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A Prime Minister's speech should be an occasion

By Tim Montgomerie
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Some people don't like teleprompters. To critics they can turn politicians into automatons; cheap actors who read words from 'idiot boards' that are unseen by the audience*. A discontinued blog mocked Obama's reliance on the device.

I raise the issue now because we learn from Christopher Hope that David Cameron is giving up on reading all of his speeches from notes and is - at least sometimes - using an autocue prompter. The main advantage of the device is that a speaker doesn't have to look down at the lecturn to read his or her remarks. He or she can maintain eye contact with their audience, looking directly at them as their speech is projected on to tilted glass stands, invisible to everyone but the speaker.

Christopher Hope explains the PM's shift of speechgiving technique:

"Officials explained that now he is in office, Mr Cameron found it harder to find the time to “internalise” and memorise a speech from notes. This is because he has been giving between three and four speeches a week since he became Prime Minister last May, and can no longer find the time. Experts have also warned that glancing down at a script carries a penalty with voters because it can look “shifty”."

My own view is that David Cameron gives far too many speeches. I've said this before...

"A speech by the leader of the Conservative Party should be an occasion.  It should matter.  It should be very well-written, thoroughly pre-briefed and water-tight.  Nothing should be done that endangers the Cameron brand."

My four reasons for giving fewer speeches have, I think, stood the test of time:
  1. On occasions there appears to be a temptation to find something to say...
  2. Restricting the number of speeches would encourage more imaginative ways of presenting ideas. It's easy to give a speech but sometimes more impactful to produce a viral video that makes the same point or to hold a regional media event...
  3. It would give more opportunities for frontbenchers to step forward.  The Conservative team is an impressive one and they could do with a bigger share of the public stage....
  4. Fewer speeches would also give the inner Cameron team more opportunity to consult experts inside and outside the Conservative Party.  The sheer number of speeches means that there is inadequate time to absorb the views of others - a process that could turn an interesting speech into a genuinely persuasive speech.

I can't remember the last time Cameron gave a memorable speech. I don't blame his speechwriters. My understanding is that he discourages anything other than a vanilla style. That's a shame. Words and phrases have enormous power.  A PM's speech should be about big ideas and language should be found that are the equal of those ideas.

[Nice piece here btw from Mike Gerson explaining the usefulness of teleprompters and carefully scripted speeches.]

* Normally they are unseen...


Brown's autocue was famously visible when he launched his 2007 bid for the Labour leadership.


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