Cambridge Union: No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government

Dario Colajanni 5 October 2018

Yesterday, Thursday 4th October, the first debate of Michaelmas Term 2018 took place at The Cambridge Union. At the heart of the Open Period – running from the 1st to the 10th October – The Union chose to kick off the new term with the traditional ‘No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’ motion. Along with some of the leading political figures of the Country, the House discussed Theresa May as Prime Minister, her domestic agenda and Brexit policy.

At the start of the event, the No Confidence Debate was preceded by an Emergency Debate Motion on the current relationships between the US and North Korea. The title of the motion was ‘This House regrets Trump’s Warming of relations with North Korea’. Many the arguments brought forth by the Proposition, according to which Trump gave too much in exchange fornothing, abandoning the former course of action which could probably lead to better solutions. Despite their commitment to denuclearization, North Korea is indeed still able to attack the neighbours in the South. Instead, putting pressure on China – NK’s closest ally – could effectively harm Kim’s regime. Moreover, Trump’s new relations with NK were defined morally wrong by the Proposition: in this way, Kim’s regime is legitimized and welcome in the international community.

The Opposition replied praising Trump’s approach to the North Korean crisis, comparing it with progress made a few years ago with Iran by former president Obama. Also, cultural problems in North Korea, such as a diffuse anti-US sentiment, are not just the result of Kim’s aggressive propaganda, but also the outcome of the Country’s isolation. With these arguments, at the end of the discussion, the Opposition succeeded in winning the debate and the House rejected the proposed motion.

The second half of the evening saw the No Confidence Debate. The three speakers in the Proposition ranks were the Rt Hon Sir Ed Davey MP, Liberal Democrat former Energy Secretary in the Coalition Government from 2012-2015; Chris Bryant MP who served in Ed Milliband’s shadow cabinet and was Gordon Brown’s last minister for Europe; Alex Murray, second years HSPS student at King’s College, Women’s Designate Officer at the Union, who auditioned successfully to win this slot. For the Opposition, Peter Bone MP, prominent campaigner for Brexit and one of the backbench Conservative MPs; the Rt Hon Sir Desmond Swayne who was David Cameron’s Parliamentary Private Secretary and then served as Minister of State for International Development; Conor Burns MP, Boris Johnson’s Private Parliamentary Secretary – both resigned after the controversies about the Chequers Plan.

Sir Ed Davey was the first to speak, labelling the Government as a national embarrassment. He accused the Government for not having a clear domestic agenda and for harming the UK’s international reputation. Sir Davey also recalled some of Boris Johnson worst comments and insults against the EU and the European Allies. ‘When capitalists don’t believe in the Conservative Government in Britain, we have a problem’, he concluded. Chris Bryant added to the Proposition’s arguments that all kinds of Brexit would harm the country; he recalled the Windrush scandal, a direct consequence of Theresa May’s policies and reminded the audience that immigrants make a great contribution to the Country. He finally criticized the absence of members from the Cabinet in the Opposition ranks, a proof that the Government does not believe in Brexit: ‘The Prime Minister has no confidence in herself’ and accused the Government of being corrupt.

After Mr Bryant’s intervention, Peter Bone replied to the corruption accusations, deeming them unfounded. He argued that every single Labour Government has left the unemployment rate higher, harming the economy and the job market, whereas Conservative Governments consistently help the economy grow and fix the damages caused by Labour Executives. Mr Bone then backed Sir Swayne – who was the first speaker for the Opposition – and his argument, according to which the alternative to this Government would be disastrous, since Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plans are dangerous for the UK. Moreover, Peter Bone added, not even the Labour Party wants Mr Corbyn as Prime Minister. On the subject of Brexit, he concluded with a promise “to build a statue of Theresa May in Wellingborough if she does a good Brexit”.

Many arguments were raised by the Floor speakers. A no deal scenario would threaten the Good Friday agreement and perturbate the situation in Northern Ireland in the event of a hard border; EU citizens living in the UK and millions of Brits living in the EU still haven’t received serious answers; also, a bad Brexit is not the only issue with this Government, but cuts to the NHS and to benefits in favour of disabled people are considered a disgrace.

The last two speakers were Alex Murray for the Proposition and Conor Burns MP for the Opposition. Murray dismissed the arguments of the Opposition as weak. They added that the Government is not tackling important issues which affect the quality of life and harshly criticized the Coalition with the DUP, a strongly conservative party with controversial positions about abortion and same sex marriages. Conor Burns replied to homophobic accusations, reminding the audience that same sex marriage was introduced by a Conservative government. He also recalled the many improvements made by the current Executive in terms of employment and said that fears of conflicts and terrorism in NI are exaggerated.

At the end of the debate, the motion was approved with 65% of Ayes – 16% of Noes and Abstention at 19%. TCS also had the opportunity to have a brief chat with the President of the Union, Charles Connor, who told us that he is very pleased with how the Open Period is going, and excited about the debate and audience participation. Charles praised the high quality of the six speakers, highlighting the variety of their arguments and opinions. A special mention went to Alex Murray.