Jacob Rees-Mogg defends the UK government at the Cambridge Union
On Thursday October 8, the Cambridge Union hosted its first debate of Michaelmas Term, the annual flagship political motion This House Has No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
Tan Dhesi, British Labour Party politician and Member of Parliament for Slough in 2017, started off the debate indicting the government over its handling of Covid-19.
He questioned if it is even possible for the government to handle the pandemic worse than they have.
His anger drew from the fact that in February the ministers were playing a Russian roulette with the theory of herd immunity.
He cited that had they acted one week earlier they may have saved 20,000 lives. He ended his debate likening the government’s handling of the pandemic to watching toddlers dismantle a nuclear bomb.
The Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, countered Dhesi’s accusations stating that a lot of right decisions have been made by the government which
saved countless lives.
He gave several examples: the fast construction of the Nightingale Hospitals, the fact the NHS was never overwhelmed, that three million extra families were granted welfare grants, and the fact that the furlough scheme served as a backbone to support businesses and get the balance sheet back in order.
While he admitted that some mistakes have been made, he argued that no government could have done it better.
Next, he addressed the government’s handling of Brexit. He explained that while leaving the EU may not be popular - especially in Cambridge - departure is what the British public voted for and it is what the politicians delivered on.
Student speaker Scarlet Rowe then opened by theorising what an ideal government would look like.
She listed that it would be one that protects people from external threats, delivers on promises, builds on the work of previous governments and acts as a figure of authority and reassurance.
She related that while the government won the election last year by a landslide, they have repeatedly failed to fulfil what their manifesto promised.
In relation to the pandemic, Scarlet related her lack of faith in the government to its failures with the Track and Trace service, the A-level results saga and its lacking communication.
She concluded that although the government had a tough year, they have not excelled.
Instead they have demonstrated a passion for being indecisive and for that reason she has no confidence in the government.
Next, Dean Russell, Conservative Member of Parliament for Watford, opened by stating that a no confidence vote is a snub to the country.
He recounted his childhood as a working class lad, working side jobs in car parks and cleaning toilets to support himself.
He stated that this is where he learnt hard work and learnt to have confidence in the government - for in his words, the government sees the ambition in all and desires to aid success.
He attached figures to this proposition: one million new homes to be created by 2024, a £1billion grant to rebuild schools scheme, £510million to expand 4G, and free college courses for adults without A-levels.
He concluded that it is not a question of liking the government, but as far as having confidence in the government, the fact Her Majesty had not intervened attests to the fact that the government has not lost the British public’s confidence.
Student speaker Freddie Poser began his speech with the statistic 42,515, the number of Covid-19 deaths in the UK, which he described to be as bad as the US and five times worse than Germany.
He indicted the government on its handling of the pandemic, arguing that just because the situation was difficult does not mean that the government couldn’t have done better.
To this he stated that in fact they could have done far better, further adding that everything that have done has been inadequate and incompetent.
He questioned their late adoption of lockdown despite the scientific advise, their failure to launch the NHS track and trace service in a timely fashion, the 16,000 lost cases from Excel which he terms a schoolboy error.
He ended on the point of the government’s continued contempt for university students, many of whom across the country are being treated like prisoners and the university minister’s invisibility in
the face of all of this.
Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative Member of Parliament for Worthing West, concluded the evening.
He began by giving floor time to those wanting to challenge the third speaker proposition, agreeing that we have heard a lot of complaints in this debate and not many solutions.
From this he diverted to praising the Union for encouraging debate and free speech.
He highlighted to the chamber the importance of both of these in the world at large and in the world of politics more specifically.
He then opened up the floor, asking of the audience: ‘‘How many of you came into the chamber already knowing what you were going to vote?"
The majority of hands were raised. He then asked, "How many of you who were going to vote for the motion are prepared to change your mind?" The majority remained up.
He stated that he then lives in hope and asked that those who hands are still up do change their mind.
He believed the ability to change one’s mind is extremely important - as Churchill and Boris Johnson did many times.
Thus he concluded the debate inviting those who came in with one view to go out with another.
The results of the debate were as follows: Ayes 67 per cent, noes 17 per cent, abstentions 16 per cent.