Tag Archives: uk

Political Rhetoric and Speechwriter ‘Tricks’

How the art of political rhetoric is regarded differently in Britain and America:

In the US, the act of speechwriting has gained an almost mythical status. As keepers of the president’s words, the speechwriters are at the centre of government and are objects of fascination. It is a little different in Westminster. There are no “speechwriting offices”. There is no official Downing Street speechwriting team. […] There is none of the collaboration and, as a result, little of the powerful effect. […]

Today, says [historian Simon Schama], it is “highly allergic in our British culture to be extravagantly rhetorical”. To turn a fine phrase suggests duplicity.

As the article later states, when it was discovered that Gordon Brown employed the services of speechwriters for an address to Congress in 2009:

The money – indeed, the very existence of such a service – appeared to come as a shock to us in Britain. It exposed the stark differences between the two countries’ oratorical cultures. In Washington, speechwriting is a professional undertaking; the speechwriter is a known quantity. Here, the idea that time or money has been spent crafting a politician’s presentation arouses suspicion. The realisation that the words are not his own only adds to the sense that they are false.

The article suggests there are three speeches worth remembering in contemporary British politics (Robin Cook’s 2003 Cabinet resignation on the eve of the Iraq war, Tony Blair’s 1999 speech on humanitarian intervention and David Cameron’s 2005 Conservative Party leadership pitch) and begins with some succinct speechwriting ‘tricks’:

Verbal tricks that make a speech fly: contradictions (Blair: “September 11 was not an isolated event, but a tragic prologue”), opposites (Napoleon: “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is for ever”), phrase reversals (Obama: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America”).

UK Bank Holidays

Today is the May Day Bank Holiday here in the UK, so I thought I would look at the history of why we have these public holidays.

I was sure that the commonly held belief  of why ‘bank holidays’ are so called was incorrect, and it appears that Wikipedians confirm this assumption: “Bank holidays are often assumed to be so called because they are days upon which banks are shut, but this is not in fact the case”. However, I found the reason behind bank holiday legislation fascinating and very… British:

In 1871, the first legislation relating to bank holidays was passed when Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act 1871 […]. Sir John was an enthusiastic supporter of cricket and was firmly of the belief that bank employees should have the opportunity to participate in and attend matches when they were scheduled. Included in the dates of bank holidays are therefore dates when cricket games were traditionally played between the villages in the region where Sir John was raised. The English people were so thankful that they called the first Bank Holidays ‘St. Lubbock’s Days’.