Theresa May’s robust rhetoric

Stephen Fry once described it as being a bit like ice dancing – you know it’s a great move but have no idea what it’s called.  It’s the same with rhetoric – it sounds good to listen to when done well but only those with a mild obsession with these things actually know what each device is called.  You can only imagine the excitement with which linguistic geeks donned rhetorical anoraks, filled thermoses and sharpened pencils in eager anticipation of the arrival of the new Prime Minister on platform number 10.

And she didn’t disappoint.

With her calm presence and powerful impact, Theresa May purposefully approached the podium, took her time, looked straight down the lens of the camera and delivered.

First, a generous tribute to her former boss, followed by a plea to the union and a reference to ‘one nation’ echoing not only Cameron but also Disraeli.

But then she really got going with an effortless display of anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence) in which she repeated “if you’re” no fewer than eight times before listing all the groups of people who do not enjoy the advantages of the “privileged few” – a phrase which also saw purposeful repetition.  This built and built to a crescendo, punctuated with expertly-timed pauses and rounded off with a lovely tricolon (the rule of three) using not one, not two but three perfect executions of antithesis (putting opposites in a sentence to achieve a contrasting effect).

“We will think not of the powerful, but you…not to the majority, but to you…not the wealthy, but you.”

Well-rehearsed and with only a bare reliance on notes, Theresa May brought her speech to a close with a flourish and then turned on her kitten heels to assume power by which point the crowd were going mad and chanting ‘Theresa! Theresa! Theresa!’  Well, not chanting as such, in fact there was no chanting at all (other than the political activists outside the gates of Downing Street and I am not wholly convinced it was the new PM’s name they were chanting) but rather listening in respectful silence thinking about how they were going to report the speech on live news bulletins immediately after she entered Number 10, but you get the picture.

A small group of enthusiasts, however, had filled their notebooks and retired for the day happy to reminisce on the stirring oratory and relieved that the new arrival didn’t disappoint.

It was just the right tone for the occasion – a commanding performance from a skilled politician.

Luan de Burgh

July 2016

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.