- 1 The author thanks Nick Turnbull and Benjamin Lee for their comments, the responsibility of this a (...)
1The British Conservative Party seems to have changed. Since September 2006, a Blue-Green Oak has replaced the Freedom torch, as a logo. “Time for change”, “Now for Change” and “Vote for Change”, the mottos rap out the change from one meeting to another.
- 2 Ruitort, Ph., 1996.
- 3 Bourdieu, P. 1987.
2On Tuesday the 6th of December 2005, David Cameron was elected by the Conservative party members, winning 67,6% of the votes and defeating David Davis. Electoral victory crowns a man2. Elections seem to allow teleological and final interpretations of processes and contexts leading to them. According to Pierre Bourdieu, people tend to attempt to give a meaning to their life by crediting it with a prospective and retrospective logic3. Political life is often subject to reinterpretation. Editorials in the following days newspapers illustrate precisely this point. Comparison with the great figures of History, laudatory expressions and the determinism of the sentence “There is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state” are sufficient to prove that David Cameron is the man through whom modernisation of the Conservative party comes. However, change is not just a question of logo but is more profoundly a question of logos.
- 4 Aristotle, 1991.
- 5 Kerr, P., 2007.
- 6 Dorey, P., 2007.
- 7 Colombani, A., 2009.
- 8 Wilson, F., 1994.
- 9 Green, J., 2008.
- 10 Bale, T., 2009.
- 11 Le Bart, Ch., 1998.
- 12 The speeches of David Cameron are available on-line on the Conservative website http://www.conser (...)
- 13 Bourdieu, P. 1980 p62
- 14 Strauss, A. 1959.
3Logos is more than a question of language. According to Aristotle4, it lies in rhetoric, the art of persuasion. The second book of his Rhetoric, indicates that persuasion is based on ethos (personality of the orator and credibility of his speech), pathos (emotion and passion of the audience) and logos (argument and reason). The rhetoric of the new conservative leader comes across as an easy way to assess the change in his conservatism. Peter Kerr5, Peter Dorey6 and Antoine Colombani7 have already analysed David Cameron’s speeches and Conservative party change. However, the speeches given by David Cameron are not as decisive as they are supposed to be. Party change is first and foremost a question of structure and context8. Except Jane Green9 and Tim Bale10, few scholars have taken seriously the Conservative party as a resource as well as a constraint of the leader’s speeches. According to Christian Le Bart11, political speeches have to engage with the trajectory and role of the speaker as well as the general political environment. At this juncture it seems valuable to discuss the trajectory of the Conservative party and its political configuration. Through a sample of 184 speeches12 given by the leader since the Conservative party conference of 2005, this article aims to understand and gauge the effectiveness of party change by confronting speeches within their proper context. Political speeches are a collective product. The speaker is often assisted by one speechwriter (or more) and the final speech has to correspond, at least, to some standards of the organisation to which the speaker belongs. Pierre Bourdieu defines « every linguistic situation […] as a market on which the speaker places his products, and the products he produces for this market depends on his anticipation of the price his products will receive13 ». Speeches depend on and are the result of expectations and anticipation of the target audience’s reaction. Audiences are plural since speeches are made in a variety of circumstances and use different transmission channels. Considering that speeches are produced according to anticipation, this article counts as audiences the media, the opinion polls and the typical member of the Conservative party. They are indeed fundamental elements for politicians in assessing the audience. By doing so, we try, as Anselm Strauss14 did, to take into account the social structure, its modifications, the positions of social actors in this structure and all the effects in terms of identities and their profound effects. Thus, David Cameron’s speeches are not taken as a proof of change but rather as elements enlightening the existing tensions within the organisation since 2005.
4Three questions structure the following demonstration. If Cameronism is said to have detached itself from Thatcherism, the speech analysis qualifies this point and reveals the identity of the Party. Nonetheless, the question of change has to be taken into account and clarified. Finally the role of the leader in conservative change gives a large indication of what is now meant by conservatism. However before entering into the core of the demonstration, a preliminary statement must be made concerning the means that inform the speech-crafting process.
- 15 Lehingue, P., 2005.
- 16 Schlesinger, P., 1992.
- 17 http://www.yougov.co.uk (accessed 20 April 2009)
- 18 Lehingue, P., 2006.
5 As explained above, political discourses are subject to constant teleological and retrospective explanation and revision, and thus contextualisation remains a difficult task. Every element which enables us to clarify the context could help to describe it. Those elements are the composition of the Conservative party, newspaper archives and opinion polls. This choice is driven by the « electoral verdict production mechanism ». According to Patrick Lehingue15, the electoral verdict is a two step mechanism. Besides the formal count of votes, an informal process – consisting of interpreting the vote - is at stake during the days following an election. Politicians, journalists and experts debate endlessly to make sense of meaning to the figures, a weight to the victory (or failure) and short-term objectives to the winner (or the loser). This process leads to a co-production of the news16 and thus of the electoral verdicts. Thereby, opinion polls – like those kept on the YouGov17 website - are perfect footprints of the context. Opinion polls reflect what the ordering parties (media and political organisations) are concerned about 18. Questions recorded in polls are a good way of understanding the leading political views of a particular context.
6 These elements enable us to characterise our sample of speeches and to observe different components at work.
- 19 Despite a slowdown is August, the activity of the second part is quite high. August is traditiona (...)
7Three periods can easily be identified19. The first one, from October 2005 to December 2005, concentrates on the ten speeches of the leadership campaign. The second one, from January 2006 to April 2007, comprises seventy-four speeches given by David Cameron about a wide range of issues to build-up his credibility. The final period, from July 2007 to December 2007, brings together twenty-six speeches marked by the context of a potential electoral campaign and focusing on a conservative platform. The remaining speeches - belonging to a less identified period - will be used in a marginal way. The rhythm and the topics of the discourses complicate the understanding of these speeches.
82005 is co-constructed as an exceptional year for the Conservative party. Journalists and politicians build-up the leadership contest as a turning point in the party history, a climax announcing either the renewal or its death. The 2005 contest is thus centred on a set of issues the contenders have to deal with.
9Speeches are linguistic situations as well as political products. They aim at solving a problem, planning actions or generating a debate. The leadership competition is above all a new search for a solution after repeated failure. Three electoral defeats and three leaders since 1997, the link between the two is often made. Michael Howard, the Leader from 2003 and 2005, decided to resign after the 2005 General election. 2005 had progressively been built as an extra-ordinary year for the Conservative Party. The leadership is a perennial topic for journalists and opinion polls covering the Conservative Party. Between 2003 and 2005 every survey conducted by YouGov on the Conservative party contains a question on the leader. Who would be the best one? Where would you place him? Do you think he is a good leader? The archetypal example can be found in the survey ordered by the Daily Telegraph after the 2005 General election, illustrating perfectly the coproduction of the electoral verdict. To give weight to explanations of the electoral defeat, the questions are based on possible causes in order to organise them in a hierarchy. Amongst the identified causes, we find “Except on immigration, it was very hard to know what the Conservatives stood for”, “The Conservative campaign focused too much on immigration”, “and Michael Howard proved to be a poor leader”20. This verdict is coproduced; journalists and politicians shared the diagnosis. Michael Howard, setting the agenda of his successor as leader on the 6th October 2006 in the Party Conference, clearly defines unity and discipline as a key of his success.
- 21 Denham, A., Dorey, P. 2006
10Considering this contextualisation, the 2005 party conference is not simply the tale of two speeches21 in which David Cameron by his charm and youthful appeal convinced the delegates. Few speeches constitute the first analysed period, as the leadership campaign is a rushed and competitive context. David Cameron gave ten speeches, David Davis eight. The 2005 Party Conference is a way to mark his position in a competition. David Cameron, deals with education, change and politics. He stays vague, except on the now famous “We know we have a shared responsibility; that we’re all in this together; that there is such a thing as society – it’s just not the same thing as the state » and the mention of Compassionate conservatism. David Davis, for his part, is clearly against uncontrolled European integration; his speech is about tackling crime, terrorism and rebuilding the NHS and family values. The two other contenders are also noticeable. Liam Fox is very specific on Europe, Iraq, societal breakdown, and Britishness. He gives a speech centred around the necessity of unity. Finally, Kenneth Clarke, presenting himself as a former chancellor, exposes a great deal of topics linked to the economy. All of the four competitors are presenting themselves to the delegates as a solution for the Conservative party – a solution different from the other three.
- 22 Valérie Auda-André, 2007.
11The diagnosis of failure is a breadcrumb trail of the speeches given by David Cameron in the first identified period. The 2005 conference speech is about change and modernization. One month later, on November the 10th, the positioning of the party is a key element in his speech “Ending the Blair Era”. David Cameron adopts arguments about the rule and prevalence of division within the party, the lack of leadership and thematic renewal as key elements of his speeches and of his diagnosis of the Conservative party failure. He proves to be aware of the party situation and avoids being too specific. As a competitor, Cameron is the less restricted by the party. Elected in 2001 as a MP, his links to the party are thin and enable him to be more critical about the state of the party. The vote made by the Parliamentary Conservative Party (PCP) on the 20th October 2005 and the inability of the right-wing to agree on a single candidate opened the way for David Cameron’s victory on the 6th of December. As for William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith, the victory of David Cameron could be seen as a second-rate or ‘next best’ choice22.
12Once elected, David Cameron goes further on expounding his diagnosis of the party’s failure. He endorses the diagnosis in order to project the path of his future action. On the 30th January 2006 he declared: “As Labour moved towards the centre ground, the Conservative Party moved to the right. […] We ended up focusing on those areas where we didn’t agree. Tax cuts. Immigration. Europe23” (Cameron: Modern Conservatism, January 30 2006). Theses lines present Cameron as a consensual leader juggling with old and new issues. However, his break-up with the past is more often remembered.
13 “There is such a thing as a society24”. Understanding how the media works, David Cameron ensured the diffusion of his sound bite by punctuating several of his speeches with it. One could argue that Cameron’s goal is to break with the past. In a way, Cameron detached himself from the past especially from Thatcherism. This interpretation is supported by a set of events. In August 2006, he condemned in the Guardian the way in which the Tories viewed the ANC and Nelson Mandela during the Apartheid era25. For William Hague and Michael Howard – previous leaders and ministers during the Thatcher and Major Years - to break with the past was harder. David Cameron, first elected in 2001 could do that easily. Supplementary hypotheses could be made. More than an attempt to distance himself from Thatcherism, his speech at the 2005 party Conference could have a double meaning. There is a clear contradiction with Thatcher’s view often shortened as “there is no such thing as a society”. Actually, contradiction is not so clear with the whole quotation. Interviewed by a magazine, Margaret Thatcher admitted:
- 26 Thatcher Margaret, Interview for Woman's Own magazine September 1987.
“I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.26”.
14David Cameron, appealing to responsibility and denouncing the state is not so far from the original quotation. The sentence satisfies both those who want to see a denial of Thatcherism and those who want to see a continuation.
- 27 Heppell, T., Hill, M., 2009.
15 Besides these barbs, ideological and practical breaking-up is more complex than it seems to be. From an ideological point of view, the PCP is still relatively aged and thus linked to Thatcherism. Moreover, as Timothy Heppell and Michael Hill27 indicate, the PCP is predominantly socially conservative, economically dry and eurosceptic. Said to be moderate, David Cameron juggles in a centrist position to satisfy both the Modernisers and the Traditionalists. Different rhetorical techniques exemplify this juggling. Barely days after his election at the head of the party, David Cameron gave a speech entitled “Modern Conservatism” (January 20, 2006). He placed his election in the narrative of the Conservative party and drew a parallel between his views and those of two former Prime Ministers:
“She (Margaret Thatcher) made a famous speech invoking religion as a means of enriching our sense of social obligation. Her successor, John Major, was even more acutely aware of the problem of those left behind28”.
16Thus, he pays a tribute to the past, but the simple past reaffirms the former leaders’ place in the past, so that he might better occupy the present. Later, in a speech delivered in 2007 and entitled “Families matter more than anything else to our society” (July 10 2007) a similar analysis could be made.
“In the 1970s, as she prepared for government, Mrs Thatcher focused her energy on fixing our broken economy. She did that by applying Conservative principles like freedom and enterprise. Today, I will focus my energy on fixing our broken society. And just as before, Conservative values will help us through”29.
17From a stylistic point of view, Thatcher is associated with the 1970s and the economy. “Today” draws a dividing line and enhances differences. However both David Cameron who plans to focus on the society, and Margaret Thatcher use “conservatives values”.
18Besides the tribute paid to the past, David Cameron proposes a “New Conservatism”, less focused on taxes and immigration and widened to the NHS and society. David Cameron aims at presenting a “Modern Compassionate Conservatism” (Conference Speech 2005) as Iain Duncan Smith did. In his first speech, Compassionate conservatism is just mentioned at the end, and only becomes more prominent from the speech Modern Conservatism (January, 20, 2006). Compassionate conservatism deals with responsibility, social inclusion and the environment. In the sample of speeches, compassionate conservatism is set up step by step from a vague announcement to more specific policy areas.
19Young, modernising, energetic, Cameron and his election are taken as the symbol of conservative change. A closer analysis of his speeches qualifies theses statements. The party is still divided and traditional in a way. However, Cameron seems to give credibility to conservative change.
20Change is not always substantial as political party images are relative. Cameron presents the Labour party as old to release room for the conservative party.
21 Political parties have to be observed in relation to the current state of the political configuration. In the British political environment, the credibility of the Conservatives is built up in relation to its opponents. Once elected, David Cameron defined his mandate as “changing the party, changing the country”. The inheritance of an eight-year-opposition-party judged as lacking in any kind of renewal is taken by the new leader as a reality from which the party must distance itself.
- 30 David Cameron: Modern Conservatism, , January 30 2006
“Tony Blair's victory in  created a problem for the Conservative Party. It was not the same sort of problem that Old Labour had faced. It was not a problem that arose from the failure of our ideas. […] We knew how to rescue Britain from Old Labour. We knew how to win the battle of ideas with Old Labour. We did not know how to deal with our own victory in that battle of ideas. That victory left us with an identity crisis30”.
- 31 The 2008 Labour Party Conference has been rumoured by the press of several plots organised by reb (...)
22According to David Cameron, the Tory party is old because the Labour party is new. As of 1997, the Labour party is no longer Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. “New Labour”, is now the ruling party, led by Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. Eight years later, the Labour leadership is hugely criticized following the Iraq war. Gordon Brown’s succession to Number 10 is also undermined by internal disagreements31. Since 2007, opinion polls ask questions focusing on Brown’s charisma, his authority, and his leadership. A number of elements questioned the figure of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. These elements are obviously used by David Cameron in the construction of his leadership profile.
“Charles Kennedy’s retired. Tony Blair’s about to retire. He’s certainly taking his time over it…Soon I will be the longest serving leader of a major political party in the country. But don’t worry, Gordon; don’t worry Ming…I won’t be attacking my opponents for their youth and inexperience.32”
23Throughout the studied period David Cameron tries to attribute oldness to Labour and thus modernity to his party. Through his speeches the Labour party is portrayed as just a decade-old ruling party and the real alternative becomes the Tories. The climax of this rhetorical ploy can be found in the speech entitled “Ending the Blair era”.
“Blair and Brown are rooted in the past. Their ideas were shaped in their battle against Thatcherism in the 70s and the 80s. They don’t understand what our country needs today. They’re not equipped to help us face the future. They’re yesterday’s men; exhausted volcanoes; empty shells of the bright-eyed reformers the country voted for in 1997”33.
24Before Tony Blair's retirement, on the 8th of April 2006, David Cameron gave the speech “Changing our Party - changing our country”. Ironically referencing previous attacks on his inexperience, he tried to put a full stop to these criticisms by presenting himself as the longest serving leader. He reversed the stigma of inexperience by using the context of the crisis the two other parties found themselves engulfed by. Dominique Memmi34 identifies figures in political rhetoric. According to her the “anti-subject” figure is sometimes used more than the subject. In a two-party system and a confrontational political configuration, depreciating one's opponent is a rhetorical way of building-up one’s own identity. By linking Labour to the past, David Cameron released room for the Conservative Party to be the modern alternative, ready for the future.
- 35 David Cameron: “Change to win”, October 4 2005
“Everyone knows that business needs deregulation to compete with China and India. Who’s standing in the way? The great regulator and controller, Gordon Brown35”.
25This rhetorical argument is a classical conservative one. Cameron, in the same way, flays socialism, bureaucracy and the centralisation of the Labour Party as every Tory leader did before him. The difficulties of his opponents are widely exploited. In this changing configuration, the renewal of the Conservative Party is made that much easier.
26 The thematic aspect of David Cameron’s speeches is not easy to analyse. It is hard to abandon the particularly vacuous impression left by his first speeches. David Cameron himself claims to be vague, explaining that profound change takes time. In February 2006 he set up Policy Groups in six areas and a schedule for a conservative platform for the following summer. Nonetheless, his speeches seem to be focused on a single topic: change. In the sample speeches, the word “change” is used ten times in the titles, the word “new” eight times and the word “modern” three times. The 2005 party conference speech is above all dedicated to change (the word can be counted 13 times, “new” 12 and “modern” 3). The first topic change in David Cameron’s rhetoric is to take change as a topic36. Through the performative function of rhetoric, expressing change is a way to give a reality of the change. In the first two parts of our sample, change and modernity set the agenda of the platform, in the third part, change is said by Cameron to be complete. On The 7th of September 2007, in his speech “It’s time for Change”, he used the past to mean that change is done.
“Two years ago I said we had to change to win and I’ve led those changes. We changed our Party, the way we selected candidates, and now almost a third are women, but still we must go further. We changed the issues we talked about: NHS as well as crime, the environment as well as Europe, well-being as well as wealth creation. That’s modern Conservatism37”.
27In the second part, David Cameron starts to be more specific and the issues are indeed more and more developed. The great amount of discourses indicated that David Cameron looked for every opportunity in which he could spread his message. Local conferences, police meetings, farmer’s gathering … with an average of 4,6 speeches per month this period is a peak of activity. This amount of speeches could be interpreted as the building-up of the leadership profile. Concerns expressed in the opinion polls’ questions are numerous concerning the reality of the party’s change (Daily Telegraph, YouGov 27-29 Septembers 2006), the credibility of David Cameron and his understanding of common people (Daily Telegraph, YouGov 26-2! Septembers 2007).
28 In a favourable context, Cameron succeeds in persuading the casual observer that the party is changing. However, the effectiveness of the change is questionable. Cameron makes central to his profile conservative change.
29As explained above, rhetoric is a question of logos as well as pathos and ethos. The Aristotelian concept of ethos is close to the bourdieusian one38. It refers to the embodiment of values. Through his speeches, David Cameron represents the change of the party, but wants above all to incarnate it.
- 39 Darras, E. 2008
- 40 On the rhetoric of proximity, see Le Bart, C. Lefebvre, R. 2006.
- 41 Kerr Peter, 2007. Page 47.
- 42 Auda-André, V., 2007.
30 Eric Darras39 argues that in politics “to be is to be perceived”. Popularity measurements are fundamental elements for any politician. David Cameron’s case is another illustration of the exposition of private life to prove the “proximity40” of politicians. In comparison with his predecessors who led the Conservative Party, the trajectory of David Cameron is paradoxical, a dynasty of Conservative MPs on his mother’s side and proximity with the world of finance on his father’s. Educated at Eton and Oxford, married to the daughter of a baron, living in Notting Hill, he appears as the archetypal British chic and conservative upper class man. Tory leaders are not fundamentally different on this point. William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard are respectively graduates from Oxford, the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst and Cambridge. Earning his stripes outside the party, David Cameron’s background is more subject to media attention. Michael Howard and William Hague were members of conservative societies during their university years. As with Iain Duncan Smith, they progressed, step by step, in the party. They held low-ranking positions in successive governments, and then were appointed ministers with modest portfolios and finally were senior figures of the party. David Cameron worked for the Conservative Party Research Centre, closely with John Major and participated directly in the 1992 election campaign. He subsequently held positions as communications advisers or speechwriter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont and then for the Home Office Minister Michael Howard. Leaving the political sphere, David Cameron started a career in the private sector in the Carlton Communications Company – a media owner and producer. Elected as a MP in 2001, he became the leader of the party only four years later. If he plays on his difference and his detachment from the Conservative legacy41 during the leadership campaign as a comparative advantage, his dazzling progression in party politics raises criticism about his political experience. The analysis of the sample of speeches – the rhythm, the number of speeches - indicates how the Tories are permeable to judgements made by the media and by opinion polls42. His career in public relations gives him some useful communication skills. The primary audience of the political class are the media - through which they try to reach the public - and counterparts. Their message has not simply to be expressed; it has to be well transmitted. David Cameron knows how the media circus works, criticising the sound bites and spin techniques of New Labour, he can use them very well. Cameron’s meeting in Tynemouth on the 27th January 2009 could have gone unnoticed if he had not joked about the existence of aliens and pledged to communicate on this topic if elected. This story had raised interest and was published in different news outlets (the Manchester Evening News, the BBC, the Time, the Daily Mirror, the Telegraph). He knows how the media works, and reciprocally he places a high value upon their comments.
31Analysed as texts, speeches are amputated from all of their most essential constitutive signs, from gesture to intonation. One thing remains certain; David Cameron dedicated a great part of his communication to ensuring he is not seen as remote from normal people. From webcameron, broadcasting the leader cooking with his family, to his bike ride to Westminster, everything is made to prove he is close to British daily life43. The contents of his speeches illustrate a desire to be associated with history. Replacing himself in the Tory leader lineage or showing his skills on various topics, David Cameron tackles seriously the question of his credibility. Progressively doubts over his leadership disappear from opinion poll questions. At the end of the observed period, David Cameron even joins the list of the potential Prime Minister (Daily Telegraph, YouGov, 24-26 September 2009).
32 According to Andrew Denham and Peter Dorey, David Cameron won the leadership contest partly because of the youthful appeal he provides to the party. If he clearly insists on this aspect during the campaign, our interpretation is his wish to personify these changes and the Conservative Party.
“We don’t just need new policies or presentation or organisation or even having a young, passionate, energetic leader…though come to think of it that might not be such a bad idea!44”.
33The paralipsis aims at drawing the attention of the audience to his age while pretending to pass it over. Joking, hinting that change lies in his age or comparing himself to Tony Blair, throughout the sample David Cameron points to his age. The new leader becomes through his speeches consubstantial to conservative change. He symbolizes the renewal and goes further in this line of argumentation: new topics are linked to his personal life pointedly using pathos. Talking about the NHS or Education, his family and his personal life are an endless source of examples.
- 45 October 2006, David Cameron's speech to the Conservative conference in Bournemouth
“My family is so often in the hands of the NHS. And I want them to be safe there. Tony Blair once explained his priority in three words: education, education, education. I can do it in three letters. NHS45”.
- 46 David Cameron: Change to win, October 4 2005
“And we must win the battle over education for another vital reason. Parents with disabled children have to fight for everything. Just imagine what it’s like when the special school that gives their child the love they need, the care they need, the therapy they need, and yes, the education they need… …when that special school is threatened with closure. I’ve seen it, and it breaks my heart46”
34Through ethos and pathos, “David Cameron” is more than the new leader but a part of the new party brand. Speeches build-up a public profile in which Cameron embodies the change in order to be essential to the credibility of change.
35 The Conservative Party seems to have changed, and with it key sections of the media are convinced of these changes47. Yet, change is hard to specify. Eight years in opposition, the relegation of thorny issues such as European integration have opened the possibility for the new leader. However, the traditionalist elite, dominant inside the Conservative party, still restrains the room to manoeuvre of the leader. Traditional conservative values coexist with the rhetoric of modernisation. In 2009, in the party conference speech, David Cameron insisted that family, community and country are part of his DNA. Law and order, tackling crime, and tax cuts ceaselessly fuel his speeches along with the environment, education and social justice. What the logos of David Cameron speeches tends to prove is the delicate balance between internal forces within the party.