Eddie Izzard is the man to teach Miliband to speak
A spin doctor writes... Labour leader must learn that leadership is about substance AND style
ED MILIBAND prefers substance to style. That’s his alibi for the speech to Labour delegates in Liverpool which even friends acknowledge was flat but which was widely praised for its serious content.
His long ago predecessor as Labour leader, Harold Wilson, was once complaining to a group of backbenchers that he was being asked to ride two horses at once. One piped up: "Harold, if you can’t ride two horses what are you doing in the circus?"
What Miliband’s best friends should be telling him is: "This is your day job, Ed. Learn to do it better."
Successful political leadership demands substance and style. Making speeches and conducting interviews are craft skills that can be learned. When Tony Blair made his first speech to a Labour conference in 1992 he had to hang on to the lectern for dear life to stop himself succumbing to nerves. He got better very quickly.
Timing is everything. Pauses are good. They give listeners space to take in what you are saying. But they can be overlong as Miliband found when he left too big a gap between "I am not Tony Blair" and "I am not Gordon Brown either. I am my own man." Unwanted applause came in the middle rather than the end of that passage.
For interviews, Miliband needs to rein in his machine-gun delivery. For fear of being interrupted, he often allows his sentences to collide. One starts with the previous barely finished. What he needs to learn is to allow his interviewer the interruption, acknowledge the question and then return elegantly to his key message.
It’s worth repeating these are skills that can and must be learned and Miliband has plenty of people around him who can help him do it.
He would do well to get his staff to gather a box of DVDs for him of effective political leaders, Bill Clinton (whose conversational style would suit him), Tony Blair and – yes, David Cameron.
Another idea would be to call in Eddie Izzard to teach him stagecraft. The superstar comedian has shown himself to be a formidable Labour campaigner, most recently on the London mayoral campaign trail with Ken Livingstone in Hackney. He nurtures ambitions to move on to a political career, possibly with a tilt at City hall post-Livingstone. He would delighted to get the call from his party leader.
Miliband is not a natural. He will never be a brilliant orator but he can become a very good speaker. And no one should doubt he has the intelligence and ambition to make it happen.
Donald Malcolm is the pseudonym for a former lobby correspondent and Labour party spin doctor. ·
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