OPINION: Putting words in MPs' mouths

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

With one last gasp and a cry of "a gottle of geer" they were gone. Well, almost. The art of ventriloquism is dying out - it seems there are only 15 professional ventriloquists still working in Britain. Before long, they may vanish altogether.

But as they pack away their dummies, the last few ventriloquists might want to consider putting their talents to a different use, for the art of putting words into other people's mouths is still very much in demand.

Major public figures have always turned to others for help in crafting important speeches. But in this sound-bite age, those able to produce a memorable turn of phrase are especially sought after by politicians.

As the spoken word has gained more weight in politics, the role of the speechwriter has become increasingly powerful.

Despite their growing cachet, speechwriters are normally kept hidden from view, their contribution to public speaking only very occasionally revealed. I can think of only two recent incidences when a speechwriter was exposed, one being when Michael Heseltine revealed that Gordon Brown's "post-neo-classical endogenous growth theory" was the brainchild of his advisor - "It's not Brown's, it's Balls'," he quipped.

But such exposes no longer shock us. We've become accustomed to the role faceless intermediaries play in producing the words that politicians speak. Given the ridiculously fast pace of modern public life, it is not a surprise that few politicians' speeches are entirely their own work.

I've even been asked whether I rely on a ghostwriter to produce my Third Sector column. Since I regularly fail to meet the weekly deadline set by the editor, it is with regret I have to admit to penning my contribution myself.

For those seeking to influence policy, getting to know the speechwriter can be as important as getting to know the politician. Political advisors are frequently asked to pen the words their masters utter. And if you provide political advisors with reliable information and good ideas - particularly in phrases that lend themselves to being articulated - you might even hear your own words replayed to you in ministerial speeches.

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