Monday, November 27, 2006

The future of parliamentary debate

After school I organised the first parliamentary debate for my A Level Politics group and I have to say that all of them did brilliantly - more confident, better prepared, wittier and straight to the point. They made a lot of our current MPs look like amateurs! The subject of debate was "Tony Blair's 10 years in power have been a sparkling success" - the motion was lost 7 votes to 5, which says a lot about the impact of Blair on 16-17 year olds who have only really known a Labour government!

Two girls took the role of Labour frontbencher and the Tory Leader of the Opposition. They not only made their own speeches but also took a barrage of interventions from backbenchers and from the other dispatch book. The two whips on either side took on the role of a cross between a cheerleader and a pitbull terrier.

The speeches were thoughful and based upon fact. It was interesting that Blair's fans took his record on crime and public services whilst those who opposed him concentrated on two key issues - Iraq and the NHS. The Labour supporters got rather annoyed by the constant Iraq references. Their frontbencher snapping from her seat: "Don't you lot have anything else to talk about?".

The opposition wanted to stick to Iraq, Labour wanted to move on ... more like real life than you'd imagine.

They soon got snappy as fellow MPs tried to put them off their stride and kept trying to refocus the debate to their point. Just like parliament!

Really this was the best I've seen in many years of teaching and I am now determined to work with these kids and, who knows, ending up at the National Parliamentary Debating Competition?

Best line: Labour whip: "I bet you Tories wish you hadn't had thrown all those mentally ill people onto the streets during your time in power - look, they've all ended up on your frontbench!"

Strangest point to make: Tory Leader: "20,000 years ago there were a fewer people than there are today."

Most disagreements: Labour and Tory frontbenchers: Has crime fallen or risen since 1997? Everyone had statistics to prove their point.


Anonymous said...

I agree sir, the debate we had yesterday was the proverbial 'bee's knees'. However, i would like to apologise for my immaturity, when i sniggered at inappropriate moments.

lots of love from Oliver

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think we did pretty well, though we’ll no doubt improve plenty...

I think it was surprisingly close, even considering three of the ‘for’ voters were inconveniently absent...

The difference in the crime figures was down to the sources used. The opposition used opinion poll figures suggesting that people thought crime was getting much worse, whereas the other side used government stats that said crime has actually fallen in real life terms. I’d suggest one of two points: either the types of crime occurring are more personal/traumatising (think neighbourhood conflicts), and the crime statistics are simply reflecting the sizeable decline in passive crime, such as tax evasion and identity fraud; or, the media are doing a good job of making people think crime is getting worse (again, think of the near-‘cult’ status ASBOs have in the papers). Probably, it’s a combination of the two.

The perspective of the notion was also very important in this case – had it been ‘Tony Blair was a failure’, I’d expect a very different result to have occurred.
I’m beginning to think the children of today are being, dare I say it: ‘spoilt’ by the labour government. Economic instability is practically unknown to people my age or younger, and although, admittedly, young people aren’t the first to notice or care about economic decline, I think they’d think differently if they’d seen the differences in life before and present; could be a similar story with education funding too – I’ve seen many people take the invasion of projectors that have hits schools in recent years for granted.

More to the point, I think a lot of young people (and this is not always because of ignorance) are single-issue obsessives and things like the Iraq War and The Environment (as serious as they are) sway their opinion heavily.

Cheers for organising it. I echo dear Oliver's enthusiasm.

Only one problem now - as I lurked as a behind-the-scenes backbencher and so didn’t get to say much, what the hell am I going to do with a 2700 word ‘Analogy of Tony Blair’s Achievements Whilst Prime Minister, 1997-2006.' ? *sigh*

And no, you can’t burn it.

Might even be worth something...

Antony said...

Thanks guys, although it should be pointed out that neither of you were paid for such endorsements. A peerage is in the post...

And Oliver, what self respecting 16 year old lad wouldn't snigger when the word "breast" is used in a classroom? I'd have been upset if you hadn't have giggled.

As for you Peter, you tried to interrupt the Tory Leaders speech ... but failed. Try harder next time, or be nicer to the whip!

Unknown said...

*whip noise*