28 February 2010

Time the Tories learnt from Mrs Thatcher's stage managers?

During the party conference season, I commented on the peculiar backdrop behind platform speakers at last year's Conservative Party conference, and pointed out that Mrs Thatcher, under the guidance of Harvey Thomas, had revolutionised the staging of conferences.

A major innovation was to make sure that the main camera angle hid everyone but the speaker from view, so that television viewers couldn't see anyone looking bored with, or disapproving of, what she was saying - a detail that was eventually latched on to and copied by Labour Party conference organisers:

For some strange reason, today's Tories seem to think that it's a good idea to have their leader speaking with his back to his shadow cabinet colleagues, as he did at today's Spring Forum in Brighton.

But, however much they may have been briefed to look attentive and nod in the right places, it's not just that it looks odd (and arguably completely unnatural) to see someone making a speech with his back to so many members of the audience, it's also a risky and distracting strategy.

Unless, of course, I'm the only viewer who can't help keeping an eye on how the audience is reacting and is continually on the lookout for yawns and/or heads shaking in disagreement. The inevitable result is that you don't listen as closely to what he's saying as you otherwise would (which could possibly be the reason they do it) - while the possible ever-present risk is that someone's inappropriate reaction might prompt the beginnings of a negative news story.

P.S. Just noticed a delayed burst of applause 36 seconds into this clip - shadow cabinet members behind him had been nodding their heads, but didn't get their hands apart to join in until after the audience in front of him has started clapping. Not a negative news story, perhaps, but is anything gained by exposing such hesitant stuff to a wider audience?

P.P.S. (1 March): Since posting this, I've announced details of a St Dave's Day (prize) competition HERE.