"I couldn't wash his smell away" - Jimmy Savile's great niece

This interview is not pleasant listening, but it does give a sense of what it must have been like to have been been one of Jimmy Savile's victims - and how remarkably easy it was for him to get away with such flagrant abuse.

Blacking the names of Adam Boulton, Jeremy Paxman & the American judicial system

From time to time this blog features interviews in which the conduct of the interviewer or the interviewee (or both) are of special or unusual interest.

This week, Conrad Black sparred with Adam Boulton of Sky News and Jeremy Paxman of BBC Newsnight, both on the pretext of plugging his new book.

If you missed these two gems, here they both are:

In both cases, 'sparred' was the operative word. Few of those interviewed by Boulton have to ask him what his name is and Paxman doesn't often get accused of 'bourgeois priggishness'.

American readers may be specially impressed Lord Black's views on the US judicial system, which starts about 42 seconds in and features some interesting statistics:

"...99.5 % of prosecutions in the US are convicted. The whole system's a fraudulent fascistic conveyer belt to the corrupt prison system, that's what. Let me tell you something. 5% of the population of the world are Americans, 25% of the incarcerated people are and 50% of the lawyers are... six to twelve times as many incarcerated people as Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany or Japan. How do YOU explain that?"


Why did the BBC's Director General keep nodding in agreement with himself?

Watching George Entwistle giving evidence to the House of Commons select committee on culture media and sport reminded me of something my late sister-in-law used to do, the meaning of which we never managed to work out.

Sometimes, she would mark the end of what she'd just said with a rather emphatic "Hmmm!". The nearest we got was that it meant something like "that's it and I don't want to be asked anything else about it" - because we all took it as indicating something final about her comment on which she'd rather not have any more discussion thank you very much.

My followers on Twitter may have noticed that I became rather preoccupied (and seriously distracted) this morning with Mr Entwistle's obsession with nodding in agreement with what he'd just said (e.g. 28 and 1:06 seconds in the above). It wasn't just that he did it occasionally, but did it after almost every 'answer' to every question.

It may have been his way of telling the committee that he'd no more to say on that particular matter, but suggestions and/or enlightenment from readers would be very welcome.

This sequence also includes the only question of the morning that prompted raucous laughter from those in the room (about 1:10 seconds in). It prompted an embarrassed-looking grin from the Director General, and was enough to prompt one contributor to Twitter to describe it as 'humiliating'.

Speaking without notes: why watch Miliband or Cameron when you can watch Julia Gillard?

A speech is occasionally so stunning that it's worth watching all the way through for pure enjoyment and/or instruction.

So I'm grateful to Jim Kelleher (@UncleBooBoo on Twitter) for drawing my attention to this gem from Australian prime minister Julia Gillard - which he rightly describes as "an amazing smackdown" and "a  masterclass in speaking without notes."

Much more powerful and effective than recent attempts at 'notelessness' by British politicians and, as an added bonus, it's also a masterclass in the finely honed insult.

Are members of all our political parties getting older?

On Friday, we went to a dinner organised by our local Liberal Democrats, at which Simon Hughes M.P. was the guest speaker - and very good he was too.

But what's been worrying me ever since is the average age of the audience. Not quite as ancient as the average age of the congregation at our local church (C of E), perhaps, but not far off.

Last week, Labour Party Conference organisers showed off a rather youthful group of audience members behind Ed Mildband during his speech.

And the Conservative Party Conference, as seen on TV today, seems to be largely made up of people who are far younger than the average age of Conservative Party members. 

So my questions for today are:
  1. Is the age of political activists in all parties on the increase? 
  2. If so,  does it matter?

Ed Miliband's tour de force

It's not often that a party leader's conference speech gets as widespread a thumbs-up as Ed Miliband enjoyed yesterday - even though what seems to have impressed the media most is his new-found ability to speak so fluently (and for so long) without any apparent reference to a script.

Could it be, I began to wonder, that our broadcast media are themselves so dependent on scripts and teleprompters that they're all too easily impressed by a style of speaking that they rather wish they could master for themselves?

Or did David Cameron really set a new standard when he won his party leadership by speaking without notes at a 'beauty parade' in 2005, underlining the power of an unscripted conference speech two years later by deterring Gordon Brown from holding a general election at a time when Labour would almost certainly have won?

Subsequent attempts by others, like Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown, to emulate David Cameron's skill at speaking without a script have not met with anything like as favourable a media response as Ed Miliband attracted yesterday.

Scriptlessness or better than expected?
It's not clear to me whether this was mainly the result of scriptlessness, a more relaxed delivery than usual or, perhaps most likely (?) because Miliband's previous performances had set such low media expectations.

The trouble now is that he runs the risk, if he reverts to using scripts again, of being denounced for not speaking from the heart and/or having employed someone else to write his speeches for him.

Other quibbles
Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm still not convinced by this walkabout management guru style of delivery for political speeches. Other quibbles include:

  • Glum-looking backdrop: I still don't see the point of having part of the audience behind the speaker. Although reasonably well-behaved, this particular group looked very glum for much of the time and were, on occasions,  rather slow to join in the applause. 
  • Too youthful a sample*Some viewers (e.g. me) were quite shocked by how very young a sample of voters they represented, with no one much over 45 anywhere to be seen among those behind him.
  • Hands: Finally, if you're going to wander about the stage, what to do with your hands and how to respond to applause can pose problems for a speaker. On the whole. Mr Miliband coped quite well on both these fronts. However, he might like to note that there were some on Twitter who took exception to the fact that he spoke for quite long periods with one hand in his pocket. If it's any comfort to him, the complainants probably went to a public school where you weren't allowed to put your hands in your pockets until you reached the sixth form...
P.S. Thanks to Simon Atkinson of IpsosMORI for pointing out via Twitter (@SimonMAtkinson) that  53% of electors are aged 45+!! (his exclamation marks). Perhaps he or one of his colleagues should alert the Labour Party (or whoever selects their backdrop audiences) to this important fact...

Does Ed Milband have anything to gain by banging on about which school he went to?

Call me old fashioned, but I really don't get this "I went to an even more ordinary school than you did" stuff that we're being promised from the leader of the Labour Party in his speech later today.

Nor do I get why he's apparently going to tell us (yet again) the story of his parents' flight from the Nazis and their successful upwardly mobile life in Britain.

The point, Mr Miliband, is that none of us has any control over who our parents were, or where they came from or which school they decided to send us to when we were children - whether our surname happens to be Cameron, Clegg or Miliband.

Nor, dare I say it, is your attempt to affiliate with the ordinary very convincing when the school in question turns out to be Haverstock Comprehensive, which strikes me (who went to a prep school in Doncaster) as being rather close to a posh suburb called 'Hampstead'.

The embourgeoisment of the Labour Party may have become a source of embarrassment to all you MPs who've been parachuted into safe Northern seats. But is all this "more ordinary than thou" a sensible way to address the problem?

Related posts

Ed Balls may be a better speaker than he was, but...

James Forsyth's assessment of Ed Balls as "a vastly improved platform speaker" (Spectator) was quite widely echoed by other journalists today on Twitter.

Michael Crick of Channel 4 News (@MichaelLCrick) told us that Mr Balls had "rehearsed his speech in his hotel room with an ironing board" - adding, rather unkindly: "which may explain why, in the end, it was a bit flat."

Looking on a brighter side, I think it's quite impressive these days to hear that our politicians take the trouble to rehearse their speeches at all, especially when they've taken the apparently daring decision to use a hard copy script rather than read from an Autocue.

But there were two things about this particular speech that puzzled me:
  • First, quite a few tweets on Twitter noticed and commented on the Labour Party's unexplained decision to abandon a red background completely in favour of making it look as though they'd stolen the Conservative's erstwhile monopoly on blue.
  • Second, although I can see why today's Labour hierarchy prefer saying "conference" to "comrades" (as in the past) was it really necessary for Mr Balls to repeat the word 33 times during his speech - especially when both words draw attention to the fact that he has trouble saying his 'r's and pronounces the words as "confwence" and 'comwades"? 
For me, at least, I found the excessive, and in my view pointless, repetition of "confwence" so distracting and annoying that I stopped watching the speech when he was only about half way through - which is presumably not what he hopes for from his audiences.