Folllwing the success of my top 10 political books - well, four comments are better than none! - here's my list of the ten best political speeches I have heard during my lifetime. Unfortunately, I am too young to have heard either Churchill, John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King in their prime.
1. Neil Kinnock, party conference speech, 1985. No surprises here. This was the speech that, in my view, defined modern politics, in that it set in train the process that eventually led to New Labour. But don't hold that against it - this was political passion at its best. No full text exists online sadly, but James Naughtie's Guardian report of the time has been re-created here while the key paragraph, about the far-fetched resolutions that were pickled into a code and ended in grotesque chaos, has a permanent home at the foot of the contents panel of this blog.
2. Robin Cook, resignation statement, 2003. This was the best Commons speech I heard in nine years as a Lobby Correspondent, and the hushed atmosphere in the Chamber as he delivered it - and the spontaneous applause when he finished - was something I will never forget. The statement, explaining his opposition to the Iraq war, has become all the more poignant in retrospect for being right, and in view of Cook's tragically early death. Full text here.
3. Geoffrey Howe, resignation statement, 1990. If Kinnock's speech was the most passionate, and Cook's the most prescient, Howe's was easily the most lethal. Denis Healey memorably said that being savaged by Sir Geoffrey was like being savaged by a dead sheep. I doubt if Margaret Thatcher sees it that way. Full text here - the only British political speech to get its own page on Wikipedia.
4. Roy Jenkins, Richard Dimbleby Lecture 1979. This was the speech that laid the ground not just for the SDP but arguably also New Labour in its appeal for an end to class-based politics and the "queasy rides on the ideological big dipper" that accompanied it. At the time, Jenkins looked like the likeliest successor to Thatcher as PM. No text, but more information by following the links from here.
5. William Hague, "annual report" debate, 2000. With the possible exception of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn's attempt to describe the homosexual act, this was the funniest speech I heard in my time at the Commons and deserved to inflict much greater damage on Tony Blair than it actually did. A fuller appreciation from the BBC's Nick Assinder can be read here.
6. Denis Healey, party conference debate, 1976. With the economy in a state of near-meltdown, Chancellor Healey dashed to the Labour Conference in Blackpool to defend his proposals for an IMF loan coupled with savage cuts in public spending. With the Labour left baying for blood - his - it took all the guts this great man possessed. More here.
7. Norman Lamont, resignation statement 1993. Unlike Healey, Lamont was not a great Chancellor, but he was very unfairly made to carry the can for the 1992 Black Wednesday debacle, which was really much more down to Prime Minister John Major's decision, when Chancellor, to enter the ERM at the wrong rate. Lamont had his revenge by memorably describing Major as "in office, but not in power." Full text here.
8. Tony Blair, post 9/11 conference speech, 2001. This speech was much derided, notably by Matthew Parris. "Tony Blair left the runway on a limited strike to remove one individual from a hillside in Afghanistan - and veered off on a neo-imperial mission to save the entire planet," he memorably wrote. True, but even for a cynic like me, it was impossible not to admire the passion and brilliance of his oratory. Full text here.
9. Margaret Thatcher, party conference speech, 1981. It's no great secret that I had very little time for Mrs Thatcher and spent most of my teenage/student years wishing she was no longer Prime Minister. But this was a wonderfully crafted speech capped by possibly the greatest sound-bite of the late-20th century - "U-turn if you want to - the Lady's not for turning." More here.
10. David Steel, Liberal assembly speech 1981. "I have the privelege of being the first Liberal leader in half a century to be able to say to you: go back to your constituencies and prepare for government," declared Steel. Okay, so history records that it turned out to be a false dawn for the fledgling Liberal-SDP Alliance, but there could be no doubting the power of the moment. More on Steel here.
Before anyone asks, I'm not going to compile a list of the ten worst speeches I've heard, because I've forgotten most of them. But if I did, it's a fair bet that IDS and his "quiet man turning up the volume" speech would be up there!