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Opening night at the East London Debating Society

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The East London Debating Society opened its doors for the first time last night to begin a new era for CLDS as we chart our expansion the rest of London.

Turnout for our first meeting was a healthy nine people (the first meeting of the Central London Debating Society in 2009 attracted just seven and it has over 1000 members now) and we enjoyed a round-table discussion about the causes of apathy in society and the best ideas for promoting greater participation in public life, from quotas for women and minority MPs to compulsory voting.

A straw poll at the end of the discussion of what topics we should debate next time around, when we have enough people to hold a full panel debate, provided some insightful suggestions, including: the gentrification of east London, what it means to belong to a community, and a desire for broader moral questions.

The next meeting will be held in the George Tavern on Commercial Road on Tuesday 19th March. Please join us and let us know what you would like to hear debated (or speak on yourself) by leaving a comment.

We owe a big thank you to the George for hosting us as well, entirely free of charge and in keeping with our commitment to promoting free speech wherever we go.

Events this week….

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Here are the highlights of what’s coming up this week. You can view the individual club pages for more details…

East London Debating Society goes live

Tonight ushers in the birth of the East London Debating Society, where a panel of local speakers will discuss the impact of the Olympics on the local area. The debate, like all our public events, is free of charge and open to all, so come and join us. You can find out all the details of where to go and when on the East London Debating Society page

 

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Debating the EU in Parliament

Two weeks ago we ran a private debate training workshop for members of public engagement forum, Global Net 21, and tomorrow night we see their skills put in action as we hold a CLDS style debate between four MPs in the House of Commons on the subject of Britain’s membership of the EU (now fully booked)

 

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We return to the Old Cock Tavern for our signature event, the fortnightly meeting of the Central London Debating Society. This week, we will be discussing the economy and asking the question: is it time for Plan B. This event is open to all and for more details, please see the Central London Debating Society group page

Introducing the East London Debating Society…

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Debating is coming to east London on Tuesday March 5th and we want you all to be there to celebrate this momentous occasion, no matter where you live.

You can find the full details of where to go and what time here.

The opening debate will be a panel discussion where we ask our speakers and our audience to offer their answers to the following question:

WHAT DIFFERENCE HAVE THE OLYMPICS MADE TO LIFE IN EAST LONDON?

The new home of this new club is Commercial Road’s finest, the George Tavern. Often reserved for photo shoots, film crews, and live bands, they will now be opening their doors to us for the entire night every two weeks.

One thing we are sticking with though is our long-held policy of free admission and free membership for anyone who wants to take part. We only ask you help show our support for the venue by buying a drink while you’re there.

So sign up today and come say hello on Tuesday March 5th!

We’re Expanding!

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Two things have happened today to make this a very proud day for Our Debating Society.

First, the Central London Debating Society officially hit 1000 members. Mr Frank Manning will now be the guest of honour at our next debate tomorrow night at the Old Cock Tavern, where we will make a big fuss of him and maybe, if he’s good, even let him speak.

The second, is happening right now.

Our Debating Society is delighted to confirm the launch of the East London Debating Society, the North London Debating Society, and the South London Debating Society. We are expanding!

The Central London Debating Society has been such a phenomenal success because its members travel far and wide to attend each debate, but we don’t think they should have to, so we’re bringing the debating society to them.

There is a broader purpose as well though. Debating is about far more than just winning or losing an argument. It brings people together to solve problems, engage with new ideas, and test long held beliefs. We, therefore, want our public debates to make a real contribution to the local communities that host us by mixing the ‘big picture’ news-centred motions we normally debate with locally focused debates on issues that affect members of the community in their everyday lives.

We want our debate clubs to be a home not just for enthusiastic speakers, but also local charities, community groups, and businesses – but most importantly of all, local residents.

In keeping with the ethos of the Central London Debating Society, membership of each new club will be free of charge and open to all as will be admission to their events.

So, allow me to introduce the homes of our new debating societies:

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The George Tavern

East London Debating Society

Hosted by music and performing arts venue, the George Tavern on Commercial Road, Tower Hamlets, ELDS opens its doors on Tuesday 5th March. Its winding leather sofas and open spaces make it the perfect place to hear a debate while relaxing with a drink.

 

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North London Debating Society

We make an emotional return to the Harcourt, the former home of the Central London Debating Society, just off Baker Street on Monday March 11th. The Harcourt was the first real home of the Central London Debating Society and looked after us for over two years. It was naturally the first choice to house the North London branch.

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The Tea House Theatre

South London Debating Society

Debating comes to Vauxhall in March with the launch of our first club south of the river. The date of our first debate will be confirmed shortly. This dainty 1920s themed bar comes equipped with its own sound system and came to our attention through an inspirational poetry club, named Paper Tiger Poetry, that also meets here.

West London Debating Society

A work in progress that needs a home and someone to run it. If this is you, get in touch today at central.debating@gmail.com

This is going to be a lot of fun……

 

Events in London this week

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Where can you go in London to hear a good debate or learn something interesting this week?

  1. Is Debate Dead
    Returning to the oldest coffee house in London – the home of debating – Is Debate Dead take the debate to the general public in the bar. They’ll have their own area and a clear set of rules spiced up by not knowing the topic until the last minute. More of a social club with a difference than a debating club, this is great place to get started if you’re new to debating.
  2. Central London Debating Society
    Do you ever wish you could go back to university and re-join the debate club? Do you ever find yourself struggling to get your point across in they way you wish you could? This is the place for you. We go old school at CLDS and show you how debating can make you the smooth, smart, persuasive speaker you had it in you to be all along. This week we debate whether the Pope’s diplomatic immunity should be revoked.
  3. The Frontline Club
    Take a look at what our partners the Frontline club have on this week. A members’ club for journalists, their events are open to the public and in the next week they have some top talks coming up from the founding of Israel to a workshop on storytelling. There’s something for everyone here.

CLDS takes the Europe debate to Parliament

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The next month is shaping up to be our biggest yet as we host our first ever debate in Parliament on Wednesday 6 March!

We will be teaming up with the European Movement and Global Net 21 as our special guest panel go head to head on the controversial issue of Britain’s place in the European Union.

We will also be running a one-off training workshop for our members two weeks before the debate on 20 February so our esteemed panel can expect a thorough grilling on the night.

Our four panelists will be:

  • Tom Spencer (former leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament)
  • John Cryer (Labour MP)
  • Robert Buckland (Conservative MP)
  • Austin Mitchell (Labour MP)

This event is open to members of the European Movement, Global Net 21, and the Central London Debating Society. Spaces are limited, but we will be holding lots more events, so sign up today and we’ll keep you posted.

You can join the Central London Debating Society by sending us a quick email to central.debating@gmail.com so we can add your details to our mailing list. Membership of the club and admission to public debates is free.

Speed debating and Spin

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Speed debating at the Central London Debating Society last night

What is speed debating?

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the famous old proverb goes. Last night’s debate was a case in point. Stranded on an open landing after our room for the evening was double booked, it was clear that our usual public debate was a non-starter as the speakers would have to shout to be heard, while contending with disruption from passers-by. We were about to cancel the event and then suddenly we had an idea: speed debating!

Speed debating is exactly what you think it is. We break up the audience in to four tables of evenly numbered people and then we assign a speaker to each group to make their case for 5 minutes. When their time is up, they switch and move to the next table. We had no idea if we would pull this off until we tried it, but as it turns out, speed debating works brilliantly, especially when you’re in an open space that would normally make conventional debating quite difficult.

The speakers clearly made an impact too. The motion was: ‘This House Would send UK combat troops into Mali’. The preliminary vote (before the debate starts) gave the opposition a massive lead, only for it to be cut to a mere two votes at the end. A great night in all. This House Would definitely recommend speed debating to anyone out on the town with a group of 12 or more people, looking to spice things up a bit.

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The difference between debating and spin

Last night, a newcomer to the debating society asked me if I could ever argue the case for something I didn’t believe in a debate. ‘Those are my favourite types of debates’, I replied. ‘What value does that hold, other than learning how to spin’, he followed up.

Good question, to which I have an equally good answer.

  • Don’t knock spin – yes that’s what I said. There is a difference between spinning (playing up your good points and playing down your bad ones) and lying. You don’t tell the good-looking stranger who you’ve just met that you used to wet the bed when you were a child. Yet you do find a way to work your Spanish villa into the conversation. This makes you a spinner but not a liar – unless of course all you have is a bungalow in Staines, in which case you’re on your own.
  • Defending a view we don’t necessarily agree with is something all of us have had to do at some point in our lives – if you’re a lawyer, a lobbyist, or a PR exec, you’ll certainly understand this. If you’re a doctor, you may be required to recommend a procedure you don’t agree with, such as abortion. If you’re a copywriter, you may have to write a puff piece for something you have no interest in. Also, there is every chance that what you hand on heart believe could actually be wrong, which is why…
  • You should always be ready to critique your own position – the best way to be sure that what you believe is right is to put yourself in the shoes of your opposition. Make every effort to understand where they are coming from. Do your best to tear apart your own argument and rigorously probe it for unproved assertions and logical fallacies. If you still can’t find fault with your argument, then you know you’re right and you’ll be in an even better position to defend it going forward.

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Debating equal marriage

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When people look back at yesterday’s momentous vote on equal marriage, they will rightly remember the outcome of what proved to be a long and heated debate, but will they remember the debate itself?

I for one think it is awfully important that they do as a progressive society must first be a debating society for the laws that govern us are decided by the beliefs that define us and a belief is only as strong as the beholder’s ability to defend it.

A great way of spotting a bad argument is to screen it for logical fallacies and Steve Doran, CLDS debate trainer extraordinaire, gives a great summary.

The weekly digest

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There’s a lot coming up over the next week, so here’s everything you need to know about what we’re up to in one short blog post.

We’re going to Parliament – twice!

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This Thursday morning, a group of us will be joining up with the British Youth Council to attend the parliamentary debate on votes for 16 year olds. The motion is being brought forward by Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, Stephen Williams, a long standing supporter of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. You can find out more about this campaign on the British Youth Council’s website.

We’re back in the House of Commons (how I wish we never had to leave in the first place) on Monday night for the Debating Group’s first meeting of 2013. An exclusive debating society run by and for the marketing and PR industry, every month they give us a handful of tickets to sell on to our wonderful members at an equally wonderful discounted price. Their next debate will be on corporate social responsibility, with some very interesting speakers on the panel including: Keith Weed from Unilever, Hamish Pringle from the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising, Liz Bingham from Ernst and Young, and Mark Lloyd Davies from Johnson and Johnson. We’ll give you the full low-down on how it went next week.

Debating in the news…

Stephen_Twigg_MPLast week Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg MP, triggered a small media storm when he called on state schools to provide debating and public speaking lessons, as reported by the Daily Telegraph last Thursday. The following Sunday, however, he received a scathing response from Observer columnist, Barbara Ellen. So, we only felt it fit and proper to back up Stephen’s commendable proposals with our own response, which included a few letters to the press and this piece, written for the Huffington Post on Monday.

We, here at CLDS, feel very strongly about the importance of teaching debating in schools from as young an age as possible, so keep your eyes pealed as this won’t be the last you hear from us on this matter.

Our next debate: should the criminal justice system prioritise rehabilitation over punishment?

Prison_cellTomorrow night, we return for our fortnightly debate at the Old Cock Tavern, where we will be sorting out the criminal justice system – you can thank us later Mr Grayling.

The motion is: This house believes that the justice system should prioritise rehabilitation over punishment and as usual it will be CLDS members themselves who will be doing all the talking with at least one of our panel of four speakers taking part in her first ever public debate. We look forward to giving all of them a warm CLDS welcome and invite you to join us too.

Admission to the debate is free as is membership of the club, so simply drop in on the night and say hello. We start at 7.30 pm.

Kick starting 2013 with a debate on sex, drugs, and alcohol…

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Thus began the first public debate of the year at the Central London Debating Society. The motion: This House Believes it is morally wrong to sleep with someone who is under the influence. The teams: a good old fashioned girls vs boys debate made up of young professionals in their 20s who were in no way shape or form basing their arguments on their own experiences (of course not).

The preliminary vote, taken before the debate to see where the audience personally stands on the issue before hearing the speeches, put the young strapping lads opposing the motion in a decisive lead. The pressure was on the girls to come out fighting and that they did with their opening line:

“we’re not opposed to beer and we’re definitely not opposed to sex”

Hurrah!

But…they were opposed to somebody who was completely sober sleeping with someone who was severely intoxicated through alcohol or drugs, irrespective of whether that person had granted consent in their drunken state, because their capacity to give informed consent had been seriously compromised. This, they argued was an immoral action. Instead, the moral thing to do would be to wait until the next day when both people were in a fit and proper state to consent to sex.

The opposition fought valiantly against what they described as the imposition of an overly risk-averse society, but slipped up by defending people who preferred to approach highly inebriated prospective partners (guys and girls hitting on other really wasted guys and girls) on the grounds that such people may be too insecure about their looks or their confidence to approach someone more sober.

The final vote was decisive. 16 in favour vs 8 opposed – a significant reversal.

The question is: what else could the opposition have done to win the debate considering how reasonable a definition the proposition had advanced in the first place?

  1. Address the definition
  2. Address the motion
  3. Address the implications of the motion

Addressing the definition:

A good rule of thumb for an opposing speaker is to begin by clarifying the dividing lines between the two sides. They do this by first highlighting what both teams can agree on and then move on to the issues on which they actively disagree, using the definition provided by the proposer as a starting point.

The opposition in this debate would have benefited immensely from declaring right from the off that they too, naturally, would discourage a sober person from taking advantage of someone who was totally paralytic and waiting a day to secure their full consent. The next question to ask on the back of this is: would stigmatising this particular action deter that person from sleeping with someone who was intoxicated under any circumstances and if so, would this be a good idea? This would lead them neatly on to….

Addressing the motion:

Motions can be broadly divided into policy motions and analysis motions. A policy motion normally starts off with the words This House Would…in which the speaker proposing the motion will normally call on their audience to endorse a specific type of action (e.g. This House Would reinstate the death penalty). An analysis motion normally starts off with the words This House Believes…and instead requires the speaker proposing the motion to prove that a certain statement is true (e.g: This House Believes religion is a force for good in the world).

The motion debated on Thursday was clearly an analysis motion. Our guys on the opposition had to prove the statement was false; and how do you prove anything right or wrong? You test it. If you’re speaking at the Central London Debating Society, you have just five minutes to test it and prove it wrong, so how do you do it?

First of all, pick three examples. You pick three as this will ensure you have enough material to keep you going for five minutes but not so much that you’ll run ridiculously over time. Three is also the magic number in public speaking, often referred to as the rule of three, the number of points you need to make to get your audience to remember anything you’ve said without overloading them with information.

The definition can be your first example, which you’ve already addressed. Great. So now you just need two more. In the case of this particular debate, example number #2 can be what happens if you’re on way to becoming drunk and you see your prospective partner is already pretty far gone. Would the definition offered by the girls proposing the motion suffice to prevent you from drinking any more so that you could retain a sober enough state of mind to NOT sleep with the other person? Most likely, yes. It’s not too far a departure from the original definition, which we’ve already agrees is a good idea.

However, what about example #3 where your prospective partner is totally sober, but tells you in advance that they enjoy sex most when they are drunk or high? Provided they still offered their consent whilst under the influence, would the girls’ definition deter you from sleeping with that person and should it?

Addressing the implications of the motion:

So far, their definition tells us it’s wrong to sleep with someone who is too intoxicated to give consent. It doesn’t say anything about what happens if we ask for consent before they get drunk or high and then ask for it again when they are intoxicated – just to be sure. What does this mean? It means that the sober person in this scenario might well be deterred from sleeping with someone without informed consent, but there is no evidence they would be equally deterred, upon receiving that informed consent, just because the other person is intoxicated. So, how can the statement in the motion be true? Surely, it should now read This House Believes it is morally wrong to sleep with someone without first gaining informed consent – no argument there.

Nevertheless, let’s say we answer yes to the last question. What would that mean? Well, the opposition could argue, it would mean that it doesn’t matter what the other person said when they were sober. If they are intoxicated, they are not capable of making that choice. In other words, the act of getting drunk or high invalidates any prior decision made when sober. That individual, therefore, cannot and should not be held accountable for a decision they freely made when sober if the action taken as a result of that decision is executed when they are intoxicated. 

What if we applied this same logic to driving instead of sex? Somebody drives down to the pub whilst sober and voluntarily imbibes to the point that they exceed the drink-drive limit. They then get in their car and drive home, but on the way they hit and kill a pedestrian. If the actions we take when intoxicated invalidate the choices we freely make when sober, how do we hold that driver accountable for the death of the pedestrian?

The outcome of example #3, it could therefore be argued, would be to create a society which places far stricter limits on both personal choice and personal responsibility than we are presently willing to accept. That would make the question with which the opposition actually did end their speech much more powerful: “is this the type of society you want to live in?”

You can follow the Central London Debating Society’s public debates live via our Twitter feed. The next one takes place at 7.30 pm on Thursday 24th February at the Old Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet Street, EC4Y 1AA. We will announce the motion on our blog next weekend.

Tony Koutsoumbos is the President of the Central London Debating Society and CEO of CLDS Debate Training