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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
'Boldly going' - to get out of trouble
Tony Blair
Blair's speech was 'showmanship', says language expert
Tony Blair is hoping to "boldly" go where no man has been before on controversial issues like private finance for public services, an English language expert has claimed.

The prime minister's frequent use of the word "bold" is a bid to try to convince the party faithful of his ambition to "push forward transformation", even if it does involve the touchy issue of public private finance, according to Professor John McRae.


It is astonishing because bold is a dangerous choice of adjective - people are going to say it is a washing powder

Prof John McRae
Biblical expressions, Churchillian phrases and jokes were also an attempt to win over the crowd during his 54 minute keynote speech, the lecturer in English language at the University of Nottingham claimed.

"It seems to me to be a powerful, well calculated speech," said Prof McRae, who analysed the prime minister's prose.

"Even with war around the corner, he is laughing and joking - it's showmanship."

'Weak territory'

On Monday the Labour leadership lost a vote calling for an independent inquiry into PFI.

In his speech, Mr Blair made much of the importance of being bold. "I believe we're at our best when at our boldest. So far, we've made a good start but we've not been bold enough," he said.


Blair's father-in-law is a bit of a thorn in the flesh so he makes a joke about it

Prof John McRae
Prof McRae said: "Bold - that's a new adjective. Look how Blair tends to use strong adjectives, especially when he feels he's on weak territory.

"It is astonishing because bold is a dangerous choice of adjective - people are going to say it is a washing powder.

"What he is trying to do is to boldly go."

'Biblical heritage'

On Iraq, Mr Blair told delegates: "Let us lay down the ultimatum, let Saddam comply with the will of the UN."

Prof McRae said: "The use of 'let us' is him invoking Biblical images, like 'let us pray'. He is trying to make everyone feel British

"'Let us lay down the ultimatum', it means we are 'going to make him' (Saddam Hussein). He is not saying nuke them. He is not using George Bush speech. It has almost got a religious tone to it."

Mr Blair's insistence that "the only chance of peace is a readiness for war", prompted Prof McRae to stress: "That is almost Churchillian."

'V-sign'

The lecturer argued that Mr Blair's jokes, particularly at the expense of his father-in-law Tony Booth, an outspoken critic of the government encouraged a feeling of inclusiveness.

Mr Blair told delegates: "When I was in Blackpool for the TUC a few weeks ago I was driving along in the car and this elderly man with grey hair, well dressed, looked in the window of the car, spotted me and gave me a dirty great big V-sign.

"I thought 'he looks a respectable enough bloke. It could be anyone - it could be my father-in-law'."

After a pause, Mr Blair quipped: "I should have given one in return shouldn't I really."

He then quipped: "I think I'll pay for that one."

Classic

Even Europe and the US president came in for a poke of fun.

Mr Blair said: "Britain in Europe at its best. Me and George Bush on different sides.

"I thought you might like that one."

Prof McRae noted: "That is classic Blair. It is very clever. He is playing to the audience. He is allowing them to know that he knows. Like he said with the pensions, 'we got the message'. He needs to do that at party conference time.

"Blair rises to the occasion very well when he knows there is a problem."


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01 Oct 02 | Politics
26 Sep 02 | Politics

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