This week at the Oxford Union, the evening’s main debate concerned the future legality of a bag of coke. Unexpectedly, the most revelatory part of the evening was the attitude to women exhibited by a very funny member of the King’s counsel.
The motion for the members’ introductory debate concerned the newly unelected prime minister: ‘Are we ready for Rishi?’ As in, have we laid out the welcome brunch? Folded down the eiderdown in number 10? Briefed the cat? An even more unfortunately phrased Point of Information asked, ‘Are you personally dying for Rishi Sunak?’ A prescient question given Sunak’s teasers of ‘difficult decisions’ about the necessity of funding for free healthcare. Sunak was accused of worsening ‘issues that will affect us all for the next hundred years.’ With such healthcare cuts, one can probably only dream of reaching the post-Sunak centenary bash on the parched rock we will call Earth. We were assured that Sunak was never a President of this Union, only ever a member. One speech celebrated a man of Indian descent ruling Britain 75 years after Indian independence from the British Empire. This meaningful point was met with the response that Sunak was ‘returning the favour’ of the British Empire’s looting of India by ‘running this country into the ground.’
The main debate was whether ‘this house would legalise drugs for personal use’. The proposition featured a drug policy expert, first-hand experience of the carceral system, and psychological research. The opposition mustered three student speakers and Sir Ivan Lawrence KC. With the opposition so outmatched, the memberships’ support for the motion seemed almost predetermined.
Rosalie Chapman, the student speaker for the proposition, asserted that legalising drugs does not cause an increase in their use. Dr Fabian Steinmetz, a drug policy specialist, dismantled the discriminatory definitions of ‘drugs’ and argued that the effects of prohibition are the negative effects of drug use. He ended with a melodramatic stage whisper: ‘Watch out for straw men!’ Shaun Attwood, former-ecstasy-trafficker-come-YouTube-sensation (difficult to put on LinkedIn), physically re-enacted the gang violence he had witnessed in prison. Dr Phil Dalgarno, a researcher in mental health psychology, closed the proposition with the blunt suggestion that, ‘we could keep things as they are, that is…not working.’ He walked off with two peace signs in the air.
The opposition featured three students, namely Nadia Angela Bekhti, Abigail Bacon, and Ahmed Hussain, but surely the star of the show was Sir Ivan Lawrence KC MP. He is known for filibustering parliament: speaking inanely for four hours and twenty-three minutes to obstruct a bill about fluoride in water to improve public health. His speech was characteristically unfocused. Sir Ivan admitted he’d found the other arguments ‘too quick and deep’ for him to follow; this was just as well because his argument rested upon ignoring the facts they had included. He instead gave a factually-creative response to a strawman argument for legalisation he’d built himself. He summed up his view: ‘the fact of the matter is that people just believe what they want to believe.’ The secretary pleadingly dinged his bell. ‘Can I just have a moment longer?’ Sir Ivan appealed, ‘You make an exception for jokes, don’t you?’
So, into extra time, Sir Ivan began to tell one of the funniest jokes he’d ever heard, and it went as follows. ‘The Englishman said, “as I wave goodbye to my wife through the kitchen window, I see as she sits astride a horse her feet touch the ground. This is not because in England our horses are stunted for growth, it is because in England our women have beautiful long legs”.’ Under the press bench, I crossed my freakishly long shins. ‘Then, the Frenchman said, “when I say goodbye to my wife my hands encircle her waist. This is not because in France we Frenchmen have very big hands. It is because in France, our women have beautiful slim waists”.’ The triad joke formula panted to its weary close. ‘Then, the Russian said, “when I say goodbye to my wife in the morning, I slap her on the behind”.’ The men in the room guffawed. ‘”And if when I get back from work it is still wobbling, it is not because in Russia our women have very big behinds – it is because in Russia we have the shortest working day.”’ Sir Ivan Lawrence KC MP, illustrious barrister of 54 years, may not have persuaded the room against legalising drugs but he did give a comically candid demonstration of how he talks about women. English women may have ‘beautiful long legs’ but they do not have a criminal justice system that respects them – or in fact one where more than 2.9% of reported sexual offences result in a charge.
The union decided in favour of the legalisation of drugs for personal use with a vote of 112 for, and 58 against.
Image credit: Joe Emmens