Brian runs a blog on the subject of speechwriting.
Read David Cameron’s speech to Demos and sing hallelujah – here is a convincing analysis of where it all went wrong. Understand the problem and you can begin to solve it. Oliver Letwin‘s words at Policy Exchange weren’t too bad either.
But where’s the sense of humour? Where’s the character? These Etonian smoothie-chops sound like corporate HR directors. Tories applying for their Investors in People badge.
David Cameron and George Bush have similar blue-blooded backgrounds. But George is brilliant at empathy. David Frum, his former speechwriter, makes a telling point about the President.
‘People are often baffled: how can somebody who’s born to a wealthy and influential family, as George Bush was, have the kind of accord with ordinary Americans that he seems to have? Isn’t that odd? And the answer is this great crisis he went through, that whatever the advantages of his early life, George Bush was someone who needed a second chance. And this is a country in which that’s a very familiar experience.’
Cameron’s image makers have got to give him some depth. Quoting Nelson Mandela won’t do. Especially since he hasn’t had anything comparable to a Robben Island experience. We hear that Dave has a sense of humour. So let’s see him work on that like Ronald Reagan did. Here are a selection of one-liners, anecdotes and jokes which the modernisers could use to spice up their speeches…
1) It has to be said that British institutions have always had a problem with change: Of the twenty major technological developments which lie between the first marine engine and the Polaris submarine, the Admiralty machine has discouraged, delayed, obstructed or positively rejected seventeen.
2) To those of you who say we’re just changing our policies to win the next election, I say: "Pragmatism is great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice."
3) A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘It’s overfull! No more will go in!’ the professor blurted. ‘You are like this cup,’ the master replied, ‘How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.’ This short story shows how sometimes it becomes impossible to even imagine change…
4) Human nature is fundamentally conservative. We never do more than we have to, expand any energy we don’t have to, take any risks we don’t have to, change if we don’t have to. Why should we? (From Robert McKee’s book on screenwriting, Story)
5) I am reminded of the story of Sir Matthew Stevenson, a very senior civil servant when I was a junior one. Someone, objecting to a change, said: "If you do what you propose, life will never be the same again". "That’s true", said Sir Matthew, "but, you know, we have to accept that life does change. That’s what distinguishes it from death." (Lord Butler of Brockwell, Master of University College Oxford)
6) As I contemplate the rapid pace of change in the Conservative Party, I am reminded of the apocryphal remark by a Russian politician in the Russian parliament:
‘Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday we stood on the edge of the abyss, but today we have taken a great step forward.’
7) Yes, we’ve lost three elections but as Robert Orben put it, "Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as time-released success.’"
8) Good is a product of the ethical and spiritual artistry of individuals; it cannot be mass-produced. (Aldous Huxley)
9) As we contemplate the new Conservative policies on the environment, we have to concur with Kermit the Frog, ‘It’s not easy being green.’
10) I struggled to put exactly into words exactly why I was dissatisfied by Tony Blair’s premiership. Then I found this poem.
"They said that it could not be done / With a laugh he went right to it
He tackled the thing that couldn’t be done / And couldn’t do it."