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Clash of Societies: The Political Debate between Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats of KCL
The KCL Politics society debate took place on Monday, 17 October, at 6 pm, seeing the Lucas Lecture Theatre in the Strand Building filled to the brim with King’s students from across all faculties.
27 October, 2022

All tickets were sold out by Monday and the Lecture Hall was booming with excitement as students waited for the debate to start. The panel featured Lewis Warner and Paul Spence debating for Labour, Isaac Farnbank and Wesley Castelain for the Conservatives and Gabriel Pontin and Gloria Teichmann for the Liberal Democrats. The politics society mediators led debaters through a broad range of topics from the cost-of-living crisis to issues related to the environment and healthcare, and closed with a Q&A session with the audience members.  

Feedback from debaters after the event highlighted how much bigger the turnout was this time compared to last year’s event. This year, the debate was held in a much larger lecture hall and the crowd was twice the size it had been the year before. The audience came alive as the debate weaved through different topics – they cheered, laughed, booed and even heckled at the remarks of the panel. In an interview later in the week, Isaac Farnbank (Conservatives) explains how glad he was to see King’s students’ great enthusiasm for politics; “What I would hate would be to have to debate to a stony, silent audience. So, I thought that was good.” Even as some Conservative statements like “we’ve done pretty well with Brexit now” were met with laughter, Farnbank says “I mean, inevitably, you’re always going to get some heckling which, you know, you just take on the chin. I think if you’re worth your salt as a debater, you have to just deal with it.” 

In fact, mediators often had to request the audience to remain silent in order to continue the debate, as each topic discussion sparked a series of conversations among the crowd. Lewis Warner (Labour) noted the significant engagement displayed by the King’s students at the Q&A session towards the end of the debate, which everyone in the room wished had been longer. 

High student turnout at the event was a little surprising considering the lack of young voter turnout in elections and referendums in recent years. “I think people think that current parties don’t offer enough for young people,” Warner says. “I think there is less of a lack of understanding but more of an apathy towards politics. They feel like nothing’s going to change, or that voting is not going to help,” he adds. “I definitely think that, you know, when a lot of the policies and a lot of government impacts people, it’s important that [their] voices are heard and that they are represented well,” Lewis Warner says as he explains why he chose to get involved in politics and join the Labour society at King’s. Growing up in a single-parent working-class household, Warner notes, “what I consistently found is you don’t tend to find a lot of working-class people at grammar schools or universities like King’s,” he says. He adds “, I almost have this sort of duty. Because I’ve made it, I’ve got to make it easier for people like me, people in my circumstances, to also make it down the line. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. […] It’s not just a matter of class, it covers things from gender or race issues or being a refugee. But I think it’s hugely important to have people with those lived experiences be involved in the decision making.”  

Similarly, Gabriel Pontin (Liberal Democrats) explained his journey into politics: “I joined my local Lib Dems in Newham and helped about for a little bit. I went off to a place called Waltham Forest which is just north of there, and I won an award for the most canvassing done by any person in the entire Lib Dems in a month. So that got me engaged. And then I ran a local election in Southwark last time, and now I’m going to run in Kingston, which is also where I live now.” He explains how the Labour party’s lack of open and strong support for trans rights led him to choose the Liberal Democrats and how that choice was additionally influenced by personal reasons; “I have an Iraqi side to my family and the Lib Dems were the only party who opposed the Iraq war, so that was important for me as well.” 

Gloria Teichmann who fiercely debated for the Lib Dems on Monday is also Deputy Chairwoman – for another consecutive year – of the Hamburg FDP young liberals. As the child of GDR parents, growing up in a country that is still trying to bridge the gaps between the East and the West, Teichmann explains, “For me it was about social injustice. I’m from East Germany, there’s still a lot of people being left behind after the reunion of the country, and there’s very little infrastructure in the east. So, I’m one of the many who are leaving East Germany to get an education somewhere else or get a career somewhere else because there’s nothing there. That just leads to a rise in more right-wing ideologies, which is really bad. And it’s just kind of what I’m mostly concerned with these days.” As part of the FDP young liberals, Teichmann has participated in canvassing for elections and plans on continuing to work in the party and hopefully rise in the ranks.  

After the two-hour event ended, the members of the politics society, the debaters, and some of the audience members walked together to the Knights Templar for another round of conversations. In our interview later in the week, Gloria recalls talking to Isaac at the pub, “I asked him if he were a goat, what would his name be”. Sat between us, Gabriel answers jokingly “mine would be Buttercup,” which led to a sudden burst of laughter. Outside of debates and political parties, they are just students, peers and friends. This is what is important about getting young people involved in Politics – young people want the system to change for them, not vice versa. The appetite for creating a refreshing, healthy political system grows with every young person who gets involved in politics and joins the leaders of tomorrow.

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