David Cameron’s Conference Speech

October 1, 2008

David Cameron approached his annual moment of political opportunity with his approach severely restricted by yedsterday’s offer of support to the Government. Furthermore, his party’s lead in the polls had been eroded after Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Party conference a week earlier

The speech took place under remarkable and constraining conditions brought about by the financial and economic turmoil globally. In the UK, the main political parties had agreed a day earlier [September 30th] to cooperate to avoid the partisanship that had continued to block President Bush’s bail-out plan.

Overall impressions

I will stick to offering first impressions of a political outsider. I watched the BBC televised presentation, and reconstructed my jotted notes in what follows [with subsequent observations in parentheses]

Fifteen minutes in. Speech is low key (maybe medium key). [Cameron is able public performer, and this is no exception.[ A bit light on special sparkle, good [audience] rapport. Contrived staging, backdrop of team Cameron. Camera shot of Cameron with Osborne and William Hague. Three-headed creature from Hitch-hikers Guide [or was it Red Dwarf?]

Thirty minutes in. He’s covered the credit crisis and having to work together. [He offered specific conservative perspectives and managed to aspire to short-term collaboration and signal some conservative preferences. But the section was not presented more as a necessity than anything else, and it was less emotive than the broad flow of the speech].

Offered a great deal of in-house popularism. Technique is to draw heavily on a vivid emotional anecdote to carry through a broader policy point.

The wife who died of MRSA
The husband kicked to death
The businessman losing his business

Spent some time dealing with Brown’s jibe at his own novice-status. Argued why experience is not as important as vision and values to change. Audience appreciated the point that otherwise the country would have to go one electing Gordon

Offered pledges – hostages to fortune?

Referendum on Europe [a thrust at Labour’s flip-flopping on this issue]
Becoming “the party of the NHS”
Political perks will “all have to go”
Fixing the broken society

[Enough there] to permit a political debate in the future

emotional climax to long [65 minute] speech. Strong values of conservatives and the Great British Public. Just about carried it [climax]off.

First Reactions

Not a great speech, but remarkably well-presented under tricky circumstances.

Nick Robinson on BBC 1 immdiately afterwards thought David Cameron had invoked the spirit and words on Margaret Thatcher. He called it A Daily Mail speech, with echoes of the 1980s, signalling the party of change, and the leader in waiting. (But Robinson did not mention the affirmation in the speech that there is such a thing as society, contradicting the (in)famous and contrary claim attributed to Mrs Thatcher.

David Cameron had been signalling change and presented himself the catalyst for needed change in his party and the country.

Interestingly, the first comment from a party member leaving the hall was

“I was looking for stability. I was delighted”.

And that says more about the nature of charismatic leadership than about the speech I had been watching and listening to.