As part of our regular “Remember their Audience” series, we examine Boris Johnson standing in front of Police cadets.
The background: Boris Johnson gave a speech at the National Police Air Service base in West Yorkshire. He spoke with lines of cadets in uniform behind him and was criticised on several counts – including that his tardiness led to one cadet fainting in the heat. The important criticism, however, came regarding the use of public servants as a backdrop for attacking party political opponents.
The claim: Police Chief Constable John Robins said he had been told the speech had been canceled. He followed up, saying in the national media:
“I was therefore dissapointed to see my police officers as a backdrop to the part of the speech that was not related to recruitment…. It was the understanding of West Yorkshire Police that any involvement of our officers was soley about police officer recruitment. We had no prior knowledge that this speech would be broadened to other issues until it was delivered.”
So not an ideal look for a PM, but was it entirely a bust?
Who he isn’t talking to: (anyone)
As usual in this series, I now take the opportunity to remind you that most things in politics are misunderstood because most of us think we are the audience when in fact we rarely are.
Few people watch such speeches live and this one’s rather broad scope of subjects would also have weakened any particular message for the relatively few who saw it.
In such cases it is really the press being spoken to because follow up news coverage is the key aim. But with far more chaotic and dramatic political goings-on at the time, a speech that failed to hit home its key points, and with criticism of the PM by the police for misleading the police, coverage of messaging was unlikely to to go far.
Indeed had a cadet not fainted, and had senior police not complained about the use of police as a backdrop, the fact a speech happened at all would likely have gone as unremarked as the content and messaging did.
So who is he talking to: (Photographers)
This site often considers the words used or messages repeated but in this case the audience was probably all about photography.
Polling on Conservative Party supporters reveals a firm tendancy towards authoritarianism. Tory voters nowadays tend towards what more liberal Conservatives would consider draconian measures such as capital punishment and censorship.
Strip out the speech and all that is left is a Prime Minister standing in front of uniformed officers – a very authoritarian look. This may play badly with more conventional conservatism – what with the UK’s long liberal democratic history – but it likely plays well to those inclined to more authoritarianism.
So in this regard, the motive here was perhaps all visual.
The Prime Minister has cut a rather weak figure of late. The chaotic and panicky response of Downing Street failed to really establish an impression of a “strong man” leader even if many measures may have fit that sort of thinking on the surface. Perhaps the endless circulating of a picture of him flanked by uniformed police will help get at least an impression of authority and “strength” out to his target voters.