Charles Moore

David Cameron, take heed. This is the conference speech that you should learn from

David Cameron, take heed. This is the conference speech that you should learn from
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Maybe it was because of the contrast with Theresa May’s chilly, disingenuous monotone minutes before, but I really think Boris Johnson’s speech to the Conservative party here in Manchester was brilliant. It is a constant puzzle that senior politicians, who spend such ages worrying about how to communicate, do not learn how to make platform speeches. They make basic errors — failing to read autocues, misjudging the timing of applause. They also do not trouble to think about what makes a speech — its combination of light and shade, the sense of an audience of actual human beings both in and outside the hall.

In the current cabinet, Mrs May is actively bad, George Osborne (though good in interviews) can establish no connection with his audience, and the Hammonds, Morgans, Hunts etc are dull. Michael Gove is outstanding at more intimate occasions, but still not quite right for the big show. Only David Cameron is actively good at it, and even he is rarely transformative.

Boris is not in the cabinet and still has the advantage of irresponsibility. But he has often made quite bad speeches because of winging it. His Manchester effort should be used by students and colleagues (who would have to watch it rather than just read the text) to see how these things can be done. It contained imagination, detail, scorn, vision, wit (of course) and repeated stabs at his leadership rivals so quickly inserted that one only noticed afterwards that they were bleeding.

He has a great skill of containing much in little. Study how he used the City Hall citizenship ceremony in which people swear in front of a picture of the Queen as a way of emphasising the Tory commitment to institutions, left-wing Labour’s dislike of this country, his own support for immigration and his achievements as Mayor.