On March 13th Intelligence Squared hosted a Versus global live debate series using Google+ Hangout, which was streamed ‘live’ on YouTube. The subject of the debate was ‘It’s time to end the was on drugs’ and it took place at a very cool and modern venue called King’s Place close to King’s Cross.
The building itself is tall, but not imposing and when you walk to it you feel like you are in another world, where old merges with new, thus creating a very interesting area vibe. There are several floors, restaurants, cafe, exhibition spaces and auditoriums, and the debate was hosted at the concert level. The auditorium itself was light and airy, with comfortable seats and a feeling of intimacy with the audience.
Forty years ago Richard Nixon and his administration declared the war or drugs, yet it seems that the same landscape and problems remain and the debate united people interested in resolving this problem or at least having a productive discussion with people and speakers present in the audience or beamed/ streamed from around the world, thus hopefully making us all feel like part of big community.
The debate was moderated by Emily Maitlis, who is a presenter on BBC2’s Newsnight and who did a fantastic job, respectfully making sure the event flowed and speakers didn’t overstretch time allocated to them too much-a very good looking and smart woman who really should be a role model for both men and women working in her field. She was assisted behind the scenes by Jemima Khan, who incorporated best questions from net audience into the discussion.
Some speakers really amazed me, with their passion and knowledge and power of conviction, like Misha Glenny ( a journalist and author, who was both passionate and curt ), Louise Arbour( former UN High Commissioner and calm, rational speaker ), Bernard Kouchner ( former French foreign minister, who to my amazement, was the one who started the organisation Medecins sans Frontiers-for that alone, the man deserves enormous respect ), Antonio Maria Costa ( former executive director of the UN office on drugs and crime-articulate and with a wonderful sense of humour ) and Ed Vulliamy ( a sort of bohemian presence in the author’s disguise, who was really good at making strong, colourful points ) and even Russell Brand, who normally makes me cringe and close my eyes in desperation-on this occasion he was very vocal, smart and so funny, that even if you didn’t agree with the points he was making or deviating from them, you couldn’t help yourself, but fall under his humorous spell. All the while Eliot Spitzer ( former governor of New York ) behaved like he was on a campaign trail, using American style of court rhetoric that made you feel like his desire was to show his skills off, as opposed to making the important points.
I can rant and rave about the interesting debate, but apart from getting a little overwhelmed by the intensity of the discussion on a very serious subject ( looking at Peter Hitchens and his angry, intense face made me shuffle uncomfortably in my seat-he seems so angry and so disconnected to people around him that it does have a very unsettling effect ), I also left the auditorium with the feeling that often the debate might not be won by the best person with a very strong and well though out argument. For me, on this occasion it actually came down to the effect of personality, mannerism, rhetoric and …charisma of the person addressing the audience-some people had it in spades, making you drink their words like a thirsty tourist in the dessert, while others just seemed morose or blaze in their attitude ( Sir Ian Blair springs to mind ).
If you are curious to watch the video of that wonderfully timed & organised event, check out the link below and who knows, you might be tempted to venture out and attend one in the future: