Staged speech by William Hague

21st September 2001 at 01:00
(Photograph) - Photograph by Murdo MacLeod

It is just a few months since William Hague used this vibrant stage to urge Britain to vote his party into government. The dramatic set wasn't enough to save him - or his party - and, after Labour's June 7 walkover, he resigned as leader of the Conservatives.

Next month, his newly installed successor, Iain Duncan Smith, will step on to a similarly grandiose stage in Blackpool to address his party's annual conference and, via television screens and newspaper columns, the British public.

It's all very different from the days when political gatherings took place in a field of stubble with a straw-bale stage, or a cinema in the Midlands with good rail connections and a free evening towards the end of the week.

Today the world expects spin and spectacle. And if you can't provide it, there's another party that can. So it's silly hats and keynote speeches, plenary sessions and break-out rooms, helium-filled balloons and cardboard cutouts of the leader.

In order for your members to have their say, but more importantly so they can stand and cheer when you have yours, you will require a platform that looks like a cross between the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise and the set of an Italian television game show.

You'll need some giant screens so the people at the back can see, and a team of sound engineers recording each session so the folks back home can hear. Oh, and you'll need a slogan - big letters, to catch the camera's eye.

Sounds like a bit of a plateful? Don't worry, there are people who handle these things. Just as you will hire a team of professional scriptwriters to craft your witty, off-the-cuff speeches, so you must pay a company to mount your conference. Just acquaint them with this year's theme, agree a price, and they will stage a show every bit as impressive as the one being staged for your opponents a fortnight later.

Because "staging" is what it's all about. The firms that organise these events - a convention for store managers in Telford one week and a big party conference in Blackpool the next - boast of their expertise in "conference set design" and the creation of "environments".

"We are often called upon to stretch the limits of corporate theatre until it's impossible to distinguish the corporate from theatrical experience," says Bill Harkin Associates, which lists the pyramid stage for the Glastonbury Festival and the set design for the 1991 Conservative Party conference among its achievements. "This has led to stage sets that would look at home in the West End of London or Broadway."

And if some of the lighting effects occasionally suggest the Nazi architect Albert Speer's dramatic Cathedral of Light, and if the huge TV images of grinning leaders put one in mind of George Orwell's Big Brother, then we're obviously taking it all far too seriously. After all, look what happened to Hague.



Pictures and explanations of stage sets for commercial

BBC report of the razzmatazz surrounding last year's Labour Party conference: conferenceslabour

Journalist William L Shirer's account of a 1934 Nazi rally in Nuremberg: worldwar2triumphtr-will.htm

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