26 September 2012

A generous audience for Clegg - but why on earth draw attention to it?

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In previous years, I've criticised Nick Clegg (and/or those advising him) for the decision to go for the management guru stye of delivery in his leader's speech - i.e. wandering around the stage pretending that he's not using a teleprompter.

So the big plus this year was to see the Deputy Prime Minister looking rather more statesmanlike than usual by the simple device of staying firmly at the lectern.

But there's another important lesson he still has to learn: if a particular line goes down well with your audience, don't comment on it or otherwise draw attention to it.

This particular joke (scroll in about 20 seconds) was, perhaps predictably, the first sound bite from the speech to be tweeted by BBC television's @daily_politics shoe - and will probably make it on to some of tonight's prime-time news programmes.

It was so successful that it triggered a massive 23 seconds of applause (i.e. 15 seconds more than the standard 8 seconds burst).

But surely it's far better to leave the audience to draw their own (positive) conclusions about what they've just seen and heard than to comment on the difference between what you'd expected and what had happened. All that achieves is to highlight the scripted calculated nature of the line in question - and perhaps also gives away that there'd been a good deal of discussion about it beforehand with your aides:

"I thought you'd groan rather than clap at that one, but anyway [slight laughter] what a generous audience."

It reminded me of a line Mrs Thatcher once used in the early 1980s, when she based her commendation of her foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, on a television beer advertisement of the day: "Yes, he really is the peer that reaches parts thaat other peers can't reach."

This prompted much laughter and applause, during which she could be seen (and just heard) saying "Oh, it did work, then..."

In this particular case, Nick Clegg's good luck is that, in order to include the unfortunate line, the the television news shows would have to play the whole 23 seconds of applause that comes before it - so it's unlikely to be seen by anyone other than anoraks like me (and/or readers of blogs like this one).

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