The L&H held one of the most timeless debates last week; the free speech debate. The debate, which was formally titled ‘This House Regrets politically correct culture’ discussed the perceived excesses of politically correct culture and the danger of letting people simply say whatever they wanted, irrespective of the harm it may cause.

Speaking first in favour of the motion, and therefore in favour of free speech as a whole was Jason Coster who aimed to show the audience that the world would be a better place without politically correct culture. He argued that there was a notable difference between politically correct culture and political correctness, saying that political correctness could be summarized as just being nice to one another, while politically correct culture was in his mind ‘the rise of seeing everything as oppressive and or an insult’. Some examples of this that he raised were people using perceived offence to avoid work, such as a group of students in the US who allegedly attempted to not sit an exam as it insulted them.

Coster then moved onto discussing why he believes hate speech was necessary in the modern world. He argued that if all hate speech was suppressed then we would be unaware of the harm that it could cause, and the effect that words can have on people. Coster closed off his argument by attacking those that use the current politically current culture to in effect oppress others from availing of their rights to freedom of speech.

Des Cooke spoke first for the opposition and opened by giving the audience a brief history of the term ‘political correctness’. Cooke said that the term first emerged from the USSR where it was taken to mean following the central party doctrine. At the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, United States Republican’s took the term at attempted to attach it to Democrats in an effort to associate the left with Stalin and the then collapsing USSR.  He then moved on to speak about how the political correctness backlash movement has actually grown to be larger than the movement advocating political correctness. He went on to point out how the most extreme examples of political correctness, and therefore the ones that drew the greatest backlash were in fact hoaxes.

Cooke finished his speech by questioning who was really winning in this largely circular argument, where people were getting offended at people being offended or has he put it ‘saddo boys offended by saddos being offended by the ultimate saddo boys.’

Cora Keegan was next speaking against PC culture, saying that ‘it does my head in sometimes.’ Keegan claimed that it didn’t so much matter what we say, so much as what we do, referring specifically to former President Barack Obama who notably paid careful attention to his language while simultaneously ordering bombings and drone strikes on some of the most impoverished nations in the world. She said that PC culture was at best a ‘woke competition’, and that there was enough to worry about in the world other than what Piers Morgan or Katie Hopkins were saying.

Tola Ilori spoke next for the proposition and very simply refuted earlier statements by Coster saying ‘hate speech is firstly not good, I think we can all agree on that’. Ilori moved on to argue that the opposite of the current PC culture was not some higher form of free speech, it was just carelessness. She argued that PC culture raised the standard of discourse, and acknowledged that there are, as with many things there were bad sides to it. This, however, did not undermine the fact that proper and respectful discourse was vital, not just out of respect but also to see the best outcomes.

Finally, Ilori noted an interesting trend in those who attack PC culture. She said that those most likely to attack overreach in PC culture were also the most likely to use the language PC culture rallies against.

Speaking finally for the proposition was Kevin Brennan who stated no one in this debate actually knew what they were talking about. Brennan said that opposition had not actually stood over why PC culture needed to exist. Furthermore, he argued that his side did not need to stand over hate speech, just like opposition did not need to stand over the worst examples of PC culture.  He cited examples of those who have fought for years for the rights of minority groups, such as LGBT activist Peter Tatchell, being vilified by the modern PC groups for misstatements.

Finally, Brennan attacked the idea that PC culture was only people trying to introduce a respectful way of speaking. He said that it was an effort by some to introduce a ‘right’ way of talking and by extension brand all others as wrong.

Speaking last for the opposition and wrapping up the debate as a whole was Lucy Murphy noted that ‘debaters can be quite insular’. This means that certain jokes and references can be lost on people who aren’t a part of this community. She, therefore, believes that it is important for the motive of what people say to be considered when they are judged. It is with this in mind she says that sometimes you need to go through the bad stuff to get to the good.

Murphy acknowledges PC culture can be and is annoying. She argues, however, it is necessary to change the minds of people who feel it is acceptable to belittle others with words. She concedes to proposition that things were perhaps easier in the 60s and 70s when you could say whatever you want. This was only the case however because we cared so little about others that we were careless with our words. PC culture changed the attitudes of people and made us more caring.

Murphy finished by saying that it was easy to target the progress made and that perhaps some of the ‘keyboard warriors’ were overzealous in their defence of others. However, she argued that they defend those who have no other defenders, and it was necessary.


By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor