An article in the Daily Mail, marking the anniversary of Churchill’s “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few ” speech, posed the question: could any modern politician have made this speech? Or one like it.
The answer is no. Not because there is not in Britain some smouldering orator waiting to ignite but because there is no situaton so desparate or despairing that calls for such a speech. Great orators greatest performances have been in response to a passionately held need to ‘bring a nation with them’, to change their views.
In the second half of the 20th century the few recognised orators include Martin Luther King- “I had a dream”, J.F.Kennedy- “think not what your country can do for you..” ( imitated by Cameron) and, less happily, Enoch Powell and his infamous “rivers of blood”. This century Obama- “Yes We Can” is the only English speaker seen as a true orator.
The answer is also no because of the medium. Orators need platforms and audiences not the conversational approach of television. David Cameron’s celebrated ‘no notes’ platform speech at the Blackpool conference, whilst not great oratory, did win him the leadership. Churchill’s platform was, of course radio. Not as we know it today but radio as the nation’s lifeline with a captive and spellbound audience hanging on his every word.