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Rhetorically speaking…
Speechwriters Blog on Speechwriting

Text of Guardian podcast

Brown’s first and favourite technique is the alliterative pair. ‘Listen and learn. Challenge and change. Boom and bust.’

Alliterative pairs are designed to suggest causal connections. And it works. But you might need a ‘pile of paracetemol’ afterward…

Second. Brown argues from statistics. 500,000 businesses. 2 million jobs. 10 million lives.

The actual statistics are meaningless. People don’t remember them. Nor are they supposed to. They just assert the speaker’s authority.

Three. Brown uses Dead metaphors straight out of a business manual. ‘Opening doors. Raising ceilings. Strengthening floors.’

They’re pretty uninspiring. He sounds more like a Barartt Homes salesman than Prime Minister.

Fourth, Brown loves the old rhetorical device of contrast. So he talks about ‘opportunity for not just some, but all the people.’ The euro has to be right ‘not just in principle, but in practice.’ On public services he talks about ‘not just investment, but reform.’

Finally, we get the classic long and winding sentences. The endless clauses which go on and on and on and on and on and on. By the end, you feel ‘not just battered, but bruised’ - as Brown might put it.

Cameron’s style is very different.

One. He sets the scene with asyndeton. We get the famous Blairite verbless sentences. ‘Failing schools. Sink Estates. Broken homes.’ ‘Poverty, crime, addiction.’ The brevity isborne from emotion. It suggests he cares so much he’s almost hyperventilating with passion.

Secondly, the rule of three. ‘Family, community, country’ was the refrain in his conference speech – like Marc Antony’s ‘Friends Romans Countrymen.’ But he also talks about ‘character, temperament and judgement.’ ‘Pull together come together work together.’

The rule of three helps breaks down issues and suggests finality, appearing to shut off alternatives.

Third, like Brown, Cameron loves the rhetorical device of contrast. ‘The state is your servant never your master.’ ‘The longer we leave it, the worse it will be.‘ ‘We’ve got to stop treating children like adults and adults like children.’

This is a great way of making your arguments sound logical, when they’re actually not.

Fourth, Cameron explicitly rejects Brown’s metaphors of construction and machinering. Instead, he prefers the metaphor of personalisation. He talks about ‘the heart of the communities’, breathing ‘life into institutions’ and getting the country ‘back on its feet’.

The metaphor of personalisation makes him seem far more compassionate and less mechanical.

Fifth and finally, Cameron often concludes his arguments with a plain simple truth, often expressed in monosyllabic terms, eg ‘Time is short.’ ‘We get it.’ ‘You made it happen.’

It’s designed to show the common touch. And it does. Nice and easy. Just like that!


Posted by Simon Lancaster on February 11th, 2010 :: Filed under Random
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One Response to “Text of Guardian podcast”

  1. Martin Shovel
    February 11th, 2010

    Thanks Simon. A really insightful, and useful, analysis. I particularly like the way you draw attention to the really important stuff - i.e. what goes on just below the surface of conscious awareness. It’s what the cognitive scientist George Lakoff calls conceptual metaphor. Cameron’s personification is a perfect example of the power of this kind of conceptual framing. A listener/reader isn’t consciously aware that it’s happening, but nevertheless it profoundly affects - or frames - how they feel about what is being said. A dark art perhaps, but one that’s stock-in-trade for poets and writers of fiction. It’s also the key technique for any great persuasive speech. I’m just off to Tweet your blogpost! Cheers, Martin

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