Crisis of Rhetoric

Renewing Political Speech and Speechwriting: An AHRC Network

Street sign for 'Speakers Corner and Marble Arch'

Robust public debate and the freedom to make arguments and counterarguments are essential features for democracy. But political speech in the UK is in crisis: the public distrust and disbelieve politicians, experts and other political actors; political debate has become more sectarian and angry; facts are often misused or ignored; political discussion is often inward looking and the public left uninformed and unpersuaded.

The Crisis of Rhetoric research network starts from the premise that that this is a crisis of oratory and rhetoric, and that addressing it requires better understanding – on the part of academics, practitioners and the public – of the theory, history, use and reception of rhetoric in modern British politics and society. It will unite two discipline-specific networks: the Political Studies Association group Rhetoric and Politics and the Classics-based Network for Oratory and Politics (NOP). The Crisis of Rhetoric network will connect with non-academic partners such as politicians, speechwriters and political journalists, and expand into other academic disciplines. Together, we will address the theoretical, analytical and practical problems of political speech and develop recommendations on how to revivify a culture of reasoned and passionate public debate.

The network has three sets of objectives: network objectives, intellectual objectives and impact objectives:

Network objectives

The network aims to develop common ground and a shared vocabulary uniting rhetoric researchers from varied disciplines working on different historical periods; to consolidate rhetoric research in the UK enabling the creation of a more widely recognised field of study; to promote UK rhetoric research within the international research community especially in Europe and the US; to connect the community of rhetoric scholars in the UK with rhetorical practitioners in politics, government and speechwriting; to lay the basis for future research collaboration and outputs.

Intellectual objectives

The network also aims to develop knowledge of the challenges and difficulties faced by political speakers and speechwriters in the UK today; to enable the application of rhetorical concepts and methods to the critical study of media rhetoric in British politics, including forms of rhetoric associated with online debate and discourse; to apply ancient and modern rhetorical theory and analysis to the interpretation and assessment of examples of contemporary political speech.

Impact objectives

Finally, the network aims to produce a short report recommending innovative new methods in speechwriting and speechmaking practice and ways for journalists to present political debate; to develop an accessible and engaging public-facing book, which promotes the reception as well as the delivery of political speech.


The Crisis of Rhetoric will host six workshops and one closing event in the Houses of Parliament to deliver on these objectives. Workshops 1 and 6 will involve political practitioners directly in order to inform the discussions in Workshops 2-5. In Workshops 2-5, three lead participants will deliver a short ‘briefing’ explaining the contribution of their field to the topic, followed by discussion in smaller mixed-disciplinary groups. The discussion will continue between the workshops and be facilitated by publicly accessible documents on the website.


University of Birmingham
University of East Anglia

Led by:

Political Studies Association: Rhetoric and Politics

Supported by:

Arts & Humanities Research Council