‘This House Believes There is Still a Case for a Conservative Government’: York Dialectic Union’s First Debate of the Year


Daisy Couture (she/her) reports on York Dialectic Union's first debate of the year

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By Daisy Couture

On 6 October 2023, the first York Dialectic Union debate of the academic year took place. Hosted in the University’s Berrick Saul building, the motion ‘This House Believes There is Still a Case for a Conservative Government’ produced fierce arguments on both sides, and gathered over one hundred spectators.

The proposition consisted of third-year History and Politics student James Clay, and Deputy Chair of the North East Young Conservatives Matthew Smith. The opposition consisted of third-year Politics and International Relations student Max Abdulgani, and York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell.

Clay kicked the evening off with a detailed account of what the Conservatives had done over the past 13 years in office. He highlighted motions of educational policy, climate action and the recent Renters (Reform) Bill. His remarks on the “empty promises” of Sir Keir Starmer and the vivid image he portrayed of the Leader of the Opposition was met with a unanimous chuckle.

Maskell then offered her statement, leading behind a powerful opening gambit: “A government without the confidence of the people behind them is no government at all.” She referenced the recent conferences, and the current government’s tendency to pivot away from the big issues facing Britain. Maskell dismissed Clay’s carefully-spun caricature of Labour and their swivelling policies, and harkened back to her party’s origin, which grew from working people. Her closing statement, that she believes “our country has been broken by the Conservatives”, wrapped the argument up.

With opening statements out of the way, the heart of the debate began. Smith led the argument for the proposition. His main points revolved around the Labour Party’s lack of a  long-term vision for Britain, nor a gimmick, such as Blair’s New Labour. Points of information were raised from the audience in resistance to Smith’s attack on Labour’s alleged overspending, with the 2008 financial crash brought up as a counterargument. However, Smith was quick to reject other POIs on Brexit, dismissing two hands and ploughing on as best he could. His final bid at persuading the audience went as follows: “Listen to the facts of what the Conservatives have provided to the masses.”

It was finally Abdulgani’s turn to speak. Rebuttals of Smith’s points came hard and fast, most notably of Labour’s overspending – for that, the global financial crash was blamed. He drew attention to the government’s failing to follow through on the Renters (Reform) Bill, and made it very clear that a fifth term of Conservative leadership would be a “disaster for the public.” He then turned Smith’s attack on its head, claiming that it is the Conservatives, not Labour, who are the party of short-term tactics. Abdulgani raised a final interesting point in that, for the past thirteen years, the country has been a “hodgepodge” of different political beliefs. The Conservatives, he claimed, are a fragmented group, with many of its supporters holding opposing views for the future.

Clay closed the debate for the proposition, which appeared to come as a surprise to him. Despite this, he gave an eloquent, last-ditch speech reiterating the policies of the Conservative Party and closing with a message which I am sure no spectator would argue with: “Vote for what you believe in.”

Maskell’s closing statement focused on the Conservative Party as a spent force, one that was no longer relevant to Britain. This was summed up by her final line: “I urge you to reject the Conservative Party, and to ensure that you have got a future which you want to be part of and which you can shape with Labour.”

It was generally regarded that both sides argued well. The result of the debate, voted for by the spectators, was that there is, indeed, no longer a case for a Conservative government. The motion was defeated by a margin of 70 votes, with 11 ayes to 81 noes.

Nouse spoke to the Dialectic Union’s secretary, Cameron Bennett, after the debate. He said: “I’m very excited to see this sort of debating across campus. I was very excited to hear both of the speakers present their thoughts on the motion.”

“I was slightly surprised by a lot of the stuff the proposition said, but I thought there were some very strong points made. [Clay] definitely produced a very palatable case for the Conservatives.”

Nouse also asked for some final thoughts from the York student speakers, James Clay and Max Abdulgani.

Clay commented: “I found that very enjoyable. [...] The great thing about the York Dialectic Union…[is] it’s the first thing in York in a while now that’s been able to bring lots of different people from lots of different perspectives together, in a good, safe, friendly environment where people can feel comfortable to express their opinions.”

Abdulgani said: “I didn’t expect such a great turn out, to be honest…I think the most important thing is audience engagement when it comes to these sorts of things. [...] I thought it was very brave of the [proposition] to defend the record of the last 13 years.”