Ah, Polly. I tried to stay away from writing about you, really I did. However your latest CiF piece, claiming that we need more talk from politicians, was irresistable:
Great speeches spring from times of heightened national drama. In democracies we make ambivalent demands on our leaders, rightly suspicious of any overreaching rhetoric yet demanding to be moved and impressed nonetheless.Perhaps, Polly, we are suspicious of rhetoric because talk is cheap. Strange as it may seem to the political pundits of the modern media, most voters do not hang on every word that comes out of Westminster. I'm reminded of the "Yes, Prime Minister" episode where Jim Hacker complains that the newspapers didn't report his alleged rhetorical triumph in the House of Commons, where the authors note that perhaps the public took the view that the afternoon's activities comprised merely a bunch of overgrown schoolboys shouting at each other.
Polly puts her unsuspecting finger on the actual issue:
But Kinnock's speeches also stand as a marker that great oratory may not win elections. He was, after all, defeated by John Major, the most cliche-prone prime minister with the smallest vocabulary and flattest intonation of any in my political lifetimeIndeed; voters ignored the bidirectional shouting from the House of Commons, looked to see who was making the biggest claim on their wallets, and voted for the other guy. Follow the money, Polly. We don't care about what politicians say - they're all lying weasels. We care about what we think they'll do, based on their manifesto (modulo a healthy dose of skepticism) and what they've done in the past.
If you want to find a political speaker whose words caused great change, look at the example of the late but great Cory Aquino of the Philippines whose speech at an opposition rally during the 1986 People Power Revolution was characterised by P. J. O'Rourke (Republican Party Reptile):
There'd be a national day of prayer, when people take off work and go to church, she said. She asked the audience to boycott seven banks and other "crony corporations" including the San Miguel brewery. She asked them to delay paying their electric and water bills. And she asked for a "noise barrage" - a traditional Philippine protest - each evening after she'd spoken to them over a church-owned AM station. "And you should experiment with other forms of non-violent protest yourself," she said, "and let us know how they work."
That was it. Keep your money in a sock. Don't drink beer. And bang garbage-can lids together when you listen to the radio. Betsy, Tony and I walked away scratching our heads. The crowd dispersed quietly.
Ten days later, they had the country.