In Some notable points of analysis which highlight the

In its simplest terms, rhetoric is defined as the art of
persuasive speaking or writing, usually conveyed through speech (Aristotle,
2000). The concept of rhetoric dates back to the ancient Greek era of some of
the most profound world thinkers, with Aristotle in particular producing a
number of texts regarding the “art of persuasion”, which have had a great
impact on the definition and connotations that have carried through with
rhetoric to the present day (Rapp, 2010). Aristotle’s works placed emphasis on
the art of rhetoric and the modes of persuasion; ethos, logos and pathos, and
introduced concepts such as syllogism, which is significant in understanding
how we define rhetoric in contemporary times, as we can apply these ideas to
present day politics (Martin, 2013). Rhetoric is understood to be intrinsically
linked with political speech, as even those who try to avoid using it entirely,
result in it indirectly creating a form of rhetoric in itself. It is notable
that in British politics today, rhetoric is often seen to have particularly
harsh or negative connotations, with many viewing it as a political tool which
encourages dishonesty or evasiveness, most noticeably in speeches (Thompson, 2016). However, the
significance of rhetoric in British politics should not be diminished, as
whether you view rhetoric as essential or detrimental to British politics, the
fact remains that many politicians, figures and party stances cannot succeed
without it. The understanding of rhetoric in the post-war period in Britain can
be seen through the evolution of public language, as politicians employ
different uses and styles, which allows us to distinguish these successes. Some
notable points of analysis which highlight the importance of rhetoric in
British politics include; approaches from politicians such as Tony Blair, Jeremy
Corbyn, and Theresa May, as well as the perception of rhetoric from the public,
and negative connotations associated with rhetoric.

 

In terms of rhetoric, Tony Blair is arguably a key figure in
understanding the importance public language can have on British politics, as
it was his leadership style and appeal that gained the support of so many, and
allowed the new labour government to thrive. The term ‘new labour’ was coined
by Blair and the labour party in a rebranding of the party, in which it moved
considerably further to the centre and away from the conventional associations
of socialism, and failures of the previous labour government (Parkinson, 2010).
The success of the party was phenomenal, with labour winning a 179 seat
majority in 1997, along with Blair quickly becoming a largely prominent figure
in the sphere of left wing politics, inciting interest from much of the Western
world (Parkinson, 2010). Arguably, the success of Tony Blair’s leadership can
be seen in his public appeal, with his charismatic and personable presence
resulting in a politician people could relate to, someone they could trust, and
this was shown through his persuasive political rhetoric (Fairclough, 2000).
Blair is seen to have had a pragmatic and constructed approach in regard to
public speaking, finding a balance between appealing to the average ‘normal
person’, whilst still presenting himself as a strong leader, showing
assertiveness and being ‘tough’ when needed (Fairclough, 2000). The
significance of Blair’s leadership style is evident in regards to the success
of the party, as so often politicians are susceptible to high levels of
criticism and reproach from the media, and subsequently the public. Rhetoric is
defined as the art of persuasion, and the effectiveness that persuasive public
language can have is seen in much of Blair’s language, as Blair was confident
and very self-aware of his ability to persuade (Casey, 2009). One of Blair’s
most notable examples of successful rhetoric is his speech in response to the
death of Princess Diana in 1997, just months after becoming Prime Minister. His
speech was immensely significant in depicting what type of leader Blair would
prove to be; and which approach he would take in addressing such a sensitive
issue. His speech is largely seen as an emotional, personal response to the
tragic event, with many believing the sincerity and truthfulness in his words (Fairclough,
2000). Blair effectively conducted his speech with the use of many personal
pronouns such as “we”, “our nation” and “us”, providing a connection with the
public, and thus creating the impression that the event had linked them; that
the nation was united (bbc.co.uk, 1997). Embedded in the speech was also
Blair’s use of the first person, seemingly using “I” and “we” interchangeably,
along with using the phrases “like everyone else” and “deeply painful for us”.
Blair’s use of rhetoric in the speech is evident in his aim to assure the
public that this was a pain shared by the nation, and can be seen as an
effective political tool of persuasion. This speech united the people of
Britain with Blair, with many perceiving him to be a politician who could be
trusted, as he had effectively combined formal and informal language, created a
strong rapport with the public, and implicitly planted the idea in the public’s
mind that they now approved of their new leader (Fairclough, 2000).

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Blair’s use of rhetoric was extremely significant in
understanding how the new labour party rose to power, and the effectiveness
that persuasive speaking can result in, clearly shown through his public
language. However, there are examples from present day British politics that
also give us an insight into the power of rhetoric and persuasive language in
politics. A clear example of this is the extreme surge in popularity for the
current Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. After the defeat of Labour in the
2015 general election, and Ed Miliband’s resignation, Corbyn won the Labour
leadership election with a landslide victory, with many hoping this would,
again, be the beginning of a new era for the party (Castle, 2017). Jeremy
Corbyn’s leadership style has been contested by many, and it is evident that
there is a large divide when it comes to support for him, surprisingly
noticeable within his own party. The argument however is not whether people
like or dislike Corbyn, but rather the effect his political rhetoric has had on
the labour party, and in particular his appeal to the youth. The noticeable
increase of young people voting in the 2017 general elections largely favoured Corbyn,
with approximately two thirds of the youth turnout voting in support of the
labour party (Travis, 2017). This is thought to largely be a result of the
Brexit referendum, as the vote proved to be one of the closest results that
Great Britain has ever seen, with 51% voting in favour of leaving the European
Union (Electoral Commission, 2017). Corbyn’s stance on Brexit was heavily
criticised as being indecisive and inconsistent, with many suggesting he was
‘sitting on the fence’ about the decision, however, it was unsurprising that labour
ultimately took an anti-Brexit stance (“Where UK parties stand on Brexit, 2017).
It is significant that the highest percentage of remain voters were in fact the
18-24 age group, with 73% voting to remain (Electoral Commission, 2017).

This is extremely significant in understanding how Corbyn
gained so much popularity and momentum; his consistent and successful political
rhetoric was aimed at young people, allowing the youth to feel connected to the
political world, and this in turn mobilised support from other demographics (Travis,
2017). Corbyn transformed a failing party into a party that people could relate
to, that would listen to the voice of the people; most notably introducing his
mantra; “for the many, not the few” (“The Labour Party”, 2018). The importance
of slogans can be noted in this very instance, as through this seemingly
simplistic combination of words, the labour party proved its opposition to the
Conservatives, implying that their party was exclusive and indeed for “the few”
(“Editorial”, 2017). Comparisons have been made between Corbyn and current
Prime Minister, Theresa May, as the difference in appeal, to young voters in
particular, is quite evident as labour is increasingly becoming the party of
the youth. In an age with social media being the prominent source of
information for a large amount of the population, it is easy to see how
rhetoric has changed in the way it presents itself. It is present through not
only newspapers and television, but also through social media platforms such as
twitter and Facebook, as politicians can now address the public instantly and
directly, within a matter of seconds (Booth & Hern, 2017). Corbyn notably
made an appearance at the popular music festival Glastonbury, which saw
thousands of young people gathered to listen to him speak; an impressive and
effective way of capturing youth appeal (Castle, 2017). Corbyn’s speech drew
upon the significance rhetoric and persuasive public language can have, as his
statement that “their generation was going to pay more to get less”
demonstrated a sense of understanding and empathy with the youth, creating an
image of a ‘relatable politician’ (O’Connor, 2017). It is significant to the
note the extent to which Corbyn’s rhetoric reaches, as regardless of the
immense amount of backlash and opposition from the media, general public and
other politicians, it is evident that much of his success stems from catchy
slogans, his relatable persona, and his widespread appeal to young voters.

 

Subsequently, while leaders such as Blair and Corbyn have
proved the significance of rhetoric in British politics and the effect it can
have on the public, it is important to note the growing discontent with the
word rhetoric in itself, and the negative connotations so frequently associated
with it. For some, rhetoric is purely seen as a façade; a technique used by
politicians in which they can shift attention from issues they would prefer to
avoid, and substitute it with shorter sentences and vaguer claims, resulting in
rhetoric being perceived as a political tactic (Thompson,2016). There is an
argument to suggest that those who prescribe themselves as “anti-rhetorical”
are more truthful and direct in their public approach, and that politicians who
employ the use of rhetoric can be seen as bombarding the public with political
jargon and elite language, resulting in the confusion or disinterest of the
public (Thompson, 2016). However, it is significant to note that the concept of
anti-politics and anti-rhetoric comes with its own specific agenda, one which
emphasises the exclusion of persuasive techniques. Yet however, this uses the
idea of rhetoric as a negative concept, which in turn raises support for
themselves, thus indirectly employing the use of rhetoric. Therefore, while
many may choose to view rhetoric as a negative political tool, it is clear that
whether it is implicitly or explicitly used, it is nevertheless significant in
British politics.

 

In conclusion, the significance of rhetoric in
British politics is indisputable, as the way in which it is employed can be
seen from all sides of the political spectrum, including both negative and
positive ways. Many British politicians have successfully used rhetoric within
their political agenda, for example Tony Blair and his implementation of ‘new
labour’ policies, using rhetoric as an integral part of his approach and public
appeal. The success of his campaign is largely contributed to his charismatic
appeal as a leader, with Blair triumphing in gaining public support, and as the
new labour government in the years 1997 – 2010 is largely seen as a turning
point for British politics. Another prominent example is the use of rhetoric
within Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power, as it can again be seen that his
effective use of rhetoric and persuasion of gaining the young peoples’ trust is
integral in his success. Rhetoric in both these instances has been shown to be
effective in creating public image and impacting leadership style, ultimately
establishing the significance rhetoric plays in British politics.