Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Did Brown's Speech Stop the Rot?

If the major, four-yearly convention speeches of presidential candidates in America provide only a temporary 'bounce', how much more transient is the impact of British party conference leaders' speeches. They are hyped up by a media that is part of the political in crowd, desperate to promote them as game-changing events, but the reality is that they barely feature on the radar of most ordinary people. The conference speech is there to shore up the party faithful, and project a positive image to the wider electoral world, but it is unlikely to change any electoral arithmetic.

Given that, how did Gordon Brown do? He can probably chalk this up as a success. He reassured his party audience, even giving some good old fashioned Labour sentiments to a party not always used to getting those from its leaders. He came across as a little more human, gave some decent lines about changing things one life at a time, had an eye-catching policy announcement - the removal of prescription charges for cancer sufferers - and even delivered some very effective, and savage, one-liners. No surprise that at least two papers are leading with headlines that read "No Time For A Novice" (with Newsnight following suit), although his more personal, anti-Cameron jibe about not using children as props came across as just nasty, and sat uneasily with his decision to use his wife as a helpful prop to introduce him.

Brown continues to look awkward when playing it light, and in truth he didn't waste much time on lightness this time either. Nonetheless, he showed that he is absolutely determined to stay on, gave warning to party opponents that he will be no pushover (did they ever think otherwise?) and may have hinted at a more left-wing focus for his remaining year and a half in power. Cameron's repsonse should be interesting.

2 comments:

consultant said...

Cameron's "look - no hands!" party conference speech last year was widely credited with kick-starting his ascent in the polls, which has hardly proved to be a transient change (yet). I think conference speeches matter more than you suggest, because people's perceptions of a party leader will be heavily shaped by the media, who as you note are keen on the conference speeches. Whilst I agree that they're very rarely the make-or-break moments the press would have us believe them to be, the media response to a speech is vital as it will influence the country's response to the leader. On this count, Brown's speech was a clear success; it appears to have been warmly received in many sections of the press that have been nothing but damning of him recently.

Regarding families, Brown's use of his wife hardly compares with Cameron's (ab)use of his childen, in both nature and in extent.

In nature, they differ as Sarah Brown is a grown-up woman capable of making an informed decision and consenting to being involved in her husband's career. Cameron's children are not.

In extent, Sarah Brown has rarely made public appearances, and so this sparing use of her presence at least appears genuine. One actually got the impression that she wanted to be there and that she is proud of her husband. Cameron, on the other hand, never misses an opportunity to show off his kids in front of the cameras.


(Note Brown should still resign.)

Anonymous said...

I would agree that conferences are more for the party than for the public because many people are unaware of the conference even going on.

I think Brown moving Labour slightly to the left is a good thing because the country needs some change because everyone is so disillusioned with the policies of New Labour.

Interestingly, i just watched a labour party political broadcast, with David Miliband being very conspicuously absent.