“This hours would re-elect a Labour Government” was the title of the bi-annual John Smith Memorial Debate, held in the historic Debates Chamber of the Glasgow University Union on November 30.
Hazel Blears MP, the Secretary of State for Comunities and Local Government, led a bench of Labour MPs and MSPs, against Lembit Opik MP, Liberal Democrat, and his coalition of SNP and Conservative Party MSPs. Andrew Neil, the eminent journalist and broadcaster, chaired the debate.
Opik took a jovial approach to the debate but remained competitive. He was evidently excited at the prospect of leading a “rainbow coalition”.
He joked: “We’ve got to remember of course, whatever the outcome it’s just a bit fun. May the best team win, so long as it’s us.
“What Glasgow University debating society has achieved is something that even the Scottish Parliament couldn’t achieve and that’s a rainbow coalition, a triumph of negotiation. Poor old Labour must feel outnumbered three to one tonight. I’m very fond of Hazel Blears and I’m here as a critical friend rather than a nasty enemy.”
There was some discrepancy on the Labour bench as to Gordon Brown’s actual election plans. Tom Clarke MP, Labour claimed Gordon Brown had postponed the election due to the global economic crisis.
He told Guardian: “Had there been an election when Gordon planned to call it originally, and I think it’s publicly known that that was quite early when he became prime minister, we would have won. Yes, we would win an election now because I think people do appreciate the extent of the global crisis and trust Gordon to deal with it.”
Baron Foulkes MSP, Labour, was adamant that Gordon Brown had always intended to hold a late election saying: “It’s always been his plan to go the full term and he stuck to it. I have always been of the view that he was going to weather all the storms he was going to face.”
During the debate the Labour Party’s arguments played heavily on the unpopularity of the Conservative Government of the early ‘90s. Hazel Blears warned the house: “The Tories will let the recession take its toll.”
Bill Kid MSP, SNP, rebuffed saying that Labour’s hidden conservative policies were not to be trusted.
He exclaimed: “Like the snake, Kaa, in the Jungle Book, Labour stares us in the eye saying ‘trust in me’ as thousands of jobs vanish.”
The opposition also brought the house’s attention to the Afghan and Iraq wars and the expensive replacement of Trident.
After 90 minutes of heated debate Labour won a marginal victory with 97 votes to 94. Andrew Neil, an ex-editor of Guardian, had difficulty maintaining order in the Debates Chamber, but was in high spirits.
He told Guardian: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself because, well just look at this, look at the numbers, it shows debating is alive and well. And it was a good, feisty, traditional, robust Glasgow debate.
But even after the votes had been cast Neil was reluctant to cast his own vote explaining: “My BBC contract doesn’t let me say whom I would vote for, the chairman must remain neutral.”
Another notable presence that evening was Andrew Neil’s guest, Nancy Dell’Olio. Voting in favour of the motion she explained to Guardian: “I hope Labour is going to be re-elected but I find it very difficult to ally completely with Labour or Tories. It is important to be pragmatic.
“I’ve enjoyed myself, I love Scotland though its not my first time here, I’ve been here a few times for football reasons.”