Britain, Britishness, and exceptionalism within the rhetoric of David Cameron

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In his rhetoric on Britain and Britishness, David Cameron sets out a vision of the nation and its national story built upon the premise of exceptionalism. I argue this was challenging to reconcile with continued EU membership. His efforts to rhetorically define the nation and his ethos subsequently came to undermine his stewardship of the Remain campaign and Britain’s EU membership. In this article, I analyse Cameron’s party conference rhetoric on Britain and Britishness between 2006 and 2015 using the framework of Rhetorical Political Analysis. I argue that Cameron styles the nation as in possession of an exceptional history, spirit, and set of values. The British people are said to be uniquely principled, generous, and tolerant, with an uncommon aptitude for leadership. Additionally, the country is framed as having an exceptional past, present, and future. His conception of Britishness, built upon the myth of exceptionalism, jars with continued membership of the EU due to contrasting values, and along with his Eurosceptic credentials, ultimately left a weak foundation for the Remain campaign in 2016.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-146
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Politics
Issue number1
Early online date18 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023


  • Britain
  • British political speech
  • Britishness
  • David Cameron
  • Exceptionalism
  • Rhetorical political analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


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