The Opposition Leader’s speech to the Trades Union Congress was certain to fail. It revealed him as a work in progress, rather than a well rounded leader. The evidence is in the text as well as in his delivery.
It was a typical example of a speech put together without a proper understanding of its likely effect on the listener. I was prompted to write this critique by the extract that was played on the 10 o’clock news, in which he sounded like a middle manager with limited experience of public speaking. The only thing missing was “And I mean that most sincerely!”
The main weakness in his text was the disjointed rhythm which, on occasion, forced the listener to switch off in order to make sense of what he had just said. Here’s one example:
It’s how you unions and employers worked together to keep people working even during the most difficult moments of the recession. Putting jobs above pay rises. Working fewer hours in order to protect employment. Flexibility yes. Exploitation no. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero hours contracts.
Ignoring, for the moment, the cumbersome language (as in the final sentence), consider the leap you have to make from “jobs above pay rises … working fewer hours …” to take in the comparison he draws in the next four words. In one step he has gone from praising the co-operation between unions and employers to rejecting exploitation. What exploitation? By whom? In what context?
He frequently interrupts himself. He does it in interviews, and he did it in this speech. His opening paragraph was designed to surprise his audience by revealing that a former Tory PM was in tune with today’s Labour Party. But the way he addressed his own punch line was this: “Yes, I am talking, believe it or not, about …” That ‘believe it or not’ totally ruined it, both because it interrupted the flow and because it cast doubt on the story’s credibility.
Here’s another example: “Now I recognise, as do you …” Try saying it. And think about his intention. Clearly he wanted to say “we both know”, but he chose a clumsy and even cheesy form of words. He could have reversed the sentence with something like this: “Both workers and employers need flexibility. I know that, you know that.”
In another paragraph he had this:
The million young people looking for work. It is not their recovery. The long term unemployed, higher than at any time for a generation. It is not their recovery. The 1.4 million people, more than ever before, desperate for full time work …”
‘Scuse me, didn’t you just say a million people were looking for work? How did that suddenly become 1.4 million?
If you are going to throw numbers around, make sure you distinguish one from another. And get the grammar right. “The long term unemployed, whose numbers are at their highest for a whole generation” makes more sense.
His (almost) final paragraph had a weak attempt at an ascending tricolon: “High stakes for your members. High stakes for working people. High stakes for our country. We’re in the fourth year of this government.”
Eh? Where’s the punch line about high stakes? Why the sudden switch to another subject, from high stakes to government? It needed something like, “And high stakes mean high risk. High risk for you, for me, for all of us. Do you want to take that risk?”
Ed Milliband needs a new speech writer if he is going to stand a chance in the run-up to the next election. He himself needs help in understanding the difference between the text that’s written to be said and the text that’s written to be read — even before work on developing some gravitas.