Quality of debate being degraded

Date: Monday 25th February 2019

IN football it might be called playing the man, not the ball. In the field of argument and debate the approach is termed ad hominem — attacking the character, motive or other attribute of a person making an argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself. It is second only to name calling as the lowest form of argument.

Jonathan Davies wrote last week apologising for calling Adrian Hill, of Keep Penrith Special, a “nimby” but went on to imply that Mr Hill had been at the centre of “recent articles in news publications in Henley” which “appear to mirror those … published in the Herald and other media”, implying, it seemed, that Mr Hill lived in Henley and wrote similar letters there. Where, he was asked, did his interests lie?

A Google search reveals that though an Adrian Hill did indeed write a letter, far from mentioning developers (that was someone else’s letter) it begins “I went to Waitrose in Henley with my wife” and goes on about buying a proprietary medication for cold and flu together with paracetamol and pinot noir. There is mention of wishing to write to the MP for Henley, but not knowing the name, which probably explains some of Mr Davies’s other comments.

False news? Mr Davies may, of course, have been making an odd sort of joke, but, being the leader of Putting Cumbria First, which seems to echo America First in its name, together with querying where Mr Hill’s interests lay, the letter appeared to imply criticism of someone who did not to live in Cumbria full time.

The Mr Hill writing in Henley and Mr Hill, of Woodside Farm, Brougham, could conceivably be the same person, but does this make the arguments in the latter’s letter less valid as the juxtaposition of the two letters seemed to suggest?

Take the example of another Davies — the author Hunter Davies, born in Renfrewshire, brought up in Carlisle and based in London, though till recently living for six months a year in the county. Does or did he have any authority to write articles on Cumbria or to express any opinions about the county? Would those opinions have been invalid because he didn’t live in Cumbria full time?

We have heard many arguments as to why the proposed Penrith masterplan should not go ahead but I am yet to be persuaded as to why it should. This despite taxpayer’s money being spent on “making a case” for the proposal in a consultation which wasn’t really a consultation.

In terms of argument you may have a true premise such as “we need more low-cost housing” or “we need to encourage younger people to stay in the area” and yet reach a false conclusion “we need to build three villages behind the Beacon and double the population of Penrith”. Or put another way, the premise that “all dogs are mammals” and “all cats are mammals” are both true, but the conclusion that therefore “all cats are dogs” is clearly not. Proper debate and argument seem to be a dying art. You report that Eden Council wonders why more people do not stand for election.

Debate, it seems to me, is all but dead in a council whose constitution has vested power in a political executive, and where any councillor holding the executive to account must pre-submit questions which are also limited. This is so different from being a school governor, where Ofsted expects governors to hold a professional executive to account and for this to be well documented.


Wordsworth Street,