Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Speechwatch: David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party Conference, October 2012

David Cameron's warm-up man, Mayor Bloomberg of New York, called him a "gold-medal winning Prime Minister", but did he live up to the accolade? By the way, Mayor Bloomberg also referenced Winston Churchill as an example of "putting the good of the country ahead of party politics". That didn't go down too well in the hall. I'm not sure it was a great piece of scheduling to put an orator like Bloomberg on just before David Cameron's big moment.

There was an uneasy and rather bizarre pause before William Hague appeared to do the intro. It wasn't the greatest intro, either. More golf club dinner than party conference, in fact. The usual video played, reminding people what he does. This is now a cliché at every party conference, and is seen and heard only by the delegates in the hall, as the broadcast channels either play music over it or continue with the punditry.

David Cameron began by saying "In May 2010, this party stood on the threshold of power for the first time in more than a decade..." He adopted a sombre demeanour before explaining the potential problems we face in the future. Unlike Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg, he stood behind a lectern, adopting the statesman-like pose rather than the chatty leader. Like Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg, his choice of neckwear was a purple tie. Perhaps it's now the law for party leaders.

He invoked the spirit of his son Ivan, in an emotional reference to the Paralympics, leading on to a "one-flag" reference and a dig at SNP leader Alex Salmond. He called the audience to their feet for an ovation on behalf of the armed forces, which was the longest sustained applause until the end of his speech. When he claimed "this is the party of the NHS", the applause was much more limited. On a personal note, and as a gamesmaker myself, I'm not convinced that all of us felt we were demonstrating or representing the "Big Society" as David Cameron claimed.

His tone throughout was more management consultant than orator, which was probably deliberate. It was intended to show a steady hand on the tiller in rough seas rather than an inspirational vision of the future. He used "one nation" as part of an insult to Ed Milliband, saying "We don't talk about one nation but practice class war". However, he also said "they call us the party of the better-off...but we're the party of people who want to be better off" which was a mistake, in my view. Never remind people what opponents say about you. It was a technique he used several times: "They say cruel Tories...." "They say elitist Tories.." before gainsaying the statement.

The speech was littered with standard content-free phrases that are the stock-in-trade of all party leaders: "Let me put it like this..", "Let me tell you this...", "I say this to you.." As ever with party leader speeches, it was also short on jokes, but did include a moderate pun at Ed Milliband's expense: "Labour - the party of one notion - borrowing"

He returned to the home-owning vision of his hero, Margaret Thatcher, before addressing the issue of welfare reform: "Welfare isn't working and this is a tragedy". There were several references to that political favourite "hard-working families". He likened the government to "pushy parents" when he turned to education. He outlined his vision of "millions of children sent to independent schools in the state sector".

There was one great sound bite that summarised his speech, though it was almost a throwaway remark: "I'm not here to defend privilege, I'm here to spread it".

He delivered a rousing finale, which is the first time he really became animated: "This is still the greatest country on earth....hard work, strong families, taking responsibility, serving our best we are unbeatable.....there's nothing we can't do....Let us build an aspiration nation....Let us get out there and do it"

Overall, it was a speech to get the job done. It was strong on encouragement for party loyalists, full of praise for hard-working people, and included jibes at opponents. My assessment - seven out of ten.

Here's my review in video form:

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