Brain food: Speaking out - Neil Kinnock European Commissioner

Brain food: Speaking out - Neil Kinnock European Commissioner - Saturday morning speeches tend to attract either the deeply committed or the deeply sad; the audience at the London School of Economics for the Fabian Society's conference 'Celebrating the Ce

by STEFAN STERN
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Saturday morning speeches tend to attract either the deeply committed or the deeply sad; the audience at the London School of Economics for the Fabian Society's conference 'Celebrating the Centenary - 100 years of the Labour Party' was made up of a combination of the two. Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, was first up this wintry morning, and dealt skilfully with a large hall that was sympathetic but not in the market for flannel.

First, the jokes. Kinnock did not disappoint, revealing the warm and spontaneous side of his personality he spent the better part of the '80s and early '90s trying to hide. He mocked his hosts with wit and affection.

'Only at the Fabian Society,' he laughed when describing the precisely timed catering arrangements, which meant that some older delegates would have no time for refreshments, 'slow walkers will die of thirst!'

Then the politics. This too was well-judged. New Labour's apparatchiks comb through every syllable of speeches such as these, and Kinnock made supportive noises without being uncritical or bland. Most impressively of all, he was self-deprecating, warning against Labour triumphalism ('My own record isn't too good there,' he observed).

The warmth of the applause for a well-delivered, coherent and disciplined speech was well-deserved. How many in the hall were left pondering whether they preferred this Labour leader to the present one?

Key moment: The admission by the speaker that he has been an over-effusive platform performer in the past.

Key lesson: Listen to criticism, and do not be too proud to learn from it.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth?

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