A Campus East lecture theatre was sold out last week as MP and former leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn joined a debate on Wealth Tax on Friday evening.
Hosted by the University of York Dialectic Union and sponsored by educational charity Teach First, the number of attendees alone made it clear the debate was the event of the year. Tickets sold out in a matter of days, and the Piazza lecture theatre on Campus East was bustling in anticipation long before the commencement of the debate.
A thrilling discussion followed, opened by Corbyn‘s speech for the proposition. As the speakers took turns laying out their arguments and firing rebuttals at their opponents, the enthusiastic energy in the room was interrupted only by the occasional applause and a smattering of laughter at the panels often humorous taunts
Corbyn was supported in the proposition by entrepreneur Joe Seddon, founder and CEO of Zero Gravity, a company aiming to increase access to prestigious universities and careers for low-income students. The opposition, speaking against the introduction of a Wealth Tax, was led by Christopher Snowdon. Apart from writing for publications such as The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, Snowdon is ‘Head of Lifestyle Economics’ at the Institute of Economic Affairs — a free market ‘think tank’ headquartered in London, which receives its funding from sources such as BP, as well as the alcohol and sugar industries.
Cameron Bennett, a 3rd year History and Politics student, argued in the opposition alongside Snowdon, with much support from his colleagues at the Dialectic Union.
The debate was concluded by opening the floor for questions, during which the audience had the opportunity to raise ideas and topics not covered during the discussion. A question for Bennett ended the evening on a humorous note: “Do you oppose the introduction of the Wealth Tax because it would impact your access to Daddy‘s money?“
The good humour with which Bennett accepted his friends question and shocked laughter that filled the room from students, staff and MPs alike was proof enough that debates on wealth tax can be a source of connection too, with both sides finding common ground on the need for equity and wealth equality in the country. The opposition even admitted they knew they were fighting a losing battle in a university full of young people in the north of England, but that did no harm to their enthusiasm.
After the student audience departed and the debate drew to a close, Vision had an exclusive opportunity to chat with the star of the night, MP Jeremy Corbyn.
We began by discussing the death of Long Boi, as Jeremy wished to pass on his condolences to the entire York community. “If an appropriate memorial appears I will wish to visit it…I would happily take a selfie with him.”
Next Vision asked him to speak on why a wealth tax is important, this time in one sentence – rather than the 20 minutes his debate speech took, to which Jeremy jested “My speech was only 15 [minutes]!”
All joking aside, Jeremy was very eager to discuss the importance of the wealth tax, both in the debate and our interview: “It’s important because one, it would provide resources to help deal with some of the egregious social divisions we have in our society. Two, it would be a message to the entirety of our society that we’re serious about redistributing wealth.”
We then discussed what can be done to convince current frontbenchers (from both parties) to do more about implementing such a wealth tax.
“They should stop being so damn timid, stop being afraid of saying anything. Politics is about debate, division sometimes, but it’s also about giving people hope.
“If party A is offering to carry on as normal and party B is threatening to change nothing, where’s the choice.”
And why does Jeremy think students should be involved in the Dialectic Union and other student political debates like this?
“It’s a good way of expressing yourself, it’s a good way of bringing in speakers, it’s a good way of understanding debate in society.”
“University isn’t just about your degree, it isn’t just about your lectures. It’s about the social interactions, it’s about the activism. It’s about experiencing the wider life. And I say to students who want to go into politics, ‘Don’t think of it as a career necessarily, think about it as the causes you believe in and what you can achieve politically to bring them about’.”
As Mr Corbyn turned back to the smattering of students eager to snatch a selfie, we had a brief word with Debate chair and Dialectic Union President Adam Moses about organising such a successful event.
“It’s been good fun. It’s been a lot of work, getting everything organised today.”
“I don’t think it could have gone any better – it was lovely.”
On what it took to get Jeremy to visit York Adam noted the long process: “I emailed in February. We’ve been back and forth (since then).”
“He was originally scheduled to visit in November!”
“It was quite a weird experience. I was sitting in my room doing some work and my phone starts going, and on the other end of the phone is Jeremy Corbyn saying ‘I’m so sorry but I can’t make it on November 3rd.’ He was so apologetic…so we decided ‘we have to move it.'”
And we’re very glad they did. While the thrill of seeing perhaps one of the UK’s most intriguing Leaders of the Opposition was always bound to draw large crowds, this event was equally successful for its ability to connect differing economic perspectives over common ground, and different generations over political interests.
The moments afterwards speak for themselves, as students ran out buzzing over their brief time with Mr Corbyn, and as Corbyn himself headed off to catch his train in a chatter of enjoyment. The Dialectic Union should be incredibly proud of hosting such an iconic event on East Campus, and we (for one) are most grateful that they did.