later.

In his speech on resigning as Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Howe, who wasn't renowned as a brilliant speaker, deployed a vivid cricketing simile to describe what it had been like working with Mrs Thatcher.

"It's rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain."

The speech ended with a fairly explicit invitation to other discontented colleagues to stand against her for the leadership:

"The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long."

Three weeks later, she resigned.

There was a rumour at the time that this particular sequence was actually written by Sir Geoffrey Howe's wife - a claim that, so far, I've never managed to verify.


Prince Charles knew that what he said about Camilla becoming Queen was extremely delicate

Yesterday, I blogged about how the 'pre-delicate hitches' in some of the questions put to Prince William and Kate Middleton by ITN's Tom Bradby could be heard as indicating that he was rather more nervous than his interviewees (HERE).

Little did I expect that more pre-delicate hitches from Prince Charles were about to feature in a big news story on both sides of the Atlantic.

Newspapers don't often print detailed transcripts of what someone said in an interview. But several of the reports of the way Prince Charles answered the much publicised question from NBC's Brian Williams - about whether Camilla would ever become Queen - provided rather more detail than usual, accompanied as they were by dots along with comments to the effect that he'd been 'hesitant' or 'caught off guard'.

Daily Telegraph
Asked by NBC’s Brian Williams if the Duchess would become queen, the Prince, who seemed taken aback by the question, said: “That’s, well…we’ll see, won’t we? That could be.”
Although aides insisted the Prince had been caught off guard and there had been “no change” in the official position, the comment will be seen by many as an indication of his inner thoughts.

Daily Mirror
In a shift from previous statements, the Prince of Wales did not contradict an American interviewer who asked: "Does the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen of England, if and when you become the monarch?" Until now, the official position has been that the Duchess of Cornwall would have the title Princess Consort.
Hesitating, the prince replied: "That's well... we'll see won't we? That could be."

The Guardian
During an interview with the American network NBC, due to be aired tomorrow, Charles did not correct the presenter of NBC's Dateline programme, Brian Williams, when he asked: "Does the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen of England, if and when you become the monarch?" The prince hesitated, then replied: "That's well … we'll see won't we? That could be."

More hitches than a few dots
As you'll see from the video clip, the dots used in these news reports hardly do justice to the extraordinary number of 'pre-delicate hitches' - i.e. at least eleven of them (in blue) - that led up to his most widely reported sentence: "that could be":

"Wehh -uhhh-that's-umm that's (1 second pause) well (0.5 second pause) let's see won't we. But-uhh (1 second in-breath) Ummm (0.5 second pause) that (0.5 second pause) could be."

Hardly surprising, then, that his 'hesitancy' featured in news reports. But one interesting question is whether 'the comment will be seen by many as an indication of his inner thoughts' (Daily Telegraph), or whether it became headline news because of the way he led up to and made the comment - as is implied by the inclusion of dots in the rather inadequate media transcripts.

Whatever the answer, research in conversation analysis suggests that Prince Charles was displaying an awareness that he knew perfectly well that he was about to say something that would be heard by others as very delicate indeed.

Was the royal engagement interviewer more nervous than his interviewees?

It was quite a coup for Tom Bradby, ITN's political editor, to be favoured by Prince William and Kate Middleton for the first interview after the announcement of their engagement (as for why they chose him, see HERE).

The couple also did viewers a favour by sparing us from having to watch either of the Dimbleby brothers, let alone rival BBC or Sky News political editors, Nick Robinson or Adam Boulton, doing the job.

Who was the most nervous of them all?
But I was surprised to see various interviews with Mr Bradby about his encounter with them, in which he told us how nervous the couple had been during the interview - because there were a number of places where he seemed more nervous than either of his iterviewees.

This was especially evident in the way he giggled as he put some of the more 'delicate' questions.

Take, for example this one about whether they plan to have lots of children - to which Prince William's response is rather more assured than Bradby's question:

More giggles, a few pauses and hesitations came from Mr Bradby when he asked Miss Middleton about what it had been like meeting the Queen for the first time - to which her reply is rather more fluent than his question:

These are only two examples of something evident in quite a number of Mr Bradby's questions during the interview and on which I've blogged about before, namely what conversation analysts call 'pre-delicate hitches' (see links below for more examples).

Taken together, they gave the impression that he was much more nervous and less confident than he usually is when interviewing politicians.

Anyone interested in exploring this further can watch the whole interview below and/or access a transcript of it HERE.


0% of viewers remember all the points made in a BBC PowerPoint-style news presentation

Last night, I discovered that after dinner speeches don't always take place after dinner. I'd been invited to talk about PowerPoint to the Council of the Management Consultancies Association between the starter and the main course, with a Q-A session scheduled to take place after the diners had finished eating their main courses.

As after-dinner speeches are normally expected to be vaguely entertaining, it was a chance to combine a bit of amusement with some opportunistic research into something that, as regular blog readers know, is one of my recurring obsessions - namely the increasing use of PowerPoint-style presentations during British television news programmes (for more on which, see 'Related Posts' at the bottom of this page).

So I ended my talk with the following clip from a BBC Television News broadcast on the financial crisis, in which business editor Robert Peston gives us a 36 second presentation from the other side of the studio.

Research design
The diners were given no advance warning that, about half-way through the main course, they would be issued with a short quiz aimed at testing their retention of Peston's words of wisdom.

If you'd like to join in, don't read down to the questions below, watch the video first and then wait 10 minutes before coming back to have a go at answering them.

MCA Council Dinner Quiz
  1. How much is the recue deal going to cost the government?
  2. How much is that as a proportion of GDP?
  3. How much a year will it cost each tax-payer?
  4. How does Peston describe the recovery in bankers' willingness to lend?
  5. What reason does he give for that?
  1. No conferring.
  2. To be completed before the end of the main course.
  3. In te event of a tie, the result will be decided by the judge.

As there was only one prize (a signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears), I had to allow for the possibility that everyone might score 100% - which I did by preparing a few tie-breaker questions.

It came as something of a surprise, even to me, that none of the 40 or so participants was able to answer all 5 questions correctly.

Only three of them (7.5%) managed to answer 4/5 correctly - so it didn't take long for the tie-breaker questions to produce a winner.

So what?

I wouldn't want to give too much weight to a research design that was intended partly as entertainment and partly to illustrate one of the themes of my talk. But I do think it's interesting that 92.5% of an audience of highly educated professionals - with far more experience of watching PowerPoint presentations than most ordinary viewers of BBC Television News programmes - were only able to remember three (or fewer than three) of the main points in Peston's report/presentation.

P.S. to visitors from countries outside the UK:
I've been trying to find out whether this trend towards PowerPoint-style TV news reports is a peculiarly British trend, or whether it's also happening in other countries. If you've any information on this, please let me know.