Who would have guessed that the John Smith Memorial Debate would be the scene of such bawdy rollicking and tabloid-worthy shenanigans?
Admittedly one of the most prestigious debating events in the country, promising such a star-studded line up of speakers, was bound to draw a crowd. But I did not expect to see the Secretary of State for Local Government, amongst others, being harangued so loudly from the balcony by teams of inebriated students. All this was taken in good cheer and helped to create an atmosphere not too dissimilar to the House of Commons itself.
The reasons for Charles Kennedy’s last-minute cancellation were left to general speculation, though his absence was swiftly overshadowed by a far more interesting presence: the eternal, the ageless, Nancy Dell’Olio. Once associated with Sven Goran Eriksson, Miss Dell’Olio now seems to be romantically attached to Andrew Neil. It seemed fitting that the chairman of the debate should have the most glamorous date, with Hazel Blears’ husband, Michael Halsall, coming in at a withered second.
As the chairman’s ‘date’ it was necessary for her to arrive at least half an hour late with an entourage of beautiful ladies, a requirement she fulfilled with ease. Although her lateness did mean that she was denied entry to the main debating chamber and had to brave the vulgarities of the balcony.
It was not until the votes were cast that the real scandal began. Having been instructed to walk through either the left door or the right in order to cast one’s vote, Miss Dell’Olio made for the left door, voting in favour of re-electing the Labour Government. Eager to catch her for a brief word I introduced myself, swallowed my pride, discarded my principles and walked through the left hand door with her.
With a result of 97 votes to 94, in favour of the motion, it occurred to me that, had I followed my better judgment instead of Miss Dell’Olio, the result would have been 96 to 95. I then considered the possibility that, if just one other indifferent student had decided to follow Nancy, the outcome of the debate might have been completely different. This possibility soon became a likelihood, and then very quickly a certainty in my mind.
Therefore, I put it to you Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the house, that the result of this celebrated debate was swung singlehandedly by Miss Dell’Olio, a lady who was not only not a student, nor a member of the GUU, but who was also over half an hour late, and who had a vested interest in the Chairman. “Shame!” I hear you cry.