I watched Gordon’s speech to Congress in the company of BBC journalists as I was commenting on it for The News Channel. Half way through, I could tell they were listening more intently than is often the case. Then when I heard Jon Sopel say ‘this is better than his usual…’ (as near as a politician gets to praise from a journalist) I knew it was going well.
The only communications that works in modern politics is authenticity, and the reason it worked as a speech was because it was authentic Gordon Brown. He could have made it to any audience, from a Labour Party fundraiser or poverty-fighting charity to a gathering of financial institutions or the next G20 summit. I hope people try to see the whole thing, not just the clips and the surrounding blather on the news bulletins.
I thought it was interesting to see an American audience react so positively to the line that whilst we support the free market, we do not support values-free markets, and that the values of the good society need to be applied to the good economy too. It was rich in values, the values of his politics, Labour politics and progressive politics in general. Hence the focus, albeit with a backdrop dominated by the economic crisis, on the environment and Africa. I found his description of the boy killed in Rwanda, whose final words were that the United Nations would help, genuinely moving.
Such a pitch is clearly easier with a Democrat rather than a Republican President, but it seemed to go down fine on both sides of the aisle. I also liked the Biblical touches and the references to his father’s influence upon ‘son of the Manse’ Brown.
There was a strong message in there for the Americans that they have to work ‘for and with the world,’ and when he started to go through some of the problem areas which need to be addressed for the future success of the global economy, you began to see the outline of the agenda for the forthcoming G20 Summit.
I said here a few days ago that some speeches matter more than most. This one mattered, for short, medium and long-term reasons. The short-term judgement will be decided by the immediate reaction of public and media; the medium term rests upon what comes out of that G20 process; the long-term, most important of all, on the impact of those decisions.
So it’s a three stage process aimed at leading the world from recession to recovery, showing the values and the policy decisions required to do so. The first stage went well.