The Winds of Change Blow Away Rhetoric

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Winds of Change Blow Away Rhetoric


POLITICIANS have lost the art of rhetorical argument as they become more and more concerned about "not scoring an own goal", according to an academic expert in political language.

Dr Alan Finlayson, a reader in politics at Swansea University, is embarking on a three-year research project into how politicians speak - using party conference speeches from the last 100 years as an evidence base.

Television and a changing political culture have led the current crop of politicians to be over-cautious rather than inspiring, he suggests.

He said, "What politicians have learnt to do over the last 15years in response to media questioning is to put up a defensive front. They have learnt not to give anything away, at least nothing they can be held accountable for afterwards.

"What they are not doing, then, is making an argument, making a case for why we should agree with what they're saying. They're just trying to win, if you like, or not score any own goals."

Although politicians have always used vivid, snappy phrases - Rudyard Kipling wrote them for PM Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s - today's sound-bite culture is different, says Dr Finlayson.

"I wonder if there is a difference, if your motivation is to encapsulate your point or say something that will look good on the telly.

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