Theresa May 2017 Conservative Party Conference Speech

As she reflects on her keynote party conference speech, Prime Minister Theresa May might console herself with the thought that none of what went wrong was actually her fault.

A prankster using her moment for his own ends, a nasty cough, and some letters falling off the wall…she can’t be blamed for any of that, can she?

Actually, I think she can. And here’s why.

Because while she’s giving that speech, she’s disrespecting the audience in the room and trying to manipulate everyone else.

That prankster was only able to hand her a P45 because the space at the front of the stage is given over to media and the team who handle the accreditation didn’t bother checking who he was. Laura Kuenssberg, Buzzfeed, a Blue Peter Press Packer – come on in, we’ll treat you like shit the rest of the time but if you do a piece on this big speech we’ll treat you like royalty. The party – which she leads – bends over backwards to accommodate anyone who might possibly give them any amount of the coverage they crave. And the Tories aren’t alone in this. For as long as I can remember major political party conference speeches have been far less about what goes on in the room and much more about the headlines it all generates on the 10 o’clock news. And so just like Calvin Harris with a pineapple on his head on XFactor, this ‘event’ has become a magnet for anyone who fancies trying to upstage the host.

Those letters on the wall aren’t there for the benefit of the members who attend. They look ridiculous from the back of the room. They exist because May and her team know that their message is so weak and disjointed that they have to hammer it home so that newspapers running pictures of her speaking and TV news channels showing short clips have no choice but to run pictures of her and the key slogan or strap line they want to highlight side by side. What does that say about the quality of her speech – that the key point has to be rammed home in big letters above her head. It makes Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ look inspired. At least he had to remember his line and deliver it with conviction.

And that cough..well, by her own spokesperson’s admission, that’s the risk you take when you give 19 interviews in a couple of days. She should have treated her audience with more respect and saved herself, but no, she wanted the media headlines, she wanted the coverage, she wanted to control the story and manipulate the wider audience to try and save her job.

I can just imagine her. ‘This is my chance to get my message across!’ – you’re leader of the damn country, you should be getting your message across every day of your life. And if you’re not, it’s going to take more than a conference speech to sort things out.

Theresa May deserves all she gets. And Corbyn, Sturgeon, Blair, Brown, Hague, Salmond, Davidson and the rest should count themselves lucky it didn’t happen to them. They’ve all been guilty of using what should be speeches to their party members to compensate for the fact that a chunk of the general population doesn’t like them/understand them/listen to them…whatever.

The first rule of any presentation, any speech…any situation where you have an audience and a message is respect the audience. And for a conference speech, that means the audience right there, in the room.

Put them first and focus on them. Don’t bother about letting all the media in at the front. Forget about the branding and strap lines. Spare us the bright lights and pounding music. Concentrate on the message.

And for God’s sake…demonstrate some leadership.


Politicians Learning To Be Nice

It’s true.

As this Tweet from Kate Forbes MSP explains, the Scottish Parliament recently held an event titled ‘Respectful Dialogue In Politics’.
















And I think all those who attended deserve credit. The truth is, despite the easy jokes about what a shock it is that MSPs would even contemplate treating each other with respect – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our parliament at Holyrood is the envy of countries all over the world because of its openness and atmosphere. And we’re lucky – so many of our elected representatives believe passionately in equality, fairness, trust and, of course, respect.

What we see on television and read about in newspapers is only a fraction of what goes on in the building at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and an even smaller slice of what the people involved get up to across the rest of their working lives.

So why does politics sometimes get a reputation as being ‘nasty’? And why, sometimes, do good people who know better find themselves drawn into situations where they resort to…well, let’s just call it ‘less respectful dialogue’?

I believe it all comes down to stress. It’s easy to speak in a respectful manner when you’ve got all the time you need. It’s tougher when you have to be extremely succinct. Tougher still when before you’ve even explained yourself someone else is going to argue. And nigh impossible when you might get heckled and interrupted. And remember before MSPs get to stand in the chamber and have those exchanges with their political opponents, they’ve probably had years climbing the ranks and dealing with competitors within their own party. It’s easy to see how some bad habits and ‘siege tactics’ might develop.

Then we have the media. Much of what the Scottish Parliament does is deathly boring. It might be important, in the long run, but for a media which has put resources into covering the parliament that’s no use. It needs stories and action every single day. And the easiest way to get that? Rows.

And politicians fall into the trap of giving them that, even when there’s no need.

A classic example came in the summer when former SNP leader, former First Minister and former MP Alex Salmond announced the launch of his show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Newspapers and TV news outlets sought comment from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. And of course, they gave the newspapers the comment and the criticism they wanted.

Why? There’s no need. The guy is no longer involved in politics. I’m sure he’ll be back but right now, politically, he’s nowhere. There’s no reason to comment and no reason to say anything other than ‘we wish him well’. What difference does it make to those parties whether a guy that used to represent the other lot does a comedy show at the Fringe? Slagging him off, as they did, just smacks of bitterness.

I don’t blame the media for asking for a quote, of course. But they should have asked an arts critic for comment and left it at that.

But what we have of course is ‘politics as entertainment’ and characters and caricatures built up as versions of themselves to be taken apart.

Spend some time at the Scottish Parliament and you’ll be amazed at the unity within the place. The amount on which all parties agree. The work they do and matters discussed that never make the headlines. The gentle, quiet, chipping away at old laws and bureaucracy and new legislation that goes in its place.

Of course, they don’t always get it right and it’s right that passionate, fierce, angry debate is encouraged and reported on.

But you can do all that and still remain respectful. And the majority of our parliamentarians do.

Maybe it’s time the media recognised that and gave them some space to get on with it.




When leaders are let down

Ruth Davidson’s quite rightly getting a lot of criticism for her decision to allow 2 Conservative Party councillors suspended after offensive comments on social media to remain in her party.

You can read the full story here.

What interests me most is the justification Ruth gives for allowing them back in to their positions.

She talks about ‘giving them the opportunity to change’, about their determination to change and how they have undergone some diversity training and signed up for some further personal development work to ensure they build a genuine, better understanding of the people their original remarks were aimed at.

All very admirable and who am I to doubt any of their intentions – I do not know these people.

However, I know politics and the media and how these things will play out and be interpreted. I know leadership.

And leadership is about much more than how you deal with these 2 individuals who’ve screwed up. It’s about the message you send to everyone else, about what you will and will not stand for and about the real and serious consequences when you are let down. It’s about your own personal values and people are judging Ruth right now on how she’s dealing with this pair. It tells us something about her. Or at least about her approach to leadership in this role.

There is almost always a way back..and so there should be. Forgiveness, and second – and sometimes third – chances are important.

But there has to be change first. Sometimes punishment too. There needs to be a spell in the wilderness, there should be loss of status, time for reflection, maybe even a degree of suffering. Particularly, when you are only in that position in the first place because a party has put its weight behind you, and the electorate have put their faith in you at the ballot box.

It’s very admirable that the 2 individuals involved in this situation have expressed a genuine desire to change. They should be given that chance and left to get on with it.

But they should have been kicked right out of their positions and the party that put them there.

And when they feel ready to come back, they should be welcome to apply through the proper channels. Apply for membership, stand for selection, stand as candidates and, as ever, let the people decide.

Having read her quote in the article above, it seems to me that in her treatment of these 2 councillors, Ruth Davidson has simply followed a process.


Live Interviews Are Getting Tougher

What the usual pundits forgot to mention in their rush to slag off Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn for failing to remember the facts in those horrendous election campaign interviews they gave, was what this tells us about live interviews in the digital age.

Radio presenters and producers like the folk you’ll encounter at LBC, talkSport, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and so on are now being judged on how they perform on social media.

It might not be a formal ‘more hits = more pay’ but it’s a metric that’s given serious consideration.

All those clips of James O’Brien on Facebook will have an influence on his ratings and his position at the station. He wants success on the radio and he also wants success on social media.

And so when programme teams are preparing for interviews, I believe they are now going looking for the social media ‘moment’.

It’s routine now that the majority of radio interviews will be filmed. The cameras will be recording as soon as you enter the studio and they’ll keep going during any breaks in the programme. Mics down and red light off? Everything you say as you begin to relax in the presenter’s company is still being recorded and can be used against you!

Live radio interviews now require you to contend with a presenter who has set out from the beginning to break you. To find the moment you’re going to fall apart. Where you’ll go off message (or fail to communicate ANY message) and deliver that viral social media sensation they want so much.

Of course, Abbott and Corbyn deserved all they got for failing to put forward even the basic numbers. The questions they were asked weren’t even challenging. But it’s important you understand that live radio presenters are going out looking for those moments.

Don’t become a victim. The best approach is to practice. Practice with someone who truly understands the modern media environment and if you are more experienced at giving broadcast interviews recognise that the environment has changed. ‘Busking it’ is a dangerous game these days.

As well as our media training workshops and on demand training videos, we offer private 1-1 interview practice sessions in person, on the phone or via Skype. We can go through the questions you’re likely to be asked, I’ll help you craft answers and show you where all the pitfalls are. To find out more call 0808 133 1353 or use the ‘Contact‘ page.

It’s easy to laugh when others mess up. It’s much smarter to learn from what’s happened to them.



Teaching Digital

You’ll have seen the usual suspects yakking about Skyscanner getting sold to China and ‘where’s Scotland’s next billion pound tech company going to come from?’

If we’ve to have any chance of achieving our country’s digital ambitions…how about we stop schools from teaching children that digital is bad?

That’s right…not only are some schools failing to teach the essential digital skills for the 21st century workplace, they’re actively giving young people the impression that digital is bad.

Our Scottish Schools Radio project aims to give every school in Scotland access to their own live streaming internet radio channel and a package of digital journalism resources to help them find the balance between fun and self expression and reflecting the work that goes on in schools and the community around them.

Already we’ve heard some brilliant examples of work from the pupils, as they produce their programmes with just the right amount of support and encouragement from enthusiastic teachers who, like so many of us, passionately believe in the relevance and importance of digital skills in the classroom.

Where it causes extreme frustration is when teachers are, for example, unable to upload the MP3 audio files to our Dropbox folder because DROPBOX IS BLOCKED. They then turn to their email and attempt to send the files that way but can’t because…SENDING AN MP3 VIA EMAIL IS BLOCKED.



You and I know these networks aren’t really blocked.

You and I know that by ‘blocked’, what they mean is ‘come and ask permission and we’ll set it up for you.’


Make it clear to local authority staff that they can make use of those channels, they just need permission, and then give the IT folks a rocket up the backside so they start giving that permission.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this site can’t be accessed right now, dial 412 and we’ll sort it out’ and ‘this site is blocked’.

Stop treating teachers like criminals because they want to use technology in education.

Stop putting education professionals with the best intentions of the pupils at heart in positions where they look like fools because they can’t get a bloody email to work.

And stop pupils leaving at the end of the day thinking that this so called ‘place of education’ is hopelessly irrelevant.

‘But why would a teacher want to send an MP3 via email?’ some will no doubt ask.

‘Why would a teacher want to use Dropbox in a classroom, show something on YouTube, or bring up Skyscanner?’

If you have to ask, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a school as far as I’m concerned.

It’s perfectly possible to be safe, secure, compliant and still use essential digital technologies.

And if you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an IT Department.


Christine And The Queens


‘I want to be one with the desire, rather than simply being desired.’

The words of French singer songwriter Héloïse Letissier who you may have seen recently on Graham Norton’s TV show or perhaps the BBC coverage of Glastonbury.

Here’s the video for her track ‘Tilted’ which has got a lot of people noticing her.

Her recent TV exposure and live performances have led to all sorts of comparisons and labels (Michael Jackson, Madonna, ‘pansexual’) but most encouraging is the fact her UK tour sold out in less than a week. Here we have an artist that music fans up and down the country have been waiting for.

As a dancer Christine has few equals. The choreography is outstanding, there’s an energy and a quiet confidence to the whole thing and the production of the track, (which she wrote and produced…yes, the beats and bass you hear were laid down by Christine herself using actual software and her ears. Just as men and women can use Microsoft Word to type they can also use ProTools and FL Studio to make music…who’d have thought it?!) has propelled her album to No.1 in Belgium, 6 in the UK, 2 in France and 3 in Ireland.

That sell out UK tour will be preceded by what’s almost certainly going to be a sell out US tour boosted by a critically acclaimed performance at SXSW earlier this year.

So to Christine and what she stands for.

First and foremost, great tunes, smart lyrics, a world class performance and a deep love of pop music.

But there’s more.

In an age where feminism has never had a higher profile yet where women have never been more exploited it’s inevitable Christine will attract interest because she’s doing it differently.

Early interviews and commentary makes reference to the ‘queer’ movement, Wikipedia claims Héloïse identifies as ‘pansexual’ although my French isn’t what it was and I can’t translate this clip in its entirely I think what she’s saying is that she doesn’t believe in labels or reducing sexuality to a single word.

For me, Christine represents being yourself and going at it with passion.

She’s driven, talented and doing it all on her own terms.

I admire the fact she sings a proportion of her lyrics in French – it sounds brilliant, and the bursts of cover versions she uses in her performances (Chaka Khan ‘I Feel For You’, Technotronic ‘Pump Up The Jam’) tells me her love of pop music transcends what’s ‘cool’.

Any artist who defies categorisation will face challenges.

MTV wasn’t sure what to do with Michael Jackson at the release of ‘Thriller’, hence the guitar solo in ‘Beat It’.

Christine doesn’t have (yet) today’s slick band of super producers queuing up to write for her. That’s fine but it means there’s perhaps a slight lack of depth to her set and maybe some justifiable accusations of filler material. Although it’s still relatively early in Christine’s career so that will likely change.

And she’ll struggle to make the major radio station playlists. For reference, she received considerably fewer plays on UK radio in the last 30 days than Huey Lewis And The News although BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music are supportive and she’s had spot plays on various Capital network stations.

Social media then is her friend and it’s fuelling considerable interest. That sold out UK tour (which wraps up in my hometown of Glasgow in November!) will likely be followed by a return visit at larger venues, her physical performances will ensure healthy TV interest and magazines and blogs will dissect much of what she says and stands for.

All of that – along with her talent, confidence and individuality – will lead, as it always does to Christine receiving what she says she isn’t in this for, that is ‘to be desired’.

There will be interest, opportunities, pressure and inevitably criticism.

For me, there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t like labels being labelled as the person for people who don’t like labels.

Let’s just let her be and enjoy what she creates.

And I hope she keeps dancing.


Words We Shouldn’t Use

There’s been a thought provoking debate this week following the Linkedin exchange between Charlotte Proudman and Alexander Carter-Silk.

It’s disappointing to see – again –  the hassle and abuse people get when they express an opinion on social media, as a quick look at Ms Proudman’s Twitter mentions will make clear. No need for that.

The Guardian article I’ve linked to above sets out some simple suggestions to help us all relate to each other a bit better in this, hopefully, more equal environment, that we live in now.

Deliberately upsetting or offending someone might be the furthest thing from our minds, but we should all be aware of the subconscious conditioning we have, which could cause irritation (or worse), even when we didn’t intend it to.

Examining our own attitudes every now and again and vowing to do better is no bad thing.

What I really object to is the use of the term ‘Feminazi’, (as used by the Daily Mail today) which manages both to belittle women and play down the impact of an incredibly evil regime all in one, horrible word.

Whatever you think of the folks involved in this week’s debate, please could we all agree never to use that word?


Michelle Mone – Start Up Tsar

You take people as you find them in my book.

Back in 2004-2005, I presented a programme on Real Radio where I conducted a live in-depth interview with a leading figure from the world of business each Sunday morning.

I loved it, but getting quality, high profile guests to come to the studio to talk to me for an hour from 8am on what for many would be their best chance of anything approaching a day off was challenging to say the least.

There was no budget, hardly a massive audience, lots in it for me, but little in it for them.

I got a load of knock backs, although as the audience and reputation of the programme grew I was able to attract the likes of Sir Tom Farmer, Robin Cook, and Anita Roddick among others.

But Michelle Mone stands out because she said yes and came in before I’d really got things off the ground.

I’ve always appreciated that. And I was struck by her complete lack of airs and graces. She was bright, friendly and altogether low maintenance. There was no difference between her personality on air while the microphone was on and how she was behind the scenes and in all my dealings with her. She exhibited class and professionalism at all times.

So it surprised me last week to hear some of the negative reactions when a radio programme was gauging reaction to her appointment to head up a government review into start up businesses across Britain.

The Michelle Mone I know, will, I believe, be a success at this role.

It’s heading up a review, gathering evidence, speaking to people, drawing together themes and ideas and writing a report which will make some recommendations. I think she’s very well qualified to do this. No-one – least of all Michelle herself – is suggesting she has all the answers. On the contrary, this is about gathering evidence from those that do.

Sure, she knows how to generate headlines, is outspoken, stands up for herself, ruffles some feathers and yes, probably does care a fair bit about how she looks. In that regard she’s got much in common with Sir Richard Branson and Steve Jobs.

Ultimo never came close to the turnover and influence of Virgin or Apple but surely the experience of launching a multi national business and leading it through all the multi million pound highs and lows over the last 16 years counts for something?

I consider Michelle Mone successful enough to know what it takes yet down to earth and capable of using her common touch to engage a business owner or potential business owner at any level and from any background.

I wish her well.

And if she chooses to accept a peerage from the Conservative Party then what’s the problem with that? It might not be what you want, it’s not something I’d want, but if it works for her, then why should she be criticised?


Saying Sorry, Or Being Sorry?

There’s been quite a bit of this lately.

Hulk Hogan for his use of racist language.

Lord Sewel for snorting cocaine off a prostitute’s breast and making appalling comments about his earnings.

And Walter Palmer for shooting a lion.

After their behaviour led to a media storm, they all said sorry.

Or did they?

Hulk Hogan released a statement to a magazine where he said he ‘apologised for what he had done’ and sent a variety of tweets insisting the language doesn’t reflect who he is. Terry Bollea, the man who actually made the racist comments has so far said nothing. It’s all been attributed to Hulk Hogan, a fictional character.

Lord Sewel’s statement included the line ‘I want to apologise for the pain and embarrassment I have caused’, so he’s said he wants to apologise but I can’t see any evidence that he subsequently did.

And Mr Palmer said he ‘deeply regrets’ shooting Cecil the lion.

All of these apologies have one thing in common: they fail to use the word ‘sorry’.

And I believe that’s deliberate.

It’s also counterproductive.

Because it makes it harder for the audience to accept them as genuine.

And we see this time and time again when someone in a prominent position finds themselves in trouble.

Don’t be sorry you got caught. Don’t apologise ‘if’ anyone was upset. The word sorry is a powerful one because it goes right back to  our childhood.

In order to make amends with our parents, we had to issue an unequivocal apology. There were no strings. We had to use the word ‘sorry’ – nothing more, nothing less and it was only accepted when our parents knew we meant it. When they could see change had occurred.

In today’s cynical, carefully managed PR world many ‘apologies’ turn out to be nothing of the sort. They are words uttered in the midst of a crisis in the hope of helping it pass.

Has a change really occurred? Or are they just saying what they think they should?

For me, an apology isn’t worth a jot if it doesn’t include the 3 simple words ‘I am sorry’. That is really all that’s required. No need for background, or detail, spare us the explanation.  Just come out and say a genuine, heartfelt sorry and then set about proving you meant it.

Only then can your reputation be restored.

And if you’re wondering, I hate to be the one to tell you, but there really are no shortcuts.

It’s easy to issue an apology. It’s much harder to stand up in front of the world and say the word, ‘sorry’. Harder still to mean it.


The problem with politicians

Is that when they fuck up their first thought is ‘How can I get away with this?’

So the party machines surround themselves with advisors and strategists and an array of other bullshit merchants who tell them what they want to hear.

Most of the time, it doesn’t work.

Because the truth will out.

And the consequences of cover ups and lies always, always, go way beyond the initial fuck up.

I’ve never met Alistair Carmichael MP but he strikes me as fundamentally a decent person. I’m quite sure, like many politicians, if he operated outside politics he’d be very well respected.

Carmichael is by no means alone.

It’s that competitive, party political, bear-pit style we associate with Westminster that brings out the worst in people. Even getting as far as becoming an MP involves all sorts of behind the scenes machinations and string pulling, broken friendships etc to claw your way to the top and make it through the selection process.

And because they see what everyone else is doing, and because they have ‘friends’ who can advise them on how to deal with a crisis, they excuse their own behaviour. ‘It’s not as bad as xxxxx’, is often the attitude.

Which takes me to the lesson here. Political parties should stop working with communications advisors who like them. And start working with people who don’t.