'In the UK an important political art is no longer practised, even though the skill brings politics to life in an era of determined apathy. The demise is neither mourned nor noticed and yet the absence makes for duller politics – politics at a distance. We make do with a cabinet minister's parking ticket and the alleged redistribution of penalty points to make up for the lack of excitement.
'This is the first generation of national politicians without a single orator, a single mesmerising speaker. There is not one who can cast a spell. Tony Blair was the last great speaker, an underestimated orator who never delivered a dull speech. Blair could make a lacklustre text and sometimes a silly one come to inspiring life. Even when making a complex argument, he was worth seeing live, transfixing an audience.
'The decline is sudden and marked. Not so long ago Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Michael Heseltine, and Neil Kinnock could fill halls around the country, and when they spoke in the Commons MPs would leave their offices to attend. Last week's brilliant BBC4 documentary on the rivalry between Harold Wilson and Ted Heath showed how important it was for both of them to find ways of engaging directly with voters. Neither were natural orators, and yet both, especially Wilson, became at least interesting public performers....'
Richards then poses the key question: Does it matter that such characters or characteristics no longer play a part in British politics?
He thinks that it does - which is why I strongly recommend you to read the whole of his article.
And so do I - for reasons outlined in some of the posts below - which is why I've started work on updating my book Our Masters' Voices: the language and body language of politics.
- Mediated speeches: whom do we really want to hear?
- Obama's rhetoric renews UK media interest in the 'lost art' of oratory
- Did the media ignore Hannan because they think speeches are 'bad television'?
- Is the media no longer interested in what goes on in parliament?
- Do interviews ever deliver anything but bad news for politicians and boredom for audiences?
- 'The Lost Art of Oratory' by a BBC executuve who helped to lose it in the first place
- Politician answers a question: an exception that proves the rule
- Will the 2010 UK general election be the first one to leave us speechless?
- Blair speaks and the BBC tells you what he said
- Brown speaks and the BBC doesn't tell you what he says
- Silent speeches by party leaders: the wallpaper of television news coverage
- More PowerPoint election 'news' from the BBC
- At last: the first sign of passion and audience excitement in an election speech
- It was Brown's last minute speeches wot might have won it - if only he'd done it sooner