This week’s debate began with mixed tidings. Union President Paulina Ivanova opened proceedings with the unfortunate news that Ken Livingston, a speaker for the opposition, would be unable to make the debate following the cancellation of trains from London due to flooding. The audience were not left regretting the loss long. Ivanova quickly softened the blow with the announcement that a video recording of Edward Snowden responding to questions sent by Oxford students would be screened in the Union ahead of next week’s debate, “This House Would Call Edward Snowden A Hero”.
With this news the room filled with an excited hum and the anxious rustle of seats, as Rupert Cunningham of Christ Church stood up to open the case for the proposition. Cunningham speech began with an hilarious false letter from Livingston, in which Livingston had seemingly written his apologies for not attending, “I have researched the motion”, it read, “and found no cogent case in opposition […] yours, Blue Ken”.
The main body of Cunningham’s argument stressed the difficult state of 1970s Britain, “the government control of the 70s” and the “depravation of freedom”. To assess the legacy of Thatcher, Cunningham stressed the importance of understanding the Britain she took over.
It fell now to Ben Nabarro of Pembroke to make the opposition’s response. Nabarro took Cunningham’s model of the 70s and raised him Thatcher’s 80s. “Child poverty and malnutrition both went up under Thatcher”, he argued. Nabarro also introduced an argument which would form a mainstay for the opposition all evening: that Thatcher, by opening up the economy brought on the financial crisis of 2008.
Lord Tom King, the Secretary of State for Defence under Margaret Thatcher, argued in response to Nabarro that “the cause of the financial crisis was Blair and Brown, not Thatcher”. He continued to tell a number of anecdotes about the dangers of Northern Ireland and the rousing moment when Thatcher, against all opposition, gave the decision to protect the people of the Falklands.
Matt Handley returned fire for the opposition defining a “saviour” as “someone who does right by the worst off in society”. Thatcher, he argued, did not meet that criterion. He stressed the harsh working conditions for people in Liverpool, the anti-homosexuality laws passed in schools and concluded with the damning memory of Thatcher labelling the “African National party a ‘terrorist organisation'” in their fight for the ending of apartheid in South Africa.
Sue Cameron, a Daily Telegraph columnist, blamed the crash on Ed Balls, and reiterated the proposition argument that the Britain of 70s was a country in need of rescuing, “the sick man of Europe”. Tim Bale, a biographer of Thatcher, gave a very strange speech in response which appeared not to come down on either the side of the opposition or the proposition, but academically weighed the positive and negative aspects of thatcher’s government without offering any conclusion.
Eamon Butler, Co-Founder of the free market supporting institute began his speech in favour of the motion by claiming that “I once said that I would never speak longer in public than I could make love in private”. With that, he made to sit down. Only to rise once more and give a rousing speech in defence of Thatcher’s treatment of the economy. At one point he thanked Handley for a point of information with the words “Thank you for that little ejaculation”.
There followed a number of speeches from the floor in which Jonathan Goddard, a Brasenose student, criticised the proposition speakers for stressing the legacy of Thatcher abroad, when the motion was about Britain.
The debate was rounded off with a speech from Conor Burns, a conservative MP, who spoke of how he, as a gay man used to visit Thatcher at her home every Sunday before her death. “This was not a woman who had a problem with homosexuals”, he concluded. Finally, Lord Maurice Glasman a Labour peer gave a methodological assessment of Thatcher’s treatment of the lower classes, summing up with the statement, “Thatcher took sides with the rich against the poor” and “was the cause of our present malaise”.