Tuesday, September 24, 2013

#LAB13 Conference Speechwatch 2013 - Ed Milliband, Labour

Ed Milliband walked through a crowd on stage to a huge welcome. He received a standing ovation before he spoke a word. Once again he worked without an autocue, and away from a lectern. In most camera shots, he was backed by a group of what appeared to be very tidy sixth-form schoolboys and young women.

He began with a personal story about Ella Phillips, who he picked up after a bike accident, and who called him an "action hero". He was using a typical stand-up comedy opening, and had a good punch line; "She was concussed". Nice timing too.

His opening message, repeated three times, was "Britain can do better than this", with the third part of the tricolon being a variant "We're Britain, we can do better than this". He then quickly returned to last year's One Nation theme, and another slogan "Are you satisfied?". However, he returned to the "Britain can do better.." many times. I lost count after the first twenty mentions.

He made full use of triplets: "This is what I believe, this is where I stand, this is the leadership Britain needs". He also used one of his favourite call and response gambits "Do the Tories get it?" "No" was a quiet response. "Oh come on, you can do better than that" "No" they roared. Panto time.

It was a wide-ranging speech, pointing out times when he did what was "the right thing to do". He thanked the troops, the police, the teachers, the doctors and nurses. He thanked ordinary blokes, market traders and ambulance drivers. Each delivered applause in what speechwriters call a "claptrap". The speech was clearly designed to be punctuated often by applause.

There were other themes too "A race to the top, not a race to the bottom", and "Not under my government". That last one obviously a signal to those who don't see him as prime ministerial.

However, it took some time to get to policy statements. He promised "One million new green jobs by 2030", whatever that means. He made a well-received commitment to freezing energy bills until 2017. He also gave a pledge to build two million homes (though it was a bit of a mystery what he meant by "use the land or lose the land" - is he going to confiscate property?). He called the NHS "the greatest institution in our country", and said we must "raise our sights about what the NHS can achieve as a truly integrated service". He surfed the applause a couple of times when bashing the Conservatives over health policy, and received a mid-speech standing ovation for it. That threw him off his step for a moment.

In a sotto voce section, he spoke about party reform to muted applause. There was much more cheering for his call for votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. Now it was obvious why those young people were behind him.

His style was more conversational and relaxed than usual, though the odd political non-phrase slipped out; "Now hear me on this", "Now let me tell you something"

There was a nice piece of antithesis when referring to David Cameron, "He's strong standing up to the weak, but weak standing up to the strong". His closing phrase was "I will lead a Britain that fights for you".

Overall, it wasn't the set-piece oration of last year. It was more relaxed, with more audience engagement, and at times almost like a stand-up act. There were lots of personal stories, but this time not about his family. To his credit, he received several standing ovations during the speech. My assessment was that though it was it good, it wasn't his best performance, so seven out of ten from me.

1 comment:

Ian R McAllister said...

Nice analysis Alan! I guess much like trying to mark a figure skater at the Olympics, you have three criteria: the performer; the technicals of the performance; and the content/interpretation. On stage, he is a great deliverer - but he's not (yet) a top-rank orator. The speech was technically well written and created - as I knew you would comment - but it seemed a bit "obvious" at points: bash the Tories a bit more?

Like you hint at, I feel that it fell down in the content. Lower energy prices yes, but what about that required £350Bn investment required? The NHS is not right under the coalition, but what plans to Labour have? (Andy Burnham I think could be trusted more).

However, personally when he was trailing in with his initial stories, was not the aspiring and growing Britain that he described the one that Lady Thatcher built after a failed and unionised Labour government descended into failure in the winter of discontent? Now, is that not an anathema to everything that he and his closest supporters stand against?

I conclude that you got it right in your assessment: 9 for the speaker; 8 for the technicals; but a mere 5 for the content. Plus, it still doesn't look on other lesser pieces of media and political commentary that he answered the leadership question!