Well, I survived.
The tournament was a huge success. Everyone had great fun, the organisation was sharp and I saw some good debates. In particular, the debate on selling citizenship brought out interesting questions such as the price/value distinction which rarely emerge in debating.
The winners were Sam Block and Diairmuid Early. The best speaker on tab and in the final was Sam Block. The best team on the tab were "The Half-Chinese Construction Barrister Lobby Group" composed of Alex Wright and Shannon Eastwood.
The motions were:
Round 1: This house would Directly Elect the British Prime Minister.
Round 2: This house would Admit Taiwan to NATO.
Round 3: This house would provide tax breaks to couples with children.
Round 4: This house would crimininalise smoking and drinking while pregnant.
Round 5: This house would allow individual British people to sell their citizenship.
Quarter-final: This house would introduce a 28% flat rate of tax on any income above £9000 per year.
Semi-final: This house believes those suspected of crimes against humanity should be tried in British courts regardless of where the crime took place.
Final: This house would leave the European Union.
Two trends I noticed. Firstly, debating is becoming very, very law oriented, almost to the exclusion of all other disciplines. Only international relations is still permitted to muddy the water. At the mere notion of financial or, particularly, tax implications in a motion there is a widespread sense of resentment and a chorus of "boring". This hasn't always been the case, when I started out, not so long ago, it was non-political legal theory motions that got such a reaction but they are now the vogue.
That debating might come to be dominated by lawyers is entirely understandable, although possibly a shame, as it is such a vital training for the bar; trainee barristers who haven't debated during their undergraduate years are a sad sight. However, with an economics training I find it pretty alarming that the legal minds of the future find economics so alien for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, legal thinking has been radically affected by the ideas coming out of economics. The Coase Theorem is the classic example but there is an entire journal devoted to the 'law and economics' genre. Secondly, many of the consequences of all the cases that these future barristers go on to argue will play out through the economic system and, often, through the tax system which they find so boring. Having an interest in these issues seems vital to any lawyer who wants to understand the world the law operates in and the interests of their clients.
The second trend was that the anti-French meme had been taken to bizarre levels. In almost every round the debate was somehow related, by at least one speaker in each round, back to the shortcomings of the Gauls. Myself and Neill Harvey-Smith (there is a funny account of just how tenuous some of the critiques of France were on his blog) were discussing this before the final and joking that things weren't likely to improve with a motion about the European Union. That proved alarmingly prescient as an American team defined the final into a joke (which was good fun but something of a shame) about how awful the French were and that they should leave the EU.
I am hardly a great apologist for the French political system and the country is far from perfect but at what stage does a funny, ironic old rivalry become ugly and closed-minded? Voltaire, Montaigne, Bastiat, Rousseau; most nations would be proud of just one of them. That is but a tiny sample of the French contribution in one field and the French can boast a similarly impressive achievement in almost any important human activity you care to mention. Jokes about the shortcomings of France are funny but if we use them too often might we internalise the joke and actually blind ourselves to the breadth and depth of the French contribution to the best things in life? Or am I taking things too seriously?