The Parties | 22nd September 2014

Were three Labour ministers made to restrict their speeches?

Ed Balls’ marathon speech has dominated discussion at Labour Party conference today, but three […]

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Ed Balls’ marathon speech has dominated discussion at Labour Party conference today, but three other speeches have also been conspicuous for their length.

Three of Labour’s most prominent ministers – Douglas Alexander, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow foreign, business and education secretaries – have given the conference’s shortest speeches.

All three of them spoke for around 850 words or less. The 13 other speeches delivered so far have all been longer, and ten have been at least 1,000 words. Excluding Balls’, they have been, on average, 1,200 words – why were the speeches by three of Labour’s most prominent ministers 30 per cent shorter?

We hear that at least one of the ministers was handed a word count. Were planned announcements held back for Balls’ and Miliband’s speech? If they were given to the former they didn’t amount to the gifts many journalists expected from the shadow chancellor’s address this morning.

Either way, Chuka Umunna’s speech was nearly 40 per cent shorter than the one he delivered at conference a year ago. The CEO of Airbus UK, whose speech preceded Umunna’s, spoke for longer than the shadow business secretary whom he was effectively introducing. And Hunt’s was 30 per cent as long as the one Stephen Twigg, his predecessor at education, gave last year.

As for Alexander, the speech by Labour’s shadow foreign secretary was scarcely longer last year. The role may be one of the most important in government, but it is clearly subordinate to domestic politics at conference.

In the wake of the Scottish referendum, the two longest speeches after Balls’ have been by Hilary Benn and Margaret Curran. As shadow secretary for local government the former has been given new profile by the post-referendum push for devolution, while the latter is shadow secretary for Scotland.

Benn spoke for more than twice as long as Umunna, Alexander and Hunt. Devolution is the topic du jour, but did the Labour Party’s approach to business, education and international relations need to be curtailed to the length of a comment piece?