On elections and speeches

By , 30 April 2010 6:26 pm

There’s lots of things I could write about, including some to do with writing, but actually the election is dominating almost everything here at the moment. It is a strange thought that in a week from now it is most likely that we will have a new prime minister. It is an even stranger thought that at the moment no one knows who it will be.

In an election campaign that had already been proving fairly interesting a joker was played on Wednesday when Gordon Brown’s microphone stayed on long enough for him to mutter a despairing cry about how he had just been talking with ‘a bigoted woman’. Interestingly enough, the microphone was supplied by Sky (proprietor Rupert Murdoch and supporter of the Conservatives) and apparently there is/was an agreed protocol that such private comments are to be kept private. The matter didn’t do Gordon any good at all, although it was curious to see him talk about himself as a ‘repentant sinner’ as the whole incident was replayed endlessly on British television. The language of Scripture, if little else, is still deeply embedded in the man.

Last night was the third and last of our television debates and I’m afraid I watched it all although at the end I rather wished I could have my time back. I learnt very little although I do have to say that I found Nick Clegg’s performance rather shallow; if I hear him defend his proposed immigration amnesty one more time on the grounds that it ‘will get illegal immigrants out of the hands of gang masters’ I will scream. What was interesting – and is the point of this blog – was with absolutely everything to play for, all three were curiously boring and dull. No one took up high flights of rhetoric, no one seriously strove for wit or humour and there wasn’t even much of an attempt by anyone to skewer their opponent with some deadly barb. The whole thing fumbled and bumbled along in the foothills of rehearsed oratory; the bland faced the bland with theatrical swords and British politics was much the worse for it.

At the end of the debate I asked myself why, with an audience of eight million, no one tried to strive for the heights? Those even more cynical than me suggest that it is because no one really wants to win this election; as a wise commentator pointed out, whichever party wins this election will have to make such unpopular choices as to risk being out of power for a generation. In the end I decided that television has a lot to answer for in reducing the quality of debate and here I return to Brown’s gaffe.

I can’t help but feel that the fact that everything is now recorded means that people are reluctant to take risks. Let’s face it: try and make some stunning attack on your opponent and slip, misjudge your words, bungle that quip and your demise will be endlessly recycled. Slightly misjudge your criticism and you will be pilloried before an infinite number of viewers. There is no forgiveness with television. Stand again in another four years and the same clip will emerge to haunt you. Jesus said ‘But I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken’ (Matthew 12:36). The media have brought that forward from the Last Judgement to the present. In fact, I wonder – and here’s a challenge to you, readers –whether anybody has ever made a truly great speech before a television audience.

5 Responses to “On elections and speeches”

  1. Terry says:

    Martin Luther King, Jr. – I Have a Dream

  2. Catherine Brislee says:

    “I have a dream” was a great speech, but it would be interesting to find one that was specifically written for television. I’m still wracking my brains …

  3. ChrisW says:

    Terry, that’s a great speech. (Or is it a preach?) But it is the exception that proves the rule. King was, I think primarily speaking to the crowd and the camera caught it. I doubt he saw it as a TV address; I am even less sure he was aware of the camera. I think Catherine agrees with me….

  4. Terry says:

    Yes, I agree that King did not write that speech specifically for TV, but even if he had, I’m not sure he’d have written it differently. From the little I know of him, understanding the ramifications of mass media wouldn’t have changed his resolve, or the passion of his message. And that, Chris, proves your point – that political speakers in our day seem to lack the courage of their convictions, and may lack convictions as well. I think King knew very well that his crusade might cost him his life. Offhand, I can’t think of any Western politicians currently in that category.

  5. Matthew says:

    You know, I’m just being funny here, but do speeches in movies count? I know I’ve heard some very inspiring speeches given in Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, and Schindler’s List. But then, I suppose we could talk about how fiction sometimes warps our sense of reality.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy