Talking Liberties: The Rhetoric of Freedom in Post-War British Politics
Freeman, James George
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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Reason for embargo
I wish to publish substantial parts of this thesis as a monograph (as stated on submission form).
This thesis places pressure on common distinctions between rhetoric and ideology, ideas and arguments, semantics and form, by examining the use of freedom rhetoric in political speech and propaganda in post-war Britain. To do so it combines a sophisticated statistical analysis of large volumes of text with the qualitative methodologies of rhetorical analysts and political historians. In particular, it uses custom software written by the author to apply the techniques of corpus linguists, content analysts, and political scientists to a corpus of every speech made in the House of Commons between 1936 and 1990. By integrating data sources, the thesis recovers a partisan variable unrecorded in Hansard that enables the systematic detection of differences between Labour and Conservative MPs’ speech for the first time. Chapter one both describes the novel techniques deployed and identifies changes in the use of freedom rhetoric over time as well as partisan sub-languages of debate. This quantitative analysis provides the context for a detailed qualitative analysis of Conservative party rhetoric between 1945 and 1970 over three further chapters. Combining archival research with theoretical insights from rhetoric and framing scholars, it proposes a series of corrections to the party’s post-war historiography, which has often wrongly equated freedom rhetoric with ‘neoliberalism’ or proto-Thatcherism and therefore misunderstood the complex beliefs and contexts generating this rhetoric. Moreover, because the continued use and adaptation of freedom rhetoric between 1951 and 1970 has been neglected, the thesis argues that historians have mischaracterised post-war Conservative politics as materialistic, underplayed freedom’s role in Harold Macmillan’s oratory, missed an important moment of transition under Alec Douglas-Home, and falsely charged Edward Heath with either betrayal or insincerity. These narrower debates provide a new perspective on the bigger question of why freedom persisted as a major concept in political discourse. Over its chapters, the thesis develops the notion of a ‘rhetorical culture’, which challenges the binary between rhetoric and ideology and can explain Conservative politicians’ use of similar rhetoric to articulate dissimilar beliefs.
AHRC Block Grant Partnership (University of Exeter)
PhD in History