Monday, 5 March 2007

How to turn an average speech into a total disaster

I wasn't lucky enough to be able to get to Conference, but I've been trying to follow events as closely as possible, through friends, blogs, and of course the news.

I got home this evening, made a cup of tea, pulled up a chair in front of the PC, and sat down to enjoy the Dear Leader's address. I was looking forward to it a lot - Ming's performance on BBC Question Time last week was first class, and he'd had a day of positive press coverage for his debate-saving Trident intervention. Here was a party leader who had stabilised us after a tricky year, and was now beginning to take strides forward. A man of passion and skilful oratory. A class act. So I was expecting a barnstorming Conference speech.

I'm afraid I was disappointed. Perhaps it was the fuzz of the video stream, the postage-stamp area of video on my monitor. But I could swear that the speech was rambling, badly structured, light on content, and not especially inspirational.

Of course, he's right to criticise the Government on their failures, and the Official Opposition on their inability to set a constructive agenda. But the litany of criticism from Ming was far too much like the daily Parliamentary slanging match that turns so many voters off politics. Ming's advantage is his mature, responsible image, and he wasted a golden opportunity to play it up.

Still worse, he blew his chance to say something positive about the Lib Dems. Telling the world that they should vote for us because we are "liberal and democratic", although perfectly true, isn't especially informative. It doesn't help to bring back the quirky, radical and distinctive image that's so vital to our future chances.

All in all, then, it was a slightly flat speech. I was disappointed. But it's not a tragedy, I thought. It's only Spring Conference. Either way, it wouldn't have made too much difference, and he will find other opportunities to inspire the faithful. So I thought.

But then, some muppet, apparently from within the party, gave an "unauthorised" briefing to the press, saying that Ming's speech was the prelude to a coalition with Labour. This is because Ming set "five tests" for Gordon Brown to fulfil at the start of his premiership. This apparently signals the start of a coalition negotiation. I've re-watched that speech, and I can't understand where that interpretation comes from. It can only be the result of premeditated and malicious spin.

I agree entirely with Nich Starling's view: this was a series of challenges to Gordon, highlighting his past failures and urging him to correct them. Nothing more. But that won't stop the headlines tomorrow. And that's what turns a lukewarm speech, which would otherwise be quickly forgotten, into major lasting damage.

Whoever has spun Ming's speech has seriously hurt the Lib Dems as an independent political force. Once we're seen as being a mere extension of Labour, it won't matter how creative or radical our policy. The damage will be done on every doorstep in the country. Tories will claim that only a vote for them can get rid of this authoritarian Labour Government. Labour will say "Why vote for a copy when you can vote for the real thing?" It's not a surprise that Ming has refused, in the past, to say who he would be prepared to share power with. He knows how utterly suicidal that would be.

So I can hardly tell you how angry I will be if it turns out that this briefing has come from an insider. What was the old punishment for treason? Hanging, drawing and quartering?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I quite agree, whoever that 'official' is, they frankly need to be found, reprimanded and/or named and shamed. It does the party no good to have these 'anonymous briefings', whether they are on the leadership or spinning the contents of speeches out of context. It needs to stop.

Of course the BBC coverage of the Harrogate conference has hardly helped the situation, it's been frankly rather awful all weekend.