For whom is this speech intended? Once again, there is an over-reliance on abstract words — "agenda", "change", "challenge" — and no sign that Mr Miliband wishes to speak directly to the general public. Our political class seems to have forgotten that this might, in a democracy, be a desirable accomplishment. Our 18th-century oligarchy produced oratory of such high calibre that the press clamoured to be allowed in to record it. Our 21st-century oligarchy produces oratory of such low quality that no one can be bothered to listen.
Between these two periods occurred the rise and fall of the public meeting: an occasion when a speaker might be subjected to brutal heckling or worse. When Alec Dunglass — as Alec Douglas-Home, Prime Minister from 1963-64 — stood as a National Unionist in Lanark in 1931, he had to be removed for his own safety through a window from a meeting in the mining village of Stonehouse.
But from the first Midlothian campaign in late 1879, during which Gladstone estimated that he spoke to 86,000 people in a fortnight, the public meeting could become a triumphant encounter between a statesman with star appeal and his enraptured fans. Lord Rosebery, who organised Gladstone's campaign, was inspired to do so in part by a visit he had made to the Democratic Convention in New York in 1873. Rosebery's own premiership in 1894-95 was unhappy, but he was such a brilliant platform orator that ticket touts operated outside the venues where he was to speak. His biographer, Leo McKinstry, quotes a description of his speaking manner published in the Sunday Sun in 1901:
Lord Rosebery steps up to the platform, places his hands upon the table or rail in front of him, and surveys the audience before he commences to speak. It is during that survey that his audience receives the impression of his superiority. It is as if he said, "I am master here. You must listen to every word I have to say!" And they listen and accept his mastery. He is a lord and he acts in a lordly manner. He knows that it is one of the peculiarities of a crowd, no matter how democratic it may be, to delight in being mastered and he masters it!
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