When a Cambridge student and aspiring politician proclaims “It’s easier to come out as gay in Cambridge then it is to come out as a Tory”, you know there’s a certain lack of perspective, understanding or even decorum.
Last night’s “Young, Bright and on the Right” on BBC2 gave audiences a glimpse into the inner workings of Oxford University and Cambridge University’s Conservative associations, following Joe Cooke and Chris Monk respectively. What struck me the most is how divorced these two were from the modern young right at university.
They both are remarkably intelligent human beings and their interest in student politics is unsurprising. We meet Cooke’s single mother who raised him, hear from his sister how his attitude to education changed and how he faced a remarkable uphill battle. Monk, though he faced fewer difficulties, came from the same comprehensive background as Cooke. And this background, to him, is part of the “problem”.
Monk talks about how he wished he’d gone to public school, to alleviate the loneliness he felt in earlier years and for “connections”. If “connections” and “old school ties” are things he’s lacks compared to peers, his desire for them is to be expected. Sadly, he fails to cogitate beyond this and ask why, if he has had the education available to everyone and lacks contacts, are “connections” in anyway compatible with modern conservatism? It’s important to note that the “old school tie” perforates Labour and the Lib Dems as well, but notably Monk proclaims to be a member of the party of aspiration, of hard work and of equality of opportunity and yet he still feels he should assume an outdated model.
Fee-paying schools educate just 7% of the pupils but produced 41% of our MPs. Whilst it’s impossible to deny that the Conservatives are the worst offenders, the Lib Dems are close behind and Labour is still disproportionate compared to the electorate. On top of this, 41.5% of Oxbridge offers this year were still made to public school students. And with these figures in mind, surely Monk and Cooke should be proud of their achievements, and not trying to uphold the bygone image of student politics: decadence, debauchery, obscurity, tribalism and tweed.
The issues don’t end with the erasure of their past, but an assumption of a different identity. Again, Monk openly tells his parents that his Conservative is “like being in the upper class” for a time and Cooke talks about OUCA meetings as if they’re war-games. Cooke continues and says that within his conservative club he sees “ten future MPs and three cabinet ministers”. Nothing could be more divorced from a real interest in politics and the very real people who hold Conservative views.
We don’t all dress like we’ve been assaulted by a charity shop, we don’t erase our accents for political survival and most people aren’t as ignorant as to assume the electorate’s job is to provide you with a career and platform for pomposity. Matt Kilcoyne, Internal Vice-Chair of University of York Conservative and Unionist Association, condemned the backward image these two presented:
“The divisive nature of ‘being like in the upper classes’ only serves to remove you from what you want to change, makes you part of the problem rather than its solution. Pretending to be something you’re not is a betrayal to yourself and our ideals for merit and equality of opportunity. Hopefully our actions will speak louder than the words of this programme.”
As if he’s reached the same realisation as the rest of existence, Cooke breaks down at the end in tears and simply declares: “I’ve betrayed who I am to play by their game and warped reality”. You have to pity the man who had the potential to help to change a system, but instead became a puppet of it.
As one of these two paragons of an outdated model of student politics says “Where you are born should not determine where you end up”. Yes, and these people should not determine your image of the young right.