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How I long for Churchill’s “patrician growl”

An 1805 painting of Demosthenes in full flow

British politics has “never been so difficult on the ear”, says James Marriott in The Times. Keir Starmer’s “reproachful adenoidal bleat”; Rishi Sunak’s “nasal and pleading” tones, with that “insincere over-emphasis suggestive of a missed career in children’s television”. Most MPs, nervous about sounding too privileged, have converged on “a sort of bland oratorical smart-casual”: that “neutral professional-class non-accent” you hear in everyone from Jeremy Corbyn to George Osborne. Yet a politician’s voice used to be his or her “most distinctive attribute”. Think of Churchill’s “patrician’s growl”, or Margaret Thatcher’s “husky, commanding purr”. Uncharismatic speakers were mocked – Denis Healey likened debating Geoffrey Howe to being “savaged by a dead sheep”. If Howe were around today, he would “doubtless be hailed as a latter-day Demosthenes”.

Equally disappointing is the way the BBC covers politics, says AN Wilson in The Oldie. It once abounded with interesting discussion programmes in which “party politics was never mentioned”. Today, the likes of Any Questions have become drably political, “and party political at that”. Political Editor Chris Mason – “a weaselly little fellow in specs” – has taken to introducing speakers with party labels: “Diane Abbott, for Labour”, say, or “Bernard Jenkin for the Conservatives”. Why not just ask their views as individuals? It is absurd to imagine that the Westminster parties, “a few hundred nobodies whose chief interest in life is holding on to their seats”, should have drawn up a programme for living that any of us should want to follow in its entirety. The playwright John Mortimer used to ask why socialists shouldn’t support fox-hunting, as Friedrich Engels had done. He was quite right, yet the BBC goes on pretending we divide neatly along party lines. If I were director general, I would ban all mention of political parties on the BBC, “except perhaps at election time”.