On Wednesday afternoon our esteemed Prime Minister stood up to make what was possibly his most eagerly-anticipated and listened to speech of the year – the leader’s address to his party.
The annual spectacle of our party leaders making these keynote speeches has long been among the most talked about political events on the calendar. And, as someone with a fascination for all things politics, I’ve spent more time than I dare to admit over the years watching, absorbing and analysing the speeches of the bosses of our three main parties.
We are told (and of course it is right) that politics should be more about principles than personalities but the truth is in a modern media-obsessed world, it is how people say things as much as what they say which has impact on a population largely bored with the whole political arena.
Get it right and you can truly change people’s perceptions of you and your party – get it wrong and you have 12 months to regret it.
A truly great political speech can, of course, stay in the mind for years after. I can still remember the dramatic moment when Neil Kinnock almost began the path that would lead to New Labour by taking on Militant in an exhilarating speech. I can recall vividly the moment David Steele told his Liberal colleagues to go away and start preparing for Government (and at the time it seemed like an entirely credible thing to say). And I can also remember the famous moment when Margaret Thatcher told a delighted audience that she was “not for turning”. All great, defining moments in great, defining speeches.
And, of course, there are the not-so-great-moments. I can still recall feeling a certain amount of sadness for the decent but over-promoted Iain Duncan Smith when he told us not to underestimate the quiet man. In reality we were absolutely right to do so. I also still wince when I think of the awkward embarrassment of Gordon Brown’s attempted jokes (remember the cracker about him being more interested in the Arctic Circle than the Arctic Monkeys?), and who can forget Tony Blair’s “sweatgate” speech when virtually everything he said was almost literally drowned out because he sweated so much it looked like his shirt was still in a washing machine.
To be fair though, Blair was a man who really could deliver a leader’s speech and, whether you liked him or his policies or not, you could see that he became a master of his lectern craft. I also rather liked John Major’s understated but eloquent approach to his big speech and Paddy Ashdown used to bring a smile to my face because he came over as a man with passion and principle – but humour too.
And what of the current lot? Well I think David Cameron is a very good, impressive speaker (although I doubt this week's speech will be in an all times great list) and I thought his Coalition deputy Nick Clegg, not always the most accomplished behind the mic, gave one of his better speeches this year as he sought to calm some of the nervousness among the faithful.
As for Labour, I do think that their leader Ed Miliband still has some work to do. I can’t help feeling Labour got the wrong brother – they wanted Noel and ended up with Liam. What’s the story – electoral non-glory?
Of course, as I say this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a beauty competition, but the truth is the public now want the “complete package” in a leader. Sadly these days they have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk...