This paper will examine and analyse an article from The Guardian newspaper from the United Kingdom, focusing on the legacy left by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Livingstone, it should be noted, is a former Mayor of London, and a member of the Labour Party. He also came into conflict with Thatcher during the 1980s when he headed the Greater London Council. This context is crucial to understanding the overall persuasive techniques, which will be examined in greater detail and a theoretical context established.
The article is an example of social judgement theory, as it attempts to alter at least of its readers’ current perceptions of the ‘Iron Lady’. Livingstone attempts to persuade his audience by disabusing them of notions about the former Prime Minster that they may have held, and to explain facts to an audience where he is more likely to succeed than in other news publications.
The article begins with an abstract which stresses that Thatcher’s death is time for a clean break with the past. The sentences reinforce Livingstone’s own credentials as an anti-Thatcher politician, and make it clear as to what his position is going to be. He also states facts that look to demythologise the story which has grown up around Thatcher during her life, namely that he ushered in an era of economic success for the UK.
Livingstone reiterates the fact there are “myths” about Thatcher which still have currency in Britain today. He then demolishes those myths by stating facts which are in direct contradiction to them. This is both emotive and analytical, as he plays to both a sympathetic left wing crowd and indignant right wingers. The facts that he states about never winning a majority and her lack of apparent success is designed as a gentle shock tactic, to challenge the reader’s assumptions. There is also further emotive language, with words such as “never”, “huge lie” and “social ills” all combining throughout the piece to hit home and reinforce the negative points of Thatcher’s time in office.
Livingstone also backs up his points with verifiable data, presenting a rational and reasoned counterpart to his more emotive persuasive techniques. This is not an outright attempt at rabble rousing, therefore, but is also designed to make its readers reconsider rather than just react with outrage.
Livingstone is unable to resist an ad hominem attack on current British Prime Minister David Cameron. He brands Cameron’s hyperbolic reaction to Thatcher’s achievements as “silly”, and uses facts to refute the notion that she was actually the kind of Prime Minster which Cameron seems to believe that she was. Drawing attention to Thatcher’s friendship with fascistic Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is another anecdotal shock tactic designed to raise more emotion in the reader.
Overall, the effect of the piece is one of preaching to the converted, in terms of the article’s likely audience. It may also work on factual terms as a refutation of the Thatcher legacy, but is less likely to convert anyone who already has a favourable view of Thatcher. Some Thatcherites may be unaware of her links with Pinochet, for example, but most were aware and did not actually mind. The article is effective on its own terms, but is unlikely to persuade anyone of a Conservative persuasion to change their views.
Livingstone, Ken, ‘Throw out the myths about Margaret Thatcher’, The Guardian, 04/11/2013, retrieved from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/11/throw-out-myths-margaret-thatcher, 04/12/2013