On October 13, 2020, KCL’s Political Society hosted their annual debate between the University’s different political societies. Representatives from KCL Labour Society, KCL Conservative Association and KCL Liberal Democrats discussed topics related to foreign policy, Covid-19 and immigration.
The debate was directed by Oona Carteron, the society’s president, who kept it organised despite the difficulties of online conferences.
The first topic was British foreign policy, where Labour’s François de Navacelle started off by strongly opposing the Conservatives current approach. He criticised Brexit’s damage to the United Kingdom as potentially “three times worse than Covid-19”. Liberal Democrats followed with Louis Triggs expressing “our duty to stand for human rights in Hong Kong, Belarus or right here at home”. He also called for an end of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Both parties called out the government for “breaking international law” and exclaimed that this would damage the UK’s reputation and make Brexit negotiations even more complicated. Conservative’s Melissa Gurusinghe replied by saying that the Conservatives were the “only party with a solid foreign policy” which the public had voted for, in reference to the national elections win of 47 seats. She claimed this support as continuous by saying a YouGov poll gave them 39% of the public’s support.
Brahmpreet Kaur from KCL Labour explained how young adults (who had recently become 18) and EU citizens living in the UK had not been consulted when the Brexit referendum occurred and so these figures did not necessarily represent their views on the government. The Conservative’s Philip Brenninkmeyer called out Brahmpreet’s statement as an attack on the democratic validity of the referendum. As discussion flowed, the previously mentioned breaking of international law took centre stage, with the Conservatives Melissa calling it a “negotiating chip”. Conversely, Liberal Democrats and Labour both agreed this would have repercussions on the UK’s public image. Philip claimed international law was constantly being broken, such as China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims, and so nothing was off the table. Liberal Democrats’ Louis confronted this “political machismo” approach to Brexit, which Conservatives wrote off as simply a step towards the finish line on negotiations.
The second topic of the night was Covid-19’s social and economic challenges. Liberal Democrat’s Conor Hilliard said the government was “hopelessly incapable” to deal with Covid-19 due to “the Prime Minister’s failure to create a functioning track and trace system”. Negative figures such as the possibility of the economy shrinking “12% this year alone” were then brought up. “Worst of all”, he said, “millions of people could fall between the cracks” because of Westminster ignoring their struggle.
Conservatives brought up the current uncertainty for the UK and its people, due to the pandemic’s “unprecedented challenge with no rulebook”. However, they agreed that there had been problems with the government’s handling of this crisis, but claimed their party offered the best leadership.
This was followed by Labour’s François criticising the government for its incompetence. Labour did not agree with the government’s policies, and their focus on the economy instead of the “massive inequality” affecting citizens. He argued that the government subsidising only 80% of wages was “simply not enough”. Given the circumstances, they agreed many of these errors were forgivable.
Labour’s Brahmpreet denounced that in the midlands, guidelines regarding face mask use indoors were widely ignored and put essential workers at great risk. On the contrary, Conservative’s Philip assured 90% of people in London wore masks, and those who did not were most likely exempt. Member of all parties agreed that worsened mental health due to lockdown is a paramount issue that moving forwards needs to be more effectively tackled.
Finally, the last section was on immigration, where the Conservative’s Philip explained that they were in favour of skilled workers coming to the UK. He also said working with France was essential to “stop illegal immigrants dying in an attempt to cross the Channel”. Liberal Democrats debated that immigrants bring more in taxes than they use in welfare and legalising more immigrants would allow for further economic growth. They all agreed that the NHS was in need of workers, but Labour and Liberal Democrats criticised that given the annual £25,000 salary necessary to immigrate, it was extremely complicated for people wanting to take jobs such as nursing which barely passed the £25,000 threshold. This was reinforced by Labour’s Brahmpreet who reminded the public how complicated it can be to enter the job market, even as a British university graduate with previous internship experience.
The debate ended with a short Q&A, where the audience inputted their opinions, such as criticism of the government’s approach to education in the wake of Covid-19.