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Lancaster University Debating Union hosted their first public debate of the academic year on Thursday Week 4, on the motion “This house believes that austerity works”. The Union invited esteemed guests to speak; Mark Littlewood and Paul Ormerod spoke in proposition of the motion, whilst Stewart Wood and Michael Burke argued in opposition. The Union hosted a pre-debate vote reporting 32 for, 45 against, and 28 abstaining from the motion.
In his opening speech to propose the motion, Littlewood defined austerity as “seeking to live within your means, or more particularly, the government [seeking] to live within its means that it finds by taxation”, suggesting that the government and banks were to blame for the economic crash, as they were spending £160billion per year, more than incoming. Littlewood went on to discuss governmental schemes to raise national income from tax, juxtaposing the economic attitudes of the governments of Greece and Germany before concluding that “not only that austerity works, but it is a mathematical necessity […] if [society] doesn’t make it work, you are doing your future children and grandchildren a great disservice.”
Stuart Wood opposed this motion, arguing that “austerity is part of a package that phenomenally damaging to our country”, suggesting that austerity is a choice, not something that is inescapable. He acknowledged the claim that Labour government spending caused the crash, but dismissed it arguing instead, Labour spending just made the issue of austerity more exposed, and in fact economic, social, and political factors were affecting austerity. Wood highlighted that England has a historic problem of low wages for low skilled jobs, and a failure to address welfare issues, whilst arguing that an important generational shift of the “knowledge your children will be better off has been shattered” as a social result of austerity.
Paul Ormerod continued to argue in favour of the proposition as he highlighted scientific evidence to support claims of austerity’s effectiveness as both main parties of the Coalition government agree on a “need to control in a serious way, government debt and government spending”, whilst acknowledging that this would take a long time to overcome as it would require different sects of the economy to readjust their assets. Ormerod argued that if interest rates were to rise by up to 8% as they have done previously, abandoning austerity would be a “very serious mistake” as “a country’s standards of living are ultimately determined by the economy”.
Michael Burke, concluded the debate by opposing the motion, calling upon the audience to evaluate their personal experience with austerity, suggesting there is plenty of money in the economy, “just in the hands of [various corporations] who refuse to spend it” rather than the individuals. Burke proposed that there is in fact an alternative to austerity, which is investment by the state, and he said that “it was the state that bailed out the private sector [of the financial crisis], and it’s the state that can provide an alternative to austerity”.
Members of the audience were invited to ask the speakers questions relating to their arguments, which proved popular. The Union then hosted a second, post-debate vote to find out whether the speakers had any lasting effect on the audience’s views, and found 42 for, 62 against, and 12 abstaining from the motion. LU Debating Union President Luke Parchment described the debate as “a great success and […] well received”, and praised the guest speakers as “incredibly persuasive in presenting their cases, as shown by the fact that they had both increased their vote totals”. LU Debating Union plan many more debates in the run up to the General election later this year.