Pupils in Years 6 and 7 have the opportunity to get involved in debating in a weekly club at Emanuel. Here’s the lowdown on what debates took place in autumn 2020.

Autumn term

Week 11 (23rd-27th November 2020)

“This House thinks that it should be compulsory for all UK citizens to take a Covid-19 vaccination when it becomes available”.

Hill form: In another very hotly contested debate there was a persuasive argument for individual rights and “persuasion” and an equally strong one for the collective good of society and “compulsion”. Aoife Herrmann opposed compulsion because it could not be easily enforced, whilst recognising the desirability of herd immunity against what is a very infectious and dangerous disease which can be transmitted by people who are asymptomatic. Emilio Manson-Smith argued in favour of compulsory vaccination as it offers the quickest route back to normal, being good economically and socially. Oliver Huang and Mia Saltissi agreed with this. Yafet Filmon pointed out the importance of getting a high take up rate for the vaccination. Therefore everyone should take the vaccine unless they had a physical inability to do so; a moral reason was NOT sufficient to justify not taking the vaccine. Those who refused to take without a physical excuse should be fined, as is the case with mask wearing. Isak argued that vaccination should be compulsory amongst the most vulnerable, but not compulsory for all. Martha Curren said that going to school, to university, to work, and flying should all be dependent on having taken the vaccine – this would effectively make taking it compulsory if a person wants to lead a normal life.

Edward Callan presented the libertarian argument that no one should be COMPELLED to take the vaccine, (he himself being at very low risk). However, he recognised an important distinction between a vaccine that stops you from being ill and a vaccine that stops you from infecting others. Everyone recognised the importance of the vaccine being demonstrably safe to use.

The motion was DEFEATED by 6 votes to 5. The narrow margin reflects the controversial nature of the debate between individual rights and collective social welfare.

Year 7: This is an extremely topical and controversial issue. Rory Goss had a problem with the word “compulsory” which he thought was too strong. Douglas Goss agreed that “compulsory” is a dangerous word. Others suggested that vaccination should not be compulsory, but that those who refuse vaccination should be banned from flying, from public transport, and from schools. Jun Howard pointed out that herd immunity would be compromised by a low take up rate, that too many people would choose not to take the vaccination, and that consequently it should be compulsory to take it. Sam Taylor argued that we cannot return to a “normal” life without very widespread vaccination, and he feared that too many people would choose not to take it unless the vaccination is made compulsory. Elsa Lane argued that compulsory is a strong word, but that we all have a duty of care to society as well as personal moral choice. This fits in with the ethics we have been studying in Year 7 – Utilitarianism (the greatest good of the greatest number) versus Deontology (absolute right to moral choice, regardless of consequences).

Tilly English said that it was very selfish not to vaccinate, as this would damage society. She pointed out the economic cost of not being vaccinated as well as the risk to life. The key was to persuade people that the vaccination is very safe. Flo Mauri-Boulogne argued that it would be counter productive to force people to take the vaccine against their will. Matthew Woodward pointed out that modern vaccines are very safe and effective, and that vaccination should not be made compulsory UNLESS a lot of people do not take it. There is a problem about what to do about those people who refuse to take the vaccination or moral reasons. Oscar Bolsembach and Pearl Currie pointed out that the Covid-19 crisis is very serious, with a lot of deaths. Vaccination is vital, and therefore should be compulsory, BUT how could this be enforced?

The motion was PASSED by 7 votes to 6. The narrow margin reflects the controversial nature of the word “compulsory”.

The Guardian 24th September 2020 (this online newspaper is FREE)

A fifth of people are likely to refuse a Covid vaccine when one becomes available, according to the largest survey of UK attitudes and behaviour during the pandemic.

The survey by University College London of 70,000 people, which was launched before lockdown, found that only half (49%) considered themselves “very likely” to get vaccinated once there is a Covid vaccine and 10% said they were “very unlikely”.

Week 10 (16th-20th November 2020)

“This House thinks that statues we now consider to be immoral should be torn down.”

Hill form: Sacha Arnby-Lumley (6CAL) pointed out the importance of contextualising statues in terms of what the person commemorated had done compared to what was seen as being controversial about them. Mia Saltissi (6CB) agreed that it was right for the greater achievements to be celebrated more. There was a discussion about Churchill and Isak Mustafa-Chadun (6CAL) argued that a “relatively minor” flaw should not disqualify someone from being commemorated (of course, views vary widely as to what is a “minor” flaw!  Yafet Filmon (6CB) agreed with this view.

Aoife Herrmann, 6CB, pointed out that a statue is very “in your face” and was promoting a particular point of view – for example statues of Confederate Generals in the Southern States of America could be seen as hostile by passing African Americans.  There was a view that statues of individuals have a tendency to become “out dated” and that they could be replaced on a rota basis by an appropriate committee, similarly to the “Fourth plinth” in Trafalgar Square. Controversial statues should be contextualised and put into a museum rather than imposed upon everyone walking past. Flora Cole said that interpretations of history DO change over time, but that there are some essential truths and achievements that need to be commemorated.

Kitty Wright (6CB) called for a structured system of control – arguing that mob rule on the basis of who most claimed to be outraged is not good enough. There should be a reasoned debate, it should NOT be just about who has the loudest voice. We need to be realistic about our history and recognise that the next generation deserve to be properly informed about their past.

The motion was DEFEATED by 9 votes to 2.

Year 7: This was another interesting debate. Sarp Ozygumus (7RDC) argued that moral attitudes change through time, and that memorials or statues considered appropriate in the past should not be considered appropriate today. In contrast, Douglas Goss argued that the person commemorated had “earned” the right to be commemorated. There was a long discussion about the statue of the slave trader and philanthropic donor Edward Colston. It was recognised that statues give a sense of the past, but it was also felt that a statue is rather “in your face” and tries to tell us what to think. Perhaps the problematic bit was celebrating one individual, statues about groups of people are arguably less controversial. We thought that a statue to heroes of the Corona virus pandemic (an anonymous group of NHS nurses and doctors) would be much more appropriate than yet another statue of a C19th general who fought to expand the British Empire.

Jun Howard argued that criminal damage can never be justified whilst Summer Jenkins argued that any removals need to be limited and carefully thought through, rather than a mob reaction.

Clearly, the way the past is presented to the present is very important.  It was George Orwell in his book “1984” who wrote that “He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future.”

The motion was DEFEATED by 16 votes to 9.

 This was quite a surprising result, perhaps influenced by the wording of the motion.  Most speakers agreed that some statues could and should be removed from public space, but wanted an official process to do so (instead of mob rule) and favoured putting statues into museums and into proper context.   

Week 9 (9th-13th November)

“This House believes that the United States of America is a model democracy”.

Year 7: In a very powerful debate Jun Howard (7MSH) argued that a model democracy should be a direct democracy, with decisions made by referenda, rather than an indirect representative democracy in which people are elected to make decisions on the behalf of voters.  Leading speakers included Eva Gilfoyle (7SMR), Pearl Currie (7RDC), Dominic Catterick 7HAB, Morgan Macsen  (7MM) and Oscar Von Sembach (7MSH) amongst many others.

Topics covered included the theory of the separation of powers, the risk of stalemate between the two Houses of congress and the President, the politicised nature of the US Supreme Court, the fact that the popular vote is ignored in favour of the Electoral College and the power of Presidential “Executive Orders”.

The motion was DEFEATED by 23 votes to 2. 

This result would be a shock to the founders of American democracy and suggests that the accusations about “theft”, “fraud” and “corruption” made in the recent election have seriously damaged the image of the USA.  The USA is a democracy, but perhaps not a “model” / ideal one.

Hill form: The point was made that the fuss has been largely because Trump is a bad loser. Neutral external observers have said that the election was very well run and was free from large scale abuse. Yafet Filmon pointed out that the Electoral College was undemocratic, arguing that the President should be the winner of the popular vote (which, in 2016, was Hillary Clinton by over 3 million votes). A strong argument was made that proportional representation is actually a much fairer and more accurate version of democracy than is “tyranny of the majority” under a first past the post system. It was also pointed out that leaders made promises in order to win elections but then frequently failed to keep those promises. The USA was not seen as a model democracy, but it was seen as a good democracy, with a universal franchise, a secret ballot and regular free and fair elections. However, it was pointed out that it seemed unjust that some candidates could spend far more money in advertising than could others. Kitty Wright argued that the system works alright, the problem is the behaviour of Donald Trump. However, the fact remained that Trump did win 6 million MORE votes than in 2016, so the views of his supporters ought to be acknowledged. Other excellent contributions were made by Mia Saltissi, Aoife Herrmann, Bethany Yonas, Emilio Manson-Smith, Sacha Arnby-Lumley and Flora Cole.

The motion was DEFEATED by 13 votes to Nil (!)

UPDATE:  The following extract is from the Financial Times (all Emanuel pupils can have a free online subscription if you apply using your school email)

“The rise in dissatisfaction in the English-speaking democracies, led by the US, is striking. Frighteningly, in 2020, the respected US-based think-tank, Freedom House, ranked the quality of US democracy 33rd in the world among countries larger than 1m people, between Slovakia and Argentina. Given Mr Trump’s record, that is hardly surprising. Moreover, this was before his attempt to throw the electoral system, the core of democracy, into disrepute, with unsupported allegations of fraud.”  Martin Wolf FT 11th Nov 2020

Week 8 (2nd-6th November)

“This House believes that the benefits of lockdown for Covid-19 outweigh the costs.”

Year 7: An excellent debate highlighted both sides of the argument with outstanding contributions on both sides. There was a particularly good focus on how damage to the economy affects both wealth and health, and on the hidden health costs of lockdown.  The consensus was that lockdown is costly but necessary, but also that we cannot afford for it to be endlessly repeated every few months.

The motion was PASSED by 16 votes to 6.

Hill form: In another excellent debate the balance of argument came down more on the costs of lockdown, although it was recognised that the current lockdown, with schools open (at present) is much less costly than the one in the spring. There were some very harrowing accounts of what it was like trying to study at home when the Primary schools were closed.

The motion was DEFEATED by 13 votes to 6.

Update – BBC News 4th November 2020: 

MPs have backed a four-week lockdown in England to combat coronavirus, which will kick in at midnight. 

Boris Johnson saw off a rebellion by 34 Tory MPs opposed to the move, with the support of Labour. 

The government won the vote by 516 to 39, a majority of 477. 

The prime minister told MPs a second lockdown was needed to “contain the surge” in Covid cases – but rebels warned it would wreck businesses and lives. 

The Tory rebels included former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 committee of backbenchers. 

Year 6 Debating Club takes place on Wednesdays from 12.30 to 13.05 in M6. Year 7 Debating Club takes place on Tuesdays from 13.10 to 13.40 in Room 40.