Does ambition spell “speechwriter”
December 04, 2019
Political speechwriters are in high demand in Denmark. Is it because Danish politicians are more ambitious these days?
Denmark is hiring a ton of political speechwriters after the government election in June gave the social democrats a strong mandate for ambitious climate policies.
Are the two connected? I think so. Ambition needs explaining—and speechwriters and executive comms are the ones to do it. But don’t take my word for it. Our very own David Murray argued along the same lines recently when 100 CEOs committed themselves to a new standard of companies taking responsibility. Even John F. Kennedy (might have) said that “the only reason to give a speech is to change the world." But is it really that straight forward?
In Denmark, government speechwriters are civil servants obligated to serve any politician voted into government. They are to remain neutral and in exchange they get to keep their job when the government changes. At one extreme the current speechwriter for the prime minister has served all the previous four prime ministers from different parties. Therefor changing speechwriters after an election is not only frowned upon—the recent change of government press officers (7 out of 10 hired had links with the party in power) has sparked controversy, initiated consultations with the prime minister and opposition leaders and been taken up by the presidium—the highest cross-party institution in parliament.
After the government elections in June we have seen a significant rise in speechwriter positions opening up. It is hard to say whether this is due to lower speech ambitions in the previous government (although it partly is), old speechwriters seeking new challenges (some) or an indirect push from the government’s side (as argued by the opposition).
The ambitions of the Danish government is most noticeable when it comes to climate. The Ministry for Climate, Energy and Utility and the Ministry for the Environment and Food are the two ‘green’ ministries. Both have hired speechwriters after the election. And so has the Ministry of Finance designating money for all initiatives and ‘greening’ the calculators, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of Denmark’s green diplomacy and development aid. They are not the only Ministries hiring yet they have all hired with the explicit aim of communicating their ambitious climate agenda. Ambition does seem to spell speechwriting, yet does it spell speechwriter?
Okay—let me explain. Apparently ambition needs explaining and speeches are the way to do it. We all agree. Yet the question is, who is the ambitious pick for government speechwriting? The answer: acclaimed fictional authors. Both green ministries hired acclaimed fictional authors as speechwriters.
This could be just a coincidence. Let’s provide a little perspective. After all it is not the first time climate ambition has spurred the hiring of high profile speechwriters in Denmark. In 2008 in the run up to the (among climate devotees) infamous COP15 in Copenhagen, the Danish Ministry for Climate and Energy wanted to hire ‘the new Ted Sorensen for climate.' The new green Ted was also an acclaimed author. It did not go well and ended about a year later just before the COP with a farewell and a non-disclosure agreement. With little time to spare before the big day, they hired an internal civil servant as speechwriter to the minister.
It seems ambition does spell speechwriting, yet for ambitious speechwriting the needle points to acclaimed authors. Ambition might open the door for speechwriting, but it is authors that walk through it. This might be a small-country anomaly—or a sign of what will spread. Remaining in the shadows and declining honors and authorship might be a difficult position to maintain in a world increasingly obsessed with praise. Maybe speechwriters should learn from authors—take the stage and claim the credit. Writing—something, anything—in your own name just got more important.