3 October 2012

Ed Miliband's tour de force

It's not often that a party leader's conference speech gets as widespread a thumbs-up as Ed Miliband enjoyed yesterday - even though what seems to have impressed the media most is his new-found ability to speak so fluently (and for so long) without any apparent reference to a script.

Could it be, I began to wonder, that our broadcast media are themselves so dependent on scripts and teleprompters that they're all too easily impressed by a style of speaking that they rather wish they could master for themselves?

Or did David Cameron really set a new standard when he won his party leadership by speaking without notes at a 'beauty parade' in 2005, underlining the power of an unscripted conference speech two years later by deterring Gordon Brown from holding a general election at a time when Labour would almost certainly have won?

Subsequent attempts by others, like Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown, to emulate David Cameron's skill at speaking without a script have not met with anything like as favourable a media response as Ed Miliband attracted yesterday.

Scriptlessness or better than expected?
It's not clear to me whether this was mainly the result of scriptlessness, a more relaxed delivery than usual or, perhaps most likely (?) because Miliband's previous performances had set such low media expectations.

The trouble now is that he runs the risk, if he reverts to using scripts again, of being denounced for not speaking from the heart and/or having employed someone else to write his speeches for him.

Other quibbles
Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm still not convinced by this walkabout management guru style of delivery for political speeches. Other quibbles include:

  • Glum-looking backdrop: I still don't see the point of having part of the audience behind the speaker. Although reasonably well-behaved, this particular group looked very glum for much of the time and were, on occasions,  rather slow to join in the applause. 
  • Too youthful a sample*Some viewers (e.g. me) were quite shocked by how very young a sample of voters they represented, with no one much over 45 anywhere to be seen among those behind him.
  • Hands: Finally, if you're going to wander about the stage, what to do with your hands and how to respond to applause can pose problems for a speaker. On the whole. Mr Miliband coped quite well on both these fronts. However, he might like to note that there were some on Twitter who took exception to the fact that he spoke for quite long periods with one hand in his pocket. If it's any comfort to him, the complainants probably went to a public school where you weren't allowed to put your hands in your pockets until you reached the sixth form...
P.S. Thanks to Simon Atkinson of IpsosMORI for pointing out via Twitter (@SimonMAtkinson) that  53% of electors are aged 45+!! (his exclamation marks). Perhaps he or one of his colleagues should alert the Labour Party (or whoever selects their backdrop audiences) to this important fact...