Last year I devoted two Auracle newsletters to analysing speeches from all four main party leaders. This year I restrict myself to brief summaries.
I can summarise them communally. Much better all round than last year. I have to add a rider with an observation I have made before, namely that people in my niche – business executives – could not get away with spouting some of those toe-curling banalities. “I believe we should leave the world a better place than we found it.” Can you imagine the tumbleweed moment that would greet that if one of my trainees dared utter it? One of the party leaders did; and it was greeted with applause. Today I have firmly put their content beyond my brief.
I will address them chronologically.
Nigel Farage consistently fulfils Cardinal 1: he always has strong, clear messages. He was more matter-of-fact and less bellicose than he can be, and thus conveyed an air of increased maturity. Also he has learnt to avoid pulling silly faces to signal that he has a joke brewing. He remained dead-pan while describing van Rompuy as his good friend, and was rewarded with a bigger and better laugh.
Nick Clegg was incomparably better than his defensive, insipid and fractious offering to the March conference at The Sage. From a good robust opening that culminated in 12-second applause at 2:32, on through a well-placed anaphora at 3:38, this was a very good speech. He had notes, but he barely looked: he shot this speech from the hip. No doubt the backdrop of party faithful (also present for Miliband) is something that focus groups and consultants have insisted upon; but not only do I dislike the practice, I feel sorry for the individuals concerned. Constantly on camera they have to sit still and look interested. Imagine how many votes a yawn could cost! I would like to work on Clegg’s diction. It seems to be clear, but too much goes AWOL.
Ed Miliband presented a delivery that was light-years improved on last year. Someone (not I) has tried to get him into the ‘note-free conversational sincerity’ style that I preach. If you rammed me against a wall, demanding a guess, I’d hazard that a stand-up comic has been working with him. A monumental non sequitur in the first minute signalled to me that he was not as relaxed as he was trying to convey. Also sometimes this casual style looked a little as if it had been painted on by numbers as opposed to coming from within; but a huge amount of progress has been achieved. He included a pretty epistrophe, beginning at 17:00, but I shall not comment further on his material.
David Cameron drove me nuts last year with a dreadful trick of periodically delivering what was fondly believed to be a killer sentence straight to camera. It was excruciatingly smarmy. Clearly someone else thought so too, because this year that gimmick had been euthanized. We know he can speak without notes: he did it when campaigning for the party leadership. Why then was he using Autocue here? I think the answer probably has to do with shortage of time, the pressure of office, and large amounts of data. Though the delivery was less sexy than Miliband’s, it was more secure. He is evidently seeking to portray statesmanship while avoiding the epideictic nonsense that we found in All Gore a few posts ago.
I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for those that work on these speeches. It’s too easy for me to criticise from the wings. They have to thread their way through a horrendous minefield of competing criteria. If ever I were called in on a job like that, I would try very hard to restrict my terms of reference to diction and demeanour in delivery, and abdicate any responsibility for the rubbish they were called upon to utter. And that is why I shall very probably never be called.