ENGLISH SPEAKING UNION DEBATING – EASTERN REGION FINAL
TBSHS Sixth Formers Josh Weight & Henry Stuart-Turner put on a fantastic performance at the Eastern England Regional Final of the ESU Mace competition at Culford School. Speaking in the first debate of the evening, they were proposing the motion “This house would not use private military contractors in combat”, with Westcliff High School for Boys as the Opposition.
Speaking first, Josh gave a confident and passionate speech, starting by describing the horrors of war and denouncing the ‘obscenity’ of lining the pockets of rich men with profits made from death, destruction, displacement and despair. He went on to examine the sort of soldiers who work for private military contractors (PMCs), moving onto the risks of using such companies. Josh made good use of UN reports describing many incidents of atrocities such as those perpetrated by Blackwater in Iraq and finished off by asking his audience to consider the danger of situations in which mercenary soldiers on both sides of a conflict would be happy to let a war carry on. The first Opposition speaker claimed that the use of PMCs is now well established and offers a cheaper and more efficient way of dealing with uprisings. He also argued that PMCs employed well-qualified and experienced soldiers who are no more likely to commit atrocities than those in standing armies, without offering any independent evidence to support this assertion.
In response Henry began by refuting several points raised in the previous speech. He pointed out that PMCs are not signatories to any UN conventions, cannot be court-martialled and are much more likely to ‘disappear’ than to be prosecuted for any violation of human rights. He then went on to address the issue of cost, showing that using PMCs is not as cheap as you might think and explaining why, in combat, effectiveness is much more important than cost efficiency. Henry rounded off his speech by warning how increased use of PMCs allows government to circumvent democratic checks and balances and would therefore lead to greater likelihood of war. Westcliff’s second speaker argued that Josh and Henry had not said how they would replace the current use of PMCs in combat (a valid criticism, but Josh dealt with it in his summary speech). He also drew attention to the fact that standing armies have reduced in size recently, leaving a lot of ex-soldiers out of work and suggested that signing them up for PMCs alleviates an unemployment problem.
After a brief floor debate, both sides summed up their arguments. For TBSHS, Josh dealt very well with questions from the audience and a couple of the Opposition’s points before reiterating the ethical and practical arguments that he and Henry had employed. I felt that our team won this debate because they were able to produce more evidence/references to support their claims and to include moral arguments that their opponents could not counter effectively.
In the second debate “This house would allow doctors to lie to their patients in order to create or enhance a placebo effect” was proposed by The Royal Hospital School Holbrook and opposed by Culford School. This was a lively debate, which focussed on the perceived benefits of placebos for patients (and, more controversially, doctors as well), the possibilities of side-effects from medication and the risk of the ‘nocebo effect’, where the patient, despite receiving a harmless placebo, exhibits adverse effects, often because of negative expectations. The Holbrook team spoke more convincingly and fluently than their opponents, maintaining better eye contact with the audience and seemed to have researched the motion more thoroughly.
The final debate involved two teams of speakers who had taken first and second places in the 2016 Regional Final. The motion “This house would replace the system of welfare payments with a negative income tax” was the least accessible of the night but both sides, King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmund's (Proposition) and Norwich School (Opposition) demonstrated a good grasp of the technicalities, although I felt that they could have done a little more to explain them to the audience. Both these teams presented well-constructed cases, but spoke very fast, with very little vocal variation and no pauses at all, which must have counted against them.
As we tucked into a very impressive tea provided by our hosts while the adjudicators pondered their verdict, it was generally agreed that there was not much to choose between all six teams involved. Eventually the judgement was announced, with TBSHS a very close second behind RHS Holbrook. One of the adjudicators said this was the best regional final he had judged - on the basis of this result we can definitely claim to be in the top 25 out of the 400 or so schools that entered.
Retired teacher Tony Fraser commented, “Henry & Josh have improved with every round and were superb ambassadors for the school, both in their debating (the best I've seen from a TBSHS team in this competition) and their conduct throughout the evening. They researched the topic very thoroughly and, spoke with great feeling, which helped them to engage with the audience more effectively than most of the other teams. Despite the pressure of competition, they clearly enjoyed themselves and deserve many congratulations for their efforts. Many thanks are due to Dr Coke-Woods for transporting the team and especially to Mr Smith for giving up his time to come and support.”
So if you'd like the chance to support Black & Gold teams in nice warm dry surroundings with free refreshments laid on, why not come along to one of these forthcoming events?
Monday 6th March, 7 pm at Bishop's Stortford College: Stortford Rotary Club Inter-School Quiz
TBSHS team: Henry Stuart-Turner, Charles Lockie, George Hobart, James Nash
Saturday 11th March in Ipswich "Youth Speaks" Eastern Regional Final
TBSHS team: Ollie Hougham, Jack Boulter, Millie Mitchell