British Queen celebrates

The Oxford Union held a thought-provoking debate on the evening of May 18th, delving into the question of whether social class defines British politics and addressing

the issue of institutional inequality in the UK.

The session commenced with a vote against an emergency motion calling for the abolition of private schools. The impact of class on the British education system emerged as a prominent theme, with impassioned contributions from students sharing their own experiences and advocating for equality of opportunity.

Speakers supporting the proposition included prominent figures such as Labour MP Emily Thornberry, former MP Dave Nellist, and author Simon Kuper, all well-versed in the partisan dynamics of UK politics. Thornberry, having served in the shadow cabinet, brought her insights to the discussion, while Nellist, who shifted from Labour to the Socialist Party, offered his perspective. Kuper, the author of "Chums," a book exploring the prevalence of Oxford Tories in government, added his expertise to the debate.

On the opposing side, actor Vas Blackwood and George Herbert, the Earl of Carnarvon and owner of Highclere Castle featured in Downton Abbey, presented their arguments. The diversity of viewpoints reflected the complexity of the topic at hand.

The debate commenced with Amy Ellis Winter, the Union's Director of Communications, introducing the proposition by emphasizing that while talent is distributed evenly, opportunity is not—an assertion supported by the fact that 65% of the current cabinet is privately educated.

The opposition began with student Silvan Bennett-Schar humorously pointing out to Thornberry that even the Labour Party is now led by an Oxford-educated KC Knight, highlighting the blurring of party distinctions. He argued that political reforms like universal suffrage and House of Lords reform have opened up politics, rendering the notion of class as a definitive factor too limiting in today's diverse society.

Kuper focused his speech on the recent history of Conservative dominance in the ruling class, suggesting that the Tories' rule, which began in 2010, would come to an end in the near future. He labeled Oxford as the birthplace of this trend, where individuals from different backgrounds converge with hereditary elites, producing politicians from privileged backgrounds. Kuper's discourse compelled the Union to engage in introspection regarding the nature of political debates and their impact on real people.

In opposition, Abigail Bacon, Chair of the Consultative Committee, argued that class no longer holds the same significance in the modern era. She highlighted how issues related to gender-based rights often take center stage in British politics and suggested that class is too broad a generalization to encapsulate people's political views.

Dave Nellist, National Chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, invoked Tony Benn's five questions to the powerful in his speech, emphasizing the dominance of class interests in politics. While mourning the perceived decline of Jeremy Corbyn's socialist vision within the Labour Party, Nellist expressed hope for a party grounded in the interests of the working class, capable of ushering in radical change against the prevailing capitalist consensus.

Presenting arguments for the opposition, Vas Blackwood underscored the significance of race and culture in British politics. He highlighted the black community's sense of pride in figures like Kwasi Kwarteng, an Eton-educated individual. Blackwood also criticized Kuper for opposing the dominance of Oxford alumni in government while being an alumnus himself, asserting that privilege was not inherently wrong and acknowledging the privilege shared by everyone present in the room.

During the floor speeches, Charles Aslet, President of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), challenged the notion that the Conservative Party is dominated solely by the upper class, pointing out that newcomers offer the potential for a more accessible ruling class. However, Kuper countered this argument by highlighting Oxford as the "portal" to joining the ruling class, once again bringing the discussion back to the role of education.

Emily Thornberry MP, in her concluding statement supporting the proposition, advocated for Labour's goal of selecting candidates based on egalitarian principles of meritocracy. She acknowledged that politics tends to amplify the confidence and assertiveness instilled in private school education—the so-called "golden essence." Thornberry posed a fundamental question of how a system weighted against working people could be changed—either by transforming the system itself or by supporting those less privileged on their path to attaining power.

The Earl of Carnarvon, in his closing remarks, endorsed the conservative cause of "stewardship for the future." Drawing inspiration from the characters of Downton Abbey, he portrayed a benevolent hierarchy that he believed could bring order and positivity to politics. However, despite his persuasive arguments, the proposition carried the day with a resounding majority of 143 to 23 votes in favor, underscoring the enduring role of social class in British politics. Photo by Kaihsu at English Wikipedia.