Words That Tried to Change the World ... UNIVERSITY SETS UP ARCHIVE OF GREAT POLITICAL SPEECHES

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 29, 2010 | Go to article overview

Words That Tried to Change the World ... UNIVERSITY SETS UP ARCHIVE OF GREAT POLITICAL SPEECHES


Byline: ROBIN TURNER

WELSH politicians have been famed for their silver-tongued oratory from Lloyd George and Nye Bevan to Neil Kinnock and Michael Heseltine.

Now Wales has become the home of the UK's first archive of great political speeches.

Led by Dr Alan Finlayson and Dr Judi Atkins of Swansea University's Department of Political and Cultural Studies, the archive is a unique collection of British political speech.

A spokeswoman for the university said: "It's also an important place for all those interested in learning more about the history and practice of political speech and rhetoric." It is the first online site dedicated to recording all kinds of British political speech, putting the speeches in their historical context and offering analysis of politicians' rhetorical styles.

Wales has had its fair share of outstanding political speakers, not least of whom was Port Talbot's Geoffrey Howe, whose famous resignation speech on November 13, 1990, led to the end of Margaret Thatcher's Prime Ministerial reign. Thatcher was bundled out of office by her own side two weeks later.

Howe described being in the Tory party thus: "It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken."

He called on others to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Tredegar's Nye Bevan was another political speech heavyweight.

Despite a stammer and a tendency to slur his r's, Bevan soon established a reputation as a formidable Commons performer, debater and orator. At the beginning of the 1945 general election campaign Bevan told his audience: "We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders.

"We enter this campaign at this general election, not merely to get rid of the Tory majority. We want the complete political extinction of the Tory Party."

Dr Finlayson, who has studied political speeches over the ages, said he believed modern political orators were changing. My guess is that over time politicians have had to adapt more to the demands of the media - newspapers, radio and TV."

He said today's speeches were carefully constructed so they could not be misconstrued when reported and were no longer primarily aimed at the live audience near the speaker.

Dr Finlayson contrasted the way today's politicians speak with Winston Churchill's memorable description of an "iron curtain" falling across Europe at the start of the Cold War.

He said: "That's not a sound bite - it's a powerful image summing up the point he was making in a speech."

On the other hand, Tony Blair's desire to emphasise his Government's priorities with the words "education, education, education" was an example of a contemporary political orator, he claimed. …

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