St John’s College fresher Mayank Banerjee started this debate by arguing that “one does not have to agree with all the actions of the New Labour government” to believe that “they would be better than the Conservative alternative”.
He implored the audience to think of three people who definitely benefited from the New Labour government: the ten-year-old Bosnian girl whose parents were saved, the gay teenager who was at last able to hope for a future of marriage equality, and, in a twist he admitted was “slightly egotistical”, himself, as the New Labour immigration policy enabled his family to move to Britain.
On the opposition side, Christ Church undergraduate Charles Malton condemned New Labour as an “ideological vacuum” engaged in a “continual 24/7 campaign for votes”.
Malton argued that they came to power at a time when conditions were “favourable to government”, but they had “squandered” a rare opportunity to change Britain.
Malton went on to accuse New Labour of letting down “the elderly and the poor” and of “failing to make public services work for the people who needed them”, as well as making it “less possible for least privileged to rise to heights”. He summarised Tony Blair’s period in office as a “wasted decade”.
Proposition Speaker Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, argued that New Labour was “overly reliant” on the financial sector, and allowed city bankers to “play fast and loose with people’s money”.
However, she praised New Labour’s “game-changing” social policies, which represented “strides forward” for women and minority groups.
Opposition speaker Peter Hitchens, 2010 winner of the Orwell Prize in Journalism, attacked the proposition side for “pretending that the Iraq War was not central” to the New Labour government.
In his view, this was like a man saying “I may not have a head, but I’m quite handsome really”.
He drew attention to the “tens of thousands of people ruined by Iraq”, the civilians killed and the British families bereaved.
While the proposition speakers praised New Labour’s willingness to compromise and create agreement between the three parties, he mourned the “destruction of debate and diversity of opinion in Britain’s government” and asked “is that a thing of which anyone can be proud?”
Proposition speaker Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrat MP from 1997-2010 and former leader of Welsh Lib Dems, called Charles Malton “rude” and Peter Hitchens “patronising”.
To the suggestion that New Labour wasn’t “radical” enough, he pointed out that the alternative was the Conservative party, whom he accused of creating “an avoidable war with the Falklands”, hypocritically preaching “family values” while they were all having affairs with their secretaries, violating civil rights, and cooperating with Saddam Hussein to “train the Taliban”.
Opik recognized that Peter Hitchens does not like either party, but claimed that “Peter Hitchens does not like anybody”, declaring: “I look at that man and I say ‘he needs a hug!’” Hitchens stood up to accuse him of trying to turn the debate into “a partisan this or that choice”, to which he reiterated his belief that Britain was a “less bad state” under Labour than it would have been with another 31 years of Conservative government.
Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone criticised New Labour for valuing “style over substance”.
He described Tony Blair as a ‘nice guy’ who ‘just doesn’t know anything about politics’.
Livingstone asserted that New Labour’s downfall stemmed from their overriding desire “to be liked”. He argued that “the job of being in politics is to lead” and “if you want to be a serious politician, people are going to hate your guts”.
Although he praised Gordon Brown for “handling the banking crisis right” and recognising that the solution is not to “cut taxes and slash spending, but invest in the economy and public services and get people back to work”, he claimed that both Blair and Brown were “obsessed by trivia, media, style”.
Livingstone concluded that Tony Blair was “a haunted man”, fully aware that “he could have changed the economy and social situation on a much grander scale”, and speculated that Blair would join him in voting against the motion.