Speech of the Month, July 2022 - Sajid Javid
He might not be the greatest speaker ever but his resignation speech sent Boris Johnson packing
Sajid Javid isn’t known as a brilliant orator but if we judge a speech purely on effectiveness, then the resignation speech he gave on 6 July was a singular triumph. It sparked the cascade of minister resignations which meant Boris Johnson had to extricate his finger nails from the No 10 doorframe and go.
Javid’s speech fused some traditional rhetorical devices with some piercingly powerful contrasts; it forced the target audience (Tory ministers) to search their consciences while simultaneously telling them what they had to do. And they went on to do the very thing he told them.
These were the rhetorical devices...
He unleased a tricolon
If you’re not sure what a tricolon is, it’s a set of three units of speech put in a row. Caesar’s ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ - I came, I saw. I conquered - is the most famous example. Three x two-syllable V words on the bounce.
Embarrassing disclosure!! Being a child of the 80s and hearing Black Lace hits at school discos, I was well into my 20s before I realised that Caesar hadn’t said, ‘I came, I saw, I conga-d’!
But anyway, a tricolon doesn’t have to be formed by three similar length words all beginning with the same letter. It can be formed, as Javid’s is, by three short phrases that all begin with the same call. So when we hear, “It isn’t fair that minister colleagues to go out every morning defending lines that don’t hold up. It’s not fair on my parliamentary colleagues who bear the brunt of constituents’ dismay in their inboxes and on their doorsteps in recent elections. And it’s not fair on Conservative members and voters who rightly expect better from the party they support” that's Javid unleashing a 'It isn't fair' tricolon.
He threw in a metaphor
The most barnstorming resignation speech of modern times was given by Geoffrey Howe in November 1990. If it means nothing to you, you must be young and not a viewer of The Crown. But it’s remembered because he delivered a zinger of a simile which Howe called a metaphor but it’s not. Take a look if you don't know what I'm on about...
I’m not going to squabble over word definitions, metaphor, simile, analogy –whatevs. All we need to accept is that Javid’s ‘Reset button’ metaphor worked a treat. In talking about Johnson’s apologies and assurances that came too thick and fast to be believed, he said, “But I do fear that the reset button can only work so many times. There’s only so many times you can turn that machine on and off before you realise that something is fundamentally wrong.” Very nice.
Rhetorical flourishes aside, these were his tantalising extras….
He put the spotlight on those who had the power to spark change
This was the most effective part of the speech; the part Javid will be remembered for. In saying to Tory MPs, “I wish my cabinet colleagues well and I can see they have decided to remain in the cabinet. They will have their own reasons but it is a choice. I know just how difficult that choice is. But let’s be clear – not doing something is an active decision.”
Oh, but it’s what was implied in that ‘active decision’ that was so powerful. In very few words he was saying, ‘If you stay in the cabinet you’re supporting the down-right indefensible, no one will respect you and everyone will think you’re staying for personal gain because what other logical reason is there? It’s a lose-lose, pal.’ We all know what happened next.
He delivered a terrific peroration which illuminated Johnson’s flaws
I was especially impressed by how Javid wrapped up his speech. He did something that I don’t think I’ve seen before. By setting out his own humble political and personal ambitions, he drew a brilliant contrast with the PM and without saying anything brutal about him, he landed a sucker-punch.
“I got into politics,” he said, “to do something. Not to be something.” Right away we’re thinking about Johnson wanting to be World King. “Being a good father, husband, son and citizen is good enough for me,” he continued. I don’t know about you, but as I heard those words I saw Shagger Johnson bundling pregnant mistresses into abortion clinics. “And if I can continue to contribute to my party and country from the backbenches, then it will be a privilege to do so.” Now I’m picturing Bozza at boozy book launches as he priorities his writing career post politics. And none of those images are a good look.
But what a lesson, eh? Particularly for people in Sales. Don’t run down a rival. Just highlight their weaknesses by stating that the polar opposite attributes are your strengths. Let the audience's imaginations fill in what you haven't said.
One final thing – the prompt cards!
I noticed Javid committed his speech to A5 cards. Not as clumsy to hold as A4 yet enough room for some detail. And card rather than paper is a more manageable prop.
“Emma is a first-rate trainer who practices what she preaches. She gave a wonderful talk to the law school. Attendees were struck by her style, authenticity and the accessibility of her content.”