'The art of oratory is fast on the way out': at last, some support from a top journalist

At last, a top political journalist, Steve Richards (@steverichards14), has come out with an article in today's Independent making a point that I've been writing and blogging about for years.

As no one in the media or politics has taken much notice of the argument so far, I was delighted to see it coming from so distinguished a source - and very much hope that it might mark the beginning of a concerted reaction against the depressing way in which politics has become more and more mediated by journalists and editors.

Under the headline In the age of Twitter, the art of oratory is fast on the way out - The interview on the 'Today' programme matters more than giving a speech. Politicians thrive by being dull and cautious, he starts off by saying:

'In the UK an important political art is no longer practised, even though the skill brings politics to life in an era of determined apathy. The demise is neither mourned nor noticed and yet the absence makes for duller politics – politics at a distance. We make do with a cabinet minister's parking ticket and the alleged redistribution of penalty points to make up for the lack of excitement.

'This is the first generation of national politicians without a single orator, a single mesmerising speaker. There is not one who can cast a spell. Tony Blair was the last great speaker, an underestimated orator who never delivered a dull speech. Blair could make a lacklustre text and sometimes a silly one come to inspiring life. Even when making a complex argument, he was worth seeing live, transfixing an audience.

'The decline is sudden and marked. Not so long ago Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Michael Heseltine, and Neil Kinnock could fill halls around the country, and when they spoke in the Commons MPs would leave their offices to attend. Last week's brilliant BBC4 documentary on the rivalry between Harold Wilson and Ted Heath showed how important it was for both of them to find ways of engaging directly with voters. Neither were natural orators, and yet both, especially Wilson, became at least interesting public performers....'

Richards then poses the key question: Does it matter that such characters or characteristics no longer play a part in British politics?

He thinks that it does - which is why I strongly recommend you to read the whole of his article.

And so do I - for reasons outlined in some of the posts below - which is why I've started work on updating my book Our Masters' Voices: the language and body language of politics.

Originally written in 1984, the data, mainly recorded from televised speeches, could not have been collected during any British general election since 1987 for the simple reason that so few excerpts from speeches were ever broadcast on television after that.

So the only (minor) point where I disagree with Steve Richards is that, if by 'The decline is sudden and marked' he means that it's only just happened, it hasn't. The rot actually set in more than a quarter of a century ago. There were already signs of it in title of the paper I gave at the Essex conference after the 1983 general election, namely 'The 1983 elecion and the demise of live oratory' (in Ivor Crewe and Martin Harrop (eds.), Political Communications: the General Election Campaign of 1983, Cambridge University Press, pp. 38-55).

Related posts

Will Blatter's barmy contrast live on to haunt FIFA?

On this blog and in my books, I've written quite a lot about how rhetorical techniques can trigger applause and are likely to be singled out by the media as soundbites for reporting to wider audiences.

One of the most powerful techniques is the contrast, as is exemplified by some of the most famous quotations of all times - ranging from "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" through "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" to "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning."

Today, from FIFA president Sepp Blatter we heard another (above). We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties may not have triggered any applause, but it was a line that began to circulate on Twitter within seconds of the words coming out of his mouth.

I'll be very surprised if sundry tweets will be the last we hear of it - which is why I'm looking forward to checking out tomorrow's newspapers...

P.S. Shortly after writing this, the lead headline on the BBC website was "Fifa is not in crisis - Blatter", which is the first of what I expect to be a lot of media quotes of part or all of this particular contrast.

P.P.S. Tuesday, 31 May: the line was also picked up by the Daily Mirror, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and The Times (if you can get behind the paywall).

Also on Blatter:

President Obama's speech at Westminster awarded a B-

PART 1/3

The whole speech can be watched HERE , 'embedding' of which has been 'disabled by request' and full transcript at the bottom of the page.

President Obama opened his speech with a quip about the 'very high bar' of the occasion:

"I'm told the last three speakers here have been The Pope, Her Majesty the Queen, and Nelson Mandela, which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke."

As regular readers will already know, it was another 'very high bar' that really interested me: how would it compare with Ronald Reagan's speech to both houses of parliament in 1982?

Taking rhetoric, content and delivery into account, I'd have given the original great communicator a straight A and a B- for his sucessor .

Certainly there were a few highs (and lows), on which more below. But first, some reactions from the British media seemed to point towards a B- rather than an A:

Media moans
'Obama's historic speech fails to soar' - Mark Mardell, BBC website.

'partly platitudinous' - Steve Richards, The Independent.

'failed to raise the roof' - George Parker, Financial Times.

'failed to live up to his own high standards' - Andrew Grimson, Daily Telegraph.

'less moving than we had expected.. more of a hand-stitched tapestry than a speech' - Simon Hoggart, The Guardian.

Too much?
Simon Hoggart was arguably on to something, and was by no means the only commentator to suggest that Obama tried to cover too much ground.

As Andrew Grimson put it in the Daily Telegraph: "The presidential text sounded as if it had been worked on so hard and conscientiously by a vast team of helpers that it had lost all savour, and been reduced to a series of orotund banalities, of the sort which can be heard at every tedious Anglo-American conference: 'Profound challenges stretch out before us…the time for our leadership is now…Our alliance will remain indispensable.'"

And a similar verdict from Mark Mardell, the BBC's North American editor: 'It didn't quite work. It was flat and lacked soaring passion. That is part of the Obama conundrum. Sometimes this tremendous orator doesn't pull it off. It is often when the argument is over-constructed and the raw emotion can't burst through the stretched logic... This felt like an attempt to mix too many elements. Flattering Britain, promoting the essential relationship, American exceptionalism, Britain's role in creating it, universal values. They were all there, but like oil and water stayed stubbornly apart.

Quite a few commentators suddenly became expert observers of audience reactions and tried to make something of the fact that, apart from standing ovations before and after the speech, the president was only applauded once.

Needless to say, none of them noticed that it came after he'd used a rather neat contrast - which, as readers of my books and this blog will know, is one of the most reliable rhetorical devices for prompting applause:

[A] "it's possible for the sons and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members of this great Parliament
[B] "and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army to stand before you as President of the United States."

Nor did any of the instant experts seem to know that Ronald Reagan also only received one burst of applause when he spoke to parliament in 1982 - which came after he'd deployed an even more powerful rhetorical technique than a contrast on its own (video HERE).

Obama still lacks Reagan's teleprompter mastery
Both presidents majored on foreign policy. But, separated as the two speeches were by more than a quarter of a century, comparing their respective treatments of international issues of the day is no easy task.

But on their respective delivery of the speeches, Reagan's ability to read a speech as though he wasn't reading at all was second to none (not to mention his brilliance at carrying on as if nothing had happened when a teleprompter lets you down) - and it's one area where Obama still needs to do more homework/practice.

It's also something of which American communications expert Bert Decker has been very critical over the last few years and his blog on 'Obama, Teleprompters and Authenticity' is well worth a read.

1. The USA isn't the world's only democracy
If there’s one thing that irks me about speeches by American presidents (and other US politicians), it’s their tendency to overstate the case for their country being the first, finest or only example of freedom and democracy in the world (more on which HERE).

So the positive highlight of the speech for me was to hear him openly recognising that Britain has not only played a part in the development of liberal democracy but also qualifies as such in the eyes of Americans (or at least of this American president).

2. Don't overdo your references to Churchill (and use with care)
Obama had plenty to say about and quote from Churchill (as did Reagan in 1982) - which is, of course a sure-fire recipe for any American politician who wants to strike a few chords with a British audience.

But I thought he rather overdid it and made the mistake of using some not particularly well-known lines, which rather gives the game away that they'd been lifted from dictionaries of quotations.

And, when it comes to quoting more famous lines from Churchill, you really do need to get the context right.

It's all very well for Obama to say "Hitler's armies would not have stopped their killing had we not fought them on the beaches and on the landing grounds; in the fields and on the streets."

But Churchill's 'fight on the beaches' speech dates from 1940 - before the USA had joined in - and, in anticipation of an expected invasion, the beaches, landing grounds, fields and streets he was talking about were those of Britain, not Normandy, Northern France, the Netherlands or Germany.

3. Managementspeak
I've noticed in some of President Obama's other speeches that he or his speechwriters have tended to let bits of awkward management jargon - like 'going forward' - creep into his scripts.

Going forward was thankfully absent from this one, but there were a few other lines that could have benefited from rewriting.

There were at least to examples of putting things in place:

"In the last century, both our nations put in place regulatory frameworks..."

".. we must keep working through forums like the G20 to put in place global rules of the road to prevent future excess"

Words like 'moreover' tend to work (slightly) better in documents written for readers than when used in spoken Engish (and reminded me of former PM John Major) :

"Moreover, even when the free market works as it should"

And I'm not very keen on the current trend for turning nouns into verbs (nor am I quite sure what an "Afghan lead" is:

"we are now preparing to turn a corner in Afghanistan by transitioning to Afghan lead."

"Empowering" is also becoming more and more widespread as an all-purpose way of being vague in presentations and speeches both by managers and politicians:

"we should empower the same forces that have allowed our own people to thrive"

Nor was I very impressed by his echo of a vague threat that's been used a few times in recent years by Hillary Clinton (e.g. HERE):

"those who flaunt their obligations will face consequences."

In an earlier post on John F Kennedy's inaugural speech, I transcribed it so that readers could follow it pause-by-pause - i.e. with a pause at the end of each line. As quite a few fellow anoraks seemed to find this quite a useful exercise, it's laid out in the same way here:

My Lord Chancellor,
Mr. Speaker,
Mr. Prime Minister,
my Lords, and Members of the House of Commons:

I have known few greater honors
than the opportunity to address
the Mother of Parliaments
at Westminster Hall.

I'm told the last
three speakers
here have been The Pope,
Her Majesty the Queen,
and Nelson Mandela,
which is either a very high bar
or the beginning of a very funny joke.

I come here today
to reaffirm
one of the oldest
and strongest alliances
the world has ever known.

It has long been said that the United States and the United Kingdom
share a special relationship.

And since we also share an especially active press corps,
that relationship is often analyzed and
for the slightest hint of stress
or strain.

Of course, all relationships have their ups and downs.

Admittedly, ours got off on the wrong foot
with a small scrape about tea and taxes.

There may
also have also been some hurt feelings when the White House was set on fire
during the War of 1812.

But fortunately, it's been smooth sailing ever since!

The reason for this close friendship
doesn't just have to do with our shared history
our shared heritage;
our ties of language and culture;
or even the strong partnership between our governments.

Our relationship is special because of the values and beliefs
that have united our people through the ages.

Centuries ago,
when kings,
emperors, and warlords
reigned over much of the world,
it was the English who first spelled out the rights and liberties of man
in the Magna Carta.
It was here,
in this very hall,
where the rule of law first developed,
courts were established,
disputes were settled,
and citizens came to petition their leaders.

Over time, the people of this nation waged
a long and sometimes bloody struggle to expand and secure their freedom
from the crown.

Propelled by the ideals of the Enlightenment,
they would ultimately forge an English Bill of Rights,
and invest
the power to govern
in an elected parliament that's gathered here today.

What began on this island would inspire millions throughout the continent of Europe
and across the world.

But perhaps no one drew greater inspiration from these notions of freedom than your
colonists on the other side of the Atlantic.

As Winston Churchill said,
The "...Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Habeas Corpus, trial by jury,
and English common law find their most famous expression
in the American Declaration of Independence."

For both of our nations,
living up
to the ideals enshrined in these founding documents
has sometimes been difficult
has always been a work in progress.

The path has never been perfect.

But through the struggles of slaves
and immigrants;
and ethnic minorities;
former colonies
and persecuted religions,
we have learned
better than most
that the longing for freedom and human dignity
is not English
or American
or Western –
it is universal,
and it beats
in every heart.

Perhaps that’s
why there are few nations that stand firmer,
speak louder,
and fight harder
to defend democratic values around the world than the United States
and the United Kingdom.

We are the allies who landed at Omaha and Gold;
who sacrificed side by side to free a continent from the march of tyranny,
and help prosperity flourish
from the ruins of war.

And with the founding of NATO
a British idea –
we joined a transatlantic alliance that has ensured our security for over half a century.

Together with our Allies, we forged a lasting peace
from a cold war.

When the Iron Curtain lifted,
we expanded our alliance to include the nations of
Central and Eastern Europe,
and built new bridges to Russia
and the former states of the Soviet Union.

And when there was strife in the Balkans, we worked together to keep the peace.

after a difficult decade
that began with war
and ended in recession,
our nations have arrived at a pivotal moment once more.

A global economy that once stood on the brink of depression
is now stable and recovering.

After years of conflict,
the United States has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq,
the United Kingdom has removed its forces, and our combat mission
there has ended.

In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban's momentum, and will soon begin
a transition to Afghan lead.

And nearly 10 years after 9/11, we have disrupted terrorist networks and dealt al Qaeda
a huge blow by killing its leader -- Osama bin Laden.

we have met great challenges.

But as we enter this new chapter in our shared history,
profound challenges stretch out before us.

In a world where the prosperity of all nations is now inextricably linked,
a new era of cooperation is required to ensure the growth
and stability of the global economy.

As new threats spread across borders
and oceans,
we must dismantle terrorist networks and stop the spread of nuclear weapons;
confront climate change
and combat famine and disease.

And as a revolution races through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa,
the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a generation that longs to determine
its own destiny.

These challenges come at a time when the international order has already been reshaped
for a new century.

Countries like China,
and Brazil are growing by leaps and bounds.

We should welcome this development, for it has lifted hundreds of millions
from poverty around the globe,
and created new markets and opportunities
for our own nations.

And yet, as this rapid change has taken place,
It’s become fashionable in some quarters
to question whether the rise of these nations
will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world.

the argument goes,
these nations represent the future,
and the time for our leadership has passed.

That argument is wrong.

The time for our leadership is now.

It was the United States and the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge
and individuals could thrive.

And even as more nations take on
the responsibilities of global leadership,
our Alliance will remain indispensible
to the goal of a century that is more peaceful,
more prosperous
and more just.

At a time when threats and challenges require nations to work in concert with one another, we remain
the greatest catalysts for global action.

In an era defined by the rapid flow of commerce and information, it is our free market tradition,
our openness
fortified by our commitment to basic security for our citizens, that offers the best chance of prosperity that is both strong and shared.

As millions are still denied their basic human rights because of who they are, or what they believe, or the kind of government they live under,
we are the nations most willing
to stand up for the values of tolerance
and self-determination
that lead to peace and dignity.

Now this doesn't mean we can afford to stand still.
The nature of our leadership
will need to change with the times.

As I said the first time I came to London as President,
for the G20 summit
the days are gone when Roosevelt and Churchill could
sit in a room and solve the world's problems over a glass of brandy -- although
I'm sure Prime Minister Cameron and I would agree that er
some days we could both use a stiff drink.

In this century,
our joint leadership will require
building new partnerships,
adapting to new circumstances,
and remaking ourselves to meet the demands of a new era.

That begins
with our economic leadership.

Adam Smith's central insight remains true today:
there is no greater generator of wealth and innovation
than a system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual
men and women.

That’s what led to the Industrial Revolution that began in the factories of Manchester.

That is what led to the dawn of an Information Age that arose from the office parks of Silicon Valley.

That’s why
countries like China,
India and Brazil are growing so rapidly – because
in fits and starts, they are moving towards market-based principles that the United States
and the United Kingdom
have always embraced.

In other words, we live in a global economy that is largely
of our own making.

And today, the competition for the best jobs and industries favors countries that are
free-thinking and forward-looking;
countries with the most
creative and innovative
and entrepreneurial citizens.

That gives nations like the United States and the United Kingdom
an inherent advantage.

From Newton and Darwin to
Edison and Einstein;
from Alan Turing to
Steve Jobs,
we have led the world in our commitment to science
and cutting-edge research;
the discovery of new medicines and technologies.

We educate our citizens and train our workers in the best colleges
and universities on Earth.

But to maintain
this advantage
in a world that's more competitive than ever,
we will have to redouble
our investments
in science and engineering,
and renew our national commitments to educating our workforces.

We've also been reminded in the last few years that markets can sometimes fail.

In the last century, both our nations put in place regulatory frameworks
to deal with such market failures –
safeguards to protect the banking system after the Great Depression, for example,
regulations were established to prevent the pollution of our air
and our water during the 1970s.

But in today's economy,
such threats of market failure can no longer be contained within the borders of any one country.

Market failures can go global,
and go viral,
and demand international responses.

A financial crisis that began on Wall Street infected nearly every continent,
which is why we must keep working through forums like the G20
to put in place global rules of the road to prevent
future excess
and abuse.

No country
can hide from the dangers of carbon pollution, which is why we must build on what was achieved at Copenhagen
and Cancun to leave our children
a planet that is safer
and cleaner.

Moreover, even when the free market works as it should,
both our countries recognize that no matter how
responsibly we live our lives,
hard times or bad luck,
a crippling illness or a layoff,
may strike any one of us.

And so part of our common tradition has expressed itself in a conviction that
every citizen deserves a basic measure of security –
health care if you get sick,
unemployment insurance if you lose your job,
a dignified retirement after a lifetime of hard work.

That commitment to our citizens
has also been the reason
for our leadership in the world.

And now having come through a terrible recession, our challenge
is to meet these obligations while ensuring that we're not consuming
and hence consumed
with a level of debt that could sap
the strength and vitality of our economies.

That will require difficult choices
It will require different paths for both of our countries.

But we have faced such challenges before,
and have always been able to balance
the need for fiscal responsibility
with the responsibilities we have to one another.

I believe we can do this again.

As we do,
the successes and failures of our own past can serve as an example
for emerging economies –
that it's possible to grow
without polluting;
that lasting prosperity comes not
from what a nation consumes, but from what it produces, and from the investments it makes
in its people
and its infrastructure.

And just as we must lead on behalf of the prosperity of our citizens, so we must safeguard their security.

Our two nations
know what it is to confront evil in the world.

Hitler's armies would not have stopped their killing had we not fought them on the beaches
and on the landing grounds;
in the fields
and on the streets.

We must never forget that there was nothing inevitable about our victory in that terrible war –
it was won through the courage
and character of our people.

Precisely because we are willing to bear its burden, we know well the cost of war.

That is why we built an Alliance that was strong enough to defend this continent
while deterring our enemies.

At its core, NATO is rooted
in the simple concept of Article Five: that no NATO nation
will have to fend on its own;
that allies will stand by one another,
For six decades, NATO has been the most successful alliance in human history.

Today, we confront a different enemy.

Terrorists have taken the lives of our citizens in New York
and in London.

And while al Qaeda seeks a religious war with the West,
we must remember that they have killed thousands of Muslims –
men, women and children –
around the globe.

Our nations
are not and will never be at war with Islam.

Our fight is focused on defeating al Qaeda
and its extremist allies.

In that effort, we will not relent,
as Osama bin Laden and his followers have learned.

As we fight
an enemy that respects no law of war, we will continue to hold ourselves
to a higher standard –
by living up to the values
the rule of law
and due process that we so ardently

For almost a decade,
Afghanistan has been a central front
of these efforts.

Throughout those years,
the British people
have been a stalwart ally
along with so many others who fight by our side.

Together, let us pay tribute
to all of our men and women who have served and sacrificed over the last several years –
for they are part of an unbroken line of heroes who have borne the heaviest burden
for the freedoms that we enjoy.

Because of them,
we have broken the Taliban's momentum.
Because of them, we have built the capacity of Afghan Security Forces.

And because of them, we are now preparing to turn a corner in Afghanistan by transitioning to Afghan lead.

During this transition, we will pursue a lasting peace with those who break free of al Qaeda and respect the Afghan Constitution and lay down arms.

And we will ensure that Afghanistan is never a safe-haven for terror –
but is instead a country that is strong,
and able to stand on its own two feet.

Indeed, our efforts in this young century have led us to a new concept
for NATO that will give us the capabilities needed to meet
new threats:
threats like terrorism and piracy,
cyber attacks and ballistic missiles.

But a revitalized NATO will continue to hew to that original vision of its founders,
allowing us to rally
collective action for the defense of our people,
while building upon the broader belief of Roosevelt and Churchill that
all nations have both rights and responsibilities, and
all nations share a common interest
in an international architecture
that maintains the peace.

We also share a common interest
in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
Across the globe, nations are
locking down nuclear materials so
they never fall into the wrong hands,
of our leadership
from North Korea
to Iran, we
have sent a message that
those who flaunt their obligations will face
consequences -- which is why America and the European Union just recently strengthened our sanctions
on Iran,
in large part because of the leadership of
the United Kingdom
and the United States.

And while we hold others to account,
we will meet our own obligations under
the Non-Proliferation Treaty,
and strive for a world without nuclear weapons.

We share a common interest in resolving conflicts that prolong human suffering,
and threaten to tear
whole regions asunder.

In Sudan,
after years of war and thousands of deaths, we call on both North and South to pull back from the brink of violence and
choose the path of peace.

And in the Middle East, we stand united
in our support for a secure Israel
and a sovereign Palestine.

And we share a common interest
in development that advances dignity and security.

To succeed, we must cast aside
the impulse to look at impoverished parts of the globe
as a place for charity.

Instead, we should empower the same forces that have allowed
our own people to thrive –
we should help the hungry to feed themselves,
the doctors who care for the sick;
we should support countries that confront corruption, and allow their people to innovate;
and we should advance the truth that nations prosper when they allow women
and girls to reach their full potential.

We do these things
because we believe not simply in the rights of nations,
we believe in the rights of citizens.

That is the beacon that guided us through our fight against fascism
and our twilight struggle against communism.

And today, that idea is being put to the test
in the Middle East
and North Africa.
In country after country,
people are mobilizing to free themselves from the grip
of an iron fist.

And while these movements for change are just six months old,
we have seen them play out before –
from Eastern Europe
to the Americas;
from South Africa
to Southeast Asia.

History tells us that democracy is not easy.
It will be years before these revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be difficult days along the way.

Power rarely gives up without a fight –
particularly in places
where there are divisions of tribe
and divisions of sect.

We also know that populism can take dangerous turns –
from the extremism of those who would use democracy to deny minority rights,
to the nationalism that left so many scars on this continent
in the 20th century.
But make no mistake:
what we saw
what we are seeing in Tehran, in Tunis
in Tahrir Square
is a longing for the same freedoms that we take
for granted here at home.

It was a rejection of the notion that people in certain parts of the world
don't want to be free,
or need to have democracy imposed upon them.

It was a rebuke to the worldview of al Qaeda,
which smothers the rights of individuals,
and would thereby subject them to perpetual poverty and violence.

Let there be no doubt:
the United States
and the United Kingdom stand squarely on the side of those who long to be free.

Now we must show that we will
back up these words
with deeds.

That means investing in the future
of those nations
that transition to democracy,
starting with Tunisia and Egypt –
by deepening ties of trade and commerce;
by helping them demonstrate that freedom
brings prosperity.

And that means standing up for universal rights –
by sanctioning those who pursue repression,
strengthening civil society,
supporting the rights of minorities.

We do this knowing
that the West must overcome suspicion
and mistrust among many
in the Middle East and North Africa –
a mistrust that is rooted in a difficult past.

For years, we have faced charges of hypocrisy from those who do not enjoy the freedoms
that they hear us espouse.

And so to them, we must squarely acknowledge that
yes we have enduring interests in the region –
to fight terror
sometimes with partners who may not
be perfect,
to protect against disruptions in the world's
energy supply.

But we must also insist that
we reject as false
the choice between our interests and our ideals;
between stability
and democracy.

For our idealism is rooted in the realities of history –
that repression
offers only the false promise
of stability;
that societies are more successful when their citizens are free;
and that democracies
are the closest allies we have.

It is that truth that guides our action in Libya.
It would have been easy
at the outset of the crackdown in Libya
to say that none of this was our business –
that a nation's sovereignty is more important than the slaughter of civilians
within its borders.
That argument carries weight with some.

But we are different.

We embrace a broader responsibility.

And while we cannot stop every injustice,
there are circumstances
that cut through our caution –
when a leader is threatening to massacre his people,
and the international community
is calling for action.

That’s why we stopped a massacre
in Libya.

And we will not
relent until the people of Libya are protected, and the shadow of tyranny is lifted.

We will proceed with humility,
and the knowledge that we cannot dictate
every outcome abroad.

Ultimately, freedom must be won by the people themselves,
not imposed from without.

But we can and must stand with those
who so struggle.

Because we have always believed that the future of our children and grandchildren
will be better if other people's children and grandchildren
are more prosperous and more free –
from the beaches of Normandy,
to the Balkans to Benghazi.

That is
our interests
and our ideal.
If we fail to meet that responsibility,
who would take our place
and what kind of world
would we pass on?

Our action –
our leadership –
is essential to the cause of human dignity.

And so we must act –
and lead –
with confidence in our ideals, and an abiding faith in the character of our people,
who sent us here today.

For there is one final quality that I believe makes the United States
and the United Kingdom indispensible
to this moment in history.

And that is how we define ourselves
as nations.

Unlike most countries in the world, we do not define citizenship
based on race
or ethnicity.

Being American
or British is not about
belonging to a certain group;
it's about believing in a certain set of ideals –
the rights of individuals
the rule of law.

That is why we hold
incredible diversity within our borders.

That’s why there are people
around the world right now who believe that
if they come to America, if they come to New York if they come to London, if they work hard,
they can pledge allegiance to our flag, and call themselves Americans.

If they come to England
they can make a new life for themselves,
and can sing
God Save the Queen just like
any other citizen.

Yes, our diversity can lead to tension.

Throughout history, there have been heated debates about
and assimilation
in both our countries.

But even as these debates can be difficult, we fundamentally recognize that our patchwork heritage
is an enormous strength –
that in a world
which will only grow smaller
and more
the example of our two nations says it is possible for people
to be united by their ideals,
instead of divided
by their differences;
it is possible for hearts to change,
and old hatreds to pass;
that it's possible for the sons and daughters of former
colonies to sit here as members of this great Parliament,
and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army
to stand before you
as President of the United States.

That is what defines us.

That is why
the young
men and women in the streets of
Damascus and Cairo
still reach for the rights our citizens enjoy, even if they've sometimes differed with our policies.

As two of the most powerful nations
in the history of the world,
we must always remember that the true source of our influence hasn't just been the size of our economies,
the reach of our militaries,
or the land that we've claimed.

It has been the values
that we must never waver in defending around the world –
the idea that all beings are endowed
by our creator with certain
rights that cannot be denied.
That is what forged
our bond in the fire of war –
a bond made manifest
by the friendship
between two of our greatest leaders.

Churchill and Roosevelt had their differences.

They were keen observers of each other's blind spots
and shortcomings,
if not always their own,
and they were hard-headed about their ability to remake the world.

But what joined the fates
of these two men
at that moment in history was not
simply a shared interest in victory on the battlefield.

It was a shared belief in the ultimate triumph
of human freedom
and human dignity –
a conviction that we have a say in how this story ends.

This conviction
lives on
in their people today.

The challenges we face are great.

The work before us
is hard.

But we have come through a difficult decade,
and whenever the tests and trials ahead may seem too big or too many,
let us turn to their example,
and the words that Churchill spoke
on the day that Europe was freed:
"In the long years to come,
not only will the people of this island
but the world,
wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts,
look back to what we've done, and they will say 'do not despair, do not yield...
march straight forward'"
With courage and purpose;
with humility
and with hope;
with faith
in the promise of tomorrow, let us
march straight forward
enduring allies
in the cause of a world
that is more peaceful,
more prosperous,
and more just.

Thank you very much.

Will Obama's speech tomorrow match up to Reagan's Westminster masterpiece in 1982?

A speech to an audience of politicians and a miscellany of the great and the good in Westminster tomorrow poses a very different challenge to the one President Obama faced in Dublin yesterday, where he spoke to a crowd in the open air.

Not for the first time, he finds himself up for comparison with Ronald Reagan, whose speech to both houses of parliament in 1982 was a tour de force of the kind that earned him the title of 'the great communicator'.

The last time President Obama followed so closely in Reagan's footsteps was in Normandy on the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Compared with his predecessor's masterpiece from the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-day, Obama's speech was so disappointing that a former Reagan speechwriter compared it unfavorably with Gordon Brown's speech on the same occasion.

If you want to cast a comparative eye on his performance tomorrow, you can watch and read the whole speech below.

Rhetoric and applause
At one point, Reagan prompted a sustained and extended burst of applause. Not surprisingly, given that it took place during the Falklands war, it was when he spoke about "lumps of rock and earth so far away".

But just look at how he did it: the second part of a first contrast becomes the first part of a second contrast that's packaged as a three-part list - hardly surprising that such a combination of rhetorical techniques prompted early applause that went on for longer than the 'standard' burst of eight seconds:

Distant islands in the South Atlantic young men are fighting for Britain.
[A] And, yes, voices have been raised protesting their sacrifice for lumps of rock and earth so far away.
[B] [A] But those young men aren't fighting for mere real estate.

[1] They fight for a cause
[2] for the belief that armed aggression must not be allowed to succeed
[3] and the people must participate in the decisions of government.

Margaret Thatcher falls for the teleprompter (Autocue)
This was apparently the first time that Mrs Thatcher had seen a politician using a teleprompter (still referred to in those days as the 'sincerity machine') and she was impressed enough by what she saw to have a go herself at the Conservative party conference later that year.

However, as I've noted elsewhere, the gadget caused her quite a few problems and resulted in her applause rate falling significantly compared with the days when she delivered speeches from sheets of paper on a lectern (for more on which, with video examples, see HERE).

Reagan's speech at Westminster, 1982


June 8, 1982

My Lord Chancellor, Mr. Speaker:

The journey of which this visit forms a part is a long one. Already it has taken me to two great cities of the West, Rome and Paris, and to the economic summit at Versailles. And there, once again, our sister democracies have proved that even in a time of severe economic strain, free peoples can work together freely and voluntarily to address problems as serious as inflation, unemployment, trade, and economic development in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity.

Other milestones lie ahead. Later this week, in Germany, we and our NATO allies will discuss measures for our joint defense and America's latest initiatives for a more peaceful, secure world through arms reductions.

Each stop of this trip is important, but among them all, this moment occupies a special place in my heart and in the hearts of my countrymen -- a moment of kinship and homecoming in these hallowed halls.

Speaking for all Americans, I want to say how very much at home we feel in your house. Every American would, because this is, as we have been so eloquently told, one of democracy's shrines. Here the rights of free people and the processes of representation have been debated and refined.

It has been said that an institution is the lengthening shadow of a man. This institution is the lengthening shadow of all the men and women who have sat here and all those who have voted to send representatives here.

This is my second visit to Great Britain as President of the United States. My first opportunity to stand on British soil occurred almost a year and a half ago when your Prime Minister graciously hosted a diplomatic dinner at the British Embassy in Washington. Mrs. Thatcher said then that she hoped I was not distressed to find staring down at me from the grand staircase a portrait of His Royal Majesty King George III. She suggested it was best to let bygones be bygones, and in view of our two countries' remarkable friendship in succeeding years, she added that most Englishmen today would agree with Thomas Jefferson that "a little rebellion now and then is a very good thing." [Laughter]

Well, from here I will go to Bonn and then Berlin, where there stands a grim symbol of power untamed. The Berlin Wall, that dreadful gray gash across the city, is in its third decade. It is the fitting signature of the regime that built it.

And a few hundred kilometers behind the Berlin Wall, there is another symbol. In the center of Warsaw, there is a sign that notes the distances to two capitals. In one direction it points toward Moscow. In the other it points toward Brussels, headquarters of Western Europe's tangible unity. The marker says that the distances from Warsaw to Moscow and Warsaw to Brussels are equal. The sign makes this point: Poland is not East or West. Poland is at the center of European civilization. It has contributed mightily to that civilization. It is doing so today by being magnificently unreconciled to oppression.

Poland's struggle to be Poland and to secure the basic rights we often take for granted demonstrates why we dare not take those rights for granted. Gladstone, defending the Reform Bill of 1866, declared, "You cannot fight against the future. Time is on our side." It was easier to believe in the march of democracy in Gladstone's day -- in that high noon of Victorian optimism.

We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention -- totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order, because day-by-day democracy is proving itself to be a not-at-all-fragile flower. From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than 30 years to establish their legitimacy. But none -- not one regime -- has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.

The strength of the Solidarity movement in Poland demonstrates the truth told in an underground joke in the Soviet Union. It is that the Soviet Union would remain a one-party nation even if an opposition party were permitted, because everyone would join the opposition party. [Laughter]

America's time as a player on the stage of world history has been brief. I think understanding this fact has always made you patient with your younger cousins -- well, not always patient. I do recall that on one occasion, Sir Winston Churchill said in exasperation about one of our most distinguished diplomats: "He is the only case I know of a bull who carries his china shop with him." [Laughter]

But witty as Sir Winston was, he also had that special attribute of great statesmen -- the gift of vision, the willingness to see the future based on the experience of the past. It is this sense of history, this understanding of the past that I want to talk with you about today, for it is in remembering what we share of the past that our two nations can make common cause for the future.

We have not inherited an easy world. If developments like the Industrial Revolution, which began here in England, and the gifts of science and technology have made life much easier for us, they have also made it more dangerous. There are threats now to our freedom, indeed to our very existence, that other generations could never even have imagined.

There is first the threat of global war. No President, no Congress, no Prime Minister, no Parliament can spend a day entirely free of this threat. And I don't have to tell you that in today's world the existence of nuclear weapons could mean, if not the extinction of mankind, then surely the end of civilization as we know it. That's why negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces now underway in Europe and the START talks -- Strategic Arms Reduction Talks -- which will begin later this month, are not just critical to American or Western policy; they are critical to mankind. Our commitment to early success in these negotiations is firm and unshakable, and our purpose is clear: reducing the risk of war by reducing the means of waging war on both sides.

At the same time there is a threat posed to human freedom by the enormous power of the modern state. History teaches the dangers of government that overreaches -- political control taking precedence over free economic growth, secret police, mindless bureaucracy, all combining to stifle individual excellence and personal freedom.

Now, I'm aware that among us here and throughout Europe there is legitimate disagreement over the extent to which the public sector should play a role in a nation's economy and life. But on one point all of us are united -- our abhorrence of dictatorship in all its forms, but most particularly totalitarianism and the terrible inhumanities it has caused in our time -- the great purge, Auschwitz and Dachau, the Gulag, and Cambodia.

Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent restraint and peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that it was the democracies who refused to use the threat of their nuclear monopoly in the forties and early fifties for territorial or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly been in the hands of the Communist world, the map of Europe -- indeed, the world -- would look very different today. And certainly they will note it was not the democracies that invaded Afghanistan or suppressed Polish Solidarity or used chemical and toxin warfare in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible dilemma -- predictions of doomsday, antinuclear demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?

Sir Winston Churchill refused to accept the inevitability of war or even that it was imminent. He said, "I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here today while time remains is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries."

Well, this is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace. It may not be easy to see; but I believe we live now at a turning point.

In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxist-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens. It also is in deep economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the national product has been steadily declining since the fifties and is less than half of what it was then.

The dimensions of this failure are astounding: A country which employs one-fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to feed its own people. Were it not for the private sector, the tiny private sector tolerated in Soviet agriculture, the country might be on the brink of famine. These private plots occupy a bare 3 percent of the arable land but account for nearly one-quarter of Soviet farm output and nearly one-third of meat products and vegetables. Over-centralized, with little or no incentives, year after year the Soviet system pours its best resource into the making of instruments of destruction. The constant shrinkage of economic growth combined with the growth of military production is putting a heavy strain on the Soviet people. What we see here is a political structure that no longer corresponds to its economic base, a society where productive forces are hampered by political ones.

The decay of the Soviet experiment should come as no surprise to us. Wherever the comparisons have been made between free and closed societies -- West Germany and East Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Malaysia and Vietnam -- it is the democratic countries that are prosperous and responsive to the needs of their people. And one of the simple but overwhelming facts of our time is this: Of all the millions of refugees we've seen in the modern world, their flight is always away from, not toward the Communist world. Today on the NATO line, our military forces face east to prevent a possible invasion. On the other side of the line, the Soviet forces also face east to prevent their people from leaving.

The hard evidence of totalitarian rule has caused in mankind an uprising of the intellect and will. Whether it is the growth of the new schools of economics in America or England or the appearance of the so-called new philosophers in France, there is one unifying thread running through the intellectual work of these groups -- rejection of the arbitrary power of the state, the refusal to subordinate the rights of the individual to the superstate, the realization that collectivism stifles all the best human impulses.

Since the exodus from Egypt, historians have written of those who sacrificed and struggled for freedom -- the stand at Thermopylae, the revolt of Spartacus, the storming of the Bastille, the Warsaw uprising in World War II. More recently we've seen evidence of this same human impulse in one of the developing nations in Central America. For months and months the world news media covered the fighting in El Salvador. Day after day we were treated to stories and film slanted toward the brave freedom fighters battling oppressive government forces in behalf of the silent, suffering people of that tortured country.

And then one day those silent, suffering people were offered a chance to vote, to choose the kind of government they wanted. Suddenly the freedom fighters in the hills were exposed for what they really are -- Cuban-backed guerrillas who want power for themselves, and their backers, not democracy for the people. They threatened death to any who voted, and destroyed hundreds of buses and trucks to keep the people from getting to the polling places. But on election day, the people of El Salvador, an unprecedented 1.4 million of them, braved ambush and gunfire, and trudged for miles to vote for freedom.

They stood for hours in the hot sun waiting for their turn to vote. Members of our Congress who went there as observers told me of a woman who was wounded by rifle fire on the way to the polls, who refused to leave the line to have her wound treated until after she had voted. A grandmother, who had been told by the guerrillas she would be killed when she returned from the polls, and she told the guerrillas, "You can kill me, you can kill my family, kill my neighbors, but you can't kill us all." The real freedom fighters of El Salvador turned out to be the people of that country -- the young, the old, the in-between.

Strange, but in my own country there's been little if any news coverage of that war since the election. Now, perhaps they'll say it's -- well, because there are newer struggles now.

On distant islands in the South Atlantic young men are fighting for Britain. And, yes, voices have been raised protesting their sacrifice for lumps of rock and earth so far away. But those young men aren't fighting for mere real estate. They fight for a cause -- for the belief that armed aggression must not be allowed to succeed, and the people must participate in the decisions of government -- [applause] -- the decisions of government under the rule of law. If there had been firmer support for that principle some 45 years ago, perhaps our generation wouldn't have suffered the bloodletting of World War II.

In the Middle East now the guns sound once more, this time in Lebanon, a country that for too long has had to endure the tragedy of civil war, terrorism, and foreign intervention and occupation. The fighting in Lebanon on the part of all parties must stop, and Israel should bring its forces home. But this is not enough. We must all work to stamp out the scourge of terrorism that in the Middle East makes war an ever-present threat.

But beyond the trouble spots lies a deeper, more positive pattern. Around the world today, the democratic revolution is gathering new strength. In India a critical test has been passed with the peaceful change of governing political parties. In Africa, Nigeria is moving into remarkable and unmistakable ways to build and strengthen its democratic institutions. In the Caribbean and Central America, 16 of 24 countries have freely elected governments. And in the United Nations, eight of the 10 developing nations which have joined that body in the past five years are democracies.

In the Communist world as well, man's instinctive desire for freedom and self-determination surfaces again and again. To be sure, there are grim reminders of how brutally the police state attempts to snuff out this quest for self-rule -- 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 1981 in Poland. But the struggle continues in Poland. And we know that there are even those who strive and suffer for freedom within the confines of the Soviet Union itself. How we conduct ourselves here in the Western democracies will determine whether this trend continues.

No, democracy is not a fragile flower. Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.

Some argue that we should encourage democratic change in right-wing dictatorships, but not in Communist regimes. Well, to accept this preposterous notion -- as some well-meaning people have -- is to invite the argument that once countries achieve a nuclear capability, they should be allowed an undisturbed reign of terror over their own citizens. We reject this course.

As for the Soviet view, Chairman Brezhnev repeatedly has stressed that the competition of ideas and systems must continue and that this is entirely consistent with relaxation of tensions and peace.

Well, we ask only that these systems begin by living up to their own constitutions, abiding by their own laws, and complying with the international obligations they have undertaken. We ask only for a process, a direction, a basic code of decency, not for an instant transformation.

We cannot ignore the fact that even without our encouragement there has been and will continue to be repeated explosions against repression and dictatorships. The Soviet Union itself is not immune to this reality. Any system is inherently unstable that has no peaceful means to legitimize its leaders. In such cases, the very repressiveness of the state ultimately drives people to resist it, if necessary, by force.

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.

This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?

Since 1917 the Soviet Union has given covert political training and assistance to Marxist-Leninists in many countries. Of course, it also has promoted the use of violence and subversion by these same forces. Over the past several decades, West European and other Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and leaders have offered open assistance to fraternal, political, and social institutions to bring about peaceful and democratic progress. Appropriately, for a vigorous new democracy, the Federal Republic of Germany's political foundations have become a major force in this effort.

We in America now intend to take additional steps, as many of our allies have already done, toward realizing this same goal. The chairmen and other leaders of the national Republican and Democratic Party organizations are initiating a study with the bipartisan American political foundation to determine how the United States can best contribute as a nation to the global campaign for democracy now gathering force. They will have the cooperation of congressional leaders of both parties, along with representatives of business, labor, and other major institutions in our society. I look forward to receiving their recommendations and to working with these institutions and the Congress in the common task of strengthening democracy throughout the world.

It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation -- in both the pubic and private sectors -- to assisting democratic development.

We plan to consult with leaders of other nations as well. There is a proposal before the Council of Europe to invite parliamentarians from democratic countries to a meeting next year in Strasbourg. That prestigious gathering could consider ways to help democratic political movements.

This November in Washington there will take place an international meeting on free elections. And next spring there will be a conference of world authorities on constitutionalism and self-government hosted by the Chief Justice of the United States. Authorities from a number of developing and developed countries -- judges, philosophers, and politicians with practical experience -- have agreed to explore how to turn principle into practice and further the rule of law.

At the same time, we invite the Soviet Union to consider with us how the competition of ideas and values -- which it is committed to support -- can be conducted on a peaceful and reciprocal basis. For example, I am prepared to offer President Brezhnev an opportunity to speak to the American people on our television if he will allow me the same opportunity with the Soviet people. We also suggest that panels of our newsmen periodically appear on each other's television to discuss major events.

Now, I don't wish to sound overly optimistic, yet the Soviet Union is not immune from the reality of what is going on in the world. It has happened in the past -- a small ruling elite either mistakenly attempts to ease domestic unrest through greater repression and foreign adventure, or it chooses a wiser course. It begins to allow its people a voice in their own destiny. Even if this latter process is not realized soon, I believe the renewed strength of the democratic movement, complemented by a global campaign for freedom, will strengthen the prospects for arms control and a world at peace.

I have discussed on other occasions, including my address on May 9, the elements of Western policies toward the Soviet Union to safeguard our interests and protect the peace. What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term -- the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history, as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people. And that's why we must continue our efforts to strengthen NATO even as we move forward with our Zero-Option initiative in the negotiations on intermediate-range forces and our proposal for a one-third reduction in strategic ballistic missile warheads.

Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate determinant in the struggle that's now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.

The British people know that, given strong leadership, time and a little bit of hope, the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. Here among you is the cradle of self-government, the Mother of Parliaments. Here is the enduring greatness of the British contribution to mankind, the great civilized ideas: individual liberty, representative government, and the rule of law under God.

I've often wondered about the shyness of some of us in the West about standing for these ideals that have done so much to ease the plight of man and the hardships of our imperfect world. This reluctance to use those vast resources at our command reminds me of the elderly lady whose home was bombed in the Blitz. As the rescuers moved about, they found a bottle of brandy she'd stored behind the staircase, which was all that was left standing. And since she was barely conscious, one of the workers pulled the cork to give her a taste of it. She came around immediately and said, "Here now -- there now, put it back. That's for emergencies." [Laughter

Well, the emergency is upon us. Let us be shy no longer. Let us go to our strength. Let us offer hope. Let us tell the world that a new age is not only possible but probable.

During the dark days of the Second World War, when this island was incandescent with courage, Winston Churchill exclaimed about Britain's adversaries, "What kind of a people do they think we are?'' Well, Britain's adversaries found out what extraordinary people the British are. But all the democracies paid a terrible price for allowing the dictators to underestimate us. We dare not make that mistake again. So, let us ask ourselves, "What kind of people do we think we are?" And let us answer, "Free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well."

Sir Winston led his people to great victory in war and then lost an election just as the fruits of victory were about to be enjoyed. But he left office honorably, and, as it turned out, temporarily, knowing that the liberty of his people was more important than the fate of any single leader. History recalls his greatness in ways no dictator will ever know. And he left us a message of hope for the future, as timely now as when he first uttered it, as opposition leader in the Commons nearly 27 years ago, when he said, "When we look back on all the perils through which we have passed and at the mighty foes that we have laid low and all the dark and deadly designs that we have frustrated, why should we fear for our future? We have," he said, "come safely through the worst."

Well, the task I've set forth will long outlive our own generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best -- a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.

Thank you.

Body language revisited: tell-tale signs from royal weddings

Having been greatly frustrated in recent weeks by the fact that it's no longer possible to embed video from the Sky News website, I was pleased to find that they'd posted one of the clips I'd been looking for on YouTube (above).

Regular readers will know that something else that also frustrates me is the way in which so many body language 'experts' overstate their claims and/or make authoritative-sounding assertions on the basis of little or no empirical evidence.

There's more on the subject in my book Lend Me Your Ears (Chapter 11) as well as in the posts listed below. And, if you haven't already seen the Busting the Mehrabian Myth video from Creativity Works, it's well worth watching, especially if you're one of those who still believe that 93% of communication is non-verbal (below).

Tell-tale signs of true feelings?
Whether or not Dr Peter Collett believes this, I do not know. But I do know that he was on a BBC television programme in 1987 claiming that the launch of the Tory general election that year resembled a troop of chimpanzees led by alpha-female Margaret Thatcher.

I also know that he appears on Sky TV body language programmes quite frequently - which is presumably why Sky News roped him in for this four minute slot just before the royal wedding, in which he explains that the best way to answer 'age-old questions' about couples who are about to marry is to watch out for 'tell-tale signs in their body language'.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the validity of his observations, and will be interested to hear any comments or reactions you might have.

And, if you've another few minutes to spare, I'd recommend you to have a look at this too:

Other posts on body language & non-verbal communication:

JFK's top tip for impressing foreign audiences works well for the Queen in Dublin

"A hUachtarain agus a chairde" ["President and friends"]

Not quite "Ich bin ein Dubliner", perhaps, but the Queen's speech at the state banquet in Dublin Castle last night got off to a very good start by the simple device of following John F Kennedy's top tip for speeches to foreign audiences, namely use a few words in the local language.

The applause might have been slightly delayed (by one second) because there were so few in the audience who actually speak Gaelic. But, once they realised what it was, the ovation was enthusiastic enough to last considerably longer (by three seconds) than the 'normal' burst of eight seconds.

Given that so many of us native English speakers are so hopeless at giving speeches and lectures in any other language but English, it's not too difficult to mug up a few appropriate words from a phrase book as an opener. And, in my experience, it invariably goes down well enough with audiences to have been well worth the effort.

Related posts:

Televising the Supreme Court: one small step towards a giant leap?

Today's news that live footage from the Supreme Court can be seen on Sky News is a major step forward that's attracted less media attention than it deserves.

I've always been baffled by the fact that, although a crucial feature of our legal system is that court hearings should be open to the public, they're only open to the few who are able to get a seat in the public gallery.

The case for banning television from courts fell apart years ago
The prohibition on recording (whether audio or video) court hearings originates from the much older ban on taking still photographs in courts - which was originally introduced because indoor photography used to require the use of flash powder. In those early days, it was rightly feared that this would be a major distraction to the ongoing proceedings.

But the rules were never updated when photographic technology had developed to the point where fast film made it easy to take quality pictures in low light. Nor were they updated when television and video technology no longer needed elaborate and potentially distracting lighting systems.

So we're still lumbered with the situation of having to rely on journalists' inevitably partial reports of court proceedings, while being prevented from witnessing them ourselves (unless we happen to be able get there and find a seat).

A needless constraint on research
Leaving aside the general question of why the wider public has been needlessly excluded from court hearings for so long, the prohibition on recording court hearings has also seriously hindered the development of research into the workings of courtroom language in Britain. My own work on public speaking was originally a by-product of studies of verbal interaction in courts that were originally done at the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies more than 30 years ago - some of which was published a book I wrote with Paul Drew (Order in Court: the organization of verbal interaction in judicial settings, London: Macmillan Press, 1979).

At that time, the only tape-recordings we could get hold of came from American colleagues, who had no trouble at all in collecting huge amounts of such data and were generous in making them available to some of us in the UK.

As for our own courts, we might have been able to see a few transcripts now and then, but that was the best you could hope for, unless you could find a judge who was also willing to break the rules in the interests of science.

In fact, the main reason I started looking at political speeches in the first place was that it was so easy to collect recordings from radio and television (for more on which, see HERE) and audible signs of approval like clapping and cheering made it possible to identify what actually turned audiences on.

A new beginning?
So we should not only welcome the initiative announced today by Sky News, but hope that televising will not stop short at the Supreme Court and will soon be extended to lower courts as well. Until that happens, the claim that our courts are open to the public may be true in principle, but it remains rather far removed from reality in practice.

After posting this, I heard via Twitter from Jamie Wood (@JFDWood), a Sky News executive producer, that this is indeed the first step in a campaign for the restrictions on cameras in our courts to be lifted, for more on which see HERE.