The Beginning of 'the Age of Austerity': A Critical Stylistic Analysis of David Cameron's 2009 Spring Conference Speech

Matthew Evans, Brian Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper investigates David Cameron’s use of the word austerity in his keynote speech (as leader of the opposition) at the 2009 Conservative Party spring conference. It builds on previous critical stylistic studies that demonstrate how word forms can take on particular sociopolitical meanings in media and political discourses that are subtly different from the everyday usage of the same word. Such wordforms, which we refer to as sociopolitical keywords, can function as a kind of shorthand for a whole ideological stance (see, for example, Evans and Jeffries 2015; Evans and Schuller 2015; Jeffries and Walker 2018).

Austerity has strong connections with 1940s and ’50s Britain, when the consumption of food and clothing was regulated and reduced via rationing. During the 1940s, austerity was frequently used in parliamentary discourse in the House of Commons (Jeffries and Walker 2019). It then re-emerged during the build-up to the 2010 general election when David Cameron and George Osborne (respectively the Conservative leader and shadow Chancellor at that time) repeatedly used the word, possibly in an attempt to evoke past days of supposed national unity. Their veneration of austerity asserted the ideology that public spending cuts, rather than additional public spending, were the solution for the 2008 financial crisis. Those who disagreed with this ideology found themselves in the position of having to argue against a nebulous idea, with little clarity as to what exactly austerity meant.

The paper will outline the methodology for the systematic analysis of a complete text, report on linguistic patterns in the data, and finish by drawing conclusions about the status of austerity as a socio-political keyword.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169–186
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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