“Anyone Who Strikes is Absolutely Deplorable”: Shade Gets Thrown at Conservative-Labour Debate

On the evening of Friday, October 12th, a political battle raged in Lecture Theatre 1, Bush House. On one side, two speakers from the KCL Conservative Society. On the other, their Labour counterparts. The Liberal Democrats were nowhere to be seen. In short, the stage was set for a highly accurate British politics debate. 

 

From left to right: Osian Evans and Meg Hall of Labour, Diego Rodriguez of KCL Politics Society, Emily Slatter and Ayush Joshi of the Conservatives.

 

The debate took about an hour and a half, covering three main topics – Brexit, Education, and Foreign Policy, in that order. It involved a lot dialogue between the two benches, and questions from the audience. KCL Politics Society President Diego Rodriguez acted as moderator. 

Brexit

The Conservatives, headed by Emily Slatter, – a second-year Classics student and president of the society – started proceedings with a strong defence of current Brexit policy. They said that Brexit was and would be a “marked moment in the British consciousness.” The Conservatives, she said, would leave the single market and put in place a customs agreement with “frictionless movement across borders.”

Slatter also launched a fierce attack on the EU. A particular focus of her ire was the European Court of Justice, where she said that “their all or nothing position is a sign of weakness not strength.” 

“We will not bow to the ECJ,” asserted Slatter.

Labour, represented by Osian Evans and Meg Hall, responded with equal vigour. They denounced Theresa May as heading “the weakest of governments at the most important of times.” They went on to advance Sir Keir Starmer’s 6 Tests as foundational to any agreement. Under a Labour government, the priority would be to “find a Brexit which serves 100% of our country.”

 

Labour debaters Osian Evans (left) and Meg Hall (right)

The debate moderator questioned them on the specifics of their immigration policy. Osian Evans, in response, admitted that “I don’t know yet,” as to “what exact model we would impose,” drawing some laughs from the Conservative side of the chamber.

“This may sound like a huge concession, but we’re not in government,” clarified Evans.

In the dialogue that followed prepared statements, both sides threw more barbs. The Conservatives condemned Labour for having no respect for democracy. “It wasn’t Conservatives who brought this situation of Brexit about, it was the people. If we have faith in our democracy, we would never do another vote.”

Labour parried through further demonstration of alleged Conservative failures in negotiation – leading Slatter to exclaim, “almost everything you have said is entirely unfounded!”

Education

After an appropriate amount of rhetorical butchery (and time elapsed), the debate moved on to education policy. Labour kicked things off, with Meg Hall – president of the society and an aspiring teacher – declaring, “Labour’s plan for education makes me 100 times less intimidated to go into the profession.”

She went on to lay out key Labour policy planks – including free higher education and imposing VAT on private school fees. When questioned as to costing, she said – “We do it like other European countries – we have to raise taxes.” This drew a collective gasp. 

The Conservative counterstroke focused mainly on higher education. They suggested that Labour’s talk of student debt was a misnomer. In fact, they said “there’s no such thing as student debt – it’s another layer of tax.” VAT on private schools was also characterised as “another stamp on ambition,” preventing middle-class families from sending their children to the best schools. This idea was greeted with guffaws from the Labour benches.

Safe Spaces and the UCU Strikes

During dialogue, the moderator turned to questions directly relevant to KCL. First, the issue of safe spaces was brought up.

Ayush Joshi on the Conservative bench decried the policy. “I think safe space is a joke. As a fresher, I saw Palestinian flags everywhere. How is this campus a safe space for an Israeli student?”

Labour supported safe spaces, saying that they believe in “Labour’s version of free speech,” where “you can say anything except if you incite hatred or violence.” When questioned, they maintained that this sentiment extended to the far-left. “Yes, we should not allow Antifa on campus,” stated Hall. 

Talk then turned to the UCU organised lecturer strikes. Labour said that they support them. 

Joshi replied that “strikes are a national disgrace…anyone who strikes is absolutely deplorable – you are paid to work, so you should work.”

This was reinforced with the argument that strikes perverted the free labour market. Taken aback, Meg Hall advanced that “without strikes, we wouldn’t even have the Equal Pay Act.” Hall was told by the Conservatives that “times have changed, Meg.”

Foreign Policy

The moderator shifted the debate to the final topic of the evening, foreign policy. Joshi laid withering fire on the Labour opponents, saying that they were “not debating a Labour Party, we are debating a cult…the opposition is not equipped to hold high office or represent the UK on the world stage.” In contrast, we were told that “this Tory government has shone on the world stage,” particularly in the defence sector.

Labour replied gamely, saying that Britain “must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” They committed to the defence of human rights across the world. They went on to say that Britain should not be allied with groups which were “racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic,” among other epithets.

Conservatives also accused Labour of wanting to “scrap the military,” once again drawing laughs from the audience. “To be clear, we do not want to ‘scrap the military,'” replied Hall, who stated that she belonged to a military family.

At this point, an audience member walked in with a bag of beers. Rodriguez reminded the chamber that “I know we are all excited to go to the Vault” but that drinking was not allowed.

In dialogue, sharp clashes continued. Labour called for a serious reconsideration of the Special Relationship with the US. Evans called for Britain “to do a bit more like Hugh Grant in Love Actually…we should tell Mr Trump to take a hike.”

In clear contrast, the Conservatives said that “what the UK and US have achieved over the past 50 years has been monumental.” While they acknowledge that Mr Trump could be problematic, they said that “we should respect the office, not the man.”

The Conservatives also prosecuted Labour on two key fronts – Israel and Venezuela. A Labour speaker acknowledged that, “I think we condemn Israel disproportionately – too much.” They also said that they “do not approve of what is going on.” However, they were unwilling to level unequivocal condemnation at Hugo Chavez, late leader of Venezuela, saying “Chavez brought a lot of good with him,” including prosperity and jobs.

The overall debate ended with a pair of closing statements, and a desire to get to The Vault for a drink.

Some audience members expressed disappointment in the event. “There weren’t coherent arguments from either side,” commented Charles Tolkien-Gillett, adding, “It’s a shame there weren’t any minority parties.” Tolkien-Gillett expressed a desire to hear arguments from Liberal-Democrats and the Green Party as well.

Fellow spectator Izzy Caldwell expressed similar disappointment, stating “they were just… presenting things.”

While this event may not have achieved any constructive policy-making objectives, it gave a thorough exploration of each side’s view. In an increasingly partisan and hostile environment, events like these – however fraught – provide a crucial opportunity for insight and reflection.

Over the coming days, Roar will bring out more articles on the debate – until then, stay tuned.

 

Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted the Conservatives as saying “Times have changed, mate.” The quote has since been corrected to “Times have changed, Meg.”

 

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