The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Cameron’s Speech: The Verdict

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 9, 2009 @ 09:54

The end of Cameron's speech. It made me cringe just a little...

The end of Cameron's speech. It made me cringe just a little...

Even after ruminating on the speech overnight, I’m still unsure of what to make of it.

Let’s get the obvious out the way: it was a dignified, restrained speech. Perhaps a bit low-key for a man who is very likely to be the next Prime Minister of this country. That must have been intentional; it has, after all, been something of a theme this week. Nevertheless, it was good to see a little less of the theatrics that Blair in the equivalent situation would have brought.

The key theme of the speech, I think, was his message of “family, community, country”. Each part was tied to these three pieces in one way or another. The other message was his attack on big government and the “culture of irresponsibility” fostered by it.

The speech also contained a Grand Tour of the Shadow Cabinet, in which each aspect of his agenda was connected to one of the people who would serve in a future Conservative administration. That worked quite well, better I think than the way Nick Clegg did it in his speech.

There was also a section on his personal circumstances over the past year, which was genuine and heart-felt, and anyone who says otherwise must be even more cynical than me. I’m always suspicious of bringing something like that into a keynote address, but it was done well with grace and tact.

But in many respects, it was a very Conservative speech. Marriage, family values, EU bashing, patriotism, enterprise. There was even a grumpy old man moment when he shook his fist at those pesky kids with their rights: we need to treat children like children and adults like adults. That got the Conference audience to their feet, surprise surprise.

The problem was that the logical consistency of the speech was lacking. At numerous occasions during it, he chopped and changed subject, coming back to an earlier point, starting a new one, then leaving it, returning later… it felt a bit slapdash. Like a box ticking exercise to ensure they had covered all the policy announcements of the previous days. I don’t think this was helped by the various anecdotes that he kept incorporating from letters and e-mails. It was all a bit too “man of the people”.

This, I think, was an attempt to answer the criticisms of a lack of policy. But, in doing so, it turned the speech into a scattergun, going for so many targets in so many areas: education, welfare, Afghanistan, defence, civil liberties, business, regulation, a defence of the Union, the EU, parliamentary reform, devolution, accountability, taxation, deficit, spending cuts… and I could go on. Each was touched upon briefly, but in some parts so brief as to have been a waste of time. It lacked clarity in a speech that needed a razor-sharp focus.

As to the delivery, it was classic Cameron… but with some surprising flaws. The most obvious was his rather poor autocue skills, constantly looking down at his notes. This was bizarre because we’ve seen him give a speech without notes on previous occasions, prowling around the stage with no props (message: I need no crutches). That ruined the necessary eye-contact of a good speech.

And there was also a shocking lack of passion. It was just a bit too somber for my tastes. The only points at which Cameron tried to raise the volume and tempo were when he talked about poverty – the first time jabbing his finger on the lectern (contrived) and the second time giving Labour a good old handbagging – and when he tried to finish the speech with some rhetorical repetition: “I see a country”.

The only problem with the conclusion was that it just didn’t resonate in the hall. If this speech were delivered in America, those final few lines – refraining “I see a country” –  would have been delivered, soaring, booming, over wave after wave of tumultuous applause. That energy would have been used by the speaker to lift them higher, injecting a note of populism and belief that this is what people want.

Instead, it was delivered over silence. And then, when they did clap, Cameron stopped speaking, interrupted at the wrong moment. Then there was that slightly embarrassing stuff to close, with the “YOU made it happen” to a wide open arms gesture. It just didn’t feel right to me.

Parts good, parts bad. Some sunshine, mostly cloud, but no rain. The overall themes were good and delivered strongly, but the specific details lacked colour, passion and focus.

He did succeed with one thing though. Probably the thing that is most important of all.

He looked electable. He sounded like he could make a convincing Prime Minister.

The election campaign has begun.

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