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Nearly 80 competitors from thirteen universities descended on Lancaster University for the Inter-Varsity debating competition on Saturday 1 November, each vying for the coveted Princess Alexandra Cup.
Lancaster’s Debating Society were spectators for this event, since by tradition the host university does not compete, but the event is just one in the societies’ packed schedule. Universities around the country host their own events throughout the year, and events have also been held further afield in Paris and the USA.
The teams had competed in preliminaries throughout the day. In the grand final, four teams competed for the chance to win ‘Best Team’, ‘Best Speaker’ and ‘Best Novice Speaker’ awards: after a day of competing, it came to S.O.A.S and Manchester University to argue for the proposition, with Nottingham University and the University of York opposing them.
Formal debating has a rigid structure: each team member has five minutes to deliver their argument, and during the first and last minute ‘points of information’ (objections) from the opposing teams are not allowed. Otherwise, interaction is encouraged—making each debate an often confrontational and intense experience. Recently at a Cambridge Union debate the contestants came to physical blows, but thankfully Lancaster’s event avoided such controversy.
As the final began, the motion was proposed by Liz Ford, chief adjudicator: ‘The burden is on governments, not multinationals, to find alternatives to oil and gas’. Competitors were given fifteen minutes to construct their arguments.
First up was Manchester, who presented a convincing opening argument in favour of the motion. Richard Robinson, a fresher competing in his first debate, argued that it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens, likening finding alternative fuels to “having enough policemen on the streets”. His team-mate, Ciaran Prendeville, proposed that the government is better equipped to co-ordinate such a large-scale operation. At this point, it seemed that Manchester had a good chance of winning over the judges. However, while both speakers won individual trophies, they did not win overall.
Also arguing for the proposition were SOAS, contending that global warming affects economics, not just weather, so alternative fuel is the concern of governments. They illustrated the Philippines, where companies bought rice crops, forcing up prices, leaving locals starving. As the government has previously repaired companies’ damage, nations place more trust in their government than multinationals.
York, on the opposition, contested that multinationals they should fix things themselves, given that the damage was caused by them. They added that if an alternative fuel, such as solar power, were developed it would become a commodity. Therefore, multinationals would be the best people to deal with it. Countries like those in the Middle East, are not short of sunny weather. If governments bore the burden, alternative fuels like solar power would create the same problems as oil.
By far the liveliest reception was for Nottingham, whose speakers were accompanied on stage by a chant of Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex is on Fire’ from supporters in the audience. They argued that multinationals have profit incentive so are more likely to find a solution.
They highlighted the Pharmaceutical industry, happy to spend decades developing medicine in return for high profits, and added that multinationals competing is preferable to governments competing, as there is no chance of escalation into war. Despite the audience’s initial amusement at their vocal support, they argued their points well, eventually winning the Lancaster IV. They were presented with a trophy for ‘Best Team’.
Debating is not always formal; amusing team names and a ‘debating drinking game’ kept the mood of the competition light, despite the prestige at stake. One rule of the drinking game was to drink every time the phrase ‘ladies and gentlemen’ was used—a common occurrence in debating.
Overall, the judges were impressed with the quality of the debate. The competitors did not let their nerves affect them, impressive when considering the large audience and pressure of the final. Certainly part of the excitement of competing comes from the thrill of ‘performing’.
Speaking to a delighted Richard Robinson after the trophy presentation, he said he had “learnt more today than in two years debating at school”. He added that he felt Manchester had a good chance before Nottingham delivered their argument, but seemed pleased enough with his trophy for ‘Best Novice Speaker’. ‘Best speaker in the Final’ was awarded to Ciaran Prendeville and ‘Best Speaker Overall’ went to Bryn Gough from Birmingham University.
Afterwards, a fresher in the Lancaster society, Jenny Arding, related her feelings: she was “inspired” by the friendliness and good atmosphere of the event, and couldn’t wait to compete in an IV herself.
If you want to try debating, the Lancaster Debating Society meets every Monday in Fylde Lecture Theatre 1 at 7pm, with training sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays.