Why I loathe leaders’ speeches. PS: It’s nothing personal, Nick

by Stephen Tall on September 26, 2012

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m leaving conference on Wednesday morning before our leader speaks. It’s nothing personal — I think my record’s pretty clear on supporting Nick Clegg’s leadership — but I find leaders’ speeches tiresome.

The bullet points will have been carefully briefed to the press in advance, embargoed copies of the speech will be widely circulating — by the time Nick actually gets to his feet for the traditional 40-minute peroration it’ll already feel like a repeat, even if he does ad lib a couple of scripted (and, sorry, almost certainly lame) jokes.

Add to that the compulsion of party managers to try and energise the audience through hagiographical videos and a decade-old chart hit that’s supposed to exude cool, and even a mostly-happy member like me is inclined to fold my arms in grumpy ‘yeah whatever’ obstinacy rather than leap to my feet in ecstasy to fulfil my standing ovation obligation for the watching cameras.

What would I rather see? Thanks for asking. A crisp 20-minute TED-style presentation, which would force Nick to drop the tick-box approach to leaders’ speeches — every domestic and foreign cause getting its special mention — and instead to crystallise his argument around the conference theme ‘Fairer tax in tough times’ and communicate it intelligently, urgently, authoritatively.

A backdrop graphic of specific examples of how the Lib Dems are shifting the burden of tax away from the low-paid and towards the wealthy — using real-life folk, just as the newspapers illustrate the budget next day — would make the point much more effectively than a couple of sound-bite clap-lines and re-hashed anecdotes will.

And yes, I know the leader’s speech isn’t really meant for the people in the conference hall but for the folk watching that night’s news. That’s kind of my point and why I won’t be sticking around for it. But best of luck, Nick. I know it just comes with the job.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.