Politics Explained

Do conference speeches really matter?

Voters preferred Starmer’s address to Boris Johnson’s, a new poll has found – but does anyone care, ponders Sean O’Grady

Thursday 07 October 2021 21:30
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<p>Starmer went down better than Johnson this year– but it’s the polls that matter</p>

Starmer went down better than Johnson this year– but it’s the polls that matter

According to some novel research, voters think Sir Keir Starmer came across more competent, in touch and agreeable in his conference speech than Boris Johnson did in his shorter and, by most accounts, wittier oration. The pollsters at Opinium showed 1,305 voters highlights from the two performances, as if they were contestants on The X Factor. The results were mixed, shall we say. The researchers found that more voters agreed with Johnson than disagreed and more felt he was strong, caring and competent than not.

But politics is a competitive game, and he needed to shade his rival, and here the prime minister was less successful. His scores were less favourable than those for Starmer’s speech in Brighton, even though the Labour leader was continually heckled, while Johnson was only interrupted by giggles from “Jon Bon Govey”, among many others at the Trump-style rally.

Should anyone take any notice? Do speeches matter? It’s the way of the jaded journalist to dismiss them as just so much candyfloss, useful source material at best, badly written and clumsily delivered propaganda at worst. Most of them actually are, but, even just sticking to the British contribution and leaving aside the likes of Hitler or Martin Luther King, it’s plain that a skilled orator can galvanise a nation. Winston Churchill, so the historians agree, did at least see good with his wartime addresses to the Commons and the nation, while Hitler’s disappearance from the airwaves as the tide turned against him damaged the morale of Germany.

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