The book New Labour, New Language by Norman Fairclough talks about how political leaders present themselves, and how the language used by a politician is different from that used by an ordinary man. And as you go on to read the book, you will also find that the power and position of a person, the occupation, age etc. influences the kind of language used by that person. One important part of this book is about how Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, creates a character he wishes to present using his unique style of language, that is different from that of most other politicians and specific to him. Norman Fairclough tells us that Tony Blair presents himself as a ‘normal person’ as well as a ‘political leader’ via the rhetorical style he employs in his speeches. The main examples quoted in the book are as follows:
If you want to read the whole speech then click on this link: Tony Blair 1997 Labour Party speech. Here is a short clip:
In 1997 after the Labour Party had came to power, the newly-elected Labour PM Tony Blair summarized his objectives at the first Labour Conference in Brighton: (the conference’s slogan was “new Labour, new Britain”)
Today I want to set out an ambitious course for this country: to be nothing less than the model 21st century nation, a beacon to the world.
Norman Fairclough goes on to tell the readers that ‘Blair’s rhetorical style is not purely a matter of language. It is a matter of his total bodily performance, of which what he says is just a part. It is a matter of how he sounds, how he looks, the shifting expressions on his face, the way he moves his head and other parts of his body.’ So it’s not just the kind of words that Tony Blair uses in his speech. His body language also contributes to his political identity.
As you turn the pages, you will also see that Fairclough has talked about how Blair uses everyday English in his political speeches, presenting himself as a ‘normal person’, like any other person in the audience/public. In fact, Fairclough says that Blair himself wrote:
I feel like a perfectly normal person. I look at politicians who are older than me and I wonder when was the last time they had their own thoughts to themselves in their own way without feeling they had to programme their thoughts to get across a message … I don’t feel much like a politician.
Moreover, Tony Blair’s speech on the death of Princess Diana in 1997 is also a good example, showing how he reflects himself to be a ‘normal person’. In the speech, he says:
I feel like everyone else in the country today—utterly devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana’s family—in particular her two sons, two boys—our hearts go out to them. We are today a nation, in Britain, in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us.
As Fairclough has written in his book, “Tony Blair combines an everyday emotional language (‘utterly devastated’, ‘in the state of shock’) with formal ceremonial expressions of regret (‘we are today a nation in mourning’) in a way which brings his emotional reaction as a ‘normal person’ (as he puts it, ‘like everyone else’) into his official task as Prime Minister”.
The following is an extract from a Guardian article, “Blair’s Rhetorical Style“:
This is the conventional sort of language that leaders use to speak on behalf of the nation on such occasions. Blair uses the first person plural (‘we’), and predictable, pre-constructed expressions (cliches)—’thoughts and prayers’, ‘our hearts go out to them’, ‘a nation in mourning’ (once you hear ‘our hearts’ for instance on this sort of occasion, you can predict ‘go out’). But threaded into this conventional public language is a more personal language (Blair begins speaking for himself, in the first person singular, and about his own feelings) and a more vernacular language. It is as if Blair (with his advisers—the speech has been attributed to Alistair Campbell) had started with the official form of words, then personalised and informalised it. He uses a vernacular language of affect as well as a public one—’utterly devastated’, ‘in a state of shock’. Notice also the way he re-words ‘her two sons’ as ‘two boys’, which again is a shift between a more formal way of referring to them in terms of their relationship to Diana and a more intimate, family way. Blair says he feels ‘like everyone else’—he is not only speaking formally for ‘the nation’, he is also speaking informally for ordinary people; and part of the power of his style is his ability to combine formality and informality, ceremony and feeling, publicness and privateness.
Finally, Fairclough also says that Blair uses vernacular expressions like “quit whilst I’m ahead” as a way of claiming his ‘normalness’, although the usage of ‘whilst’ rather than ‘while’ makes him sound more middle-class and ‘whilst’ is now considered to be archaic. And he also writes that Blair uses several conversational features such as repetition, incomplete utterances, fillers etc. suggesting that he is responding in a thoughtful way rather than reeling off prepared answers, which most politicians are expected to do.
Thus, politics has a very different and unique connection with the English language, and the language used by politicians is intertwined and linked with several other factors, reflecting the identity of the person. People should understand this interconnection and must not be just blinded with the sophisticated lexis used.