How Dan Jarvis’ big speech sounded like an early David Cameron number

Written by Simon Lancaster on 11 March 2016 in Opinion

There are extraordinary similarities between the Labour MP’s address this week and the Conservative leader’s 2009 party conference speech. 

This week, the commentariat got very excited about Dan Jarvis’s non leadership bid speech at Demos. With his call to be “tough on inequality, tough on the causes of inequality”, he appeared to be smartly positioning himself somewhere between Kier Hardie and Tony Blair. But was he actually invoking another leader?

I couldn’t help but notice the extraordinary similarities between Dan Jarvis’s Demos speech of 2016 and David Cameron’s party conference speech of 2009.

For a start, the whole of Jarvis’s speech was built around a simple rule of three.

“Family. Work. Community. These are the three ways in which most of us think about our lives.”

This featured at the beginning and the end of the speech. It is what a speechwriter would think of us as the ‘big idea’ of the speech – the thought that runs like a spine from beginning to end, giving the speech coherence, clarity and consistency.

Cameron’s 2009 conference speech was also built around a simple rule of three. His rule of three was remarkably similar:

“Family, community, country. These are the things I care about. They are what made me. They are what I'm in public service to protect, promote and defend.”

Hmm… So similar thesis.

What about the metaphors? Metaphors create the underlying imagery of a speech. They are very important articulations of the speaker’s view of the world.

Labour and Conservative politicians traditionally speak using very different metaphors. In 2009, David Cameron used force of nature metaphors eleven times as frequently as Gordon Brown.  His 2009 conference speech majored on nature metaphors. He explicitly favoured those and rejected Labour’s machine imagery.  He said:

“Britishness is not mechanical, it's organic. It's an emotional connection to a way of life, an attitude, a set of institutions.”

On the NHS, Cameron said:

"Labour has tried to run the NHS like a machine. But it’s not a machine full of cogs. It is a living breathing institution made up of people. This lever-pulling from above – it has got to stop."

Dan Jarvis also likes nature imagery. In his speech, there were four references to roots alone! He talked about rooting our politics, he talked about ‘rooting his remarks’ he talked about getting to the 'root causes of inequality' and having a 'deep-rooted moral imperative'.

One of the soundbites from Cameron’s conference speech was his line:

"The state is your servant, never your master."

You could imagine this master/servant imagery would come naturally to a privileged Etonian like Cameron, less so to a comprehensive boy like Dan Jarvis. But he also said: 

"That is how the capitalist system should work. As servant, not as master."

I’m not accusing Jarvis of plagiarism. He’s just doing what every artist does. But, as Picasso once said: ‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal.’ I’ll leave you to decide what kind of artist Dan Jarvis is…


Winning Minds: Secrets from the Language of Leadership  

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