Is Sam Coates David Cameron’s Jon Favreau?
........................Jon Favreau.................................................Sam Coates........................
When Barack Obama stepped up to the podium to deliver his inaugural address, there was one man who knew the speech better than the President: one man who had honed every word, rehearsed every inflection, composed a symphony of assonance with scrupulous attention to every consonant and vowel, every jot and tittle. He was unassuming and quite anonymous. But he was the author of one of the most important speeches in modern political history.
It was not quite the Sermon on the Mount, but it was fit for a latter-day messiah; suited to the time, perfect for the occasion, imparting at every turn the essence of the undeniably-gifted orator Barack Obama.
Jon Favreau is just 27 years old – one of the youngest chief speechwriters in the history of the White House. But his skills as a wordsmith belie his age. He has the advantage that his employer is blessed with the enviable gift of making the most prosaic political matter at least sound interesting. President Obama posseses such a voice of baritone melodies that one can easily be lost in the musical mists and distracted from the critical content. He is a truly postmodern political incarnation: it is not what he says which is important – for he says very little at all – but the sounds he makes have the capacity to hypnotise one into an ineffable ecstasy, point one to a noetic mystery, transcend the reality and lure one into a timeless passivity.
It is not that President Obama is a religious experience, but his chief speech-writer has to exist on that plane if the President is to persuade his people that he lives with bread like them, feels want, tastes grief, needs friend. For only an empathetic, caring, feeling, hurting politician can reach the parts that other politicians cannot reach.
Oratorical skill has always been an imperative in politics. Just as Socrates has outlasted a multitude of contemporaries whose names are long forgotten, so the Obamas, Clintons, Thatchers and Blairs will always eclipse the Bushes and Browns. The former make moments memorable; the latter make the memorable eminently forgettable.
But there is no point in being able to soar lyrically above the dirge of the masses if there is no inspirational rhetoric set down. Speech-writing is an art: it requires study, discipline and risk. It is a patient process of inculturation: understanding the narrative, indwelling the context and inhabiting the thoughts and feelings of the master. A speech-writer has to be a mind reader. He has not only to understand each occasion, political event, or seismic catastrophe; he has to grasp the intellectual length, breadth and depth of the political implications while simultaneously communicating every nuance of the necessary emotional and spiritual response.
David Cameron will inherit a godforsaken slough of despond, as people feel they are sinking without hope into an economic and social morass of unemployment, inflation, house repossession, wars and rumours of wars.
He needs to inspire trust, loyalty, unity, fortitude and patience. He needs to mentally motivate and emotionally move. He can talk forever of ‘responsibility’ or ‘accountability’, but the more technical his politics, the less he shall inspire. He needs to articulate themes which flick emotions, and keep them running like a leitmotif so that he becomes the incarnation of his word.
Like Jon Favreau, Sam Coates is young to be a speech-writer. But he is a man who pursues the heart of God and who is eminently capable of composing the high notes that rise up to the divine whilst never forgetting the dirge beneath. His apprenticeship was with ConservativeHome. Tim Montgomerie probably had no idea of what he had discovered.
It is now for Sam Coates to study David Cameron’s speech patterns and to exploit his innate musicality. He must become David Cameron’s emotional expert and spiritual stalker, for the Conservative leader has soul. And in this postmodern era of illogic and unreason, the sensing of a political soul is the cadence of electoral victory.
But it is not just the music which must captivate: Sam Coates must become David Cameron’s political spy: a strategist of diplomacy and a savant of cunning. It is one thing to study his master’s past; but he must be attuned to the present and prophetic of the future. He can read old speeches and pore over autobiographies, but he needs to feel and reflect on what makes his master tick; what is the heart of the man. For there is nothing more offensively obvious or frustratingly fraudulent than a political speech which has no ring of authenticity. When Gordon Brown talks of feeling our pain, although he very well might, there are few who believe it. When Barack Obama talks of such things, his words are a warm and compassionate embrace; he cries your tears and feels your fears. Of course, he may very well not, but that is of no consequence. The speech-writer’s task is done.
Speech-writing is collaborative, but if David Cameron is to move beyond the parochial, it will not be sufficient to shuttle his draft speeches between numerous policy experts, political advisors or wordsmiths. He must inject vision, for without it the people will perish. Sam Coates must forget the laptop and the Blackberry: all he needs is a pad and pencil in his pocket by day and on his bedside table by night, upon which he can note every sound of nature or light of insight which may become a crucial component of a speech.
Nothing can be more damaging to national unity as disunity within government. If the Conservative Party is to persuade the people that it is a credible government-in-waiting, there can be no discord within its plurality or distraction from the Conservative bond of unity.
Sam Coates’ task is to create the canvass for David Cameron’s themes. But he must be sensitive to the fact that people are impatient of broad brush strokes and generalisations. During the pain of this recession, there must be a focus on society and community, with acknowledgement of the commonalty of our pleasures and pains. People will feel understood by David Cameron in proportion to the extent to which Sam Coates can persuade people that he is made glad by their joys and grieves with their sorrows. The task is formidable.
But while the orator is awaiting the words, the author is waiting on God.
Therein lies the key to the next Conservative victory.