BP Debates: Assessing an Isolated Opening Government

British Parliamentary offers a very huge challenge for both debaters and adjudicators. So much more strategic and tactical considerations should be made beside simple argumentative comparisson. Four teams to compare qualitatively is definitely heavier than just finding the better of two. Instead of “win” or “lose”, they have Rank 1-4 (I usually say this as “win”, “kinda win”, “kinda lost”, and “dead lost”).

Among so many controversial issues of which this fascinating format offers, I wish to highlight one with respect to isolated Opening Government Teams.

Naturally, a British Parliamentary debate would be one of great level of dynamics. Opening Teams must struggle to stay alive throughout the end of the debate, while the Closing Teams must struggle to evolve the debate out of strong grounds their Openings have set. Thus adaptation and survival throughout the dynamics of debate would be very essential to winning a British Parliamentary debate round.

Consequently if an Opening Government (OG) gets left out the debate while things have shifted much further away from what that OG had established (especially when both Opposition teams decide to only accept points of informations from the Closing Government –who follows the Opening Opposition’s shift of stance), therefore that Opening Government would be practically dead. This has been a very ancient strategy for British Parliamentary used by teams for a while, I have heard this strategy even since preparations for EDS UI Founders Trophy 2002 (my 1st competition ever ^_^).

This is an illustration of a successful application of this strategy. It was a Jogja Debating Forum debate practice in preparation for EDS UI Founders Trophy 2007. By the motion that TH Supports Federal Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research, the OG brought the debate on a stance that “As it is beneficial and not against ethics, therefore Embryonic Stem Cell Research should be supported”.

Opening Opposition (OO) decided to run around this stance by saying that “we agree that its ethical and beneficial, but we disagree if the US has to provide Federal Funding for it”. This thereby shift the debate far away from what the OG had set. Furthermore, the other teams (Closing Government – CG, and Closing Opposition – CO) chose to play in the game set by the OO, debating no longer about benefits of Embryonic Stem Cell Research but on Federal Funding versus Status Quo. Nobody accepted their POIs: Partially for strategic reasons, partially just for fun. OG was practically left out and shut down.

The debate was not decided formally in a complete decision, but was merely decided as “it was a closing debate, and OG is definitely 4th Rank”.

It only sounds logical for something like this to happen. But then the question is, does “ultimate 4th rank” universally apply for all conditions where “OG left out by the rest”? If the answer is “yes”, then imagine this scenario. If a motion goes “THW Legalize Prostitution” and the OG goes decent on it. What if OO suddenly goes “No, we should not support Veto Rights”, and everybody else decides to follow this wacky stance by OO? Is it just to put OG as 4th rank because they were “left out”?

My answer is no. It is not absolute. Here is another scenario taken from EDS UI Founder’s Trophy 2005, Quarter Final Round.

The motion is that TH Would Elect the President of European Union. Team OG from Jogja Debating Forum brought the debate on “Election versus rotation”, which makes more sense towards what the motion was demanding. But then team OO from STAN (later on, the champion of this competition), shifted the debate by a stance of “the EU does not need a president”. Both closing teams from UI followed the stance of OO, and shut down the OG from POIs.

I did not judge the round, nor did I listen to the verbals (my bad), I merely watched and left after the debate. But the results were just as I predicted, either because the judges saw the way I did or mere coincidence, I have no idea but yeah, OG went as 1st rank in the debate.

Another occurence of this would be the Grand Final Round of Binus International Debates (BIND) 2009. I judged that round, but I almost have completely forgot what had happened (yes, I remembered what happened in 2005 and not what happened in 2009. Sweet.). I have even completely forgotten what the motion was (T_T), but it was something to do with importing/exporting workers or some sort.

Team OG was from Binus International, setting up a reasonable definition and a decent case for it. But then Team OO from Atma Jaya Jakarta seemed to misunderstand the debate and shifted away somewhere else. Team CG from ITB went even further off-course, but CO which was also from ITB somehow brought something else although for some reason it was still kind of in line with the OG’s case. Weird, right? But, yeah.

The panel of judges (chaired by Wijay from UI, paneled by myself, Mita from SMA 1 Depok, Bubu and Perry both co-founders of EDS UI) went in to a very tense discussion on how the debate should be judged. Wijay and Mita voted OG to be 4th rank, as they were left OUT of the debate. I, Perry, and Bubu held our position that, instead, OG deserved to go 1st rank, because the OG was left IN of the debate. Consensus could not be reached, therefore it had to go through a vote which resulted in OG getting 1st rank.

So from the precedences I have experienced, “OG left out therefore 4th rank” is not absolute. And I am certain that there are much more examples which I have not seen. What are the differences, though, between the two possibilities?

In my opinion, it is all about how the shift happened. The basic is that the OG has absolute rights to define a motion and set it (as long as they are valid and none-challange-able), and anyone goes beyond that definition and setting would be irrelevant. This applies not only for three on three formats, but also here in Brittish Parliamentary.

But an adjudicator must also be very careful, and pay attention to how the debate actually goes, especially when a shift happens. If the shift happens still within the setting set by the OG (starting to discuss points of contentions which the OG didnt focus on), and/or a logical expansion taking advantage of loopholes of the given OG’s setting (expanding the setting and scope of the debate), then this is a case where the OG is left OUT of the debate. Therefore, it is very likely for the OG to go fourth rank. But if the shift goes so unjustly irrelevantly away from the OG, then the case would be that the OG is left IN the debate.

To win a debate, one must be IN the debate. I hope that in this extreme case, adjudicators can be more wise and cautions in assessing the debate: who is in, and who is out.