Political summer holidays aren't all about body-boarding and pointing at fish for the cameras. For most in the front rank of British public life, their fortnight in the sun is when they begin the work of drafting the Big Conference Speech.
It's important to them because, despite the many ways politics has changed with television and the internet, no one is considered leadership material unless they can successfully deliver a 50-minute speech to a roomful of supporters.
The speech, reporters are always told in advance, is ‘their most personal yet’, probably because ‘they wrote most of it themselves’. If the message is ‘Serious Leader, Serious Times’, it will be delivered static, from a lectern. If it's ‘From The Heart’, it will be done pacing around the stage, with a backdrop of diverse and photogenic people hanging on every word. A spouse should be somewhere in shot, eyes wet with pride.
Attempts to be a ‘Serious Leader From The Heart’ by coming out from behind the lectern halfway through tend to look as though the politician has lost their train of thought and hopes to find it at the front of the stage.
Aside from its delivery, the contents of the conference political speech are a minefield, as the politician strives to avoid upsetting the competing interests in their party while looking dynamic and ideally saying something at least slightly appealing to the general public.
Fortunately, help is at hand. My new book, ‘Would They Lie To You?’, explains Uncommunication - the art of getting from having something you don't want to say to having something you haven't quite said.
As a service to any politicians still struggling over their keyboards, I'm pleased to present all all-purpose speech. Every other Spectator reader might like to think of it as The Only Political Speech You'll Ever Need To Read:
Thank you all so much for that welcome. I want to tell you how much I appreciate the fantastic work that happens here. [Whatever it is. I have a note here somewhere.] It’s so important. Thank you for all that you do.
I won’t take up too much of your valuable time, but I just want to share some thoughts with you about one of the big debates going on in politics right now.
It’s about straw men.
Now I know I’ll have lost some of you right there, but stay with me, because straw men are vital to the way we conduct ourselves as a country. They go right to the core of how we do our politics.
There are some people who say that straw men are the answer to everything. [No there aren’t.]
And there are other people who say that straw men are actually the whole problem. [Not really any of them, either.]
I don’t take either of those views. I certainly think that straw men can be a distraction, as when they’re used in speeches by my opponent.
But I also think they can be extremely valuable, for instance when I use them in my own speeches.
So to people who say to me: [They don’t.] ‘Stop now, and never use a rhetorical device in a speech again!’
I say: ‘I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree with you.’
I’m an old-fashioned member of my party, [I’m not, which is why they elected me leader. And also why they don’t really trust me.] and I’m proud [Use of ‘proud’ is directly proportional to the extent people tell me I should be ashamed.] of what we’ve done in government for rhetorical devices. There’s nothing in my party’s traditions about suppressing empty rhetoric. [Though if I’m honest there’s a chunk of people in my party who could be persuaded to ban just about anything.]
And that includes straw men.
You know, as a parent of young children, [I have a note of their names in my wallet.] I often find myself thinking about the dingle dangle scarecrow.
Let me share his story with you.
When all the cows were sleeping.
And the sun had gone to bed.
Up jumped the scarecrow.
And – and I think this is really important – this is what he said.
I’m a dingle, dangle scarecrow.
With a flippy floppy hat.
You know, the dingle dangle scarecrow didn’t want much. Just to shake his hands like this. And shake his feet like that. But who will speak for him? Not our opponents, I’m afraid. They’ve shown this week that they’re far more interested in standing up for the big Wicker Men than they are for the humble dingle dangle scarecrow.
It’s increasingly clear to me that the real divide in politics isn’t between those who use straw men and those who don’t.
It’s between those who want empty words, and those who say no. No, we demand more. We demand full words.
I know which side I’m on. And I think you know which side you’re on, too.
This isn’t the time to give in to fear and hate, as some will tell you. [Direct rebuke to those people who are saying: ‘This is the perfect moment to give into fear and hate.’] This is the moment we must reach out to our friends, neighbours and fellow citizens and speak of the world we want our children to grow up in.
To me, the great test of who we are as a society is how we treat our scarecrows.
I dream of a world where we can all shake our hands like this.
And shake our feet like that.
Will you join me in daring to dream that dream? To hope that hope?
Together, we can build that country.
Thank you very much. Now, I think we’ve got time for some questions from our friends in the media. [Note to self: mustn’t sound so sarcastic when I say ‘friends’]
Robert Hutton covers U.K. politics for Bloomberg News. ‘Would They Lie To You? How To Spin Friends And Manipulate People’ is published today by Elliott & Thompson