An August Economist magazine featured a timely article [PAYWALL] looking forward to the Autumn party conference speeches. Focussed on the main English conferences the unnamed writer noted:
The process can begin as soon as June. An early task is to cook up one or two big policy announcements, without which no conference is complete (an unwritten rule that has cost taxpayers many millions over the years).
Welcome to NI where the Executive agree policies and ministers *never* announce policies outside the dispatch box in the Assembly! [Ed – ahem, how many ministerial solo runs have we had?]
Drafting is fraught. Writers must sew together points that please party members, ones that tickle commentators and sound bites for television. The speech should contain light and shade, anecdotes and argument, self-analysis and soaring statements about the state of the country – all without jarring changes of gear.
NI Party leaders, are you listening?
The article goes on:
Few senior British [Ed – or Irish] politicians are great orators; most began as policy wonks not street campaigners …
Becoming a Northern Irish politician is presumably noted in the career path page of every new law student’s handbook. And some Irish politicians know a thing or two about campaigns.
… So rehearsal matter. Leaders are coached to use slow, deliberate body movements, avoid nervous fidgeting, and smile while talking. Some – such as Tony Blair – continue to practise and revise until the last moment.
Last minute changes seem pretty common at NI party conferences. And much rehearsing .. .though the PoliticsPlus programme may have a way to go to perfect the body language and eliminate fidgeting.
Unfortunately, even the strongest policy announcements fail to embed themselves in the public consciousness. So why do they do it?
A better explanation for the time and energy devoted to such speeches is that party leaders and their staff find the process helpful. Privately, they say as much. It is an excuse to scrutinise and refresh one’s arguments and messages, admits one seasoned writer. Then, to avoid uncertainty, he adds: “And that’s a good thing.”
Maybe our local leaders need to take a leaf out of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband’s conference speeches and scrutinise their arguments and messages … and write some new, less-tired ones to deliver this Autumn (and Spring)?