Visit to Number 11 Downing Street
On Wednesday the 21st of May CUCA officers and the winners of our economics article competition went down to London to meet George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at Number 11 Downing Street.
Before we headed to Downing Street, Stephen Parkinson, a former CUCA Chairman and Cambridge Union Society President, was kind enough to let us visit him in the Home Office to hear about life as a government Special Advisor (Stephen Parkinson is a ‘SpAd’ to Theresa May, the Home Secretary). Stephen briefs and advises the Home Secretary in response to her evolving workload and priorities, which he likened to the Cambridge supervision system: mastering an often huge amount of information as efficiently as possible so as to set out emerging issues effectively and clearly.
As unexpected as it was appreciated, Theresa May managed to pop in to speak to us. She conveyed the breadth and diversity of the ongoing challenges tackled in the Home Office. There is no typical day in her department, and flexibility and quick reactions are key to dealing with the heterogeneous, fast-changing and high profile nature of its work.
Arriving at Downing Street, we battled through the tourists to be let in to the famous road: it seemed amazing to pass through the gates to the street and walk up to the door of Number 11. After passing the portraits of Gladstone and Disraeli that face each other in the hallway in silent rivalry, we were ushered in and sat down. After a few minutes of a slightly nervy pause, the Chancellor arrived, even bringing former CUCA Chairman Graham Stuart MP with him to say hello.
We introduced ourselves one by one and talked about our Westminster visit thus far; George Osborne then invited us to ask questions. We had prepared a number of topics for discussion which the Chancellor had perhaps not yet spoken about in detail in public. We asked for his opinion on welfare and pension reform; how the government might have acted differently with a parliamentary majority in 2010; what opportunities he feels the UK offers school and university leavers and how to improve them; what his vision is for 2015 and how it can be conveyed to the electorate; and what had inspired and informed him both politically and personally.
He then wanted to know what our thoughts were on the current political landscape and whether any of us were keen to become MPs ourselves. The Chancellor kindly allowed us to take a few photos, showed us the Number 11/Number 10 shared garden, and then walked us out. We took our photos outside the famous doors, and headed back up to Cambridge.
The visit to London was for me the high point of my time as CUCA Chairman (an overview of the whole term can be found here). Preparing for the visit we looked at the key political, including economic, policy issues that the UK must overcome, and in particular those affecting students and young people, and the world in which they will live. Part of CUCA’s role is to discuss and communicate a Conservative approach and response to these challenges, and seeing some of the leading figures of the government in their departmental environments highlighted for us the depth of effort going into leading Britain forward, and the tremendous commitment and expertise of those at the top of government.