A draft of discourse analysis and the Labour party

Word connotations and lexical choices

As has been previously mentioned in the introduction to the project, discourse analysis focuses on the micro level on individual words in a sentence structure. The lexical choices of an orator can alter the ideological message of a speech act drastically, as it does with a text. Computational analyses allow for a reading of such speech acts on a significantly more macro level, allowing us to quantify readings of lexical choices etc.

This section of the project focuses on the alteration of how discourse functions over time. For the purpose of example, we analyse here perceived changes in the discourses of political parties between times when they are in, and out of government. Specifically, we look here at the discourses of the Irish labour party, focusing particularly on their attitudes towards water charges as a perceived attack on the working class. We then analyse a more general pattern of discourse over time through keyword analyses of speeches by Joan Burton, current Tanaiste and long-serving member of the Labour party.

From their official party website, Labour write, “The four principles on which Socialism is based are Freedom, Equality, Community and Democracy. From its first election programme in 1920 to the present day, these principles have been at the centre of the policies which the Labour Party has offered to the Irish people. These are the values which have ruled our major campaigns and our political activity whether in opposition or in Government.” (http://www.labour.ie/principles/) Consistently, party material highlights socialism as the cornerstone of its practices. Recent media and public criticisms of the Labour party have centred on the perceived alterations of ‘party politics’, or official discourses, during their current time in government as part of the Labour/Fine Gael coalition. Most recently, these critiques have arisen from the implementation of a water charge, that had been threatened by many over consecutive governments. This implementation will most drastically affect the working and lower-middle classes that Labour highlight as being the party’s priority. Because of this, Labour have perhaps been more drastically affected in the public consciousness than their more conservative Fine Gael counterparts.

Prior to their most recent election to government, the Labour party, as recently as 2010 (https://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2010-06-23.222.0#g256.0) had been questioned on their position on the implementation of water charges, yet had remained largely silent.

It is also worth noting that the Labour party were responsible for the abolishment of water charges in 1996 in the rainbow coalition, a move made by minister for the environment Brendan Howlin, who remains a TD (and minister for public expenditure) for the party today.

Just prior to the general election of 2011, Labour ran an ad campaign that highlighted Fine Gael’s plans to impose water charges, and their apparent opposition to this.

source: https://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/fine-gael-every-little-hurts-labour-party-ad-from-the-2011-genral-election/

It can be seen then that the Labour party have often altered their democratic socialist discourse through particular actions, such as those referenced above. It is perhaps more telling though, to see if these discursive alterations can be measured through particular speech acts. For this purpose, we have chosen to analyse key words in addresses by Joan Burton, both in opposition and in power, with other .

(as inspired by this; http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/jan/25/state-of-the-union-text-obama)

Joan Burton is the Tanaiste, Minister for Social Protection, and Leader of the Labour Party. Her biography page on the party’s home page reads, “She was the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Finance from 2002 to 2011, and opposed the bank guarantee in 2008. She was appointed Minister for Social Protection in 2011, and nominated Tanaiste in July 2013”. (http://www.labour.ie/joanburton/) As the current leader of the Labour party, Burton has largely been the receiver of much disdain by the voting public for her often incongruous messages. Yet, many defenders of the current government may argue that, even as the symbolic figurehead of the party, Burton has been consistent in her actions. For the purpose of analysing this quantitatively, we take here two samples of speeches, each of a significant length and spoken as a monologue, to compare Burton’s lexical choices over time. Ideally, a large corpus could be selected of monologues, but the public records of these speeches, as discussed in the paradata section, are difficult to search, extract and correct. Instead these two samples come from immediately before the last election (her post-budget 2010 address) and the same address, given this past December.

Full keyword analyses will be attached in the appendices, the following are selected points of possible interest and wordles as visual representations.

Wordle created from post-budget 2010 address

In her December 2009 address (budget 2010), Burton’s most frequently used word was ‘people’. She used this word 31 times in her address, usually with reference to low-income workers or parents. This excerpt from the speech, particularly laden with ‘people’, is particularly interesting in terms of discourse;

It is a pity that such slimming of income has been applied to working people and those on middle incomes because they are the people doing the heavy lifting in this budget. I daresay the Minister must be aware that people with children took the biggest cuts this year and last year. Let us remember child benefit is paid almost universally to women. I suppose that is a comment on how few women are Members of this House and what little political power women exercise compared to bankers. The Minister always says ‘Yes’ to bankers but in his different budgets he always finds it difficult to make payments in respect of children.

This excerpt obviously places Burton’s use of the word ‘people’, as centring on concern. Particularly, Burton utilises both feminist, and socialist discourses when she places herself within the roles of both mother (juxtaposed with the emphasis on cuts to child benefit), and minority woman in the workplace. This positioning, of course, incites an empathetic reaction to both Burton and her party. Whilst, simultaneously, this emphasises a blame of the elected government from which she separates herself.

Burton’s next most frequent lexical choice is the word ‘Euro’. In all 28 examples of the utilisation of this word, Burton is referring to currency. Specifically, she details examples of cuts to the financing of departments and initiatives that directly affect the working class, or vulnerable groups in society, such as children or the disabled. Burton highlights, extensively, the social ramifications of cuts on these groups, contextualising them as being contradictory to her party’s policies. In relation to cuts on social welfare departments, Burton says, “That is a really heavy hit on a particular sector which, more than any other, encompasses the notion of social solidarity and need. We should remain a one-Ireland society. Yes, we had our billionaires but we should remain close to that notion. The principle of the Labour Party is that we are a one-Ireland society and those who have most should contribute most”.

Again, Burton highlights the focus of the Labour party’s discourses, emphasising socialism and the politics of inclusion. It should be noted that the automatic transcription did not recognise the symbol ‘€’ as would be represented in a more inclusive character set. Instead, when making manual corrections, I adjusted this symbol to be read as ‘euro’. However, regardless of this correction, ‘euro’ does not appear in any other context than as currency, framing a figure.

Fifth, is ‘austerity’, which frequently appears alongside other top keywords such as ‘billion’, ‘banker’ and ‘developers’. It is particularly obvious where Burton places the blame for the economic recession that frames this budget. Again, this framing highlights a socialist discourse that removes a level of autonomy from the workers, and centres on the most wealthy, most corporate to connote most negatively.

wordle created from 2015 statement on budget

We justapose the above sentiment analysis with Burton’s use of discourse in her statement (as published on Labour.ie and her personal website), as released in December 2014. This statement obviously comes five years after the above, and is released by Burton as the now Tanaiste and leader of the Labour party.

In this keyword analysis, Burton most frequently utilises the word ‘will’. Whilst this might seem like a commonly used word that might usually be excluded from keyword analysis, I chose to include it. Predominantly, as it denotes intention and overlexicalisation (a term used to define when a text contains a plethora of particularly ideologically laden or contested terms and their synonyms,further explained in ‘terms of discourse analysis’), ‘will’ states a determination and intention that is purposefully chosen lexically as a sign of accountability. This emphasis on the onus of responsibility can again be seen in the word ‘people’, the second most frequent lexical choice. ‘People’ occurs eighteen times in the speech, predominantly referring to ‘people with disabilities’ and ‘vulnerable people’. So again Burton highlights the plights of similar social groups, yet frames her actions as a defence, rather than her previous speech which attacked the sitting government’s actions on these same marginalised groups.

As we can see in the visualisation above, ‘welfare’ is also frequently referred to in this speech, Burton reiterates that the actions of the government in this budget will not negatively affect welfare recipients, in fact it is this iteration that she begins her speech with. ‘Welfare’ is used 13 times, usually to refer to welfare recipients, but also to refer to the more general ‘well-being’ of citizens in relation to this budget. By emphasising what she sees as the benefits of these actions on the vulnerable, she emphasises much of the same empathy that was present in her previous speech, but reframes it as a personal and party defence.

So what can be read from the juxtaposition of these two speeches? Particularly, the framing of the speeches is most interesting. Whilst the focus on the marginalised in society is consistent, out of government Burton uses her representation of these people as being victims of governmental practices. Conversely, Burton uses these same groups to highlight the focus of perceived ‘positive’ actions of her own government. Personalisation (again as we explain in terminology) here is employed as a tactic to position and unite. Social actors here are utilised to centre the purpose of Burton’s discursive acts as being to empathise with the marginalised, regardless of her personal political position. This reframing of a socialist discourse then highlights the fluidity of discourse itself, here positioning and personalisation are used greatly to reinforce contradictory discourses of neoliberalism that are imbued in the act of cutting departmental budgets and tax reliefs.


I will attach wordsmith/antconc files and corrected .txt files (or maybe .docx files for readability?) to the appendix of the report. Let me know if you’d like them now. Also the wordles can be remade with Voyant if necessary.

Posted in: DH

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