I’m sure many of you have been missing our intrepid debating correspondent since his last appearance on this blog, so here’s Jacob Donovan’s report on last week’s Obama Debate.
‘Thursday’s debate was a slightly odd spectacle on two counts. First, the motion: This House believes that Obama has failed to live up to expectations. As one of the speakers noted in the opening speech, whose expectations? Democrats? Republicans? What Bonnie Greer called “Obama-maniacs”? Or the “average American voter” (If they in fact exist)? This question became increasingly problematic as neither side could agree with the other side, or even their own side, as to how to judge the Obama Presidency.
For the Proposition the fact that Obama hadn’t ended all warfare, brought peace to the Middle East, created a world of plenty for all, destroyed racial inequality and ended boom and bust (not everyone can be Gordon Brown) meant that he had fundamentally failed. This seemed a bit of an excessive burden for, as noted in a Point of Information from Ashvir Sangha (Ex-Treasurer-Elect), Obama isn’t the Messiah. Yes he hasn’t turned water into wine, but he’s done a pretty good job repairing the image of America abroad, helped transform the image of what it means to be black in America and managed to help mitigate the effects of a potentially devastating economic crisis.
Which meant that when the first Proposition speaker, the Chairman of Republicans abroad who looked and sounded a little too much like Fred Flintstone to take seriously, sat down it looked like the Opposition would need to do very little to sweep the floor. Unfortunately, just like David Cameron, they seemed intent on doing quite a lot to throw away certain victory. Bonnie Greer’s down to earth demeanour and charm which served her so well against Nick Griffin on Question Time was refreshing, but she dropped the ball. Instead of facing criticism of Obama head on, she told us that the way to assess his Presidency was to judge it on Obama’s potential. We should just give him a chance. Really Bonnie? Come on. As James Kingston (Librarian) noted in a floor speech, as unfair as it is to presume that he is the Messiah, it’s also unfair to treat him as some sort of Affirmative Action candidate with special needs who has to be judged differently to everyone else.
The Proposition as a whole didn’t take advantage of this however, and the second odd feature was just how insane they became. Nirj Deva, a Conservative MEP who no one I spoke to had heard of, and David Amess, a Conservative MP who I found out at drinks was only famous for a particularly idiotic appearance on Brasseye, were terrible. Truly awful speakers. Illogical, incredibly angry for no apparent reason and at times just plain rude, this was the old Tory party at its worst. Quite why they cared so much about Obama wasn’t clear but their anger seemed especially directed at anything to do with change. Whoever crafted the new Conservative election slogan clearly did not have these two in mind. On the other side, the two best speakers of the debate by far were two academics, Professor Michael Cox and Professor Phillipe Sands QC, who proved that the length of your Wikipedia page bears no relationship to your speaking prowess. Their speeches go some way to explaining the Opposition victory, though it did fall short of the margin that one would have expected, a symbol perhaps that the audience eventually left about as confused as the speakers.
For all its flaws this wasn’t a bad debate, and it was a shame that it wasn’t better attended. If it hadn’t have been for Stuart Cullen’s rent-a-schoolkid delegation the chamber would’ve been almost empty by the end. Whether it’s been due to poor publicity and advertising, a lack of any big name speakers or maybe just too many debates this term, attendance has been worryingly low. Not a good sign for the future.’