The students staying at Queen’s and University Colleges marched off yesterday to the highly prestigious Sheldonian Theatre for the ‘Great ORA Debate’. Adjudicating the debate was William Hague, Baron of Richmond and former leader of the British Conservative Party. Among many notable achievements and roles, Lord Hague has served as Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Two of the four contestants were from our very own Queen’s and Univ students, who were battling for the motion -‘This House Believes that Populism is a Threat to Democracy’- against students studying at St Catherine’s and Balliol Colleges. Ayushmaan Chopra and Tom Hodgson both made strong and unhesitatingly poised cases for the House. The former demonstrated a fluid cadence that spanned from the statesmanlike to the sensitive, in a direct and engaging manner greatly assisted by his deeply impressive familiarity with his eight minute speech. He demonstrated great awareness of the necessity of popularity in politics, using this as a springboard to make the more nuanced point that populism is a distortion or an ‘abuse’ of the democratic system. Politicians, he argued persuasively, should be telling the electorate what they ‘need’ to hear rather than what they ‘want’ to hear.
Shortly after Ayushmaan’s speech, Tom Hodgson was similarly forceful in his delivery, making a heavily theory-based case for populism as anathema to democracy by definition. This, combined with Ayushmaan’s deft, and at times comical, deflection of rebuttals made for an impressive team effort. But of course, each of the speakers were competing with each other and in the end, Lord Hague made the tough decision of awarding Ayushmaan the first prize, giving the victory to Queen’s and University Colleges – for the first time in an inter-campus competition, a crown of its own.
After dinner, a music quiz was arranged along with a panel on university life in which students were welcomed to ask undergraduates and graduates questions on life at university and on the application process for UK universities. This led to fruitful conversations and sensible advice on a topic about which prospective applicants are often nervous- the Oxford University interviews. With calming advice from counsellors who successfully attended those interviews, however, students were able to sleep soundly and confidently.