Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.

The other day, my sister and I went to the Royal Geographical Society to see the Intelligence Squared debate, questioning the statement “We’ve never had it so good”.

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Founded in 2002, Intelligence Squared events get together some of the biggest names in politics, journalism and the arts, to debate the hot topics of the day in front of an audience – in some of the most fantastic venues across London. Previous speakers include: Stephen Fry, President Jimmy Carter, Patti Smith, Richard Dawkins, Chris Anderson, Sean Penn, Germaine Greer, Werner Herzog, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Salman Rushdie, Eric Schmidt, Richard Branson, Professor Brian Cox, Nate Silver, Umberto Eco, Martin Amis and Grayson Perry. So quite a selection of speakers!

The debate we attended was chaired by Jonathan Freedland, who writes for the Guardian, and arguing the case for the motion was Rachel (brother of Boris) Johnson and Jesse Norman MP – with, perhaps predictably, the argument against coming from Will Self and Rod Liddle.

Before we went in, we were all asked to submit a vote on whether we were for or against the motion – both my sister and I said we were for – and then we settled in to be persuaded.  The debate started with Jesse Norman – who, I am sorry to say, gave a pretty much standard Politician Speech. It was well written, informative and funny. But nothing special. In stark contrast was Will Self, the very definition of lugubrious. And hysterical. And sometimes using such long words I didn’t have a clue what he was on about – but knew it was probably perfectly sensible. And none of it written in advance. I wish I had just half of his wit.

Rachel Johnson, up next, was a complete disappointment. Rambling, and, I’m sorry to say, very dull – not what I expected from the former editor of The Lady. She did give an excuse for this – apologising that she’s not at her best because she’s spent the last week living on a pound a day to raise awareness of food poverty. So I’ll give her some leeway! Finally, the debate finished off with a contribution from Rod Liddle – again, witty and entertaining. To be honest, as soon as Will and Rod came on stage louchely and grumpily chewing their nicotine gum, I think the jig was up for the “For” side.

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Before questions, the votes from before the debate were announced – 47% of the audience were “For”, 24% “Against”and 29% were “Don’t Know”. We then voted again with the cards they’d provided as we went in, and were given the results after questions and summing up. I’ll not spoil the results for you – you can listen to the whole debate by downloading the podcast from intelligencesquared.com – and they have archives of previous debates for you to try out too.

It was a really interesting and fun evening, and I’d definitely try another one. Future debates include “The English Language is Going To the Dogs” and they’ve started a series of “literary combat events”, starting with Austen vs Bronte which have actors such as Dominic West acting out passages from the books. If you fancy trying something a little bit different in 2014, check it out!

Today’s quote is from Desmond Tutu.

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