Political debate is the raison d’être of party conference. The format of the debate, its style and its structure are largely influenced by the British parliamentary tradition. It follows a fixed motion-centred pattern, inspired by the practice of the House of Commons. Pros and cons are heard, then votes are counted. The British debating tradition is carried on through school and university debating societies.1 It is reinforced by the adversarial legal system, which puts great emphasis on winning arguments before an audience. It has been more influential precisely because many lawyers have entered politics, including of course Tony Blair and Michael Howard. This traditional style is rigid and contrived. Not only does the contradictory debate often give the impression that the party is divided but it also tend to be of little entertainment value. However, it carries within it the ideal of intellectual rigor leading to a decision.
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