Five things that surprised me at the LawDeb Debate


I didn’t go to my first LawDeb debate with a baggage of memories, this was my first one.

I did go with a baggage of prejudice about pension trustees who can be senior, male and not interested in anyone’s opinions opinions than their own. It is an industry unto itself and despite being about governance, it has historically been a club for pensions people to look after its own.

Things are changing and while one or two of their rivals are stuck in the club, LawDeb have been showing pleasing signs of diversity for some time.  And as my invite came from Mark Ashworth, who has been a mentor to me,  I went with an open mind.

Five things that surprised me

  1. The lead debaters for both sides were women (supported by men). This led for a totally different style of debate
  2. This was fun, although highly technical, the debate was sparky and spikey.
  3. The audience asked interesting questions – and didn’t make personal statements
  4. The best team won (See tweet above), the audience were swayed by the arguments
  5. I didn’t reach for my phone in 90 minutes! I was entranced.

None of this is headline news in itself. If there is a reportable, it is that the next global crisis is unlikely to be financial. The debate ended with some suggestions which put the global banking crisis into perspective; climate change, political stalemate , global conflict are the crisis’ we fear. None are anything to do with the financial crisis of 2008, though that has probably exacerbated the problems we face to day by diverting our attention.

The banking team, did not so much defend their sector as explain that it was now in compliance lock-down. The investment team, who focussed on the state of the global bond market, failed to get beyond the easy laughs and their arguments lacked relevance.

The audience found it hard to understand how covenant light bonds and zombie US mid-caps posed an existential threat to the UK financial system. They got the fact that mortgaging and remortgaging has got a whole lot more difficult in the last ten years.

I guess that a live debate touches us personally and that’s what the banking team did.

No hard feelings

As I chatted with friends and new acquaintances after the debate, the participants in the debate mixed with the audience and we were able to find out how they felt it went. I was struck by the dignity of the losers and the sobriety of the winners. As one of the winners is a bloke I know quite well, I was particularly pleased for him. The debate elevated all four debaters, not least because they put their arguments before their personalities and the audience before both.

I am a little stymied to name names, as I am uncertain on how the Chatham House rule applies in these circumstances but – to be frank – it was the argument and the occasion that I will remember, more than the debaters.

Which is how it should be.

Many times I have cause to berate professional trustees for sins of omission, but not this time. This reminded me that intellectual debate can be conducted without hard feelings but with deep conviction.

Thanks to all for a thoroughly entertaining and stimulating evening.



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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