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.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

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

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.