Party conference season: David Cameron scores 6/10

Party conference season: David Cameron scores 6/10

Leaving aside the politics of it, the prime minister is a class act with the media, exuding calm authority and a clear position on a range of topics.

He displayed these talents in yesterday’s BBC interview with Andrew Marr, and in many ways he gave a master class. He didn’t engage in political mud-slinging, knowing it would switch off far more people than it attracts. He didn’t avoid awkward questions (Ed Miliband, take note), but instead addressed them by saying why he couldn’t give a direct answer. He was happy to use conversational English (“it’s nuts”, “on the dole”, “chuck these people out”), making him accessible and easily understood. And most impressively, he adopts a show-not-tell strategy when defending himself against what has always been his Achilles heel – that he’s an out-of-touch toff.

In 2011, I gave him 9/10 for his pre-conference interview with Marr. So why a less impressive score this time? Simply, there was no over-arching theme, but just a string of powerful, yet unrelated sub-messages – on mortgages, HS2, energy prices, the wealth tax, gay marriage and the future of the coalition. Of course, he had to talk about all those topics because Andrew Marr asked him about them, but what was the single key point that he wanted to leave viewers with?  Something that Nick Clegg managed to convey so well two weeks ago?  Where was the message that would make the floating voter say, “Ahh, I get it”?

There can be only two explanations. Either Cameron didn’t work hard enough to get that main message across (unlikely in such a strong media performer), or he is unconvinced that the “For hard-working people” strapline that’s plastered all over the conference centre is strong enough.

The second explanation seems more plausible to me, for the Tories’ recent track record on top-line messages is poor. “Big Society” has predictably crashed and burned. Cameron seems to have forgotten his (very effective I thought) pledge “to do for Britain’s society what Margaret Thatcher did for our economy”.  And it would surely be foolish, at the moment, to risk everything on a purely economic message. So what’s left?

It’s a big problem for him, but in the absence of something credible and compelling, people will decide it for themselves. They always do.

Article date

September 30th, 2013

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer


My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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