Last September I wrote about the Party Conferences. Party Conferences used to be a big thing, as members voted on the policies that were to be adopted the next time that they were in government. That seems a long time ago. These days, conferences are Nuremburg Rally Lite – there is never a debate, and the main purpose is to look adoring as the leader (should one say Leader ?) makes the closing speech. The only discussion is at side-shows sponsored by big business. What the hell is the Labour Party doing accepting money from Barclays Bank, or inviting the IEA, for discussion of economic policies ? We have even seen members of the audience dragged out by bouncers and held by the police for heckling the platform. The idea, post-Mandelson, is that parties are not associations of like minded people aiming to develop and implement policy, they are fan clubs with as much influence on the leadership as Take That’s fan club has on Gary Barlow’s tax affairs.
In a digital age there must be better ways of making policy than getting a thousand activists into a big room and listening to speeches from the chosen few, but having policy decided by Oxbridge chums picking the most plausible think-tank report is not one of them. Nor, I suspect, is the use of focus groups. What is needed is committees of activists who are specialists in the chosen field interrogating the evidence, which is why the speeches of the party leaders are so disappointing.
Cameron offered us the expected stuff, reading his electoral bribes from teleprompt screens. Ed Miliband tried to mimic Cameron’s old party trick of wandering round the stage and apparently speaking extempore. As a result he actually forgot chunks of his speech. As a number of commentators have said, it is difficult to choose between a leader who lies about the deficit and a one who doesn’t mention it.
My point is rather different, which is that none of the party leaders use modern means of communication. Any manager briefing his staff on the direction the company is taking, or new opportunities and threats, or trends in sales or quality, would use PowerPoint or something similar. Stand up comedians have been using it for years, and theatre productions too. My 8 year old grandson took a PowerPoint presentation on a memory stick to school, and it was uploaded by another 8 year old. Why can’t political leaders use the basic grammar of modern communication ? Think of the Miliband speech with inserts and diagrams to show how the National Debt has risen, how our growth is lower than our competitors, the deteriorating living standards of 99% of the population as against the rich, to show what has happened to police or nurse numbers, to local government budgets. It would not only be more persuasive – it would be impossible to forget chunks. And talking an audience through the facts, and explaining the conclusions you draw from the facts, is actually more human and appealing than staring ahead or prowling around the stage like an SAS platoon commander enthusing the troops the day before the attack.
Heavens above, it might even create the idea that policy depends on evidence.
Footnote: President Obama used diagrams to support his case in an interview in February 2015. The reaction of the opposition – “it was like a Scientology recruitment film”. You despair sometimes, don’t you ?