BBC BLOGS - dot.Rory
« Previous | Main | Next »

Are we up for online oratory?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 11:59 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Remember the days when a major speech in a public hall by a fine orator could influence an election campaign? No, me neither - I'm not that old.

President Abraham LincolnWith the disastrous exception of Neil Kinnock's Sheffield rally in 1992, public performances by great speakers don't seem to matter any more, now that everything is reduced to 15 second soundbites.

But perhaps two things are changing that - the culture of "live", and YouTube.

There's a good case to be made that the British public is more enthusiastic than ever about live events - not just music, but lectures by public figures and even debates about quite high-minded topics.

From Glastonbury to the Hay book festival, live events are thriving, and there even seems to be some enthusiasm for seeing politicians in the flesh, and listening to them speak at length.

But it's YouTube which is giving political speeches both wider distribution and a longer shelf-life.

Barack Obama may be largely responsible for this phenomenon - he has a number of speeches on YouTube with more than a million views, notably this one in March 2008 called A More Perfect Union which deals with race and other matters.

Now, rather late in the day, British politicians and their supporters are trying to show that good old-fashioned oratory - rather than flashy election videos - can be a way of reaching voters.

Labour supporters rushed to Twitter and other social networks last night to promote this video of Gordon Brown speaking at the Citizens UK event at Central Hall, Westminster. They described it as his most passionate speech ever - and it has managed to get almost 20,000 views in less than 24 hours.

The Conservatives have been much more active on YouTube than Labour, with regular behind-the-scenes videos giving intriguing glimpses of their campaign. There are fewer videos that are just unvarnished speeches - the Tories tell me there is more appetite for short clips - but you can find major addresses by the Conservative leader, including the famous one where he spoke without notes to win over his party conference in 2005.

Nick Clegg has not had much traffic on YouTube until the campaign increased his public recognition by a considerable degree. But here's a video of his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference last year, which has received nearly 18,000 views - the majority of them in the last six weeks.

So there does still appear to be an appetite for oratory in the UK, and YouTube is giving voters a chance to listen again to speeches, without having to let television journalists tell them which are the best bits.

Mind you, it is still a minority sport - Gordon Brown's speech is attracting a decent number of viewers, but it's a long way behind clips of the snooker player John Higgins or of chaos at the end of a Championship football match.


  • Comment number 1.

    There is no doubt that there are other factors at play in this election that have attracted the voter's attention.

    Perhaps the most significant was the three party debate on three different occasions which high-lighted the part leaders. This was obviously a triumph for the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg. It brought him to the public's attention in a way that no other event had managed to do.

    Mass news channels have also lead the way to engage the public. Perhaps more than in the past, TV has played a part in explaining and analysing the policies that each party have been pushing. Sometimes this has worked for a particular party, sometimes against. There is a danger here though that presentation can be more powerful than content.

    The other powerful medium is the internet. This allows people to blog to each other about a variety of different issues that effect the outcome of the election. It also allows journalists, such as in this blog, to develop arguments and provide greater information and analysis than is possible during news broadcasts where commentators are often restricted to putting forward the information in rather simplistic 'sound-bites'.

    There is one thing to note from this: in history there have always been two tenants (if that is that right word) to gain power and to keep power. One is the army; the other is religion. If you want power you need to control both.

    Now there is a third. The media (whether TV, Radio, or the internet). Anyone needing to gain power and keep it now has to master the 'media' as well.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm wondering if you are going to make mention of the Phillipa Stroud story on the BBC. In particular you Rory, as its been a UK trend for 48 hours.... Or are you all a bit afraid of mentioning it just incase Murdoch's right hand boy gets in?

  • Comment number 3.

    Oratory is still a major vote changer. Kinnock's Sheffield rally shifted things the wrong way, but arguably his "It's time to transform Britain from the country it has become into the country we know it can be. It's time for change, it's time to make that change, it's time for Labour" speech was one of the most spine tingling pieces of election oratory of all time. There's nothing like a bit of Hwyl to fire up a campaign and get the momentum on the side of the skilled orator. Double-edged, though: live by the word, die by the word.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm sorry Rory but Twitter will be the death of real campaigning. Lighter than light bits of nonsense blasted off without a second's thought, no wonder politics is becoming reviled and the subject of more comedy minutes than it should. Politics is serious, important and totally relevant, so please do not trivialise it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Until campaign promises and speeches are made legally binding, that is all they will remain, false promises and hot air to get your vote. It's all well and good talking the talk but if they can't walk the walk then .. well, nothing, it's too late, they're in power and will do what they please.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm very surprised that for all their supposedly 'green' credentials, all parties have disseminated party literature using paper leaflets rather than using email. Email hasn't been used at all - and although I'm perfectly aware of the arguments for and against its effectiveness, as a friend of mine said who lives in a merginal seat (Guildford), he is totally sick of the endless leaflets coming through the door but he might have paid some attention to email had it arrived. They've all missed a trick there, I think.

  • Comment number 7.

    I don't know any of my local candidiates in Cambridge, although the Green Party's candidate Tony Juniper is quite well known.

    However I have stumbled upon an excellent student blog which interviews all of them and has really helped me make my mind up about how to vote. ( I even discovered that the Conservative, Nick Hillman, is a personable chap with a good sense of humour - something I never expected from the leaflets through the door.

    Cambridge is proving to be a fascinating contest. With a sitting Lib Dem MP you'd expect it to be pretty safe but the Lib Dems are facing a fierce challenge from the Greens and even the Tories (who haven't won in Cambridge for a generation) seem to have a chance. Even Labour believe they could benefit from the Lib Dem vote turning Green and this could really be a four way marginal.

  • Comment number 8.

    I believe in the power of excellent oratory.
    I also believe there's a tremendous hunger for great leadership. So when great leadership seems to come along, combined with powerful oratory skills, people are drawn to this person like metal to a magnate...and like metal on a magnet, some have great sticking power.
    This is what I believe happened during the Obama campaign. People wanted to believe in him; people wanted to believe in change. People wanted to believe: “Yes, we can!” They wanted to be inspired!
    Now, having watch Obama take up one George W. Bush policy after another, some are feeling let down, disappointed and even angry.
    Gordon Brown speaking at the Citizens UK event at Central Hall, came across as persistent, dedicated, compassionate as well as passionate.
    Whether Labour wins, this was Gordon's finest hour.

  • Comment number 9.

    We really don't need to get all high-tech and worry about things like YouTube. Why can't we get politicians who can answer an email?

    I have long since given up on the idea that my current MP would ever answer an email. I've tried a few times, and never got a reply.

    But I figured maybe a parliamentary candidate might reply to emails during an election campaign. I had more or less decided to vote LibDem on Thursday. I was a bit confused by one of the policies in the LibDem manifesto, so I emailed my LibDem candidate over the weekend to ask her to clarify.

    Haven't had a response yet. If I don't get one by Thursday, I may change my mind about who to vote for. Seriously, do I really want an MP who thinks that responding to constituents' emails is beneath her?

  • Comment number 10.

    Rory, I have to agree... what Britain needs is an Obama/ Clinton equivalent - now they could present a masterclass in oratory! I think the current level of voter apathy in UK is largely due to the lack of credibility of the candidates with the voting public. There are probably more blogposts about Gordon Brown's smile than on the content of his speeches... that says it all!

    With the exception perhaps of Nick Clegg's performance in the PM debate a few days back, the rhetoric has been far from convincing... mostly varying between things must change and too risky to change but without any real substance or conviction behind it. Lol maybe the electioneers should get the likes of John Higgins or Jose Mourinho as a sidekick during their speeches... bet that'll get the YouTube crowd interested!


  • Comment number 11.

    @badger_fruit (#5) - if only there were a way to enforce that it would be fantastic! I would be thrilled if there were a harsh penalty for every campaign promise not delivered upon, and yet another one if they try to defend their non-delivery by some lame excuse.

    @anna sempe (#10) - agree with you on Clinton and Obama as being class acts when it comes to public speaking. Not sure if I agree with your view on Nick Clegg though - think he just looked good compared the the relative ineptitude of his debate opponents!

    Of the current lot though, somehow I doubt Gordon Brown will ever be producing anything close to a Martin Luther King equivalent I have a dream speech. At least YouTube is safe from any risk of that right now!

  • Comment number 12.

    Rory you're right about online oratory being led by Obama and I agree with the sentiments above - well, perhaps with the exception for #4 carrie - I think politics is serious but you have to remember that the majority of the public are easily swayed. If twitter and facebook is what they use to get their information then so be it - campaigners need to embrace those technologies and make the best of them to reach voters.

    #10 - Anna, perhaps you can convince Clinton to hold a masterclass in public speaking in Westminster sometime! Believe he does go around the world giving talks for a huge fee. You could even start a UK voters fund to chip in if it meant better debates in the next UK election.. I'd definitely contribute!



Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.