Politicians as event speakers: The art of saying naught
Politicians as event speakers: The art of saying naught
16 JULY 2018 7:38 AM

It’s entertaining to listen to politicians who speak at hotel conferences and do a lot of talking but say a lot of nothing, except when their lack of clarity has real financial implications for businesses, including the hotel industry.

Editors are tasked with whittling down copy to get to the essential message of the piece without losing tone and accessibility.

No one unfortunately teaches politicians to do the same when they attend hotel conferences.

At UKHospitality’s summer conference, Michael Ellis, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, managed to stay on stage for 20 minutes without telling us anything. I know this for sure, as someone from his department sent me the full speech just in case I could not remember all of what he did not say.

Mighty sentences that sound good but do not relate anything that actually might help the industry included “From the Shetland Islands to Land’s End, and from Belleek to Lowestoft Ness, your employees help create memories that last a lifetime, or even make daily life just that little bit brighter” and “as well as supporting productivity gains, I will also stand behind every effort to improve the environment for all hospitality and tourism employees. I’m confident that, together, this can be achieved, and I urge you to continue to scope out the tools and frameworks that we need to make change.”

If Ellis forgot to say anything definite as to how the government might help hoteliers—things such as reducing value-added taxes to the same level of those in other European countries or stating a review was on the cards in regards to likely errors in calculating the latest round of tax rates on businesses’ ratable values—he did remember to tell the assorted hoteliers and restauranteurs where they might get their houses in order.

I quote Ellis again: “I would also argue that workforce investment could be one of the most powerful ways to drive perception changes in terms of hospitality and tourism as a lifelong career. I suspect there’s no better recruitment evangelist than a passionate and energized hospitality workforce.”

In other words: “Go spend your own money, not mine.”

One problem I and many others have raised before is that tourism is lumped into Ellis’ ministry, which obviously includes every subject the government cannot find a more obvious home for.

In addition, the Member of Parliament asked to look after the tourism part always seems to change with every annual gathering of members of UKHospitality, formerly the British Hospitality Association.

I know for sure Tracey Crouch held the same role when I attended the conference in 2016, so all that happens is that we get to hear the same platitudes in different accents. I cannot accuse Crouch of not saying anything when she gave her speech to what was then the BHA, as I took no notes.

But the year before, I do recall Boris Johnson—then Mayor of London—saying absolutely nothing to BHA members, although very entertainingly in the usual Johnsonian manner.

Since then Johnson has gone on to other things, such as spearheading the campaign for the U.K. to leave the European Union in what is now known as Brexit. In fact, he resigned as Foreign Secretary on the very day of 2018’s UKHospitality’s conference due to disagreements with the government on the details of the U.K.’s divorce with the EU.

All that color gave the conference a “living in history” feel to it, which was nice, so maybe Ellis was unable to say anything as all the pieces were so fluid above him. Who knows?

But the main thrust from the conference on several subjects, such as Brexit and business rates, was that it would be a jolly good thing to have a little clarity.

It also would be a good moment to invest, to hire and to look to mainland Europe for staff, or maybe that government help might allow us to differently calculate budgets, CapEx spend and other considerations that can help the industry help the whole country.

Presumably at the next UKHospitality conference we will have some clarity on Brexit, if all goes as planned and the U.K. fully separates from the EU by 29 March 2019.

But do not bank on it.

Maybe the politicians do not say anything of substance to each other either.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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