I have a political theory. It perhaps runs contrary to the thinking of the majority of serious pundits and scientists of this most inexact of sciences. And it is this: the core message of the party leadership can be defined by one thing—not what the leader says or what the spinners enchant later but, quite simply, from the refrain of the elevator music played after big speeches.
I make no guarantee as to the unfailing accuracy of this guide, but I think you’ll find it surprisingly effective. Here are a few, admittedly random, examples:
Conservative Party Conference 2004 and Michael Howard, party leader, following a bloodless coup, raises his hands anticipating applause. The music fires up, encompassing the message chosen to reflect the leadership’s determination to unite a fragmented party riven by debates about tax cuts and spending plans, Europe and the middle east. And, not least, the leadership question which dogged Iain Duncan-Smith’s years and dominated grassroots debate. Naturally, the song chosen is “A little less conversation” by Elvis Vs. DJ JXL, with that refrain: “a little less conversation, a little more action.” Very pointed.
Skip forward one year to the Labour Party Conference of 2005: Tony Blair faces “his toughest conference yet”—the commentators said—after dividing his party over Iraq and losing what was left of his reputation for honesty with an electorate who felt their prime minister was a very different man from the one elected in 1997. The song which followed his barn-storming address to the disaffected party faithful? Eric Prydz’s “Call on me”—the cover of the Steve Winwood track “Valerie,” with that ever so subtle refrain: “I’m the same boy I used to be.”
And yesterday, following David Cameron’s “aperitif” address to the Tory conference, we got to the beating heart of what the party leadership want to do this week: reach out to floating voters. Playing as Mr Cameron left the stage, therefore, was “Ready or not” by The Delfonics, a track memorably covered by The Fugees in 1996. And that core message? According to the Delfonics: “Ready or not, here I come. You can’t hide. Gonna find you, and make you want me.”
That’s as fair an approximation of Eric Pickles’s “love-bombing” strategy as any pop song will give, no?