Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

What makes a great party conference speech?

Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha after his speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2012 Photo: Rui Vieira /PA Wire

Simon Lancaster, a speechwriter since the 1990s, gives his thoughts on what makes a great conference speech.

The most important element in any speech is the audience. David Cameron is guaranteed not only a satisfied audience today, but an ecstatic audience. That's what party conference audiences are there for - to provide reaction for the cameras and bolster their leaders. The audience in the room is a prop - no more. There has never been a leader's party conference speech in history that was badly received by the audience in the room. Even Iain Duncan Smith received a standing ovation for his hopeless 'the quiet man is turning up the volume' speech in 2003.

Iain Duncan Smith speaking at the Conservative Annual Conference held in Blackpool Credit: John Giles/PA Archive/Press Association Images

David Cameron needs a good idea for his speech - nothing too complex or elaborate - just a simple idea. Like Blair had with 'forces of conservatism' or Thatcher had with 'the lady's not for turning'. Land of opportunity is just that, giving the media a simple lens through which to view the speech, even though this is a soundbite that Margaret Thatcher used in 1987. The recycling shows David Cameron's green credentials are as good as ever!

Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha after his speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2012 Credit: David Jones/PA Wire

David Cameron needs to walk the tightrope between sounding prime ministerial and sounding like a human being. I understand he is speaking from behind a lectern this year. That will help him look prime ministerial and statesmanlike. In terms of endearing him to the British people, his monosyllabic style will help, as will a few jokes and some good personal anecdotes. We live in an age of confessional politics and no-one fits this age better than David Cameron. I will never forget the extraordinary poise and confidence he showed in his 2009 conference speech when he stood before the nation and revealed his feelings about his son Ivan's death. This showed extraordinary steel and self-control, just the attributes you expect in a Prime Minister.

David Cameron is a great speaker, so we'll get a confident performance today no matter what. His speech is bound to be littered with rhetorical contrasts - a staple of a good Cameron speech. We've already seen this in the pre-briefing with the Thatcher/Francis of Assisi like lines:

In place of the casino economy, one where people who work hard can actually get on; in place of the welfare society, one where no individual is written off; in place of the broken education system, one that gives every child the chance to rise up and succeed.

– lines from david cameron's conference speech

Simon Lancaster is a professional speechwriter for Bespoke. His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

More on this story