‘They can talk, but can they speak?’

15 May 2009

Quentin Letts mentions – and quotes generously from – Arena of Ambition in his article on The First Post today.

In a piece lamenting the poor oratorical skills of Members of Parliament, he says:

One hesitates (though not long) to sound like an elitist but we might have a better standard of oratory from the green leather benches if more MPs had belonged to debating societies such as the Cambridge Union.

… A reasonably interesting history of the Union (Arena of Ambition – A History of the Cambridge Union, by Stephen Parkinson, Icon Books, £20) has just been written. It shows that past generations of undergraduate politicians benefited greatly from their studenty jousts. Those early attempts at building and conveying an argument, sometimes in the face of an over-refreshed throng, helped to create some of the big beasts of Westminster politics.

… Today’s best Commons performers employ the slightly arch style of the university debating parlours for the simple reason that it works … Former Union members know to speak clearly, briskly, without just enough assertion but not too much pomposity, and to leaven it with wit. It’s called “communicating” and it is an awful pity there are not more of them who can do it.

Read the full article online here.

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