In light of the crisis in Algeria, David Cameron has opted to postpone giving his much-trailed speech on Britain’s place in Europe, which he was planning to deliver today. Of course, this leaves lots of holes in media schedules from people who’d expected to be writing pieces on it, based on what they were expecting to be in it, given what they’d been told was going to be in the speech from all the pre-briefings and carefully scheduled leaks beforehand.
Which makes me wonder: why does he actually have to give a speech to get his ideas out there? (And if he does, why does he have to travel to Amsterdam to do it?)
Politicians like to give speeches, and the media like to cover them, but over the years the perceived importance of ‘the big speech’ has become ridiculously over-inflated. One reason why speeches used to be important was that no one knew what someone was going to say before they stood up and said it. Now, the contents of the speech are so heavily briefed and trailed beforehand that the actual delivery of it seems more like a quaint and formal requirement, rather than a necessity.
The big speeches of political history are remembered because they were live events where no one knew what was going to happen. Cameron’s speech – and others like it, including conference leaders’ speeches – is only live in the sense that he might make an error in reading out his heavily pre-prepared script. Speeches like that are merely political theatre, surrounding the leader with the props of potential drama, but containing no real threat, drama or surprise.
We all know how David Cameron sounds when he delivers a speech, and while he’s not bad as a public speaker, he’s not a Ciceronian master of oratory, so it’s not as if the way in which he delivers his speech will have any effect on how the content of it is received. So why not just send it out, say ‘here’s the speech I was going to make, and rather than waste money and time setting it all up again, why not just read it for yourselves?’ Or, if you’ve got the urge to make a speech, then don’t spend the weeks beforehand telling everyone what’s going to be in it – let people pay attention to what you’re saying as you’re saying it, instead of just throwing something else into the spin cycle and making us bored of it before it’s even happened.