I am writing this blog immediately after watching Gordon Brown’s speech (but posting it the next day) because I want to give a first impression before I let the views of everyone else influence me.
There were certainly some really good parts. The recognition of mistakes and more personal tone showed a man trying to connect. The fairness theme was sustained throughout. The attack on the Conservatives, while over-long, was powerful and made clear to the Party how it should go about campaigning. But overall?
As I said in yesterday’s blog I hoped the speech would be brave enough to speak for society as a whole rather than simply defending the PM and his record. I also hoped for passages when the tempo and tone would change and more of an argument would be developed. This would show confidence. The speech started promisingly in this regard but as long speeches tend to do it somewhat lost its way in the middle. Too many engineered applause lines gave a feel that was both disjointed and monotonous.
There were the usual assertions that no one in their right mind could possible disagree with:
“For too long we've developed only some of the talents of some people - but the modern route to social mobility is developing all the talents of all the people....”
And straw men erected:
“So when people say in these tough times there's nothing we can do, there's nothing higher to aim for, no great causes left worth fighting for… “
The attempts to pull the emotional heart strings – the ‘not just a number but a human story’ section – felt a bit laboured. And there seemed to be an attempt to borrow some of Barack Obama’s stardust with the assertion:
‘this job is not about me, it's about you’
recalling the Democratic nominee’s assertion about the US election
'this is not about me, it's about you'
Also there seemed to be a plan to follow the American model of constant mini standing ovations – but apart from those who had clearly been primed to keep jumping up this didn’t really take off.
But I am being unfair. You see I have an admission to make. Even when I worked for him, I was alone among his fans in never really liking Tony Blair’s speeches.
It wasn’t just that I hardly ever got any lines in to them (OK, it was mainly that). For me an important aim of a speech is to close the distance between political leaders and the rest of us.
I yearned for argument and connection instead of simply declaiming. Sometimes TB did this, particularly when he was trying to persuade his Party of something with which it felt uncomfortable but generally his speeches were cleverly stitched together lists of quotable assertions.
Then again, I guess Gordon was trying to convince members of the Party and the public of something that many of them doubt – that he is the right man to be PM. In this the case was sustained throughout the speech. Only time will tell if it is an argument he can win.
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