10 January 2010

Political speeches can still make a big difference - like changing the date of an election


A few days ago, I posted some of the reasons why I think that current British politicians and media underestimate how important speeches can be (the 'Snakes & Ladders Theory of Political Communication').

So today, I was fascinated to see confirmation in the serialisation of a book by Peter Watt, former Labour Party general secretary of the Labour Party, in today's Mail on Sunday of something I'd long suspected - namely that David Cameron's speech at the 2007 Conservative Party conference was critical in deterring Gordon Brown from calling an election (which he announced two days after the speech):

On Thursday, Cameron called our bluff. He made a spectacular speech demanding an end to the weeks of frenzied speculation about the Election. ‘So Mr Brown, what’s it to be?’ he taunted. ‘Call that Election. We will fight. Britain will win.’

A panicky Gordon summoned Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Spencer, Douglas, Deborah Mattinson – Gordon’s pollster – and Sue Nye – Gordon’s senior adviser and trusted ‘gatekeeper’ – for a crisis meeting.

On Friday morning, Douglas called me. ‘Peter, Gordon’s not going to do it,’ he said quietly. ‘When’s he going to make an announcement?’ I asked. ‘Tomorrow’ (my emphasis).

Given that Labour was 10% ahead in the polls at the time, Cameron's decision to ditch his original script, speak from notes and challenge Brown to call an immediate election was a high risk strategy.

But, in terms of the 'Snakes and Ladders' theory, it was a crucial 'ladder' that paid a handsome dividend to the Conservatives - not just in the favorable media reactions it generated, but in the two extra years it gave the party to reverse the polls in their favour - time they wouldn't have had if Brown had gone ahead and called the election when everyone (including, we now know from Peter Watt's book, the Labour high command) was expecting it.

You can watch the full speech above, or see a BBC report on it with video highlights HERE.

1 comment:

dreamingspire said...

And now the Chancellor has indicated that May 6th is the earliest date, which puts paid to the late March speculation. Makes one wonder who triggered that decision. Also, what rabbits can Labour pull out of the bag at national level during April and the first few days of May?
There was merit in late March. Yes, a full budget should have been prepared just in case the date is changed, but having a March election means no need to present it and therefore no need to tell us even some of the truth about the next financial year.
There is also merit in a May election on same day as local elections: saves money, saves having two disturbances to normal (sic) life. But it also creates lots of cross linkage between local and central govt politics.