My plans for last Friday night had originally consisted of clubbing in Leeds, but I found myself sitting in the Berrick Saul Auditorium, nonetheless, at 7:31 p.m.
You may ask why I shunned the glamour of PRYZM for the intellectual rigour of a political debate (courtesy of the York Dialectic Union) – however, this was no ordinary student debate. When the MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, walked into the room, iPad in hand, we had entered the echelons of real, living, breathing politics, rather than some shadowy, intangible figures in Westminster.
“This House Believes There is Still a Case for a Conservative Government” proclaimed Adam, co-founder of the York Dialectic Union, as he introduced the motion and the speakers. The Labour speakers arguing against the motion were student Max Abdulgani and the aforementioned Rachael Maskell.
In favour were the Conservatives, consisting of James Clay, a York student and Production Director at Nouse, and Matthew Smith, Deputy Chairman of the North East Young Conservatives.
With introductory clapping finished, Clay began a calm and reasoned speech, listing 22 (you couldn’t fault him for lack of points) positive policy decisions made by this Conservative Government. Although conceding his likely loss in this battle – conservative students are as common as a punctual First Bus – he ended his speech in staunch defence of democracy and voting for what you truly believed in. His last words, “‘Just bloody well do it”’ had slight shades of Boris Johnson to them (more on that later) but resonated well.
A blanket of silence fell on the room as Rachael Maskell stood up, iPad at the ready. Her following words were heartfelt and earnest yet imbued with anger at years of Conservative neglect and incompetence. Substantiating her points with her personal and emotive experiences as an MP in York, she weaved a compelling case against the motion, to much applause from all around the room.
It was a far cry from a usual Friday night, but I felt absorbed in the atmosphere of the debate – it almost made me want to have studied politics myself, but I quickly came to my wits when I realised I might actually need a job at some point.
Then came Matthew Smith. Whilst brimming with youthful exuberance, he never quite got hold of the room, at one point having to wave down various point of information (POI) interjections from the audience, and often channelling Boris’s gung-ho populism in contrast to his Conservative counterpart James Clay. His demurring, when time to make the closing argument, perhaps signalled this a debate he would rather forget.
The final speaker, Max Abdulgani, seemed the kind of person who comes up on LinkedIn and makes you despair at your relative incompetence. His rhetoric was sharp, dismantling some of Matthew’s points, before transitioning into a scathing attack on the last 13 years of Conservative government.
His lack of an iPad was seemingly no obstacle, and he ended his speech with strong acclaim. The result was by now a foregone conclusion, with Clay’s closing speech not enough to prevent a landslide vote against the motion.
Ultimately, regardless of the outcome, all the speakers have to be congratulated for their passion and debating skills – I remained entertained and intellectually engaged throughout, and this is coming from a fairly regular TikTok user whose attention span is challenged.
And, if you were wondering, I went to Ziggy’s. Can heavily recommend a political debate as pres.