“The purpose of debate is to make us open our minds.” Thus spake The Rt Hon the Lord Hague of Richmond, who, as a former party leader and foreign secretary, probably knows more than most on the subject. It was ORA’s honour to host this titan of British politics and foreign affairs, and co-founder (with Angelina Jolie-Pitt) of the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security, as the guest speaker and adjudicator of The Great ORA Debate yesterday.
Four students from the ORA programmes in Balliol, University and Queen’s, and our very own Shubh Jaggi from St Catz, vied to be named the best, the winner, the ultimate debater, as they put their points for or against the motion, ‘Populism is a threat to democracy’. Lord Hague introduced the terms of the debate with deft even-handedness, reminding the audience that this was not simply a question of whether or not we approve of Donald Trump, and that “populists may be on the left or the right, or even the centre, of politics”.
He also shared a few tips from his own extensive debating experience. Most memorable were the tactics deployed against former Prime Minister Tony Blair: knowing that Blair organised his briefing files alphabetically during Prime Minister’s Questions, Hague would hold back the subject of his question until the last possible moment so as to rob the Prime Minister of preparation time, and then ask a subsequent question on a topic at the opposite end of the alphabet.
Catz spirit was strong in the audience as Shubh Jaggi took to the lectern to deliver his speech against the motion ―claps and cheers reverberated in the curvilinear chamber of the Sheldonian Theatre, for what felt like a full minute. Biting back against the proposition speakers, who held that populism is a tool wielded by the ambitious, dishonest and divisive opportunist, and serves only to dichotomise the political field, Shubh argued that negative examples might well be levied, but that populism remained a manifestation of democracy; he cited Mahatma Gandhi as an example of a good populist, and as Lord Hague noted in his closing remarks, “nobody who believes that Gandhi is a populist is going to believe that populism is always bad.” Although, unfortunately, Shubh was not the victor in this close-fought match, he received an award and a handshake from Lord Hague ―not bad for a day’s work.
Catz students continued to exhibit their many talents back on campus, in Part I of ORA’s Got Talent. The diverse range of acts (gymnasts, singer/songwriters, and even a stand-up comedian) were fantastic, and whetted our appetites for Part II!