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Swansea researchers launch first website dedicated to political oratory


Welsh politicians have been famed throughout the ages for their silver-tongued oratory, from Lloyd George and Nye Bevan to Neil Kinnock and Michael Heseltine.

So it’s fitting that Swansea has become the home of a new archive of great political speeches, led by Dr Alan Finlayson and Dr Judi Atkins of the University’s Department of Political and Cultural Studies.

British Political Speech www.britishpoliticalspeech.org – is a unique online interactive archive of British political speech and an important place for all those interested in learning more about the history and practice of political speech and rhetoric.

It is the first site dedicated to recording all kinds of British political speech, putting the speeches in their historical context and offering analysis of politicans’ rhetorical styles.

The archive has texts of speeches given by Conservative, Labour and Liberal/Liberal Democrat Party leaders going back to 1895, and will expand to include more speeches from all political parties.

Visitors to the site are encouraged to donate texts or recordings of speeches they may have, and to share their recollections of hearing great examples of political speech-making.

Audio-visual clips of famous political speeches from Martin Luther King’s legendary ‘I have a dream’ speech to Margaret Thatcher’s denunciation of a single European currency and Robin Cook’s powerful anti-war resignation speech offer visitors the chance to experience some of the best examples of powerful rhetoric for themselves.

The team behind British Political Speech plan to make the site an indispensable resource for people who want to understand more about how politicians sell themselves and their ideas to the public – and how they rally their troops.

It will be an online place to debate and discuss the art of political rhetoric, past and present, and is packed full of invaluable information and insights for researchers, speech-writers – and even would-be party leaders.

The website is part of a major research project called ‘How the Leader Speaks’ led by Dr Finlayson and Dr Atkins, which hopes to improve understanding, appreciation and practice of political argument. 

The project is funded by The Leverhulme Trust and the website is also supported by The Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, The Department of Political and Cultural Studies and The Centre for the Study of Culture and Politics, all at Swansea University. 

Dr Finlayson said: “Rhetoric has a bad name. It’s often thought to refer to speech that, if it isn't wholly untrue, is at least misleading or perhaps simply vacuous. It’s true that a lot of political speech is full of clichés and other stock phrases – but not all political speech is like this, and none of it has to be. 

“Sometimes a speech, and a turn of phrase it employs, can express a whole situation in such a memorable and effective way that it actually contributes to historical change.

“This was the case with the famous speech by Harold Macmillan, in 1960, when he told the South African Parliament that African peoples had a right to self-government and that ‘the winds of change’ were blowing across the continent.

“This new online resource is a hugely exciting development for all those interested in the art of political oratory. Speech writers and scholars can now go to one place to learn from good and bad examples of the oratory of the past. 

“It gives in particular a window on the important ritual of the leader’s speech to conference, helping us to read the meaning beneath their words and understand what they are hoping to achieve.

“We chose to focus initially on leader's speeches to their party conferences, as we hoped that this selection would make it easier to compare the speeches over time, but the site will continue to expand and collect more examples of political oratory.”

This news item has been generated by Dr Alan Finlayson, Department of Political and Cultural Studies, Tel: 01792 205678, Ext: 4290, or email: a.finlayson@swansea.ac.uk.

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