The New Statesman Debate | This house believes the Labour Party is not bold enough to fix Britain 

Sat 20 Apr 2024 | 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Andrew Marr
Melissa Benn
Caroline Lucas
Anoosh Chakelian
Alan Johnson
Simon Woolley
Hashi Mohamed

A general election is approaching – and if Labour retains their lead in the polls, they will bring an end to 14 years of Tory rule. But they will inherit a country in which living standards are declining at the fastest rate since the 1950s, NHS waiting lists are at a record high, councils are falling into bankruptcy, and carbon emissions targets are dodged. Has Keir Starmer got what it takes to pull the country back from the brink? Will his cautious, moderate, frugal style lead to a wasted opportunity.

For the motion:

Melissa Benn – journalist, campaigner and author of books including Life Lessons: The Case for a National Education Service.

Caroline Lucas – Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion and author of Another England: A New Story of Who We Are and Who We Can Be.

Hashi Mohamed – is a barrister, broadcaster and author of People Like Us, a book about social mobility and what it takes to make it in modern Britain.


Against the motion:

Andrew Marr – broadcaster, author and political editor of the New Statesman.

Alan Johnson – author, former Labour cabinet minister.

Simon Woolley – member of the House of Lords, principal Homerton College and founder of Operation Black Vote.

Chaired by Anoosh Chakelian, New Statesman’s Britain Editor

Venue: TTP Stage (Cambridge Union) & Livestream

Duration: 1.5 hours

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Speaker biography

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion, and is the UK’s first and only Green Party MP. First elected to parliament in 2010, Caroline also served as leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2008 to 2012, and co-leader from 2016 to 2018. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Exeter, where her dissertation was on the role of women readers in Elizabethan literature.  

Melissa Benn is a writer, journalist, and campaigner. As a freelance writer, her essays and journalism have appeared in a wide range of publications, including The Independent, The Times, Public Finance, Marxism Today, The London Review of Books, Cosmopolitan, and Public Finance. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian and New Statesman. She has published eight books, including two novels. One of Us, published in 2008, was widely praised and shortlisted for a British Book Award in 2008. In September 2013 she published What Should We Tell Our Daughters? The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female, an exploration of young women’s lives from the perspective of a mother and feminist in mid-life, which was shortlisted for a Politico’s Book of the Year in 2014.

Alan Johnson’s childhood memoir This Boy was published in 2013. It won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the Orwell Prize, Britain’s top political writing award. His second volume of memoirs, Please Mr Postman (2014) won the National Book Club award for Best Biography. The final book in his memoir trilogy, The Long and Winding Road (2016), won the Parliamentary Book Award for Best Memoir. In My Life – A Music Memoir was published in 2018 and his highly acclaimed first novel, The Late Train to Gypsy Hill was published in 2021. The sequel One Of Our Ministers Is Missing followed up in 2022. Alan was a Labour MP for 20 years before retiring ahead of the 2017 general election. He served in five cabinet positions in the Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown including Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary. He and his wife Carolyn live in East Yorkshire.  

Andrew Marr is a leading political commentator, journalist and broadcaster. Andrew joined the start-up team of The Independent as political correspondent in 1986. He has been political editor of The Economist and Scotsman, and chief commentator of The Independent and editor, 1996-8. He was also a political columnist for The Observer and Express, 1998-2000. He worked as political editor of the BBC 2000-5, has hosted ‘Start the Week’ from 2002-present and ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ (2005-2021). Documentary series include ‘The History of Modern Britain’, ‘The Making of Modern Britain’, ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’, ‘Diamond Queen’ and ‘History of the World’. Andrew is the author of twelve books on subjects including history, biography, political theory, fiction and art. Awards include two RTS and two Baftas, “book of the year” for non-fiction plus six awards for political journalism and two radio awards. His first solo painting show opened in Liverpool in June 2017.

Lord Simon Woolley became Principal of Homerton College on 1 October 2021. He founded Operation Black Vote, the internationally renowned campaigning NGO, in 1996 and served as its Director until 2021. OBV works with ethnic minorities in the UK to increase understanding of civic society, participation in Parliament and public life, and to promote equality and human rights. He served as an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner from 2009 to 2012, and in 2018 he was appointed by Prime Minister Theresa May to create and lead the UK Government’s pioneering Race Disparity Unit. The Unit collects, analyses and publishes data on how crime, education and health are affected by ethnicity.

Simon Woolley was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2019 and was created a life peer in December of the same year. He sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. He has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Westminster in 2012, and the University of Leicester in 2023, and is an Honorary Fellow of Harris Manchester College and Magdalen College in the University of Oxford. He is a regular contributor to newspapers nationally and internationally on topics relating to equality, diversity and social justice.

Chair biography

Anoosh Chakelian is Britain Editor of the New Statesman, where she covers policy, politics and social affairs across the country, and interviews politicians and other high-profile figures. She hosts the award-winning New Statesman Podcast and co-presents the Westminster Reimagined podcast series with Armando Iannucci. She appears regularly on national media as a commentator on current affairs. Before the New Statesman, she was deputy editor of Total Politics magazine.