Political rhetoric: the art of persuasion

In an age of heightened political divide, the art of political rhetoric retains enormous significance. Henriette van der Blom of Birmingham University provided an extensive historical overview of rhetoric’s importance and gave contemporary examples of its use.

Van der Blom examined a viral clip of Jess Phillips’ intervention in the House of Commons which encapsulated the mechanisms of political rhetoric.

She defined political rhetoric as, “Rhetoric is objectively the art of persuasion. Good orators can create associations in our mind without explicitly saying so.”

Van der Blom explained how retaining a credible public persona is essential for the effective use of political rhetoric, citing comments from former Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

She said, “Public persona matters. The way you’re being seen and therefore; what you’re saying, and how you say it, how you appear, matters very much.”

Political rhetoric was prevalent in ancient Rome, yet Blom emphasised that it retains importance today. The professor explained how rhetoric is central to political life, and subsequently, central to understanding politics.

She said, “The study of rhetoric is a fundamental tool to understand political communication; and therefore, politics itself. And we have a responsibility, all of us as citizens, to engage.”

If you are interested in Politics, also see Angie Hobbs talk about Plato’s Republic at 11.30am, 30 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally, please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.