After what was described by one Union member as “a highly successful journalistic pincer movement” former Editor of The Observer Will Hutton and The Financial Times’ European Editor Tony Barber led the Europhile opposition to a decisive victory.
A packed debating chamber bore testament to an issue that, following the Eurozone crisis and David Cameron’s veto of EU treaty amendments, has been assimilated into the public zeitgeist as never before.
The first two proposition speakers were a pair of prominent Euroscep- tic Conservative MPs; Bill Cash and Dominic Raab, both speaking from the experience of parliamentary careers heavily involved with the dichotomy between UK and EU. Cash in particular delivering an uncompromising Eurosceptic speech with the kind of bullish nous that only 28 years on the Tory bench can bring. They were joined by two of the most important figures behind UKIP, the only major British political party to call for an end to the country’s mem- bership. Alan Sked founded UKIP’s predecessor and, now disillusioned with his creation, is Professor of International History at the LSE. He was joined by Lord Willoughby de Broke, hereditary peer and one of two UKIP parliamentarians. Arrayed against them in the EU’s defence stood an opposition of jour- nalists and politicians. Will Hutton, now Principal of Hertford, was followed by Tony Baldry, the third Conservative MP in the debate, but holding quite different views to his Europhobe colleagues. Then came Lord Giles Radice, a Labour peer well-known for his parliamentary work in promotion of the organisa- tion. Finally, Tony Barber concluded the case for the opposition.
However, the calibre of the guests was not entirely beyond reproach; after the debate, one attendee conceded that she worried the panel of “white, middle-aged men” might not have engaged fully with all the audience.
Wide-ranging in both its themes and examples, among the key points of contention in the debate were the link between post-war Euro- pean peace and the EU, its claims to democratic legitimacy, and even the semantics of the motion.
Whilst perhaps not as comic as Lembit Opik’s antics in the debate of the week before, the gravity of the matter did not prohibit moments of humour, with speakers (mentioning no names) shamelessly plugging each other’s books and comparing the number of European languages in their arsenals.
As the debate continued, tempers predictably began to fray, culminat- ing in Hutton shouting down UKIP founder Professor Alan Sked’s point- of-information request in no uncertain terms.
While the Eurosceptics unquestionably put up a spirited fight, the throng surrounding the ‘noe’ door made it fairly clear that despite the recent economic turbulence; Oxford at least is still clinging to hopes of a united Europe. Not quite, perhaps, the harbinger Nigel Farage was hoping for mere days before his appearance at the debating society this week.