Last Monday, Matthew Levine (Year 12) and I represented Challoner's in the English Speaking Union (ESU) Schools’ Mace, a prestigious debating competition and the oldest and largest one for schools in England.

Given the motion ‘This house would ban the sale and consumption of meat’ almost a month in advance, which we were to be the proposition for against the Wycombe Abbey School, this was very different to other debating tournaments we had taken part in previously - where the motion is normally given as little as ten minutes before the start of the debate. We knew how notoriously difficult this competition was - only two Challoner’s teams have progressed from the first round in over a decade, but perhaps as a sign of the school’s increasing debating prowess, these two teams both happened to achieve this feat in the past two years. Indeed, the team of Matt Cooke and James Wroe last year went further than any other Challoner’s team ever has - defeating national champions Eton College to reach the third round.

Understandably apprehensive, this followed multiple intensive preparation sessions, in which we (along with the help of Mr Spenceley) meticulously refined our arguments and analysed all possible opposing points and conjured counter-arguments.

I was up first during the debate, opening the case for our side. I focused primarily on the severe environmental repercussions of the meat industry and emphasized our collective responsibility for stewardship, while linking and extending this line of argument through highlighting the moral price of continuing to exploit animals for food - using the example of the chicken cull (where male baby chicks are sent through industrial grinders as they are not needed in egg production) as a particularly prominent example.

In return there was a feisty opening opposition speech, in which the speaker brought up several points, including the extent to which the government can impose such restrictions on our eating habits. This was supplemented by several other smaller points - including the possibility of the creation of a black market and the regressive nature of such shifts as the poor are ostensibly hit hardest in a shift towards a vegetarian diet.

These arguments were systematically deconstructed by a Matthew Levine speech, in which he rejected the suggestion government cannot limit our meat consumption by using the social contract argument, and using examples of other scenarios where the government limits certain freedoms for our good. He continued to use the opposition’s own argument of the Prohibition period, which they used to suggest there would be a black market, to argue the contrary was true by highlighting the differences between the two time periods. One of Matt’s points which was particularly well received by the judges was the argument that the development of non-meat alternatives essentially rendered the consumption of meat unnecessary and therefore ludicrous when considering the detrimental externalities. A slightly weaker opposition speech followed, which focused mostly on the economic loss associated with the ban, before the debate opened to the floor and both sides were swamped with questions, which included some questionable ones, such as one directed to us which essentially tried to argue against the fact the UK was a democracy.

We have the opportunity now to recognise our wrongdoing and face the future with courage, instead of clinging desperately to an immoral institution which we try to ignore. We have the opportunity… to be remembered as a society who was brave enough to do what was right, instead of what was accepted.

Matthew Levine

The opposition summary speech followed, mostly recapping the opposition arguments, but it was Matt’s summary speech to conclude the debate which I think was the greatest sway factor for the judges. In a speech so inspiring our opposition themselves came to us to mention it, Matt, after consolidating our rebuttal points, went on to play with the audience's emotions as he asked what future generations would think of us if we were willing participants in an industry so damaging.

As the debate ended, tension was high as the judges went to deliberate the result. Fifteen minutes passed. Then twenty. Nearly half an hour later the judges came back and announced Challoner’s the victors, which meant we progress to the regional finals of the competition. We await details of our opposition in the second round and are excited to see just how far we can progress.