Are these the ten best political speeches?

Read, watch, listen, agree, disagree.

Political speeches make news, for their content, for their delivery, and for their significance. (Did you notice my rhetorical trio there? Tony Blair would be proud.)

The art of rhetoric -- the use of language as a means to persuade -- has been studied and prized for over 2,000 years. A talent for oration can be the key to political success (Barack Obama): a lack of the skill of public communication could spell disaster (Gordon Brown?).

This week's New Statesman features an essay on the art of political speechwriting in modern times on both sides of the Atlantic. What does the process entail, and how has it survived in the era of spin?

To complement that magazine treat, we've put together a special online package of our favourite political speeches made by British politicians since 1945. Wherever possible, we've included audio and video clips, or links to recordings.

These are our choices:

1. Aneurin Bevan, anti-Suez speech, Trafalgar Square rally, November 1956

2. Enoch Powell, speech on the Hola Camp in Kenya, House of Commons, July 1959

3. Harold Macmillan, speech to the South African parliament, Cape Town, February 1960

4. Hugh Gaitskell, speech on nuclear disarmament, Labour party conference, 1960

5. Margaret Thatcher, Brighton bomb speech, Conservative party conference, October 1984

6. Neil Kinnock, Militant speech, Labour party conference, October 1985

7. Sir Geoffrey Howe, resignation speech, House of Commons, November 1990

8. Robin Cook, resignation speech, House of Commons, March 2003

9. David Cameron, leadership bid, Conservative party conference, October 2005

10. Tony Blair, last conference speech, Labour party conference, September 2006

11. Three more that didn't quite make the cut

 

But what have we left out? Aneurin Bevan on the NHS? Margaret Thatcher proclaiming "No, no, no"? Keith Joseph on inflation in 1974? (NB: That was another rhetorical trio, with some casual rhetorical questions thrown in. Watch and learn.) You tell us. And enjoy.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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