The Top 10: undelivered Speeches

From the D-Day landings to Clive Lewis’s autocue edit this week, those momentous words we never heard

John Rentoul
Saturday 01 October 2016 13:07
The Queen never got to tell the nation that a nuclear war was under way
The Queen never got to tell the nation that a nuclear war was under way

Richard Johnstone and Martin McDonald suggested this list after Matt Chorley, editor of The Times Red Box email, said on 23 June that David Cameron would have written two speeches that day. I don’t think he did, as it happened, but other people wrote notable speeches that they never gave.

1. General Dwight D Eisenhower’s “In Case of Failure” Message, 1944. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

2. John F Kennedy’s Dallas “Watchmen” speech, 22 November 1963. Co-written with Ted Sorenson. JFK was shot before he could deliver it. “We, in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than by choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.” Thanks to Paul T Horgan.

3. Richard Nixon’s “In Event of Moon Disaster” speech, 1969. Written by William Safire. “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.” Thanks again to Paul T Horgan.

4. Richard Nixon again, a few days before his resignation in 1974. “If I were to resign ... it would establish the principle that, under pressure, a president could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution.”

5. The Queen’s speech on the outbreak of nuclear war, 1983. Script written by civil servants for Cold War planning. “The horrors of war could not have seemed more remote as my family and I shared our Christmas joy with the growing family of the Commonwealth. Now, this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.” Nominated by James Jinks.

6. Tony Blair’s speech to the TUC on 11 September 2001. Would have advanced the argument for adopting the euro, when news came of two planes hitting the World Trade Centre. “All those people who said it would never happen now content themselves with saying it will be a disaster. I believe they’re wrong. And a successful euro is in our national interest. So provided the economic conditions are met, it is right that Britain joins.” Proposed by Jon Davis.

7. David Miliband’s leadership acceptance speech, 2010. “Responsibility must run from top to bottom or else it does not run at all. All parts of the country should contribute to success. All parts of society need to benefit from growth. And my quarrel with the Government is they are getting this wrong at every turn. This Government is soft on the banks, hard on the poor, and dangerous for growth.”

8. Alex Salmond’s Scottish referendum victory speech, 2014. “We are a nation reborn. The community of this realm has spoken. Scotland shall be independent once again. To those who voted 'No', I extend an immediate hand of friendship.” Michael Scanlon said, as if surprised: “It was quite good.”

9. Boris Johnson’s leadership launch speech, 30 June 2016. He delivered most of the speech but we never got to hear the original ending, because he said: “That is the agenda for the next prime minister of this country. But I have to tell you my friends, you who have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech, that having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament I have concluded that person cannot be me.” Nominated by James.

10. Clive Lewis’s autocue edit, September 2016. “I am clear that our party has a policy for Trident renewal, and I will not seek to change it.” The second half of the sentence was cut from the shadow Defence Secretary’s text by Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s head of communications, minutes before he read it from the screen on Monday. Thanks to James again.

An honourable mention for David Christie, who nominated Cicero’s second oration against Verres, governor of Sicily, and the pre-battle speech of Calgacus against the Romans in Britain as recounted by Tacitus: “They make a desert and call it peace,” or: “Where they make a desert, they call it peace,” depending on the translation.

Next week: Retronyms, such as acoustic guitar, which, before the invention of the electric kind, was just a guitar.

Coming soon: Fictional newspapers, such as The Daily Bugle, The Daily Planet and The Daily Beast

Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop, is available as an e-book for £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

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