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BORISOLOGY – The Downing Street Speech

Barndoor Strategy’s Roger Evans analyses Boris’ first speech as PM

Intro

There were some concerns that Boris had drifted a bit since his time at City Hall, that he had lost his edge and his mojo. As he strode into Downing Street last week, he will have known that these fears needed to be put to rest.

Standing at the lectern, in bright sunlight, he had just over ten minutes to do the job.

So how good was that speech?

Structure

Like any good chess match, a speech should have an opening, a middle and an end game. The purpose of each section is different but the structure can be applied even to very short speeches. Ten minutes provides the opportunity for a two minute opening, six minutes of message packed middle and a barn storming two minute closing.

The Opening should be used to build rapport with the audience. In this case there were three audience elements – the media, the gaggle of enthusiastic supporters and staffers, and of course the viewing public. The first two groups had already made up their minds and the third would probably only see the broadcast highlights.

It’s polite to recognise your predecessor, so Boris did this in a very perfunctory fashion. Reasonable, as longer might have looked like hypocrisy and would have been counter to the public mood. Instead he used the opening to attack the Gloomsters and Doomsters who were going to ‘Lose their shirts’ for betting against the UK. He also made his position on Brexit crystal clear.

The Middle should be used to lay out memorable messages. Boris stated a commitment to policies claiming each of them as ‘Our Job’. Convention states that three is an ideal number but he went against it and stated four key pledges – 20,000 police, 20 new hospitals, resolving the social care crisis and improving school funding. These are all big tasks which are likely to be ‘work in progress’ when the next election is called.

He returned to Brexit in more detail, with pledges to unite the country, reopen talks with the EU, but to prepare seriously for No Deal. There was some nice positioning of values around what the UK flag stands for. The pledge to safeguard 3.2 million EU Nationals currently in the UK is very welcome – it is the right thing to do and recognises the real fears that people have lived with since 2016. He thanked them for their Contribution to the UK and their patience, in an approach that echoed the speeches we used to deliver to community festivals and conferences around London.

And he added that in the case of No Deal we would be keeping the £39 billion that Brussels has demanded – money talks.

Boris also spoke about The UK’s future with science and technology at the forefront. This felt very much like the work we did in Shoreditch, Old Street and the other tech hubs that developed around London. The same approach is on the cards for our neglected Northern towns and cities. His reference to GM crops might alarm some Green campaigners.

The Ending stressed the need to overcome self-doubt and ‘change the record’. This optimism was a key theme of the whole speech and aimed to leave the audience on a high.

Style

There were no jokes. This was more like his speech at the 2012 Olympics, stressing the positives and building self-confidence. One of our strengths in the UK is a free press that can print what they want, but of course negative news sells better and the big danger is that we come to believe that everything is bad and that our country and institutions are incapable of delivering our ambitions.

After years of managerial politics, this upbeat approach is well overdue.

In defiance of his reputation for overlooking detail, he made quite a lot of detailed policy commitments. Can he deliver them all? Only time will tell, but as London’s Mayor Boris also had a reputation for making good on his promises.

His body language was confident, as you would expect. Purists would criticise him for moving around a bit too much but it didn’t get in the way of his message and with only ten minutes, there are better ways to use your concentration than focusing on detailed body movements.

He had a written speech which is wise on big occasions but he hardly seemed to reference it and the speed at which he turned the pages suggests that he wasn’t reading it word for word, but instead using key bullet points as a general guideline. I have seen Boris deliver a 30 minute after dinner speech from six lines scribbled on the back of a menu, so he won’t have needed copious notes.

Conclusion

Boris made a good start to his premiership. He rightly eschewed the jokes that many will have expected and delivered a serious but upbeat performance. His aim will have been to enthuse his supporters whilst reassuring the many undecideds in the audience.

The readiness to take responsibility was well summed up in the line – ‘Never mind the Backstop, The Buck Stops with me.’

In some recordings the baying of the demonstrators outside the Downing Street gates was intrusive. This is becoming almost a ritual for the usual suspects. Perhaps it is time to erect a large screen in Parliament Square and televise the speeches so that the crowd can have their ‘Ten Minute Hate’ at a safe distance, without spoiling the performance for the majority.