‘This House would welcome ISIS brides back to the UK.’
So opened our inaugural interhouse debating competition, hosted in the Old Refectory, to a packed audience of staff, parents and students.
Few topics have occupied national headlines as prominently as the desire of Shamima Begum to return to the UK; so the moral, political and philosophical implications of this statement were debated late into the evening, in what was surely a highlight of the debating calendar.
As Mr Hall, our Head of Debating, puts it:
‘It was a real opportunity to demonstrate the strength and depth of Habs debating - and for us to enjoy and learn from it. It was a pleasure to see the maturity the boys bring, exploring these grey areas of life. The evening was just delightful: so many of the boys put in the most impressive display of debating we’ve ever seen. Whether they won or not, it was a breath-taking display of passion.'
We were delighted to be joined by Old Haberdasher Jordan Bernstein - currently in his final year of university - and Old Haberdasher Akshay Kishan-Karia - now a barrister – to judge the debate.
Habs debating has a long, rich and successful history, and it was a pleasure to welcome back two of our most successful school debaters. Jordan was the debating captain for 2016 and reached both the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Final in 2014 and 2016, whilst Akshay was the captain for 2012 and competed for Habs in the World Debating Championship. Our 2018 captain of debating, Stanley Dench, joined us as Master of Ceremonies.
During the evening, we caught up with two of the prizewinners, Aniket and Keshav, to hear their views on Habs debating.
Sam has been a keen debater since Year 7. In his own words, he signed up because ‘I was told I was good at talking.’ Since then, he’s been a regular attendee at Junior Debating, rising up to Senior Debating and participating in a number of competitions along the way. Of the event, he says:
‘It showed a real appreciation of Habs debating and showed of our skills in a way we’ve never done before. It was a bigger event, extended to teachers, housemasters, tutors and parents. We also enjoyed having it in such a lovely space.’
When asked about the content of his speech, Sam speaks animatedly, his ability to think on the spot in clear evidence:
‘We gave a principled argument, saying how the UK was responsible for her radicalisation and that we had a principle of protecting citizens based on social contract theory. We also gave a more minor argument about the problem of inequality in a free and fair justice system.’
Leaving Sam to celebrate his success with Aniket, we caught up with the Junior debaters.
Keshav had just collected the Junior Shield with Aarnav; smiles abound. When asked about the merits of the evening, he mentioned:
‘The best thing was the amount of build-up. It was a formal event with external judges invited, a large audience, and it was in the beautiful Old Refectory. There were other teachers, parents and the Headmaster. It really inspired you and made you understand what a commitment school debating is.’
Keshav joined for different reasons to Sam, looking instead for a way to develop the clarity and nuance in the way he expresses an opinion. He says:
‘Debating really adds this intensity: you have to articulate yourself fully. You’ve got the pressure of everyone in the room looking at you, and you’ve got to really try and understand exactly what you’re hoping to get across to other people in room.’
Stepping aside to let mum take a picture, we left him to celebrate his success.
Point of Inspiration
Perhaps it is Keshav’s comment on inspiration that really sums up the evening – and by extension, the extraordinary co-curricular opportunities Habs debating has to offer the boys.
With past speakers now practising lawyers, best-selling authors and MACE world champions, the wider skills that our debating society offers is a true testament to the strength of a Habs education.
Many thanks to all the staff, students, parents and guests involved; we invite you to join us for our 2020 finals next year.