On Saturday night, the Oxford Union met to debate the motion “This House does not know what the Labour Party stands for.” 

Arguing for the motion were Theo-Adler Williams, a student at Worcester College; Robert Griffiths, the General Secretary of the British Communist Party; and most widely anticipated for many attendees, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative Party MP. Arguing against were Anita Okunde, a student at University College; Ali Khosravi, the former co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club; and Joe Moore, former political adviser to Labour MPs, such as Angela Rayner and Kate Green. 

Starting the argument for the proposition, Theo Adler-Williams began by referring back to the Labour Party’s 1918 constitution, arguing that Labour has since strayed far from its original values. He went on to argue that Labour’s policy was vague and that the party used their lack of a manifesto as a ‘crutch’. He focused for a long time on the policies that he believed Labour had reneged on without replacement, such as NHS strikes, austerity, and green policy. He also mentioned Labour’s recent ‘U-turn’ on their pledge to spend £28 billion on green investment – an episode mentioned many times throughout the debate. Adler-Williams said that the ‘party had become unrecognisable’ and that they were more focused on ‘paying lip-service to the right’ and ‘cozying-up’ to lobbies than real policies. 

Adler Williams was followed by Anita Okunde, starting the argument for the proposition. Okunde argued that whatever one’s opinion may be on Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership, arguing that Labour stands for nothing disregards the hard work done by grassroots campaigners and activists. She argued that, at its core, Labour still stood ‘for the people’ and ‘for the many and not the few’. Okunde addressed the issue of Labour’s U-turns, demonstrating past Conservative Party U-turns and arguing that policies must change as society changes and that this is natural. On the issue of policies, Okunde argued that Labour did have specific policies but they were not as visible as ‘governance is boring’, suggesting instead that Labour’s policies focus on affecting change in power. 

Following Okunde, Robert Griffiths continued the argument for the proposition. Griffiths began with a rebuttal of Okunde, arguing that the policies that Labour had reneged on did not mirror the changes in society. In fact, he argued, there was more need than ever for former Labour policies like the public ownership of the Royal Mail, railways, energy and water, even arguing that Starmer’s change in policies signified a desire to ‘cuddle up to big business’ and become the ‘party of the 10%’. Griffiths ended his speech by beseeching the members of the union to vote for neither lobby but rather to ‘occupy the chamber’. 

Ali Khosravi retook the argument for the opposition. Khosravi began by rebutting Griffiths, arguing that he had proven the opposition’s point by stating that Labour stood for big business. Khosravi focused on comparing Labour to the Conservatives, pointing out that whilst Labour did not yet have a manifesto neither did the Conservatives. He argued that although we may not know policy specifics, we know that ‘life will be different’ as life was different under previous Labour governments, comparing shadow and current cabinet members, such as Labour’s Rachel Reeves and the Conservatives’ Jeremy Hunt. 

Before the last two speakers took the stage, the floor was opened up to student speakers. The speakers supporting the proposition argued that Starmer had abandoned all 10 pledges he had made at his leadership conference, as well as that he had turned his back on the trade unions. Whilst those speaking in favour of the opposition argued that fiscal discipline is necessary to win elections and that Labour is currently only appealing to the middle ground because Starmer knows the ‘left-wing’ will vote for him no matter what. 

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg then closed the case for the proposition in a speech that was met with many cheers and much applause. Rees-Mogg argued that Labour’s U-turns meant that they stand for nothing. He cited Labour’s energy policy U-turn, arguing that if they truly believed the ‘world is about to burn’ this would not be a policy they could afford to scrap. He went on to say that if Labour truly believed that the two-child benefit cap was ‘heinous, inhumane and obscene’ then they would not continue to support it. Rees-Mogg referred to the current Labour Party as a ‘light blue Tory Party’ and ended by arguing that the best politicians are the ones that remain steadfast in their beliefs. Following Rees-Mogg’s speech, large swathes of people left the chambers. 

Closing the case for the opposition was Joe Moore. Moore argued that the speakers for the proposition in fact argued against the motion too, arguing that they agreed that Labour stood for something, they just ‘did not like what it was’. Moore went on to outline the coherent policies he believed that Labour possessed, including a coherent economic policy and energy policy. He went on to refute the proposition’s ‘big business’ argument, citing the Confederation of British Industry’s recent voicing of concerns regarding the consequences of Labour’s workers’ rights policies

The motion passed with 188 votes for and 70 against, a resounding win for the proposition. With the general election forecasted to come before the end of the year,  it will soon become apparent whether this decision reflects the opinion of the wider UK population.