Edward Staite is an international communications consultant and campaign adviser. Follow Ed on Twitter.
This helpful summary of the best books on current affairs and their historical origins should hopefully be an integral part of an MP's time away from Westminster. I say "time away" – rather than "holiday" – deliberately, since (most) MPs use this extended time in their constituencies to rush between fetes and carnivals, fill their diaries with visits to businesses and hold regular surgeries. Summer is the time when MPs connect with their electorate to a degree not usually achievable when half the week is taken up by parliamentary business.
As a return to Westminster gets nearer, now is the time for MPs to begin their 'back to school' project and make sure they don't waste all these summer efforts. It is time to reinvigorate, refresh and, in some cases, completely rewrite their stump speech. With less than two years until the general election, and the European poll as well as local elections just nine months away, Tory MPs should be confidently putting the positive case for why people should vote Conservative.
Every MP should have a speech, formed of a standard set of paragraphs, to deploy at short notice whatever the occasion. If prepared well, these words can be the basis of an informal 'few words' at a WI coffee morning, or as a rousing call to action as a guest at a constituency dinner.
As ever with public speaking, it is the preparation that is so important. All too often MPs fall into the trap of saying what is expected rather than what is interesting or important. When an MP speaks, we expect them to be good – after all it is their job, isn’t it?
Earlier this summer I heard two senior Conservatives – one a Cabinet minister, the other an influential former minister – give short speeches. They are easy to compare as both took the theme of 'How are the Conservatives doing?' That is where the similarities ended.
The good speech extended its theme to explain why the Conservatives will win the 2015 election – at all times finding relevant examples of what Conservatives have done to make people's lives better since 2010.
The bad speech got bogged down in where the party was in relation to Labour, relations with Lib Dem coalition colleagues and, most importantly for the speaker, how influential he considers himself to be in government and the Party.
The good speech took their audience along an easy to follow path with a summary to begin, meaty examples in the middle and a positive call to action as a conclusion.
The bad speech – despite having a intended theme – was rambling and unfocused. It was insular in its view and did not include even a nod to policy. Any half-decent speech needs to say something. Frequently this isn’t the case and Winston Churchill’s thought that “there are too many public speeches and too little private thinking” comes to mind.
The good speech ‘moved’ the audience, with logic backed up with passion.
The bad speech was dull, uninspiring and a left the audience restless.
The good speech was based on the Cabinet Minister's personal experience, again with specific examples of where the department in question had made a tangible difference to the lives of voters, but also sprinkled with examples from other departments. The result: the Minister communicated a broad range of achievements that matter to an equally broad range of people.
The bad speech was based on the former Minister's personal experience too – of trying to get one over on opponents (their language not mine) in Westminster.
MPs are frequently accused of being 'out of touch' and 'remote' from voters. After listening to the former Minister I would agree. Thankfully, the speech from the Cabinet Minister couldn't have been more different.
Both had a theme, both used recent examples of events to illustrate points, but only one bridged the gap between Westminster and the electorate.
This is what MPs should aim for in their stump speeches.
The good speech I describe here was written in a logical way, it made a positive argument, and the Minister wasn’t afraid to go out and make it. As important elections approach – with a poll deficit to overturn – a few more speeches like this could make a real difference.
Story telling in speech making is a brilliant tool to keep people interested and make a connection. For MPs, it can also counter the belief they are remote, out of touch and always on holiday.
Speechwriters frequently have to search hard for the inspiration they need before writing a great speech. After a summer of time spent seeing how people are doing in their constituency, MPs should use these examples wisely as inspiration for their speeches, and to illustrate how Conservatives are making people's lives better.