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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Punches, pointing - and decent gags

By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter in Blackpool

The punch wouldn't, in all fairness, have made much of an impression on John Prescott.

Iain Duncan Smith was telling the Tory conference that he'll fight the government over the right to buy council houses.

"This time," he said, referring to Mr Prescott's famous scuffle in 2001 and throwing an upper-cut, "the punch is coming from the right."

IDS gives his speech

According to some reports, the Tory leader has received coaching in how to use body language and hand gestures during his speeches.

If that is the case, Mr Duncan Smith has clearly been listening to his tutors.

We had plenty of pointing, lots of outstretched arms and even the occasional "come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you're-hard-enough" glare.

There were knowing nods, clenched fists and even an impression - and a very good one at that - of Tony Blair.


In terms of delivery, this was one of Mr Duncan Smith's most effective speeches.

As the audience was warmed up with a video featuring the Tory leader setting out his beliefs, the man himself stood at the back in one corner of the hall.

Standing in the middle of the hall, he wandered around the stage at times, eschewing the traditional lectern-grabbing style

He paced around a little as aides made their final suggestions for a speech being billed as make or break.

Then, as the video ended, he strode out, punching the air twice as he made his way to the podium amid the first of 20 standing ovations.

Standing in the middle of the hall, he wandered around the stage at times, eschewing the traditional lectern-grabbing style.

And at times, arms by his side, he stared out at the audience in what was surely intended to show steely determination.

He used it as he confronted his critics: "The quiet man is here to stay and he's turning up the volume," he said, before stepping back, arms at his side and staring defiantly ahead.

As he attacked Labour he jabbed the air repeatedly: on other occasions he held his hands together in an attempt to create an authoritative air.

He was most effective with the jokes, wandering to this side and that like a stand-up comedian to deliver some pretty good gags.

"Wait for it," he said with a smile as he held back the punchline on his Lib Dem joke (their party literature should carry a warning, he said. "Contains nuts"). The comic timing was impressive.


The little nods, delivered with a knowing smile, worked well too - "you know and I know that we're right" he was telling representatives.

But his speech was marked most by pointing or impassioned palms-outstretched appeals.

During his attack on Labour he was more like the conductor of an orchestra, swirling his hand faster and faster as he built up the attack.

He held his hands to his chest as he talked about his personal philosophy and also used props - his "IDS card" - as he set out his creed for the audience.

But as the speech came to its finale, the clenched fist took over. The "quiet man" was getting angry and, as he had promised to do, pumping up the volume.

The body language was intended, no doubt, to underline his determination, defiance and belief in his mission.

It was a vast improvement on what we've seen in previous speeches. The coaches, if they do exist, will have been very pleased indeed.

Andrew Marr reports from Blackpool
"It's hard and lonely being an opposition leader under siege"

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