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The Oxford Union does not know what Labour stands for

On February 10th, the Oxford Union debated on the motion “This House does not know what Labour stands for.” The event featured prominent speakers from both the Conservative and the Labour parties, such as Joe Moore and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The debate comes 2 days after Labour scaled back on its £28bn a year green investment pledge. Labour also spent the past few weeks performing a series of U-turns on previously announced policies as it finalises its manifesto ahead of a general election, which polls show Labour could win by a significant margin. 

Theo Adler-Williams, Union Chief of Staff, opened the debate for the proposition. He argued that Labour dropped their policies for a “bombproof” campaign. “If you can’t be attacked by the Tories, then you just wrote the Tories’ manifesto,” he said. He further argued there is division and mistrust with the Labour party between leadership and MPs, and that although Labour is leading in the polls, this does not prove it is standing on something. “Labour is better than this, the electorate deserved better than being offered no substance,” he concluded.

Opening the opposition, Anita Okunde, Union Director of Media, argued that Labour is standing “for the many, but not the few.” Laying out policies like an income tax increase, Okunde asked the floor to raise their hands if they believed Labour harmed the economy, which was met by no reaction from the audience. Okunde discredited the spotlight that is put on the leading figure, and argued that voting for Labour means voting for the hard-working grassroots campaigners doing the groundwork. “We are not voting for Starmer, we are voting for the principle the policy represents,” said Okunde.

Robert Griffiths, Welsh Communist activist and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain spoke next for the proposition. He argued that Labour “cuddles up to big business” and “the leadership of the [Labour] Party knows exactly what it stands for, it stands for the interest of big business.” Moreover, Griffiths cited a Morningstar article which stated that 43% of the young eligible voters will not vote or considered not voting, and declared this was a “tragedy”. He urged the Oxford Union to “sit still [and] occupy the Chamber” in a message to Labour for a clearer stance.

Ali Khosravi, Co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club in Trinity Term 2023, then took the stand for the opposition and outlined the economic reality that under Conservative leadership: economic growth stagnated, debt and taxes increased, and people were left with no hope of getting their own home. He urged the floor to vote for Labour if they wanted to see more houses built in this country, better workers’ rights, and a taxation system that rewards hard work. “Whether you love it, or loathe it, life will be different from under the conservative government,” Khosravi said.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, British politician and Conservative party MP for North East Somerset since 2010 closed the debate for the proposition. He asserted that Labour “stands for nothing” with its 26 U-turns. In response to the Green investment U-turn, he said if Labour so passionately believed in the importance of fighting climate change, they would find space in the budget. He echoed Alder-Williams’ earlier argument that U-turns were making Labour more similar to the Tories. “Labour is sacrificing the desire for office for its principles, and this is a tragedy for Labour and the country,” concluded Rees-Mogg.

Closing the debate, Joe Moore, Political advisor of Labour MPs Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and Kate Green, Shadow Secretary of State for Education. He acknowledged the disappointing “U-turn” Labour made on the Green Investment pledge, but argued that this did not mean that Labour did not have a policy. He stressed that the policies Labour committed to were still going on. He concluded that Labour had a coherent idea of economic policy, and that Labour will be more active and involved and a government “shaping, but not being shaped.”

The motion passed, with 188 members voting in favour and 70 members voting against.

Image Credit: NATO

Image Description: Oxford Union chamber