Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Speechwatch: Nick Clegg, LibDem Autumn Conference 2012

Here's my instant review on Nick Clegg's speech to the LibDem Conference in Brighton, September 26th 2012. It was a tough speech to deliver, with the LibDems plummeting in the polls, cracks appearing in the coalition government, and the economy still flat-lining.

The overall tone was serious, though he did make the effort to deliver some funny lines. Not many politicians have the timing or the material to generate belly laughs, but the line about being praised by Boris Johnson was at least adequate. The line "To make blue go green you have to add yellow" was even flagged as a bad joke by Mr Clegg himself, and during the laugh he remarked "what a lovely audience". Politicians should never try to be stand-ups.

He began - after the smooth video that has become de rigeur at party conferences - by harking back to the Olympics, dropping the names of a few gold medallists, and using the analogy that everyone needs a coach, and a strong team behind them. I'm not sure where he was going with that one, but he then flipped to contrast 2012 with 2011, when there were riots in cities around the UK. He then used the rhetorical device of antistrophe in the phrase "When the images beamed to the world were not of athletes running for the finishing line, but the mob, running at police lines.". Ah - it was a set up for a sound bite.

The stage set-up was interesting too. Almost in the round, with a smattering of diverse faces behind him, perhaps to overcome the impression given by watching the parade of conference speakers that LibDems are mostly white middle class men.

There were personal stories - they always draw applause, and plenty more Olympic references. He spoke strongly and confidently, delivering the claptraps well (no offence, they are lines included to induce applause). However, after a brisk start, it all got a bit bogged down in economic detail and gloom, a bit like some of David Cameron's speeches. Actually if you close your eyes and listen to Nick Clegg, it's hard to tell him apart from David Cameron. Actually, when both are at full throttle, they are indistinguishable.

He fluffed a few strong lines "Let's no - er let's take no more lectures...". "admitting, admittering.." Generally, his pacing was good, and he hit most of his marks.

The audience response was muted throughout. Even the section on green issues, a topic many LibDems used to be passionate about, was met with polite applause. The central core of the speech was an attempt to set out what LibDems stand for - strong on education, evidenced by extra funding for children falling behind in maths or English. A popular move, at least in the hall. The phrase "We're raising the bar, but ensuring every child can clear it too" must have worried and puzzled any teachers listening.

He didn't refer to his apology over tuition fees, other than to lament that his single had not reached the top ten. That video was clearly designed to get the issue out of the way before this speech.

The biggest cheer was the announcement of Paddy Ashdown as the chair of the 2015 election team. Do the faithful prefer him to Nick? Oops.

In his final words, he managed to hark back to David Steel's "prepare for government" sound bite. It got a groan. then an apologetic laugh. By the way, Nick, saying that LibDems may "march towards the sound of gunfire" is not the ringing phrase some want to hear.

His final words were "Let's go for it", which seems a bit light to me as a campaign slogan.

Overall, it was a competent, though uninspiring speech. Definitely not a barnstormer. No brilliant sound bites. One appalling joke. Not one for the speech manuals. Five out of ten.

No comments: