‘It Ain’t What You Say…’: British Political Studies and the Analysis of Speech and Rhetoric

Abstract

This article discusses the utility and fecundity promised for British political studies by the study of speech and rhetoric. It is argued that the systematic investigation of speech in British politics can shed light on political institutions, ideologies and strategies. After exploring these areas in some detail the article goes on to discuss the last party conference speech Tony Blair delivered as Prime Minister. This discussion is demonstrative and synoptic in nature, surveying a broad territory and showing the kinds of questions that a rhetorical political analysis can ask and what, in response, might be done to answer these questions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    These figures are derived from the archive provided by the Downing Street website. The completeness of this archive has not been verified (see http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page12116.asp).

  2. 2.

    On the paradoxical relation of appearance to reality in politics and the implications of this for political science, see Connolly (1981).

  3. 3.

    For instance, Donald Schon (1979) looks at the role of metaphor in housing policy while a process of relocation is at the heart of the development of the issue of child abuse as an object of political intervention (see Hacking, 1991).

  4. 4.

    This was in response to news reports that Blair's wife had made disparaging remarks about Gordon Brown during the latter's speech.

  5. 5.

    In previous conference speeches Blair has referred to the internet generation and the popular culture generation (see Finlayson, 2003, chapter 2).

  6. 6.

    The day before Blair's speech his likely successor Gordon Brown had delivered a speech perceived as laying out his own plans for his leadership, evoking public duty rather than celebrity. Peter Mandelson had given interviews blaming Brown for causing the ‘fissure’ at the heart of New Labour and John Reid, the Home secretary, suggested Blair was wrong to have announced his departure (see Branigan, 2006b).

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the benefit we derived from early conversations about Blair's 2006 speech with Emilia Palonen.

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Correspondence to James Martin.

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Finlayson, A., Martin, J. ‘It Ain’t What You Say…’: British Political Studies and the Analysis of Speech and Rhetoric. Br Polit 3, 445–464 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1057/bp.2008.21

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Keywords

  • rhetoric
  • political speech
  • interpretive methodologies
  • British politics
  • Tony Blair
  • Blairism