I’m aware that I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but, with the release of its Lent term card, I am left wondering: is this the Union’s worst term yet? Plagued by scandals of antisemitism and cronyism, it seems that the new committee has opted for a gutsy retreat by making its term card probably the most boring and incomplete in the Union’s 200-year history.
As I clicked on one of the many self-congratulatory Facebook links provided by the circle jerk that is the Union committee, I couldn’t contain my anticipation for what I was sure would be a rising of the phoenix for an institution criticised heavily of late. To my surprise, what I found was not only a distinct lack of any speakers of note, but in many cases a lack of any speakers at all. Confronted by pages and pages of empty avatars next to ‘student speaker’, reading the term card felt more like playing a game whose characters I had to unlock.
And anyway, what’s the deal with student speakers? I thought I’d paid nearly £200 to hear heavyweights in the fields of each respective motion intellectually debate to the death, not Tilly, 19, from Murray Edwards tell me that “time’s up” for our planet. Asking members to cover debates they’ve paid to listen to because the committee hasn’t done their job properly is like a mechanic asking you to fit the exhaust while he pops off for a cuppa.
Even when the Union attempts to appear intellectual, it falls flat on its face, as seen in the literature debate. The motion ‘This House Prefers reading Oscar Wilde to George Orwell’ seems even to have perplexed the resident academic, Prof. Angie Hobbs, who has opted to occupy the ‘abstention’ side before the debate has even begun. Can we not like both? Are they mutually exclusive? Besides, comparing Wilde to Orwell is like trying to compare a frying pan to a washing machine.
Then there’s the small matter that the Union seems to have metamorphised into an offshoot of the Careers Service, with asset managers and investment bankers preaching in the hallowed chamber. I’m sure when the founders of the Cambridge Union set up a society built on promoting free speech and intellectual debate, ‘how to create a good impression in an interview’ wasn’t really what they had in mind. Of course, I’m sure these invitations have nothing to do with committees using the status of the Union to promote themselves in the hope of being fast-tracked to the City, but I may be wrong.
The Cambridge Union is unquestionably in crisis. The question is: how do we salvage the shipwreck it has become, too afraid to take risks and too bereft of independent thinkers? I would suggest a boycott of events until the Union invites better speakers, but seeing as I don’t expect many people to turn up to The Economist Obituaries Editor anyway (yes, that’s a real event), I don’t think it would be that effective. Change does need to happen, however, and if it doesn’t soon I fear we’ll have to write our own obituary for this once great Cambridge institution hijacked and held hostage by a gang of careerists and brown noses.