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Monday , December 17 , 2012
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Quiver full of quips in Oxbridge war
Policy scores over populism

What: Calcutta Club The Telegraph International Debate 2012, sponsored by the Ashok Hall Group of Schools & Royal Challenge Music CDs.

Motion: Populism, not policy, defines parliamentary democracy

For the motion: Team Oxford.

Against the motion: Team Cambridge.


Matt Handley, Oxford student: The inherent nature of parliamentary democracy lends itself to populism….So they (politicians) ask themselves, ‘How can I best get popular support?’

Quip against Cambridge: I want to thank them (the organisers) for the spectacular arena in which we can finally — once and for all — settle our differences with our rivals, Cambridge. I say that because the oldest university in the English-speaking world has the edge over the second oldest.


Matt Hazell, Cambridge student: There are unpopular good policies. Some of the biggest achievements of parliamentary democracy — civil rights, women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery and ending colonial rule in India — were all very unpopular in the time and place because they are often progressive social policies.

Quip against Oxford: As tradition dictates, Cambridge will be speaking after Oxford, but as tradition also dictates, we will do it better than them.


Ranjan Roychowdhury, Oxford alumnus: Parliamentary democracy appeals to what is important to each man individually, rather than what is important to the country.

Quip against Cambridge: I am happy to see smiling faces on the Cambridge side because as the poet Rupert Brooke once said, “Cambridge people rarely smile, being urban, squat and packed with guile”.


Rajat K. Ray, Cambridge alumnus: In Bengal, we have recently seen a fundamental change of regime and that is due to land policy which favoured a few peasant proprietors. Again, it is not populism; it is a matter of very real policy issues.

Quip against Oxford: The Oxford contention is contrary to history, and it is contrary to political science.


Emma Livingston, Oxford student: Our government will not stick to a policy that doesn’t appeal to popular sentiment. They can’t even stick to their own manifesto. How can we possibly claim they are not populist?

Quip against Cambridge: We defeated Cambridge in the last debate. So trust us, we know what we are talking about.


Richard Coates, Cambridge student: The election is where the keys of democracy are handed to the people. Also, unlike India’s (lone) Test victory against England they happen more frequently. Pure populism cannot survive an electoral cycle.

Quip against Oxford: We think Oxford is very keen on populism for only one reason.... if the debate comes down to policy and reason, they don’t have a chance.


Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Oxford alumnus: In parliamentary democracy, you cannot be elected if you are unpopular….So politicians devise ways to be popular.

Quip against Cambridge: I was brought up to believe that the University of Oxford was the home of lost causes. I find this young pretender, called the University of Cambridge, trying to uphold and usurp our place in the world by upholding a lost cause.


Sugata Bose, Cambridge alumnus: Populism is very hard to define but it has one undeniable characteristic, and that is its opposition to all representative institutions.

Quip against Oxford:When I was choosing between Oxford and Cambridge, I wanted to find out what modern history was in Oxford. I discovered that modern history in Oxford began with the Roman Empire and ended with the fall of Rome.


Carin Hunt, Oxford student: People act exclusively in their own interests. And you can see that mindset in voting for tax breaks, or landowners voting for the kind of policies that benefit them.

Quip against Cambridge: Look at all the examples we have given you in comparison to all the non-examples Cambridge has given you this evening!


Clara Spera, Cambridge student: You as a person don’t have to be popular, but your policy must be popular. I don’t care how silly you are.... I care about the policy that you have enacted that makes me either happy or unhappy.


A show of hands defeated the motion and won the night for Cambridge.