There’s a Right Way to Lose at the Oxford Union. I Did the Wrong Way

They don’t do humour, the Stepford Students. So I’d give it to them straight.

The way not to win a debate at the Oxford Union, I’ve just discovered, is to start your speech with a casual quip about Aids. It wasn’t a scripted joke. Just one of those things you blurt out in those terrifying initial moments when you’re trying to win the audience over with your japeish, irreverent, mildly self-parodying human side before launching into your argument proper.

It only happened because when my turn came to speak there wasn’t any still water for me to drink and I was parched. So various Union officers proffered me the dregs of the other speakers’ half-drunk bottles. ‘Oh my God, I might get Aids,’ I ad-libbed, to no general amusement whatsoever. From that moment things only went from bad to H.M. Bateman.

First it was just the odd groan and hiss of disapproval. But the longer I went on, the more it became clear that even the more tasteful, light and apolitical jokes I’d prepared were going down with the crowd like a cauldron of cold sick. As for my more trenchant offerings — on ‘cis gender’; on feminazis; on the ludicrousness of ‘safe -spaces’, etc — well if I’d just barbecued a kitten and offered round titbits to taste I doubt I’d have got a much less enthusiastic response. We lost the debate by an enormous margin.

Afterwards, the Union’s charming Aussie president explained where I’d gone wrong. ‘You were lost from the moment you joked about Aids,’ he said. ‘Really?’ I said. ‘Really,’ he confirmed. ‘Cis gender, too. You can never joke about that,’ said one of his mates, sotto voce, glancing nervously over his shoulder. ‘Even saying the word makes me uncomfortable. You don’t know who’s listening.’

And the depressing thing is, they meant it. Of course, I should have known this from Brendan O’Neill’s heartfelt piece last year about Oxford’s mirthless, free-speech-averse Stepford Students. But until you’ve experienced it for yourself, you’re inclined to dismiss this stuff as journalistic licence. ‘Surely the place can’t have changed that much since I was here?’ you think.

It has, though. It’s like The Walking Dead. Especially in Wadham, apparently, where pretty much the entire college has been infected. (But then, Wadham, eh? Home of Terry Eagleton, the man who, in the only lecture I ever attended, told me it was just as valid to deconstruct the telephone directory as it was to read Shakespeare.) ‘Actually there probably aren’t all that many of them but their influence is disproportionate to their numbers,’ another undergraduate explained. ‘They’re so shrill and angry and difficult that everyone censors themselves just to avoid attracting their attention.’

Read the rest at the Spectator.

Greenies: the Red, the Dumb and the Angry | James Delingpole

May 22, 2010

Just back from the Oxford Union where, last night, we debated the motion: This House Would Put Economic Growth Before Combatting Climate Change. Though I wouldn’t necessarily say I sucked, my performance definitely wasn’t as strong as the one I gave at Heartland. Luckily I had the benefit of a blindingly good team in the form of Lord Lawson of Blaby, Lord Leach and Viscount Monckton – who temporarily ennobled me to Lord Delingpole of Blogosphere so I didn’t feel too left out.

Much to my surprise the motion carried. (133 Ayes; 110 Noes) I suppose I oughtn’t to be surprised, what with all the arguments so obviously in favour of our side and none in favour of theirs. But you never quite know with undergraduates – even frightfully clever Oxford ones – because, never having inhabited the real world, they can all too easily incline to dreamy idealism combined with an utter failure to grasp economic reality.

What really struck me about the occasion, though, was the unspeakable direness of the opposition. I don’t mean the nice girl from Trinity College: as an officer of the Union, she had to take whatever side of the debate she was given to argue. I mean the three others, who embodied pretty much everything wrong with the green movement: its crypto communism; its woeful ignorance; and its sphincter-popping rage.

Representing the ignorance camp was Lord Whitty – a nice chap with a moustache, but totally out of his depth on science, economics or indeed anything else. When you consider that this man was until quite recently our Environment Minister, this is rather worrying. At one point he tried to claim that Earth’s temperature was the hottest it had been in 14,000 years. “What about the Medieval Warm Period?” I asked. No, what he meant, he said was “If temperatures go on rising then by the end of the century we could be experiencing the hottest temperatures in 14,000 years.” This is such unutterable drivel, it’s not even worth deconstructing. Yet this was the guy – I said it before but it bears repeating – in charge of Britain’s Environment Policy. Still, better him than the lethal Chris Huhne, I suppose.

I shan’t bother describing the young man representing the Red faction. Suffice to say that as he rambled away about equality, injustice, the evils of growth, capitalism etc, I leaned across to Lord Lawson and said: “Jesus. If this is the **** you had to put up with from the opposite benches I’m bloody glad I was never an MP.”

Finally, we were introduced to a fellow named Mike Mason, founder and managing director of something called ClimateCare. Mike was angry. Very, very angry. He showed this by having a go at us, one by one, dismissing Lord Lawson as a “failed chancellor”, or some such, casting aspersions on Viscount Monckton’s title and describing me as a “right wing hack.” I suppose, yes, “right wing hack” is one way of describing me. But I don’t recall, when I took the floor, referring to Mike Mason as a “typical, ranty green libtard who stands to make loads of money fleecing the gullible something rotten by selling carbon offsets.” Of course I do ad hom, now and again. But not in formal Oxford debates. It’s just rude and unnecessary and exposes – as poor Mike went on most impressively to demonstrate – the abject poverty of your arguments.

Both at Heartland and Oxford we were followed by a film crew who are making a documentary about the war between Warmists and Sceptics. The director, who was a very keen Green when he started the documentary, admitted he’d altered his position quite markedly since talking to both sides. What struck him about deniers/sceptics/realists – or whatever you want to call them – was their courtesy and their thoroughness. What struck him about the warmists was their eye-popping rage.

It’s true. The Warmists really are a malign and spleen-filled bunch. As of course you would be if the science was against you, the public were growing increasingly sceptical, and all you really had left to defend your cause was bullying and bluster.

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