The Shadow Prime Minister’s Speech and Billy Bragg

February 5th, 2011

Ed Miliband does not stutter. But he has still not learnt to speak to the hearts of the people. And never was there a time in recent British history when it was a better time for an opposition leader to demonstrate that he cares for the thousands who are protesting on the streets. And the millions who are passionate Labour supporters.

His brother David is no better on this scale.  As I said, in my last blog, if only he could speak like Billy Bragg.

Both Ed and Dave have inherited the reforming zeal of their reformist father. They have also inherited his academic qualities. Although he sent them to Haverstock School, where they made friends with some of the mostly working class pupils, when they stand on the hustings they talk as if they were addressing an Oxbridge seminar.

Oratorical skills can be learnt. Winston Churchill was not a born orator. He learnt the skills. And learnt them late at life. He spent hours rehearsing all those speeches, which still echo down the centuries.

All it needs is a lot of hard work and a gifted teacher. As we all now, because we have watched The King’s Speech, and seen how a stutterer leant how to speak to the people in their hour of need.

The best man to teach him would be Eric Stadlen the best radio tutor I have come across. I have watched him in the studio using very similar tactics to those employed by King George VI’s speech therapist with many students, including not a few Oxbridge educated public schoolboys and girls. What they had to learn to do was to speak heart to heart, not to make a speech, or read a speech, which is a mode most get into when given a microphone.

Eric is, alas, dead.

And, as I write, I remember that even Eric had a few failures. Only a few days ago I came across a very amusing account of one of them on the blog of one of BBC secretaries who was in the studio at the time.

Winston Churchill Jnr, me and ‘The World at One’ « Magnificent Ageing

His name was Winston Churchill, the grandson of the Winston mentioned above. He had been sent to Eric, because he was being considered for radio and tv presenting jobs. Time and time again, Eric sat the secretary down in front of him, and said, ‘Don’t talk to the nation, talk to Penny’.

But Winston just didn’t get it.

But he did get the jobs he wanted. But he was always dropped after a few programmes. He got the job because he had the right name and a good track record as a print journalist. And he was much better looking than his granddad. A blue-eyed blonde god without a weight problem.

But in front of the microphone he was as wooden as when he first sat down in Eric’s BBC studio.

Give it a try, Ed. Don’t rely on the party machine to find experts to coach you. Ring Billy Bragg for starters and get him to sit in when you are next rehearsing an important speech.

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