Monday, September 24, 2007

The performance of politics

The prime ministerial speech seems to have come early in Labour's conference this year, but as ever it is the centre piece and the key media spectacle. For all those that feel Brown is not a performer in the ilk of his predecessor it perhaps proved them wrong, Brown displayed the same passion and managed to deliver the soundbites for the media coverage on tonight's news (after all that is the bit that 98% of the population will be most likely to see).

The speech itself seemed to tell us a great deal about what he aims to do, but little on the way it is to be done. A particularly emotional piece was the following: "Every year 10 million die from diseases we could have the medicine and science to prevent and cure. If in the 20th century human ingenuity could put a man on the face of the moon, then surely in this 21st century human compassion can lift the pain from the face of a suffering child"; but nowhere did Brown state who was to pay for this, from what budget.

So what do we know, he stands for a lot of things that most people would probably agree with, for example "I stand for a Britain that defends its citizens and both punishes crime and prevents it by dealing with the root causes"; but a little more controversial is "I stand for a Britain where it is a mark of citizenship that you should learn our language and traditions". But the key soundbites are as follows. The first has been his enduring response to questions about a snap election (something he did not claim to stand for): in talking of the challenges of the summer's terrorist attacks and foot and mouth outbreak, "our" (that is he and Britain), "response was calm and measured. We simply got on with the job". The second key soundbite responds to the distrust of his predecessor and the feeling that he let the people of the country down (as shown in a number of focus groups held around the 2005 General Election". Brown stated:

This is my pledge to the British people: I will not let you down. I will stand
up for our schools and our hospitals. I will stand up for British values. I will
stand up for a strong Britain. And I will always stand up for you.

The standing ovation was mandatory as ever, but in the end it was simply a rallying call to the converted and the delivery of a few key soundbites for media use; such speeches are simply a performance and it is impossible to say if any of the items the speaker 'stands for' will ever be translated clearly into policy.

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