The procedures of a Cogers debate
differ significantly in many ways from those of the more
style debating societies, such as those found in the older universities
In the first place the meetings are smaller and the tone is very much less formal.
Several topical issues are brought up for consideration during a single debate. No vote is
taken at any time, so issues can be examined from many different points of view.
Although the debate has rules to regulate the use of language, the purpose of a Cogers
debate is not
the expression of controversial
opinions, but to encourage them.
The Cogers' Debate
Here is the format of a meeting as conducted by societies in the Cogers trust.
Material reproduced with kind consent, see www.cogers.org.
The proceedings begin when the person appointed to moderate the debate sets the emblem of the
society – the "Apple of Discord" – upon the (upturned) "Cup of Human Contentment". By custom
this person is known as "the Grand" and addressed as "My Grand". Set up beside the Grand is
a lectern called "the Box". All speeches are delivered from "the Box" and addressed to the
Grand rather than to the meeting as a whole.
The first person so called is "the Opener" – a
member who has been given the task of recapitulating the most important stories from the
news that have taken place since the previous meeting. The Opener presents a 10 to 14 minute
address recapitulating the important events that have been reported since the previous
meeting and suggests various lines of discussion.
Within the general theme of "Current Events",
the Opener may introduce any material of his or her own choosing but, by tradition, is
expected to make s "Loyal Reference" – a comment upon activities of the Queen or another
member of the British Royal Family. This custom was adopted as a precaution at the time of
the American and French revolutions when it was common for spies from the Home Office to
infiltrate meetings an report on the possible use of seditious language. Today, the occasion
is used, not infrequently, to express republican opinions.
Custom gives the Opener the
opportunity to present their views without interruption and, under normal circumstances,
do not take any further part in the debate. A good Opening will introduce a wide variety of
different items and stimulate other people into ideas and discussion.
When the Opening is concluded, the Grand will offer an opportunity to others present to
comment upon the ideas that have already been expressed or to introduce new material for
discussion. Within the traditions of the society, the Grand is in full control of the debate
and ensures that the meeting is conducted according to its Standing Orders. Like the Speaker
of the House of Commons, the Grand does not participate in the discussions. It is enough to
call speakers to the Box, to remind them of permitted timings (five minutes maximum) and to
ensure their compliance.
From time to time other participants may wish to challenge the ideas
of the speaker with a question or comment of their own. The Standing Orders (not always
rigorously enforced) require that anyone wishing to challenge the speaker at the Box should
signal their intention to the Grand. Such challenges should be addressed in a single sentence
and are not an opportunity to make a speech from the floor or to conduct a dialogue with the
speaker at the Box.
These challenges are permitted on the understanding that the rights of
the speaker at the Box override the rights of "hecklers". The speaker is fully entitled to
decline a challenge from the floor.
The Grand is empowered to determine, at least for the
duration of the debate, the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable language and
may require a speaker ( or heckler) to withdraw the use of words and phrases which may give
The Grand decides when to call any intervals and how long the intervals will be. He (or she)
also ensures that the debate will finish on time. When the debate
is concluded, the Grand will call upon another member appointed to act as Evaluator for the
evening. The task of the Evaluator is to comment upon the general tone of the debate and to
award the "Apple of Discord" to the best speaker of the evening.