Why Big Yin could teach Theresa

Ex­pert speech writer on the se­crets of our top speak­ers

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - News - By Kieran An­drews KIANDREWS@SUNDAYPOST.COM

Itwill go down in his­tory as one of the most dis­as­trous party leader’s speeches.

The P45-wield­ing prankster was bad, the cough­ing didn’t help, and the cas­cade of let­ters fall­ing off her back­drop was the fi­nal hu­mil­i­a­tion for Theresa May in Manch­ester.

Yes­ter­day, as the Prime Min­is­ter re­cov­ered from her cold and her worst speech, Nicola Stur­geon is pre­par­ing for one that she knows must be among her best at the SNP con­fer­ence.

It prom­ises to be among the trick­i­est and most im­por­tant speeches of her ca­reer as she ad­dresses her party’s faith­ful still reel­ing from a bruis­ing at the Gen­eral Elec­tion and an un­spo­ken but per­sis­tent re­treat from the prom­ise of an­other in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

Yes­ter­day, one of Bri­tain’s most adept po­lit­i­cal speech writ­ers of­fered a few tips to the First Min­is­ter before she hits the podium.

Philip Collins, who wrote many of Tony Blair’s most suc­cess­ful ora­tions, rec­om­mends be­ing hon­est and up­front about what has gone wrong – and if pos­si­ble, crack some good jokes early on.

It is not sur­pris­ing ad­vice from the ex­pert who reck­ons Scot­land’s great­est or­a­tor is... Billy Con­nolly.

Ms Stur­geon will take to the stage at Glas­gow’s SECC just six months af­ter telling her sup­port­ers: “There will be an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.”

She went on to lose 21 of her MPs in June’s Gen­eral Elec­tion and ditched in­de­pen­dence with a “re­set” of the timetable set out for a sec­ond vote.

Mr Collins, who has crafted speeches for a host of se­nior politi­cians and busi­ness lead­ers, says the SNP boss must echo her Tory coun­ter­part in one way and ac­knowl­edge things are not go­ing ac­cord­ing to plan.

The writer and aca­demic said: “What­ever she says about it there has been a re­treat, there is no doubt about it.

“And how you deal with that rhetor­i­cally is al­ways very in­ter­est­ing.

“I would al­ways be in­clined to be rea­son­ably hon­est about it be­cause the troops will know if she is sim­ply giv­ing it soft soap. You have got to re­spect your au­di­ence and their in­tel­li­gence and they know the truth.

“So gen­tly ac­knowl­edg­ing it I think is the best way of do­ing it.

“Theresa May’s equiv­a­lent was where she apol­o­gised for the elec­tion cam­paign. I thought that was a bit hard on her­self as I don’t think it was en­tirely her fault, but she did at least ac­knowl­edge it and con­front it and I think Nicola Stur­geon has to do some­thing like that.”

He added: “Nicola is gen­er­ally pretty good at be­ing deft and get­ting through those things. If she soldiers on and pre­tends this was the plan all along it will go down quite badly.”

Mr Collins says the First Min­is­ter must ad­dress dif­fi­cul­ties early to stop them from over­shad­ow­ing the rest of her speech.

He said: “You can con­cede more in a joke than you can if it’s not a joke be­cause the au­di­ence quite weirdly both do no­tice the con­ces­sion and they don’t. They don’t re­gard it as a weak­ness.”

But he added: “You can’t have some pre­fab­ri­cated joke that is like a Bob Monkhouse gag or some­thing. It has got to come nat­u­rally out of the writ­ing and if one doesn’t come nat­u­rally out of the writ­ing, don’t do one.”

So who should the First Min­is­ter take in­spi­ra­tion from?

“There is no finer rhetori­cian than Billy Con­nolly,” Mr Collins said.

“Stand-up com­edy is a form of public speak­ing and Con­nolly is the best.”

Mrs May’s sham­bolic ad­dress brought a sym­pa­thetic re­ac­tion on­line from Ms Stur­geon. She tweeted: “Spare a thought for those of us still to de­liver our con­fer­ence speech and now fret­ting about all the things that could go wrong.”

And Mr Collins in­sists the First Min­is­ter can take ad­van­tage of the Tory leader’s night­mare – by be­ing nice to her.

He said: “It’s an op­por­tu­nity for her to be quite a sym­pa­thetic per­son and say some­thing nice about Theresa May rather than the usual po­lit­i­cal knock­about.

“Ex­actly along the lines of that tweet, which is to say: ‘We are all in the same boat and I do feel for you on that, even if on your pol­i­tics I don’t like you.’ “That would be a nice touch.” But while he too had sym­pa­thy for the PM’s public hu­mil­i­a­tion, Mr Collins ar­gued at least part of it was of her own mak­ing.

He said that Mrs May’s re­fusal to use an au­tocue, in­stead con­stantly look­ing down at a printed script, put

added strain on an al­ready hard­worked voice.

“I’m not say­ing it would def­i­nitely have stopped that from hap­pen­ing but she’s cer­tainly at more risk of that hap­pen­ing than any­one else be­cause of her style of de­liv­ery,” he added.

Philip’s new book, When They Go Low, We Go High, explores how the most fa­mous speeches in his­tory have worked, in­clud­ing anal­y­sis of their rhetor­i­cal tricks.

And he be­lieves that some of the most im­pres­sive speak­ers, par­tic­u­larly in the Labour Party, have come from Scot­land.

In­deed, he has par­tic­u­lar af­fec­tion for Robin Cook’s 2001 “Chicken Tikka Masala” ad­dress. Why? He met his wife there.

The then-Livingston MP, who died in 2005, ar­gued the curry “is now a true Bri­tish na­tional dish ... chicken tikka is an In­dian dish. The masala sauce was added to sat­isfy the de­sire of Bri­tish peo­ple to have their meat served in gravy”.

Mr Collins also high­lighted the for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary’s Iraq War speech, where he quit Gov­ern­ment be­cause of his op­po­si­tion to the in­va­sion, and his ad­dress on the Scott Re­port into arms sales.

“He was locked in a room with this re­port and he had about three hours to di­gest it and then do a speech in Par­lia­ment. It was ab­so­lutely mag­nif­i­cent. That was an ab­so­lute clas­sic.”

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown’s eve-of-elec­tion rally cry in 2010 was also a per­sonal favourite, de­spite the Fifer head­ing for de­feat.

Mr Collins said: “He had re­alised he had lost so he kind of didn’t care any more and he did an old fash­ioned tubthump­ing speech and it was ac­tu­ally amaz­ing. He was ca­pa­ble of a re­ally fine speech of a type we hadn’t seen before.

“Keir Hardie as well – some of his speeches are re­ally worth read­ing. “Ram­say MacDon­ald was a bril­liant speaker. A lot of the Labour Party’s great speak­ers have been Scot­tish.” Mr Collins thinks the most ef­fec­tive speeches are cen­tred on a sin­gu­lar ar­gu­ment that runs through the en­tire de­liv­ery.

“The last Blair speech I did was 2006,” he said. “The ac­tual ar­gu­ment of that speech was all about glob­al­i­sa­tion and it’s re­ally con­tem­po­rary.

“We had no­ticed lots of peo­ple were al­ready say­ing they weren’t get­ting any­thing out of glob­al­i­sa­tion, they were be­ing left be­hind, they didn’t feel any­thing was work­ing for them, which feels very 2017.”

Ora­tory ex­pert Philip Collins

Theresa May, left, suf­fered on stage. Now Nicola Stur­geon, above, has to de­liver

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