Formal Thursday Debates
The Society's formal Thursday evening debates, which have been taking place since 1823 and remain the jewel in the crown of the Oxford Union, were founded on an ideal of the Freedom of Speech, when religion and politics were off-limits within the University. Harold Macmillan called us "the last bastion of free speech in the Western world".
The forms of debate are similar to that in the House of Commons, with all remarks addressed to the President or Chairman, and Members referred to as "honourable", standing on each side of the house to oppose each other. The despatch boxes were originally from the Commons and were a gift from Winston Churchill. In the absence of division lobbies, voting is determined by through which door a Member exits.
Twelve British Prime Ministers have cut their teeth and honed their skills in our Debating Chamber, five of whom were also officers of the Society: our first was William Ewert Gladstone, and our most recent Tony Blair. David Cameron, Leader of the Opposition, is also a member, most recently addressing the Society in Trinity Term (Summer) 2008. We frequently play host to in excess of twelve Heads of State per year, not to mention countless actors, writers, film stars, musicians, celebrities and politicians.
Our Principal Debates, preceeded by dinner, take place each Thursday evening in Full Term, kicking off in Michaelmas with the debate "This House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government", in which key members of the Government and the Opposition go three rounds in a debate which has occurred every year since the Society was founded. In 1933 The Oxford Union passed its famous motion "This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country" causing a maelstrom of politcal and public ire; Winston Churchill called it "that abject, squalid, shameless avowal."