7 October 2010

Delayed applause for Cameron's government - from the Conservatives!

During David Cameron's speech at the Conservative Party conference, quite a few mainstream journalists were tweeting on Twitter about how much applause he was getting. But although they'd all suddenly become experts on the subject, none of them had much of an eye or ear for detail.

Applause delay and duration
So, as in all the other speeches by top party speakers this conference season, they missed the year's most intriguing and recurring trend, namely the way in which some very key points that might have been expected to get instant or early applause that then lasted beyond the standard norm of 8±1 seconds (i.e. an above average display of enthusiasm) failed to do so.

These included warm words from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable about the coalition government (HERE & HERE), Ed Miliband's claims on 'the centre ground' (HERE), William Hague's boast about being in government (HERE) and George Osborne's good news about being in government (HERE).

What struck me as fascinating about these glitches was that they all occurred at points where you'd have expected an instant an/or prolonged response - if audience was in wholehearted agreement with what had just been said. Yet, in the case of the parties in the coalition government, the applause for coalition/government was at best luke warm and at worst minimal.

I'd have thought that such obvious evidence that there might be gap between the enthusiasm of party activists and that of their leaders for crucial points would have been worth a comment or two in the mainstream media - and I'm astonished that none of them seems to have noticed it.

The trend recurs in Cameron's speech
Given that Mr Cameron is by far the most accomplished British political orator of his generation, I wasn't expecting to see it in yesterday's speech. But it did - on at least two occasions.

At the end of his opening line, it took the audience the best part of a second to respond, after which they only managed to keep the applause going for the 'standard' burst of 8 seconds:

video

Exactly the same thing (1 second delay + 8 seconds of applause) happened again when he told them why they should be proud of what the coalition government had done:

video

The 'big society'?
If Tory activists were as muted as LibDem activists in showing their enthusiasm for the coalition government, how did they respond to what their leader had to say about the 'big society'? The answer to this will take a bit more time, but watch this space.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of footnotes about yesterday's speech.

Skewed eye-contact
If you haven't noticed it already, watch the clips again to see one of the few weaknesses in David Cameron's oratory: like Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown, he spends far more time looking to the left than to the right.

I've blogged about this before (HERE & HERE), and am surprised that he and his advisors have yet to do anything about a problem that's so easy to fix (Lend Me Your Ears, pp. 41-42).

Booby prize for journalistic banality
Cameron's speech came to an end with a classic and utterly reliable three-part list, in which 'Let's (...) together' was repeated and the third item was longer than the first two:

Let's pull together.
Let's come together.
Lets work together in the national interest.

video

On this, we were then authoritatively informed by the BBC's Andrew Neil (about 20 seconds in) that the PM was "trying to finish on an upbeat note".

Er, no Mr Neill, he wasn't 'trying to finish on an upbeat note' at all. He was finishing on an upbeat note. And if you knew anything at all about rhetoric and oratory, you might have noticed that he wasn't taking any technical chances when it came to ensuring that the ovation didn't just start instantly but got under way just before he'd finished.

Other posts on the 2010 party conference season:

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