If you’ve arrived at this page via LinkedIn or Twitter, you know the score. This is the first in a series of posts, ‘hacking’ important speeches of our time, with no apology at all to the speechwriters involved.
I’ve rewritten a speech, given by Mrs. May. It was used to introduce a White Paper describing the UK’s departure from the EU.
Why did I rewrite it? And the White Paper that followed it? Because it’s a great example of how badly a speech translates to the printed page… and why that matters so much.
And, yes, you’re also in the right place if you want a Rentaquill version of the EU Exit White Paper, too. (In short, where the content was a poor reflection on the English language, I changed it. Duplicate information? Erased. Anything that wasn’t relevant to the UK’s exit from the EU? Nuh-uh. KerPOWee. Gone.
The speech (used as the opening salvo in that Paper) needed strength; it should have had meaning; it merited rhetorical stature even, as a PM’s note on Parliament’s work. I’m not sure it hit the mark. This is how I’d change it:
A speech can be reproduced with discretion as to the speaker’s command of the English language or, if necessary, a new piece of oratory can be crafted to at least reflect well on the communicable intentions of a speaker.
A speechwriters’ duties are to make their speakers sound great – even when they’re not speaking.
In Mrs. May’s own words, however, ineptitude lurches forth and clichéd chiasmus rasps in the gullet. When we see [And another thing that’s important.], printed verbatim as a standalone sentence, it does nothing for her credibility as an orator. This document will be reviewed by hundreds if not thousands of readers for the quality of its tone and content. Would it have killed anyone to exercise a little poetic license, writing it up as, [There’s something else that’s important.] instead?
Most of us also know JFK’s inaugural bon mots: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Or, as Mrs. May and her writers would have us know it, [So that when future generations look back at this time they will judge us not only by the decision that we made but by what we made of that decision.]
And for what it’s worth, orated or not, people exercising their right to vote ‘Remain’ in the referendum are described in this speech as ‘losers’. Honestly, you think that’s the best word anyone could have used, all things considered?
My version is not perfect. No speech is perfect. But it’s much harder to vilify for inaccuracies in the same way that, [The strength and support of 65 million people willing us to make it happen.] is an invitation for mockery and derision.
Like it? Loathe it? There’s plenty of detail missing. The scope for a statement or speech like this usually takes far too many stakeholders’ views into consideration – that’s often part of the problem. However, if you worked on this speech then I make no apology.
Mrs. May, this one really could have been better.