Speeches matching the Government, but not grabbing the attention
Keynote speeches by a government’s party conference are always having to master a difficult balancing act due to their audiences. Those in attendance are the party faithful. The members and activist who are looking for inspiration from their leaders so they have the motivation to go out for another year of political campaigning and door knocking.
But they are not the only audience listening. Political and media commentators are paying attention, picking over each announcement and rating performances. But the ministers are also looking to talk to the wider public. Therefore keynote speeches have to achieve multiple objectives. They should lead the news agenda with their rich content. They should have new announcements which will demonstrate the party is moving forward. They should inform but not lecture those listening. But also they should grab the audiences’ attention.
This week has seen a series of sensible but not spectacular speeches. Theresa May has set the tone. On Sunday she delivered her most significant announcement with the commitment to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. This is what the party members (many of whom campaigned to Leave) wanted to hear. It is also crucial piece of content that commentators and businesses wanted to know before coming to Birmingham.
This speech has taken the punch out of the speeches to come. Previous years’ show-stoppers like Boris Johnson have not cut through. Boris normally delivers guaranteed laughter, generating headlines and lifting moods in the party. As Mayor of London, he could have more fun than any other speakers and normally did. But as Foreign Secretary he has been constrained both by the conventions of diplomacy and the team at Number 10 keeping a close eye on him.
Amber Rudd has probably given the most human speech, with a personable approach whilst covering a wide range of topics. The approach from the other cabinet members has been to stand and give sober and functional speeches, reflecting the serious and professional tone Theresa May has taken herself.
This has meant the keynote which will likely live longest in the memory (outside of the Prime Minister’s) is Welsh Tory leader Andrew Davies. Davies took to the stage at the Conservative party conference and proudly declared that ‘Mark my words, we will make breakfast..Brexit a success’- Clip. This gaffe cut into the news cycle as one of very few fleeting moments of amusement in any otherwise dry Conservative party conference.
By Henry Groundes-Peace