Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Teaching MPs to Twist the Truth

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Teaching MPs to Twist the Truth

Article excerpt

A politician and an interviewer take their seats on set. The lights go down and as the camera starts rolling, the interrogation begins. This could be the filming of any number of political programmes that are televised daily. In modern times, however, the scene is just as likely to occur in mock-studios as part of a simulated media experience provided by a new generation of British presentation gurus.

On 5 June, the latest politician to seek professional help with public presentation was outed. The Lib Dem Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has been receiving training in public speaking from a "voice and personal impact coach". In a pleasing twist, his instructor, Kate Firth, happens to be the sister of the actor Colin, whose role as George VI in The King's Speech, a film about the British monarch triumphing over his stutter, brought Lionel Logue a rather different kind of speech coach--into the limelight.

Although it is not a new phenomenon, such training, which was once rare, has become the standard. A bland, polished performance style has become the norm among politicians. "The rise of the political class" refers as much to the homogeneity of politicians' public personae as anything else. Recent improvements in Ed Miliband's voice (less nasal) and style (calmer and slower) have prompted speculation that the Labour leader, too, has finally sought professional help. In April, he advertised for the role of "head of the leader's broadcasting". The grandiose job title emphasises the sense of vanity that provokes suspicion from the public. …

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