The Perse School

Renowned political writer Peter Hitchens offers opinions in special debate with Perse students

5 Oct 2017

Renowned journalist and author Peter Hitchens shared his views with Perse students as part of a special meeting of the Upper School’s Senior Debating Society.

Proposing the motion ‘This house believes Russia is not our enemy and the new Cold War is a fake conflict’, Mr Hitchens, who writes a regular column in the Mail on Sunday, teamed up with Year 11 pupil Kirill Nezhentsev in an intriguing debate with opposing speakers Alex Henderson and Colin Tuchel (both Lower Sixth), while Kilian Meissner (Year 11) chaired the event.

Mr Hitchens, who was Moscow correspondent for the Daily Express during the days of the former Soviet Union, began the debate by telling tales of his time working in the country at the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991.

Following a show of hands at the close of the debate, the proposition put forward by Mr Hitchens and Kirill Nezhentsev was favoured.

Afterwards, Mr Hitchens said he enjoyed getting involved and praised the standard of the thoughts and speaking skills of the students that participated in the debate.

He said: “It was very good. It was a very high quality debate and all the student debaters were extremely good.

“I’ve seldom seen such good quality debating, even at most universities I’ve visited.

“The standard of debate and argument was serious and well-informed and the Perse students were extremely articulate, so I was most impressed.

“Debating is an incredibly good way of learning to think about things and I think every school should encourage it.

“Seeing an idea bashed backwards and forwards by people who disagree in an informed and intelligent way, I don’t think there’s a better way of learning a subject either as a member of the audience or somebody taking part.”

Kirill Nezhentsev gives his account of Mr Hitchens’ visit.

Debating as an activity has always been predicated on the understanding that everybody’s views may differ, and that there is no opinion that can be considered “right” until it has been challenged.

Well, in the spirit of this premise, The Perse hosted esteemed journalist and political commentator Peter Hitchens to propose the motion “This house believes Russia is not our enemy and the new cold war is a fake conflict”. Mr Hitchens’ views on this may well be controversial, but as the day progressed his intelligence was certainly beyond refute.

The debate itself was occasionally funny, often heated, but always interesting. It was startling to hear a very vivid account of the last days of the Soviet Union, from someone who had stood in the streets as the gunshots were fired and as the tanks came rolling by.

Mr Hitchens shed new light on the situation in Ukraine, on the annexation of Crimea, on Western policy in the Middle East and on Russian involvement in Syria. These became the main clash points in a debate which featured more in-depth analysis than most could ever hope for.

In the end, the vote by acclamation was drawn but the majority (hands-up) verdict was a resounding win for the proposition. This unexpected result does at least suggest that some perceptions were changed during the debate.

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