Party conference speeches 2013 – are you talking to me?

It’s party season and once again our dear leaders have been addressing our concerns, taking us by the shoulder and telling us how they’ll guide us to a better life. Your welfare is their concern.

Or is it? It’s easy to be cynical, so I have run the speeches of the UK’s main party leaders – David Cameron, first amongst equals as the Conservative prime minister, Nick Clegg, runner-up amongst equals and Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, and Ed Miliband, Labour leader known equalled only by his brother – through my favourite analysis program, the LIWC.

We’ll find out which leader was more concerned with – and whether you should be worried.

UK party leaders and their words
More than just words from our leaders?

Caring for us

I’ve not looked at the political fallout of the speeches – why bark when the newshounds at the BBC have already analysed the speeches. What I have done is run the words of their speeches through my analysis program, LIWC, to find out more about their word choices.

Word choice is important – when explaining a point do you talk about something that happened to you, something that happened to a man in the street who accosted you and told you their story, or frame it in clinical abstract terms?

The LIWC analyses a very wide range of words, but it is tried and tested and accurate and I have focused on just a few areas relevant to us: who they are talking to, the tone of the words, the nature, and how they frame their words.

If you want the full dataset then feel free – I have shared my analysis of the 2013 speeches at Google Drive.

Speech analysis results

I’ve split the data into different categories. First, who is talking to you?

David Cameron spoke about himself the most but also address the audience (‘you’) the most, while David Miliband talked about himself the least and used the more inclusive ‘we’ and other terms.

The most exclusive politician by a long way was David Cameron – 5.7% of his words counted as exlusive, while David Miliband only used 4.8%. This doesn’t seem a big difference, but then 10.4% of Miliband’s words were inclusive, while only 9.5% of Cameron’s were.

But who was the most confident in saying them? Cameron by a country mile – around 2% of his words were deemed confident, more than double the 0.9% in Miliband’s speech.

Don’t look back in anger

Who was the emotional speaker? ‘Red Ed’ lived up to his name, with 8.8% of his words seen as emotional, and he had the greatest share of angry words.

As for looking forward or looking back to the past, all leaders dwelt more ont he past than the future, but Cameron lived up to his conservative party, dwelling most on the past at nearly 4% of words and the least on the future, while Clegg was the most forward looking.

But speeches are dull if they stick to one emotion. The greatest range between emotions is Cameron, who despite dwelling on the negative does rise to the positive.

Finally then, did politicians talk about work? Some did. Both Cameron and Clegg had over a tenth of their words devoted to work and achievement, while Clegg kept quiet on that, at only 7.5% of his words.


Party speeches 2013 output table


Everything here is my interpretation of the data, and percentages of speeches 6,000-7,000 words long. In my analysis the total won’t add up to 100% as some words can’t be classified while others can be counted twice (eg, it’s a positive emotion that is also in the past tense). These are also the published speeches and do not account for ad libs, or delivery.

But it is a good measure to get a feel about the word choice leaders use and how they compare. As expected, Miliband is more concerned about the future (and his hopes to be PM), while Cameron talks about the past achievements of government. Clegg, like the Lib Dems, tends to take the middle ground.

On this I’d say that Cameron is more concerned about himself, while Miliband is trying to build his lead and encompass mroe of a following. Clegg, well he is both looking to the past and future, trying to say they have done some things but, begod, they’ll do even more if you vote for them.

Based on this Cameron comes across as the coldest, more content to talk about himself and the work he’s done to the exclusion of others. But with the greatest emotional range, the fewer words per sentence and the shortest speech, was probably the most entertaining to listen to.

So there you have it. Cameron is more self-obsessed, Miliband wants your vote, and Clegg doesn’t want you to forget about him and all the things he plans to do.

By Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is a writer and the editor of Considered Words.

He's worked as a journalist, writer and analyst for organisations including the BBC and Which? He's also written for the stage in Cambridge, radio and sketches at the Edinburgh festival.

He's now a freelance writer and data analyst.

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