Labour takes the win in Debating Society’s Question Time
Exeter University’s Debating Society hosted its annual Question Time on Friday 18 November between four of the university’s political societies, hosted by chairman Alex Martin. There was a bustling atmosphere in Amory’s Moot Room for the event, which attracted over 100 attendees.
The societies were represented by Elvis Moore, from the Labour Society; Rory Clark, from the Liberal Democrats; Julian Gallie, from the Conservative Association, and James Baker, from the Freedom Society. The Socialist Students Society was also invited, but unable to find a speaker.
An initial audience vote before the debating began found strong support for Labour (42%), well ahead of Freedom Society (20%), the Lib Dems (15%) and the Conservatives (9%). The crowd included many members of the public, as well as large contingents from the societies represented.
Opening statements from each of the societies set out the narratives they would wish to present over the next 90 minutes. Labour began with a fierce attack on the record of 12 years of Conservative government on the economy, COVID, and cost of living. Julian Gallie from the Conservatives responded to these accusations by attacking Labour-run areas, including controversially calling London a “lawless city”. James Baker from the Freedom Society, meanwhile, attacked all the parties for presiding over 80 years of consensus in which we “choose between three different colours of social democracy”.
Labour began with a fierce attack on the record of 12 years of Conservative government on the economy, COVID, and cost of living. […] Freedom Society, meanwhile, attacked all the parties for presiding over 80 years of consensus in which we “choose between three different colours of social democracyHarry Craig and Florence Sargent
Whilst Gallie recognised recent government failures and argued for his focus on housing as a key issue, Labour’s Moore set out their alternate vision of fairness, equality of opportunity, and preparation for the future. These key ideas were echoed by the Liberal Democrats, who emphasised that achieving this vision required state intervention and cooperation. The Freedom Society, however, wanted to undermine these concepts altogether with calls to outlaw the government.
As in its namesake BBC TV show, the Question Time format then placed the onus on the audience to ask their questions to the panel. The questions spanned foreign policy, including a reflection on British intervention in Libya; social debates, most notably the legalisation of cannabis, and university issues, amidst a wave of strikes scheduled on campus in the coming weeks.
The question of the night, however, chosen by host Alex Martin, tackled the economy, asking the panel how they would ensure those in power are held accountable for acts such as Rishi Sunak’s wife’s “non-dom” status. Both Moore and Clark committed to abolishing the tax status, with the latter arguing that although Sunak’s wife did not break the law, it is morally wrong. Baker and Gallie chose to emphasise what they viewed as the unfairness of the tax system in general, including what the former termed “tax cliffs”. Baker called for the reduction of taxes in general, sparking a defence from Moore who believed that taxes were necessary for a functioning police force, education system, and NHS.
Recent controversy surrounding an event held by Freedom Society on the “crisis of fatherlessness” also led to tension in the room, being an emotive and personal subject for many. The event had been condemned in an open letter by Labour and the Liberal Democrats among others, and they were most vocal in their criticism on the night. Moore called for “support [for] people to live the lives they want to lead, rather than pigeonholing them into an old-fashioned view of society” in emphasising that the nuclear family is an outdated concept, a view echoed by both Clark and Gallie. Baker’s ardent defence of the nuclear family was met with shaking heads from the rest of the panel.
The event had been condemned in an open letter by Labour and the Liberal Democrats among others, and they were most vocal in their criticism on the night.
Although the focus of the debate was on partisan politics, questions on contentious social issues gave more scope for individual opinions to be expressed by the panel. In response to a question of the legalisation of cannabis, Gallie, Moore and Clark all expressed support, particularly for tax purposes, despite neither the Conservatives nor Labour backing legalisation in their manifesto. Baker was the only anti-legalisation voice on the panel, claiming a black market would continue to exist for drugs, but acknowledging that this didn’t necessarily represent the views of the Freedom Society.
An earlier question on Labour leader Keir Starmer’s plans for national ID cards also brought up a variety of social debates. Both Gallie and Moore supported the plans, on the grounds of controlling immigration and providing a form of ID for voting in elections. However, both the Liberal Democrats and Freedom Society were opposed on liberal grounds – Clark called them an “example of Labour’s authoritarian streak”, and Baker claimed their only purpose was to “increase the amount of surveillance and control the government has on you”.
The final question of the evening tackled a hot topic on campus at the moment – the UCU strikes. All four panellists stated support for the right to strike, albeit conditionally. Both Moore and Clark emphasised their support on the grounds of a lack of job security for many lecturers, although the latter believed that these strikes were not a “last resort” as they should be. While Baker used the strikes as grounds to call for increased marketisation of the higher education system, it is uncertain how many people will take up Gallie’s recommendation to “go on holiday… to Madrid or somewhere”!
The closing statements from the panel rounded off the debate, but not before a final vote to see how the panellists had managed to change the audience’s opinion. Labour held their lead with an increase to 49%, whilst Freedom Society also saw a small increase up to 24% as the Lib Dems dropped slightly to 12% and the Conservatives to 8%. It was thus a successful night for Elvis Moore and Labour Society, and a good-natured evening for all involved, taking on some of the biggest university, national and global issues affecting our lives.