Student political leaders go head to head

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Joanna Kozlowska

Leaders of Oxford’s major student political societies clashed last Tuesday in a debate on whether “the Coalition would make for a better Britain”.

Lincoln Hill, Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, Robin McGhee, President of Oxford University Liberal Democrats, and Joe Cooke, President of Oxford University Conservative Association, debated the success of the coalition so far.

Cooke, the main proponent of the motion, based his case on the idea of a “Conservative civic revolution”. He said: “The current government espouses the most radical agenda for over a hundred years. It seeks to create a network of vibrant communities and ensure freedom of opportunity.”  He also stressed “the need for fostering civic attitudes”, saying: “Throwing money at issues is not enough, and this is something Labour can never understand.”

In response, OULC’s Hill argued that Cooke’s idea of a “better Britain” largely ignores the importance of a “just society”. He likened the Conservative philosophy to “the pirates’ code from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘those who fall behind are left behind’”.

He also criticised the over-emphasis on reducing the national deficit: “Focusing on deficit reduction from private funds completely misses the point. What ‘better Britain’ means to most people is good jobs, stable wages, excellent healthcare and education systems.”

Other topics covered at the debate, organised by Oxford Current Affairs Society, included the role of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, the future of AV and the possibility of Scottish secession.

Robin McGhee of OULD argued that “the alternative to trying to moderate the Conservatives was doing nothing”, and said that the electorate was “misled by right-wing press” over the reform of the voting system, predicting that the issue would be brought back.

The speakers agreed that complete Scottish independence seemed unlikely. Cooke said he had “total faith in Scottish people”, adding that the wording of the referendum would be crucial. Hill added that the SNP majority could largely be explained by “Labour not presenting a positive programme. A lot depends on the Scottish Labour party pulling itself together”.

The debate also involved collective brainstorming by participants in response to questions from the audience on subjects such as the feasibility of housing schemes.

Ameer Kotecha, a PPE student from St Peter’s College, commented: “It was admirable to see party representatives find common ground and work towards constructive solution, instead of partisan politics.” “The standard of the debate was truly impressive,” added Tristan Honeyborne, a 1st year PPE student from Magdalen. “I can easily see them debating in the House of Commons in a few years’ time.”

However, one Modern Languages student from Somerville College said: “I feel more attention could have been given to Britain’s foreign policy. Relations with the EU were mentioned, but some of the finer points could have been explained in more detail, for example the European social policies which speakers seemed to dismiss quickly as “unsuitable in the British context””.

The debate was organised by the Oxford Current Affairs Society.

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