Voices: The Top 10 best known paragraphs of British political speeches since the war

Voices: The Top 10 best known paragraphs of British political speeches since the war

This list started when Sam Freedman asked: “What is the best known paragraph of a UK political speech from the last 40 years?” We agreed it was Neil Kinnock’s (No 6), and I extended the qualifying period to 1945. In the old days, before The Independent went digital-only in 2016, and before Twitter increased its character limit the following year, Top 10s usually consisted of items no longer than 140 characters. But now there are no limits, so I asked for whole paragraphs, making an argument, not just pithy sentences.

1. Winston Churchill, Conservative leader, University of Zurich, 1946. “Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as by a miracle transform the whole scene and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. The process is simple. All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong and to gain as their reward blessing instead of cursing.” Nominated by Paul T Horgan.

2. Harold Macmillan, prime minister, Cape Town, 1960. “In the twentieth century, and especially since the end of the war, the processes which gave birth to the nation states of Europe have been repeated all over the world. We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other power. Fifteen years ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there of different races and civilisations pressed their claim to an independent national life. Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.” Thanks to Ryan Flack.

3. Hugh Gaitskell, Labour leader, Brighton, 1962. “If you are going to have a democratic Europe, if you are going to control the running of Europe democratically, you’ve got to move towards some form of federalism and if anyone says different to that they’re really misleading the public. That’s one in the eye for Mr Bonham Carter [Mark, Liberal former MP who denied his party advocated federalism]. Now we must be clear about this, it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent nation-state. I make no apology for repeating it, the end of a thousand years of history. You may say: ‘All right, let it end.’ But, my goodness, it’s a decision that needs a little care and thought. And it does mean the end of the Commonwealth; how can one really seriously suppose that if the mother country, the centre of the Commonwealth, is a province of Europe, which is what federation means, it could continue to exist as the mother country of a series of independent nations; it is sheer nonsense.” Another from Ryan Flack.

4. James Callaghan, prime minister, Blackpool, 1976. “We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment. We have just escaped from the highest rate of inflation this country has known; we have not yet escaped from the consequences: high unemployment.”

5. Michael Foot, Labour employment spokesperson and candidate for party leadership, House of Commons, 1980. “In my youth, quite a time ago, when I lived in Plymouth, every Saturday night I used to go to the Palace theatre. My favourite act was a magician-conjuror who used to have sitting at the back of the audience a man dressed as a prominent alderman. The magician-conjuror used to say that he wanted a beautiful watch from a member of the audience. He would go up to the alderman and eventually take from him a marvellous gold watch. He would bring it back to the stage, enfold it in a beautiful red handkerchief, place it on the table in front of us, take out his mallet, hit the watch and smash it to smithereens. Then on his countenance would come exactly the puzzled look of the secretary of state for industry [Keith Joseph]. He would step to the front of the stage and say: ‘I am very sorry. I have forgotten the rest of the trick.’ That is the situation of the government. They have forgotten the rest of the trick. It does not work.” Thanks to Jonathan Allan.

6. Neil Kinnock, Labour leader, Bournemouth, 1985. “I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos – I’ll tell you, and you’ll listen. I’m telling you: you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.”

7. Margaret Thatcher, prime minister, House of Commons, 1990. “Leon Brittan is a loyal member of the Commission. Yes, the Commission wants to increase its powers. Yes, it is a non-elected body and I do not want the Commission to increase its powers at the expense of the House, so of course we differ. The president of the Commission, Mr Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the commission to be the executive and he wanted the council of ministers to be the senate. No. No. No.” Thanks to Martin Koder.

8. Geoffrey Howe, resigning as deputy prime minister, House of Commons, 1990. “The conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my right hon friend the prime minister – and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real – and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great. I no longer believe it possible to resolve that conflict from within this government. That is why I have resigned. In doing so, I have done what I believe to be right for my party and my country. The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long.” Nominated by Declan Ryan and Clifford Williamson.

9. Tony Blair, prime minister, House of Commons, 2007. “Some may belittle politics but we know it is where people stand tall. And although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena which sets the heart beating fast. It may sometimes be a place of low skullduggery but it is more often a place for more noble causes. I wish everyone, friend or foe, well and that is that, the end.” Thanks to Ben Ullmann.

10. Theresa May, prime minister, Downing Street, 2016. “If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”

Neil Kinnock can’t have two entries, because otherwise he would feature again with “I warn you not to get old” in 1983, nominated by Declan Ryan and Alan Paxton.

Next week: Business jargon taxonomies, such as buckets, pillars, strands, rafts and planks.

Coming soon: Cheery utopias, such as Narnia (after the defeat of the White Witch), Redwall Abbey, the Shire and the Culture.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk