Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 01:02 UK

Analysing Cameron's 400,000 words

David Cameron speeches

By Marc Williams
BBC political research unit

Three years ago David Cameron took to the stage at the Conservative Conference in Blackpool unknown to many. One noteless and perfectly pitched speech later, he was on the path to the leadership of his party.

A year ago, in the same arena, he repeated the trick to haul his party back into the political game just as Gordon Brown threatened to call a snap general election on the back of polls predicting defeat for the Conservatives.

Mr Cameron's words clearly have power, but what does his choice of words say about his priorities?

To try to answer that, the BBC has analysed all his publicly available speeches since December 2005 - 133 in total, consisting of nearly 400,000 words...


From the very start of his leadership, Mr Cameron was focusing on Gordon Brown as much as (and, at times, more than) Tony Blair.

To all intents and purposes, bullets fired at Tony Blair were wasted ammunition. In April 2007, when Mr Brown was preparing to take over, this focus on the then chancellor became even more intense.

As one would expect, as soon as Mr Blair left Downing Street, he received far fewer mentions, although it is perhaps significant that he has not disappeared entirely from the Cameron lexicon.

Graphic showing relative frequency of David Cameron's references to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown  in his speeches


Find out how often shadow cabinet members and other top Tories feature

Despite being Mr Cameron's right-hand man and shadow chancellor, George Osborne surprisingly does not come top of this chart.

In fact, it is former leader Iain Duncan Smith who receives the most name checks, a reflection of the importance that his social justice agenda has to the Tory leader.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis is also well placed, which reflects the need, especially in the early days of the Cameron leadership, to keep his defeated rival on board and feeling valued.

The rest of the chart more or less looks like a measure of shadow cabinet seniority, although it is perhaps worth noting that Liam Fox is not referred to very often, attributable to the relative low profile of the defence brief compared with Dr Fox's status as the standard-bearer of the right in the shadow cabinet.

The fast-rising star of Jeremy Hunt is evidenced by his good showing here, despite being in the policy backwater of culture, media and sport.

Pity poor Theresa Villiers and Philip Hammond, though: their leader has not seen fit to mention them once in his speeches.


The former prime minister has popped up fairly regularly in Mr Cameron's speeches over the past three years and was most referred to in the first month of his leadership.

This runs counter to the perception many in the media have that Mr Cameron distanced himself from Baroness Thatcher in the formative months of his leadership because of the negative connotations that she has for many voters.

Strangely, the months where she received most mentions coincide with moments of strength for the Tory leader: his honeymoon period, the dog days of the Blair government and the start of the Brown collapse after the election was cancelled.

This means that Mr Cameron cannot stand accused of only mentioning Thatcher when in need of a boost.

Graphic showing number of references to Margaret Thatcher in each of David Cameron's publicly-available speeches since becoming Tory leader


Line graphs comparing number of mentions of key issues and themes in publicly-available speeches by David Cameron since becoming leader of the  Conservative Party

This graph is an aggregate of all mentions of both broken society and social breakdown'. As phrases, they barely registered throughout the first year of the Cameron leadership as he set about decontaminating the Tory brand by focusing on positive and non-traditional Tory areas.

The mentions burgeoned, however, from December 2006, when Iain Duncan Smith's Social Justice Policy Group produced its report on 'Breakdown Britain' and reached a crescendo from around June 2007 when firstly, the IDS group published its final report the successor to 'Breakdown Britain' and secondly, Gordon Brown experienced his honeymoon start as prime minister, which saw healthy Tory leads in the polls disappear almost overnight.

This led to a much harder-edged message from the Tories, crafted by new Director of Communications Andy Coulson, who saw the message of "the broken society" as a banner to rally core Conservative supporters.

The NHS has been a fairly consistent priority for Mr Cameron, judging from speech mentions.

It was particularly prominent in the first month of his leadership, in keeping with his goal of refocusing the party on issues that were not traditionally associated with the Conservatives.

After that initial spurt, there was a period of quiet on the subject for the next six months or so. This ended in October 2006, however, when, in his conference speech, he said that he could sum up his main priority in three letters: "NHS".

The subsequent period contained many NHS-heavy speeches, at a time when NHS deficits and the junior doctor application chaos were in the news.

January 2008 marked another high-water mark, with Mr Cameron looking to use the 60th birthday of the NHS as an opportunity to display his party's new-found passion for the institution.

The Tory election campaign in 2005 featured immigration heavily, with many Tory modernisers believing that the relentlessly negative, perhaps even xenophobic, tone put off many moderate voters.

It is not surprising, then, that Mr Cameron hardly made any mention of the subject for nearly two years after winning the leadership, to "detox" the public mind from that election campaign.

Even when the word did receive a large number of references, in October 2007, the vast majority of these came in a speech on "population control", which was praised by experts within the race relations sector for its moderate tone.

Tax, that totemic Tory issue, was very much kept under wraps for Cameron's first year as leader, when he irritated many within the party by refusing to commit to upfront cuts and insisting that the policy would be to "share the proceeds of growth".

There was a big increase in October 2006, caused firstly by the publication of the Forsyth Tax Commission Report and secondly by a conference season where the focus of the media was on whether Mr Cameron would face a rebellion from his grassroots over his tax position.

Since then, the issue has remained consistently prominent, particularly so since March this year, when the government got into trouble over the abolition of the 10p starting rate.

The related term "tax cuts" takes a similar trend to "tax" up until August 2007.

However, once Northern Rock and the related economic problems began, tax remained a prominent issue, while cuts disappeared more or less off the radar.

This is consistent with the message from the Tory leadership that the poor state of the world economy and the public finances may make cuts unachievable in the early years of a Cameron administration.


Graphic showing most-used words in speeches  by David Cameron

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific