22 September 2011

Clegg's conference speech: 1 plus & 2 minuses

Having grumbled previously about Nick Clegg's past attempts to imitate David Cameron's walkabout apparently unscripted style of delivery, I was delighted to see that he stood at a lectern for yesterday's speech.

If you want to look more like a statesman than a management guru, that's the way to do it, even if you do forget to pretend that you're reading from the hard copy text in front of you.

1. Faces in the background
Fashionable though it's become for our party leaders to make speeches with some of the audience sitting behind them, I cannot for the life of me see what the point of it is.

During the 1992 election, John Major took to speaking in the round and, if I ever manage to unearth my videos of people yawning and dozing in the background, I'll certainly post them on the blog.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, party leaders used to speak from a platform, surrounded by colleagues all around them - until, that is, Harvey Thomas (former impresario for Billy Graham's UK crusades) got involved in staging Conservative Party conferences, where Mrs Thatcher was set apart from the rest so that any signs of audience dissent or doziness couldn't be seen by viewers at home.

Neil Kinnock quickly followed suit - and with very good reason. I have another video from one of his earliest leader's speeches, in which Dennis Skinner and Joan Maynard (aka 'Stalin's aunty') sat behind him eating sweets, shaking their heads and generally looking very cross.

There may not have been any such damaging distractions from those who sat behind Mr Clegg yesterday, but the possibility was always there.

Nor did it do a very good job in accomplishing the only defence for it I've ever heard, namely to demonstrate the ethnic and gender diversity of the party's supporters. I could only see one black face and not as many female faces as there should have been.

2. An unfortunate contrast
The power of the contrast in the armoury of rhetorical devices available to speakers was strongly evidenced by the fact that Clegg's recurring "not easy, but right" line was widely noticed and reported by the media as the leitmotif of the speech.

But, given the alternative meanings of the word 'right' in the English language, and especially in the world of politics, it hardly seemed an appropriate choice. If you're suspected by some of your supporters (and enemies) of selling out to go into coalition with a right-wing party, 'right' is, at best, an ambiguous word to use in such a context- and that too was spotted and has been commented on in the media.

Whether or not this was deliberately intended by Clegg and/or his speechwriters, I do not know. But I'd have gone for a safer option like "not easy, but necessary", "not easy, but unavoidable" or "not easy, but no choice."

On the other hand, if speeches have become as unimportant in UK political communication as I suggested in the previous post, maybe none of this nit-picking matters very much at all...

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GHmltn said...

Good post.

I wonder - what did you make of Farron's speech or his style?

He certainly adopts the evangelical preacher or management guru approach. He also reminds me of Cyril Smith - straight, coothy, feisty and bags of character.

I liked his speech btw.

StevenE said...

"No alternative" is I think an equally loaded phrase if not more so. It would've immediately made people recall Thatcher's 'TINA' and would seem more uncomfortably deliberate than 'right', that while loaded remains at least the obvious term.

Anonymous said...

Aren't most of your alternatives to "right" not advocating what Nick was trying to say. it was more like
"not east, but correct" but considering the media picked up on headmasteryness maybe wrong as well.

or "not easy but the best decision" again it doesn't zing.

Roger said...

Now I so want to see Dennis Skinner and Joan Maynard sat behind Kinnock eating sweets and looking cross....

Max Atkinson said...

Thanks to one and all for your comments - much appreciated.

Didn't see Farron's speech, but wasn't surprised it went down well. When he was a student LibDem leader, he came on a course I did for the party and struck me as a promising young lad - and he still looks like a young lad...

Annoying though TINA may have been, it arguably did Thatcher more good than harm.

Without knowing exactly what he was trying to say, I'm not claiming that my suggestions would have been perfect solutions. However, I do think it's an unnecessary risk to bowl full tosses that are so easy for your opponents to hit to the boundary. Maybe Clegg doesn't know much about cricket in spite of representing the Sheffield constituency where former England captain Michael Vaughan was brought up.

And don't worry, Roger, I promise to post the Skinner-Maynard clip if and when I ever manage to find it. BTW, John Rentoul of the Indy on Sunday tells me that the latter was known as "Stalin's granny", not "Stalin's aunty". Clearly more research needed on this...

Acrylic Podiums said...

Nice speech.
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