On Thursday DMU students and staff attended a debate on democracy and the point of voting at the historic Trinity House Chapel. After DMU awarded him the title Honorary Doctor of Laws at a ceremony in the afternoon the RT Hon John Bercow MP chaired the debate: ‘This House believes that there is no point in voting in the 2015 General Election’. Democracy is what he does, so who better to preside over a debate that never loses relevance especially with our passionate and engaged DMU students and staff.
The day was clearly very important to DMU with the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and both Leicester MPs in attendance. But it was the students and staff who really shone in an event that could have been overshadowed by pomp and ceremony. Indeed whilst waiting for the music to finish and the dignitaries to shuffle in the audience seemed more like ‘greyhounds in the slips’ than an ‘exploited and underserved underclass’.
The participants in the debate were all DMU students and staff; Suraiya Jagot, Cllr Caitlin Bloom, Rachel Wall and Cllr Heather Worman. Jagot, for the motion, began the debate with a calm and convincing speech that highlighted the issue of representation in politics and how activism is another way for the people to get what they want. Cllr Bloom, against the motion, was up next and in no mood to dance around the point. Indeed whilst being for democracy Bloom highlighted an element of our voting system that could produce a massive vote of no confidence; ‘spoil the ballot paper’.
Standing up to the applause for the previous speaker Rachel Wall, who claims never to have spoken in public, continued the calm and almost philosophical approach of her debate partner Jagot. Wall took issue with the Liberal Democrats and their decision not to follow the promises made in their 2010 manifesto and raise tuition fees. People can be fickle but tripling the price of something does not go unforgotten. Wall states ‘of course we should vote’ but when our vote isn’t appreciated or acted on we should reconsider.
The last to speak was Cllr Worman, against the motion, who wasted no time in making sure she was heard. Moving to a central position and addressing loudly and clearly to the whole room it has to be said that Cllr Worman, of all the participants, was the politician looking to win the debate but also to get Worman the politician across to anyone (two Labour MPs?) that was listening. Worman’s argument took the responsibility from the politician and gave it back to the voter. Politicians need votes, they work to secure voters so; A: if you don’t vote you don’t deserve the politicians ear. B: the current government’s austerity measures would not have happened under Labour so those that didn’t vote (and should have voted Labour) ‘have blood on their hands’. Tough words but perhaps the first, on the night, to put the egg with the people.
Bercow was charming throughout; he sat attentively listening to each argument and acknowledged the good, the bad and the barmy. When the debate went to the floor he laughed and joked but maintained complete control (I don’t think anyone talked over him). However the stars were the DMU folk, everyone wanted to contribute. The fact that DMU is an institution of education was evident, people put their hands up to practice public speaking, learn something or simply to articulate what they feel passionate about. Then there was the grand finale, the vote on whether we should vote, which perhaps speaks for itself.
The motion was overturned; ‘This house believes that there is a point in voting in the 2015 general election’. Collective action is still the order of the day. DMU is at the forefront of this with its DMU 2015 Policy Commission. Designed to engage the local community as well as ‘utilise the expertise of the university’s students and staff to generate practical ideas that could shape future government policies and improve people’s lives.’ With this kind of initiative and the excellent students available DMU has a bright future ahead.