Oxford Union Debate Review

by Jenny Heath

Motion:This House Has No Confidencein His Majesty’s Government.

At the annual Oxford Union debate on confidence in our government, 45 people voted that they had confidence in our government. Less than 24 hours later, Kwasi Kwarteng was fired as Chancellor in the latest twist in what can only be described as a chaotic few weeks in government.

Whatever your political views, it is hard to argue that this government is confidence-inspiring – a view shared by markets, MPs, and increasingly by the general public. Even the speakers supporting the government struggled to find any points to make in their favour, instead lowering themselves to merely attacking the Labour party, or previous Conservative governments.

This is not the point of a confidence debate. Whether or not you have confidence in Keir Starmer’s ability to lead a government has no bearing on whether you have confidence in Liz Truss to lead a government. Despite pitying the thankless task of those supporting the current government, I felt that their focus on disparaging other parties lowered the tone of the debate, and removed the focus from the actual question in hand: do you have confidence in the current Cabinet to lead this country?

Many strong speeches were made to suggest that this should not be the case, from both student and guest speakers. Reasons included their economic incoherency, their lack of democratic mandate to govern and their general incompetency. Further U-turns in tax policy since Thursday have failed to persuade economists of this government’s ability to run the economy and confirm the ad-hoc nature of policy making that appears to go on in this government. Market confidence in Britain is at an extreme low, inflation and inequality continue to grow and concerns about the ability of this government to deal with these issues were amply provided.

The opposition argued that Liz Truss would deliver on growth and prevent the country from falling into a recession. ‘Growth’ does appear to be the Prime Minister’s buzzword, but whether this is something her economic policies can actually deliver in the real world remains to be seen. Many supporters of the government also emphasised the small-state approach of the current government as a welcome change from the pandemic handouts, and the fact that the current cabinet are dealing with exceptional situations under which any government would be struggling.

As Liz Truss was the first choice of neither her MPs, nor the general public, it remains to be seen how long she can cling to power. In a democratic country, who voted for a manifesto and prime minister very different from those of today, it is hard to see why she should be in power. The arguments of confidence and no confidence, whichever you find more persuading, fail to deal with the fact that this cabinet was voted in by a Conservative Party membership whose demographic does not reflect modern Britain, and who get to choose our prime minister solely on the basis of paying a membership fee. The fact that neither voters nor our elected representatives chose this government is a fact that was not emphasised enough in this debate.

Speakers on both sides were highly interesting and able debaters, despite the shortcomings mentioned earlier, and it was a privilege to be able to listen to so many students and guest speakers freely put forward their point of view. Whatever your view on the current government, discussion and debate should be encouraged (even if it sadly won’t get back to the people who need to hear it). The damning indictment of the government in losing 45–222 in votes reflects a public mood that is dissatisfied with incompetence, chaos and callousness across the political spectrum – perhaps Liz Truss should be paying more attention to the Oxford Union.

The Poor Print

The Poor Print is Oriel College's student newspaper, with contributions from across the JCR, MCR, SCR, and staff. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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