Discourse Analysis on Winston Churchill and Tony Blair

Last Updated: 27 Mar 2023
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In this essay, I will be conducting a discourse analysis on a speech made by Winston Churchill in the 1940s, when he informed the British public that they will be entering war. I will use sociological research which examines the discourse of politics to supply context for this speech. My research topic is to discover in this essay is how Prime Ministers use persuasive techniques to win the support of the people. To achieve this, I will be comparing Churchill’s speech to Tony Blair’s speech in 2003 when he declared war on Iraq, to see what changes and similarities of discourses there are, regarding persuading and gaining the support of the people.

The consideration of the audience and their specific thoughts and feelings is certainly an essential theme when making a speech. Politicians use the spoken word to rule, inform, strengthen and communicate with the public in order to implement their own, or their party’s politics.

As van Dijk puts it, “social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context (2001: 352). ” If we are the people who vote to put these politicians in power, we ought to become more aware of the strategies and tactics behind their speeches. This will give us more opportunity of making a fair judgement of the real meaning of the message, rather than the persuasive and deceiving language that often clouds our judgement.

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I will be using critical discourse analysis and rhetorical political analysis as it is an approach that is suitable for written texts and helpful for discovering institutional meanings that lay hidden within rhetorical strategies. This method will facilitate me in finding the ideological dimension of discourse within the speeches I am analyzing (Cameron 2001:123).

Using critical discourse analysis I will analyse how the language used in political speeches functions as a type of social practice that “constructs the objects of which it purports to speak (Cameron 2001:123)”. We can apply critical discourse analysis to expose the ways discourse is interwoven with society and culture, Wodak notes “society and culture are shaped by discourse, and at the same time constitute discourse (Wodak 2000:146)”. The use of language can reproduce or transform society and culture and it can also be ideological. A way to discover its ideological qualities is by exploring their “interpretation, reception and social effects (Wodak 2000:146)”.

By xamining speeches made by Winston Churchill and Tony Blair, I will seek to find the ideological messages that lie beneath their rhetoric language and uncover in what way their statements have persuaded the British public and if their discourses have gained the public’s support.

We now turn to the second indentified approach outlined in the introduction, rhetorical political analysis. It particularly focuses on the character and nature of rhetoric and its position in political analysis. Rhetorical style is concerned with the arrangement of the narrative.

Johannesson (2000:65) refers to numerous ways of forming a classical rhetoric speech; both Churchill and Blair use ‘disposito’, giving their argument structure; and ‘narratio’, giving the listener essential background information. Historically, rhetorical has been used since the ancient Greek and Roman times and the Great philosopher Aristotle wrote a rhetoric textbook where he established the goals of this discipline.

The old laws of the rhetoric lived on in the modern world mostly in politics, and the battles of the Second World War were not just fought on land, but also on the air by great orators such as Hitler and Churchill. Both Churchill and Blair use many of the classic rhetorical structures when delivering their speeches which I will examine further in the next section.

On the 13th May 1940 was Churchill’s first radio broadcast as Prime Minister with the direct audience being the British public. This was a live broadcast, with the objective to inform the nation of the upcoming attack on Britain by the Germans. It becomes apparent that Churchill’s key intention here is to persuade the nation in becoming actively involved in the war.

His reasons of calling upon the nation as a whole were because all men were needed to fight, not just those who were in the army. Churchill was possibly attempting to involve every individual in the war, as his speech shows, “There will be many men and women on this island who when the ordeal comes upon them, as come it will, will feel comfort and even pride that they are sharing the perils of the lads at the front. ” (13. 05. 40. ) He convinces the country to remain optimistic by saying “We may look with confidence to the stabilization of the front in France. ” (13. 05. 40).

On the 4th June 1940, Churchill spoke to the House of Commons; who were his target audience, however there was also the wider audience of the nation. Conscious that the speech would be made public, Churchill did not exclusively turn to the audience - members of the House of Commons but rather he was addressing the outside audience with a clear goal to diminish the will of resistance among the British and conveying out a message to the USA to join the war with Britain. The speech made by Tony Blair to the House of Commons on 18th March 2003, was most likely one of the most important speeches of his years as the Prime Minister.

This was a speech with the sole intention to persuade his audience – Parliament - to vote for Britain to participate in the war in Iraq. Blair would not have been able to declare war without having the support of the Parliament, therefore it was crucial to gain their vote. The main audience of Blair’s speech in 2003 were the British public. During this live broadcast, Blair told the nation that military action had already begun in Iraq. He attempted to convince the British public that he had made the right decision in sending troops to fight, thus trying to justify his actions.

Although the people of Britain were the direct audience, it is possible that Blair was reaching to a wider world wide audience. In his speech Blair addresses the people of Iraq directly saying “I hope the Iraqi people hear this message, our enemy is not you, but your barbarous rulers. ” (20. 03. 03)

Even though Churchill and Blair’s speeches are slightly different concerning their goals, both use similar methods in order to persuade the British public. In the following sections I will analyse and consider the persuasive techniques I feel are of most significance. They include the use of personal pronouns, rhetorical style, repetition and parallelism with a brief discussion of the delivery of speech.

Personal pronouns are very much linked with power and solidarity, therefore the choice of pronoun that each Prime Minister uses replicates this. When talking to the nation and the House of Commons both Churchill and Blair use the first person pronoun ‘I’ on numerous times. ‘I’ tends to be used by both leaders much more often when addressing the House of Commons. The other first person pronouns which were used were ‘Me’ and ‘My. ‘My’ was used when each leader was putting across their personal beliefs and opinions, such as Blair’s hatred for Saddam, “My detestation of Saddam. ” (Blair 18th March 2003)

"Me" has similar functions to ‘I’ as it symbolises the speaker and demonstrates that he is committing himself to his pledge. Wales (1996:66) said it is usually used to refer to the speaker and third parties who may not be present in the current situation. The use of ‘we’ can be exploited to contribute the responsibility. The general use of ‘we’ refers to the speaker and the listener.

Through the use of inclusive ‘we’ we can see how the leader’s assume to speak on the audience’s behalf, for example “We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the presence of these armoured vehicles…” (Churchill 13th May 1940) Churchill uses ‘we’ inclusively numerous times to refer to himself and the people of Britain as one which in turn encourage solidarity. It is used most often by both leaders with the aim to persuade the audience to work as a team, by saying collective statements, for example “we will” “we shall” and so forth. Both Churchill and Blair tend to use ‘we’ with the double implication that they are not only speaking on behalf of their party but also on behalf of their audience.

Churchill uses methods of persuasion through reasoning; here he aims to calm the British, arguing their brief safety using rational reasoning: “We must never forget the solid assurances of sea power and those which belong to air power if it can be locally exercised. ” (Churchill, paragraph 22) Its noted by Atkinson (1984:37) from his analysis of speeches that one of the most frequent means of extracting agreement is what he calls a “list of three. In political speeches lists of three are usually easy to remember “Of our country, of our Empire, of our Allies. ” (Churchill’s address to the nation 13th May 1940)

Throughout his speeches Churchill has a tendency to use three part lists, as it makes the speech more memorable and therefore more likely to persuade the audience. In Blair’s speech to the House of Commons, he uses a two-part list, “No to any ultimatum; no to any resolution. ” (18th March 2003) In a way we can see how these lists function in the similar way to parallelism, as they serve to emphasise the point being made.

Three part lists are memorable for both the speaker and the listener as they are rooted in some cultures as encouraging a sense of solidarity and totality. The final category of persuasion is persuasion through the art of reasoning. Blair uses this method much more than Churchill. During his speech, Blair discusses a series of events to the House of Commons notifying them of Saddam Hussain’s actions. We can see how Blair felt it imperative to include factual information, as this was the only way to justify his actions for urging Britain to go to war.

Churchill and Blair both perform the characteristics of a strong, virtuous leader. Churchill – who led the last free European nation against Hitler, dares to confront the apparently relentless Nazi attack on Europe – in so doing so, Churchill offered hope of freedom to the British people. Churchill’s choice of words and tone were very dramatic, and he used emotionally charged words to get to the heart of the people. Churchill’s soundbite holds identical features as the Blair equivalents to his manifesto, “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. ” (4. 07. 1993).

Both leader’s use the Aristotelian three main ‘means of persuasion’ through the arousal of emotion, the persuasion through reasoning and persuasion through personality and stance. Rhythm is one of the key features when analysing at the speeches, as this is what makes them flowing and thus effective. The use of lists of three memorable words and repetition of the main issues adds to the rhythm of the speech. Churchill generally uses the list of three and repetition more than Blair, therefore his speeches are more rhythmic. A very important and smart method used by both Churchill and Blair is the use of repetition and parallelism.

Both Churchill and Blair used this device in order to gain their audiences support. One of the main reasons why Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons is convincing is because of his use of structural parallelism at the end of his speech, “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, We shall fight on the seas and oceans, We shall fight with growing confidence in the air, We shall fight on the beaches, We shall fight on the landing grounds…” (Churchill 4th June 1940) In contrast, Blair’s does not use the structural parallelism in his speech to the House of Commons to the extent Churchill does.

However Blair does use repetition to implement his point is, for example: “It is dangerous if such regimes disbelieve us, Dangerous if they think they can use our weakness, our hesitation even the natural urges of our democracy towards peace against us, Dangerous because one day…” (18th March 2003) Blair also repeats the word ‘dangerous’ in order to reiterate his aim and convince his audience that if they do not agree to war, they will be facing a dangerous state of affairs.

Comparing Churchill’s and Blair’s speeches I have shown that there are many resemblances in the way they deliver speeches such as, explaining in honesty, the seriousness of the threat and how they both describe the enemy as evil, but also in putting their causes in a global context and in terms of using rhetorical devices, they both use repetition, soundbites, contrastive pairs and the “list of three”. The “list of three” is a perfect device when declaring war.

The inclusiveness and stress of national solidarity and unity is what a leader needs to communicate and restore faith with the people. The major difference between the two leaders is that Blair uses the inclusive approach towards the world and possible allies, whereas Churchill speaks more exclusively for Britain solely. This also shows the difference in the times the speeches were made, as when Churchill made his speech it would have only reached the British public.

In comparison, Blair’s speech was televised globally, therefore he must address the audience more inclusively to make it relevant for the listeners. Although Blair’s speech could be said to build on the works of Churchill such as using the same rhetorical devices, being a well composed oratory and being expertly performed, ultimately, it is always the circumstances under which a speech is delivered that will give the speaker and the speech their rightfully earned respect.

To conclude, critical discourse analysis is a suitable method to analyse political speeches as it sees language as social practices, and as productive of knowledge which maintains power. It is particularly concerned with language used in political speeches and the media so it is not just context specific, but audience-specific. However, a disadvantage is although it had implications for individual language use, there are words and phrases they use which may not be applicable in 30 years time, as language is forever evolving.

The limits of discourse analysis is that it does not give us a representation of the persons proposed psychological state, it instead focuses on power in a social context and how this is made through language, how it is challenged and recycled. I believe the use of language analysis related to social concepts could be more expanded by having studies made into how social situations themselves cause the discourse we use, also investigating how new meanings are given to words and what social implications they have in society.


  1. Atkinson, J (1985) Structures of Social Action: Cambridge University Press Cameron, Deborah Working with spoken discourse:
  2. Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge.
  3. Gee, J. P. (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. London: Routledge
  4. Seale, Clive (2004) Researching society and culture: Sage Publications Ltd; Second Edition Wodak, Ruth (2000) Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis: London, Sage Publications
  5. Wood, Linda A. (2000) Doing Discourse Analysis: Sage Publications Articles and Websites:
  6. Egbert. J Baker: ‘Grammar As Interpretation: Greek Literature in Its Linguistic Contexts’ (1997) http://books. google. co. uk/books? id=L8VmSJeZCw0C&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=we+shall+fight+on+the+beaches+discourse+analysis&source=bl&ots=Kpm7QW94Mk&sig=1i_rPybz_RMBd1l_WB0nkeXWsso&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IOzqUKKeLoqU0QXYkoGQAw&ved=0CGwQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=we%20shall%20fight%20on%20the%20beaches%20discourse%20analysis&f=false
  7. Fairclough & Wodak: Critical discourse analysis - Linguistics and English Language (1997) www. ing. lancs. ac. uk/staff/norman/critdiscanalysis. doc (online word document) Guardian: Full text: Tony Blair's speech (2003) http://www. guardian. co. uk/politics/2003/mar/18/foreignpolicy. iraq

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Discourse Analysis on Winston Churchill and Tony Blair. (2017, Feb 20). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/discourse-analysis-on-winston-churchill-and-tony-blair/

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