Chris Moncrieff: Party conferences have become festivals of undeserved applause

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The Independent Online

If you are yearning for public acclamation, then your place is the platform of any party political conference.

For as was demonstrated during the Prime Minister's speech at Brighton yesterday, applause and even standing ovations have degenerated into a virtually meaningless ritual. Mr Brown's conference speech was officially timed at 45 minutes. In fact, it occupied one hour. And it was not so much the dramatic pauses that prolonged it. Rather, it was the incessant clapping, which occupied 25 per cent of the time.

To achieve, as Mr Brown did, a standing ovation within two minutes of starting was something that even Margaret Thatcher did not experience in her heyday.

When Iain Duncan Smith was Tory party leader, a man, behaving like a conductor at the Proms, was frantically orchestrating the delegates to applaud almost every other sentence during one of the dullest conference speeches many can remember.

I have seen delegates at Conservative conferences actually applaud in their sleep.

A shorthand writer, unable to keep up with a Scottish speaker with a machine-gun delivery, regularly started to clap for no apparent good reason.

It spread through the drowsy conference hall like a forest fire. There was a method in his madness – the reporter was able to catch up. So infectious was it, that at the end the speaker received a wild standing ovation even though hardly anyone in the hall had the faintest clue what he had been talking about.

A standing ovation used to be a great honour and a considerable rarity. Now, it is not only commonplace but de rigueur. If a front-bench speaker does not receive one, he is regarded as a total failure.

However hackneyed your remarks, however dull your delivery, however obvious your comments, you can be guaranteed an ego-boosting round of applause every few minutes.

Delegates return home after conferences probably with a hangover, possibly with a sense of elation or despair. But almost certainly with a pair of sore hands.

The author is a British journalist. He was the political editor of the Press Association from 1980 to 1984

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