Three years ago at their Blackpool conference the Tory party faithful witnessed the five-way platform pitch that saw David “no-notes” Cameron, not the favourite, emerge as the leader elect. It was undoubtedly a masterly performance and, in a post in July, I included it in the 100 Best Pitches (Pitches and Troughs section.) It was not what he said, it was the way he said it.
This week in Manchester we will see Brown and his rival, or is it rivals, “pitched against each other in a battle for Labour hearts and minds”. (Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer.) It could be a fascinating contest.
Two years ago, also in Manchester, both David Miliband and Alan Johnson failed to rise to the occasion. They performed badly and seemingly lacked confidence. What will the outcome be this time when the stakes are so much higher?
Brown is fighting for his political life. Whilst world financial turmoil may give him some respite, he knows this speech will make or break him. Reports suggest it has been drafted, re-drafted endlessly and its content will no doubt be excellent. But can that be enough? A Downing Street aide apparently said “even if it’s Martin Luther King, some will say the speech wasn’t enough”.
So, one hell of a challenge to his confidence but maybe the battler’s instinct for survival will come through. In some ways the task of the young pretender, Miliband, could be as tough. So far his undoubted intellect has not been matched by communication skills that charm and inspire.
Alan Johnson, on the otherhand, has an easy charm that does engage. By claiming he is not a contender he has reduced the pressure on himself to perform. He might, therefore, be the only one who instils the confidence the party craves.