Are Labour's leading women better speakers than Labour's leading men?

I know that some of my Twitter friends, like @MarionChapsal of Geronimo Coaching, have an interest in collecting examples of powerful women speakers and leaders.

Having kept an eye out on both male and female speakers at this week's Labour Party conference, I thought that they and other readers might like to see three good efforts from women who spoke there.

For what it's worth, my general impression is that some of the party's leading women are way ahead of their male brethren when it comes to effective public speaking.

Is this, I wonder, because oratory is a dying art among males in a party that has seen former trades unionists, trained at the factory gates, give way to a new class of of Oxbridge educated young men trained as backroom boys for older MPs (and with little or no experience of having done anything much outside professional politics)?

Or is it simply that, even in a party so lacking in charismatic male speakers, women still have to be far better than average to get noticed and rise within the party?

YVETTE COOPER, Shadow Home Secretary:

CAROLINE FLINT, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

HARRIET HARMAN, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party:

On reflection, and at the risk of offending Msses (if that's the plural of 'Ms') Cooper, Flint and Harman, it occurs to me that they arguably all have something in common with Margaret Thatcher when it comes to solving the problem of becoming a 'charismatic woman' (see HERE). That particular post concluded as follows:

'... one of Mrs Thatcher's major long term achievements may turn out to have been the undermining of age-old assumptions of the sort contained in Quintillian's observation that the perfect orator cannot exist ‘unless as a good man'. And, by finding a workable solution to the problem of being damned for being like a man and damned for not being like a man, her combination of uncompromising femininity with equally uncompromising words and deeds may have laid the foundations for a new tradition within which women politicians of the future will be able to operate' (derived from Our Masters' Voices, 1984, pp.111-121).

Conference season 2011 blogging update:

Did the BBC change its mind on publicising the snake Miliband landed on yesterday?

If this blog's main theme during last year's party conference season was the way in which audiences failed to applaud things that they should have applauded, this year's is turning out to be the snakes and ladders theory of political communication - which proposes that, for politicians, speeches work like ladders (by bringing them good news), whereas interviews work like snakes (by bringing them bad news).

Ed Miliband's memory lapse 'exposed' in a BBC interview
As I was driving for about six hours yesterday, I spent much more time listening to the radio than tracking the blogging and tweeting from the last vestiges of the Labour Party conference.

But the car radio obliged - as an example of how a gaffe in an interview can generate embarrassing news for a politician, they don't get much better than Ed Miliband's failure to name one of his party's candidates in the campaign for the Labour's Scottish leader - which was headlined on the early evening news programmes from BBC Radio 4.

By the time I got home, the internet was awash with the news. By 9.17 p.m., Mark Pack had embedded the original clip from the BBC website on the Liberal Denocrat Voice blog (HERE).

A change of heart from the BBC?
But when I tried to do the same earlier this morning, I was thwarted.

Yes, you can still watch the clip on the BBC website, but you can no longer access the code needed to embed it on your own blog or website - which is why I've had to 'make do' with embedding the version posted on YouTube by Guido Fawkes (that's already been seen by about 5,500 viewers).

When it first became possible to embed clips from the BBC website, I welcomed it (HERE). Since then, however, how they decide which ones are allowed to reach a wider audience (by giving access to the embedding code) has remained a complete mystery.

Today it's become be even more mysterious than I thought. After all, why, having supplied the code for embedding this particular clip last night, has the BBC withdrawn access to it this morning?

If they've done it in response to complaints from the Labour Party (who else would want to restrict its accessibility to a wider audience) we could be witnessing an even more worrying form of collusion between broadcasters and politicians than I suggested we're already up against in Politicians & broadcasters: collaboration or capitulation?

Why did Labour members boo and clap when Miliband mentioned Tony Blair?

News last month that a Libyan crowd had been booing on hearing the name 'Gaddafi' prompted me to note that Arabic speakers apparently boo at names too.

Little did I think that we'd soon be hearing some members of a Labour Party conference audience booing while others clapped on hearing the name 'Tony Blair'.

Not content with announcing "I am not Tony Blair", Ed Miliband went on to make another rather obvious point: "I am not Gordon Brown either" (no response).

Then, with what struck me as an air of frustration and perhaps even desperation, he asserted "I am my own man and I'm going to do things in my own way" - 16 seconds of applause (i.e. twice as much as a normal burst).

Who writes stuff like this I do not know. Whether it was Miliband or his speechwriters, one has to ask whether it really didn't occur to any of them that the lines might just possibly (or should that be 'certainly') be singled out and played at the top of BBC Television's Ten o'clock News (as indeed they were) - or that, barely half-hour later, Sadiq Khan, the M.P. who led Ed Miliband's leadership campaign would be reminding us of these very same words (with apparent pride) in an interview with Kirsty Wark on BBC2's Newnight.

What did the booing and clapping mean?
Having watched the above clip quite a few times, I'm still fascinated by the ambiguity of these simultaneously negative and positive audience responses.

Were those who booed indicating that they were sorry to hear that Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair, or that they were pleased to hear him distancing himself from Tony Blair?

Were those who applauded indicating that they were pleased to hear that Miliband is not Blair, or that they were still fans of Blair?

Whatever the answer, an obvious alternative interpretation was to treat it as evidence of division in the party about its past, present and future - which, as a communications strategy, is about as effective as bowling a full toss for the media to hit for six.

Hunt the split
Although British broadcasters may have largely lost interest in showing clips from speeches during news programmes (see the last few posts), they won't miss the possibility of reporting splits in a party if there's so much as a hint of division. That, after all, has been the leitmotif of media coverage of politics for decades.

So what better way to do it than to focus on Mr Miliband's determination to distance himself from his two immediate predecessors, with the added bonus of showing footage of party members booing and applauding the name of the most successful leader they've ever had.

Can Labour afford to back the Ed Milibandwagon?
On asking this question during the Labour leadership campaign last year, I attracted a bit of flak for daring to suggest that Ed Miliband might be too young to remember what had actually happened to his party during its 18 years of decline and recovery between 1979 and 1997 (HERE).

His recurrent rubbishing of New Labour may have helped him to win that particular campaign.

If this speech is anything to go by, he still seems to think there's mileage to be had from continuing to bite the hands that fed him the promotions without which he would never have become a credible leadership candidate in the first place.

But for me, his speech was a reminder of what I'd written about him more than a year ago: maybe he really is too young to know what he's talking about.

If he isn't, I'm left with little or no idea about what he really stands for or what he's trying to tell us about the direction in which he plans to take his party.

Stand-up comedy from Ed Miliband

Is it a good idea for political leaders to have a go at doing stand-up comedy?

As regular readers will know from a post at the start of the conference season, I'm all in favour of viewers being allowed to hear more from the horses' mouths, so that they can draw their own conclusions about what they think of competing politicians - without having to depend ever more heavily on interpretations from media reporters and commentators.

But, although I do have a few thoughts about the above sequence from the opening of Ed Miliband's leader's speech at the Labour Party conference a few hours ago, I'm more than happy to let you reach your own judgements about it...

Conference season 2011 blogging update:

Andrew Neil plays snakes & ladders with Ed Balls before picking up a scalpel

Last night, after watching The Daily Politics show on BBC2, I posted a couple of tweets on Twitter that would hardly have come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog:
  1. "Just watched @afneil 'review' of #Lab11 - i.e. pitifully short extracts from speeches + long/boring interviews."
  2. "If I were Ed Balls, I'd think twice about playing such a long game of snakes & ladders with @afneil"
The tweets, of course, reflect my concern about the way in which British politicians seem to have conceded control of political communication in the UK to the broadcasting media - by going along with the latter's preference for devoting more and more airtime to interviews and less and less to excerpts from speeches, even though interviews seldom deliver anything other than bad news and negative impressions of politicians (for reasons explained in more detail HERE).

A new weapon: media autopsies of media interviews
The diversification of communication in the digital age means that celebrity media interviewers can now carry out their own post-mortems on their own interviews to search out any errors an interviewee (or should that be 'victim') might have made while walking so obligingly along the tightrope prepared for them by the all-powerful broadcasters.

If it then turns out that the politician did indeed land on a snake in the just-completed game of snakes and ladders, the interviewer can start tweeting and blogging about it to their heart's content.

Balls goes under the reporter's knife
And so it was, after the interview was over, out came the pathologist's report, starting as follows (full version HERE):

"I interviewed Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls on the Daily Politics Conference Special on Monday, live from Liverpool, the moment he'd finished speaking to the Labour conference.

"In the course of our usual robust exchange, which we both enjoy, he made a couple of claims that I knew I would have to investigate more thoroughly. And I have! ..." (continued: HERE).

A clearer dividing line between comment and reportage?
I concluded Politicians and broadcasters in the UK: collaboration or capitulation? by explaining why I think the changes that have been taking place matter:

'..whatever the impact of the current conventional wisdom on media coverage has on the reputations of our politicians, we can at least vote them out of power.

'That is something we cannot do with the executives, producers, editors and journalists who control and determine what we're allowed to see of political debate. Although we like to think we live in a democracy, when it comes to hearing about how it's working, we're at the mercy of an unelected and unaccountable band of professional broadcasters and journalists.

'And that's why I think that the current situation not only does matter, but is also something that we should be worrying about - and why I also think that it's high time for a serious debate between everyone involved, including and especially us, the general public.'

If ever such a debate does get under way, another question we should be also be asking is: how worried should we be if the dividing line between between media reportage and media comment is becoming progressively more blurred?

Conference season 2011 blogging update:

Ed Balls surfs applause - but don't expect to see it on primetime TV news

In his speech at the Labour Party conference earlier today, shadow chancellor Ed Balls had a go at 'surfing applause' (about 2.45 minutes into the above clip), a technique that's seldom mastered by anyone outside the top rank of political orators (for more on which, with examples from Tony Benn and presidents Obama and Sarkozy, see HERE).

Could this, I wonder, have had anything to do with prompting some rather favourable reactions on Twitter, such as this from @ JohnHigginson: 'Talk from the faithful is that Ed Balls, who has always suffered from a stutter, is becoming better at delivering speeches'?

I also can't help wondering whether it was deliberate and, if so, who taught him to do it?

But don't expect our broadcasters to let a wider audience see it on prime-news tonight. After all, that would mean giving Mr Balls far too much airtime and prevent the likes of Nick Robinson, Tom Bradby, Adam Boulton et al. from spending even more time telling us what he was talking about (for more on which, see HERE).

A comic analysis of Nick Clegg's rhetorical questions

The latest edition of the News Quiz on BBC Radio 4 included a perceptive analysis of Nick Clegg's use of rhetorical questions during his speech at last week's Liberal Democrat conference.

Yes it is.

Should the BBC be broadcasting this kind of stuff?
Yes it should.

Is this the kind of show that makes the licence fee worth paying?
Yes it is.

Can you listen to the whole programme again?
Yes you can (for another six days HERE).

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...

Related posts

Politicians and broadcasters in the UK: collaboration or capitulation?

Now that the rights to my book Our Masters' Voices: the Language and Body Language of Politics (1984) have reverted to me, I'm planning to republish it with additional material on, among other things, how British political communication and media coverage of politics has changed during the past quarter of a century.

As a trailer to one of my main themes, I gave a presentation at this year's annual EPOP (Elections, Public Opinion & Parties) conference at Exeter University earlier this month, entitled Our Masters' Voices Then and Now.

The start of the party conference season seems a good time to post the notes used in the presentation along with the video clips illustrating the main points - not least because party conferences (and media coverage of them) have changed in similar ways (on which, see also recent comments by John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday and Michael Crick on working for BBC's Newsnight).

This post is quite a bit longer than my usual ones - so take your time and/or read it in bits...


It is obviously for readers to judge whether this is an objective analysis of how political communication in Britain has changed during the last thirty years or a complaint about the fact that it's changed in the way that it has..

And there are other questions on which I’d welcome the opinion of others, and especially those of you working in politics, the media and academic political science: does it matter and is it a trend that we should welcome or worry about?

For reasons outlined towards the end, I do think it matters and that it is something that we should be worrying about.

To start with, here's a summary of the paper that John Heritage and I presented at a conference at Essex Univerity after the 1987 general election. As it was just before he joined the brain-drain for a chair in sociology at UCLA, we never got round to writing it up (except in various posts on this blog).

Its main theme has been nagging away at me ever since - as regular readers of the blog will know already.


Our argument was a simple one. If you think about the children’s board game, speeches work like ladders for politicians and interviews work like snakes for them.

In a speech, politicians and/or their speechwriters have complete control over what they say and, just as importantly, how they say it.

If they prompt cheers and applause, scenes of audience enthusiasm and approval are transmitted to a wider audience via television and radio.

General elections – as seen on TV – came across as lively contests between politicians who were doing their best to persuade us with passion and conviction.

So speeches worked like ladders in the game that could move a politician upwards on the board towards the coveted prize of positive news headlines.

Speeches = Ladders
In this clip from the 1987 general election, Margaret Thatcher wins applause by posing a puzzling metaphor (what does she mean by an 'iceberg manifesto'?) solved by a neat contrast that continues the metaphor):

The line was singled out from the speech and quoted verbatim as the lead item at the top of the Nine o'clock News on BBC 1:

Now it was in the wider public domain, Mrs Thatcher's attack must have annoyed the Labour party enough for their leader to include a direct rebuttal in another speech a few nights later, using a puzzle (how on earth could she possibly be right in calling it 'an iceberg manifesto' ?) that he solved with a three-part list:

After the first gong from Big Ben on ITN's News at Ten that night, the news reader quotes a slightly enhanced version of the line (it's now Labour, not just their party manifesto, that's "cool, tough and unsinkable") as the lead headline:

Nor was it just the broadcasters who routinely featured such excerpts from speeches on news bulletins. The parties themselves also had no qualms about using them in their own party election broadcasts.

In Hugh Hudson's famous Kinnock: the movie, a clip from a speech by the party leader was set to music from Brahms, followed by a panning shot across the (then) new red rose logo, a standing ovation and scenes of adulation from an excited audience:

The Conservatives were so impressed by this particular broadcast that it caused the only minor wobble in their campaign. They responded by producing one of their own that included a sequence from a speech from Margaret Thatcher which was almost a carbon copy, except that Brahms was replaced by patriotic music from Holst ("I vow to thee my country..."), followed by similar panning shots of a standing ovation rounded off with the leader and her spouse.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this is surely the closest the Conservatives ever came to flattering their opponents in 1987:

In those days, then, political speeches were still an integral part of British electioneering and of the way in which political communication was covered by our media. But I still often use the first four of these clips on my courses - for the simple reason that I haven't been able to find any comparable examples from any general election since 1987.

This is because, over the years, the UK media have broadcast fewer and fewer excerpts from speeches by leading politicians, both during general elections and at other times (e.g. the party conference season).

For their part, politicians have either accepted or encouraged this shift in emphasis by making fewer and fewer set-speech speeches at large-scale rallies during election campaigns - and subjecting themselves to more and more interviews and other Q-A based programmes like BBC's Question Time - culminating in 2010 with the first ever TV debates between party leaders.

In other words, broadcast interviews and Q-A sessions, presided over by the media and conducted by their army of 'celebrity' journalists, have progressively pushed speeches to the sidelines and replaced them as the main form of political communication with the British public.

Interviews = Snakes
Yet politicians still don't seem to have realised that interviews work like snakes for them in the board-game of political discourse and debate.

Interviews are lengthy, discursive and seriously short on the kinds of well-crafted quotable quotes that can be written into a speech.

They feature politicians regularly breaking one of the most basic conversational rules of all, namely that questions should be followed by answers.

Media training and regular opportunities for practice have produced a generation of politicians who have become so skilled at avoiding giving straight answers to questions that interviews are arguably at best boring and at worst extremely irritating to the voting public.

Although there are plenty of books of 'great speeches', it can surely be no coincidence that there are very few (if any) books made up of transcripts from 'great interviews'.

To the extent that interviews do occasionally hit the headlines, they hardly ever bring anything but bad news for politicians, as when Jeremy Paxman asked Michael Howard the same question twelve times to no avail in 1997 (HERE).

Nor, during the strikes in June this year, did it do Ed Miliband much good when he was seen repeatedly giving the same more or less verbatim answer to a series of different questions - a sequence that went 'viral' and, at the time of writing this, has been seen by about 400,000YouTube viewers.

As the news from interviews almost aways come from blunders, slip-ups and mistakes, they are the snakes in the game that take politicians downwards on the board towards negative news headlines about them.

Leaders landing on snakes in a general election
In 1987, one of the most damaging example came when Neil Kinnock, still leading a party with unilateral nuclear disarmament in its manifesto, had tried to explain in an interview how the Britain would respond in the event of an invasion (i.e. by taking to the hills to fight a guerilla war).

This immediately made it on to the BBC's Nine o'clock News, which started by telling us what he'd said in an interview:

For Mrs Thatcher, it was a gift that enabled her to jump on to a ladder during a walkabout speech somewhere in the Midlands:

But Mrs Thatcher was by no means immune from landing on snakes, as happened in an interview when John Cole asked her whether this would be her last election:

Her answer to the question quickly became a news story:

Once the line had become news, Neil Kinnock used it to jump on to a ladder in a speech. Expanding "on and on" to "on and on and on", he was able to produce a neat contrast between two three-part lists:

Just before polling day, Mrs Thatcher landed on a potentially very damaging snake in her final interview with David Dimbleby, in which she referred to people who "drool and drivel that they care". When pressed on her choice of words, she apologised (twice), which suggests that she'd instantly realised how dreadful the headlines would be if she made no attempt to retract them:

Although this did prompt some negative reports, it had come so late in the campaign (barely 48 hours before polling day) that it did her little or no harm:

So the general argument in our original paper on the snakes and ladders theory of political communication was that speeches have great potential for generating good news for politicians, whereas interviews are more likely to generate bad news about them.

5 general elections later
And this is why I’ve been mystified by the willingness of British politicians to collaborate with the media by making fewer and fewer speeches during elections and by submitting themselves to more and more interviews. After all, when playing snakes and ladders, why would anyone in their right mind voluntarily opt for a set of rules with an in-built bias towards landing you on a snake?

Yet we’ve now reached a point where excerpts from speeches are not only rarely shown, but have become little more than a silent backdrop to the media coverage of general elections. For example, here's a BBC Newsnight report from last year, in which Michael Crick tells us what Messrs Clegg and Cameron have been up to during the day. We know that they're speaking because we can see them opening and closing their mouths - but we don't get to hear a single word of what either of them is actually saying:

In this next one, from the BBC's 1o o'clock News, political editor Nick Robinson is standing on a balcony telling us what Gordon Brown (below with his back to us) is telling his audience:

There was, however, one notable exception during the 2010 campaign. Three days before the country went to the polls, there was a large rally in Westminster, where all three party leaders actually did make speeches.

It included a barnstorming performance from Gordon Brown that prompted a number of journalists, including former Labour Party deputy leader Roy Hattersley, to write articles asking why on earth he hadn’t done more of it sooner.

On BBC's 10 o'clock News, Nick Robinson was there again, telling us that Brown had "come alive as never before in this campaign", while showing us film footage of him 'coming alive' in silence:

This clip was part of a 4 ½ minute report on the rally that included excerpts of 20 seconds each from the speeches by Brown, Cameron and Clegg (equal shares to conform with the Representation of the People Act) and 120 seconds of Nick Robinson speaking - i.e. for 6 times longer than we were allowed to hear from each of the party leaders.

Nor is this kind of coverage confined to coverage of our own general elections. In a 3 ½ minute report on one of the McCain-Obama TV debates in 2008, we saw 30 seconds from each of the presidential candidates and 2 ½ minutes from the BBC's Washington correspondent - i.e. more than twice as much as we'd heard from McCain and Obama - at which point, he rounded it off by informing us that the result was "a draw".

On my blog, I complained at the time that it would have been nice if we'd been been allowed to see enough of what they said to be able to draw our own conclusions, rather than being forced to rely on the mediated assessments of television journalists.

And this is why I think that the relegation of speeches to the bottom of our media’s priorities really does matter.


British broadcasters have the capacity, which they once exercised, to let viewers hear arguments coming directly from the mouths of politicians, delivered in their own words and in their own style of delivery - from which we were then free to reach our own conclusions about what we thought of our masters' voices for ourselves - w

hich does strike me as rather important in a democracy.

But today, the main choice we’re offered is between being told by journalists what our politicians are saying in their speeches

and having to listen to other journalists conducting interminable interviews with them on the off-chance – or perhaps in the hopes - that one or other of them will hit the headlines by landing on a snake (

which, in this age of carefully honed evasiveness, they hardly ever do).

Was it really the Sheffield rally what did it?

A few months ago, the political editor of one of our leading networks told me that the decision to downgrade speeches and rallies in favour of televised interviews had come from politicians, not the media. According to him, the disaster of the Labour Party's Sheffield rally in 1992 had scared the main parties away from holding any more mass rallies during election campaigns.

But I'm by no means convinced that this is the whole story.

For news broadcasters, it's obviously

much cheaper and more convenient

to wheel politicians into a studio than it is to send outside broadcast units around the country to cover election rallies (though, curiously, they don't seem to mind sending them out to film pointless walkabouts in schools, hospitals and shopping centres).

Interviews and other Q-A based shows presumably also appeal to media corporations because it puts them in control by requiring politicians to play by the rules set by a programme's editors and producers.

What's in it for politicians?

But I really don’t see what’s in it for politicians to subject themselves so willingly and continuously to the risk of landing on snakes in interviews - when they could be climbing up ladders that they've designed and produced for themselves in speeches.

I even suspect that the tedium of watching and listening to yet another politician evading yet another questions in yet another interview has contributed to the low esteem in which our politicians are now held. Whatever the politicians and their spin-doctors might think, any competent speaker of English - like most viewers, listeners and voters - can (a) tell at a glance when someone's dodging a question and (b) will draw negative conclusions about anyone who comes across as evasive.

Collaboration or capitulation?

I have no idea whether or not our

politicians have consciously collaborated with or have merely capitulated to broadcasters in relegating speeches to an ever-decreasing role in political communication.

Nor do I know if the broadcasting companies have any empirical evidence that viewers and listeners would rather watch interviews,

silent movies with journalists doing the voiceover, random walkabouts in shopping centres, etc. than excerpts from speeches at lively rallies - though I very much doubt it.

What I do know is that, whatever the impact of the current conventional wisdom on media coverage has on the reputations of our politicians, we can at least vote them out of power.

That is something we cannot do with the executives, producers, editors and journalists who control and determine what we're allowed to see of political debate. Although we like to think we live in a democracy, when it comes to hearing about how it's working, we're at the mercy of an unelected and unaccountable band of professional broadcasters and journalists.

And that's why I think that the current situation not only does matter, but is also something that we should be worrying about - and why I also think that it's high time for a serious debate between everyone involved, including and especially us, the general public.

Related posts on televised interviews

Related posts on media coverage of speeches

Party conference season PowerPoint prize competition

Having given a talk on using objects as visual aids at last year's UK Speechwriters' Guild conference (a version of which was posted HERE), I ran a competition inviting readers to suggest what object each of the three main party leaders could/should use to impress the audience in their party conference speeches (entries HERE, results HERE).

This year, to the horror of some, my subject at the same conference was 'In praise of PowerPoint: is there life after death from 1,000 slides?'.

So here's this year's party conference season competition:
All you have to do is to suggest a PowerPoint slide (or PowerPoint show of no more than 3 slides) that any of the three main party leaders could use to impress the audiences during their 2011 conference speeches.

You're welcome to make suggestions for 1-3 of the the main party leaders, but the judging will be based on quality, not quantity.

1st: signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears.
3rd: signed copy of ВЫСТУПАТЬ ЛЕГКО (Russian version of Lend Me Your Ears).

How to enter
In 'Comments' below or email (via 'View my complete profile' on the left).

Closing date:
48 hours after the completion of David Cameron's speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

For inspiration:

In praise of Brian Jenner & the UK Speechwriters' Guild

I've often said that professional speechwriting is a bit like robbing banks.

It's a job that's done in isolated secrecy. You can't boast about your successes. And you certainly can't rely on your clients to go around telling their audiences that someone else had written the speech for which they're being so warmly congratulated.

So those of us who've just got back from the 3rd annual conference of the UK Speechwriters' Guild in Bournemouth owe a tremendous debt to its founder, Brian Jenner, for bringing together 60+ of us to meet up and exchange notes with others involved in this obscure and clandestine occupation.

With delegates from at least 9 countries in Europe and North America, it's now become a truly international gathering.

An added bonus this year was a Strictly Come Dancing style UK Business Speaker of the Year Award on the eve of the conference.

And, as in previous years, Brian also deserves our thanks for his genius for pulling unlikely rabbits out of his hat - by which I mean his ability to unearth relevant and entertaining speakers - like Fred Metcalf, who's jokes have won laughs for an extraordinary range of celebrities, ranging from John Major to David Frost and Morecambe and Wise (and prompted yet more laughter from those of us who heard him speak yesterday).

If you weren't there, you can see what you missed HERE.

If you're not already a member of the UK Speechwriters' Guild, you can find out more about it HERE.

You can also keep up with what Brian Jenner's getting up to next by following him on Twitter at @beachwordsmith.

What do Liberal Democrats expect from the 'return' of Dr Death (aka David Owen)?

Mark Pack has just revealed news of the 'surprising return of David Owen to top-level Liberal Democrat thinking' (HERE).

Surprising, yes, but I don't know if 'return' is the right word for someone who left the Labour Party to form a new one (the SDP) that would be ruled by one-member-one-vote, only to ignore his own party's majority vote to merge with the Liberals in 1988.

Had he not done so, he would almost certainly have become leader of the new party, and would have spared Paddy Ashdown and the Liberal Democrats the disastrous (though temporary) consequences of continual backbiting from the Owenite rump SDP - not to mention the near-bankruptcy resulting from Lord Sainsbury's decision to divert his cash to the said rump (before bestowing it on the Labour Party).

Nor do I know if Owen's 'return' will include a speech at the Liberal Democrat conference next week. But I do know that, if it does, the audience shouldn't holding its breath for an inspiring performance.

Rhetorical Denial
Although David Owen was never a particularly brilliant orator, he was not only capable of using the occasional rhetorical technique, but also went in for what I've referred to elsewhere (see below) as 'rhetorical denial' (see below).

Dour though his delivery in the above clip (from an Ask the Alliance Rally in 1987) may be, he does at least manage to end it with a three part list.

Mark Pack reminds us of Owen's depiction of the SDP - with a rather neat alliterative contrast - as the 'tough but tender party'.

And he used another alliterative contrast at the start of the 1987 general election, telling us the 'reason not rhetoric will win this campaign.'

It didn't, of course, not least because Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock were still making powerful speeches at large rallies during that particular campaign (see previous post) - unlike the Alliance, which had opted for a new style of Q-A campaigning.

Hopelessly boring and uninspiring though it may have been, the Q-A format has, alas, become the dominant form media coverage of political communication in the UK.

On that basis, Owen may well have been ahead of his time. But it remains to be seen whether or not his 'return' will do any good for the party he so vehemently refused to join.

Related Posts