‘If they attack you personally, it means they have not a single political argument left’. The words of Mrs Thatcher have been no more relevant to conservatism and CUCA than they are today. Harangued left, right and centre by the odious voices of radical student activists, the space for conservatism, for rationality and common sense itself, has been squeezed to a point unparalleled in CUCA’s storied past.
It would be easy, far too easy I would argue, for CUCA to concede defeat and to vacate the field. It could all too easily retreat into a comfortable consensus, becoming a depressing caricature of its own stereotypes. Tired old figures in tired old lounge suits, cynical and joyless beyond their years, their humour brittle with outdated tropes as they bemoan the world that has risen up around them. It has in recent years become disturbingly fashionable for so-called conservatives to renounce 21st century society from the comfort of their own safe space. Well, u-turn if you want. CUCA’s not for turning.
The late senator John McCain argued that a battle not joined was a battle not enjoyed and more crucially a battle not won. Let’s leave the echo chambers and the pious sermons to the left and hand-wringing liberals where they belong. A CUCA that panders to itself as its numbers wither, who’s contributions to Cambridge political life stagnate and slumber, is a CUCA unworthy of the name. CUCA’s reputation was not earned by being a glorified drinking society, as some seem to wish it was. Its fame comes from the lions of conservatism who have graced its booze-fueled nights of Port and Policy. It is the house of Howard, Lilley and Portillo and yes, of Clarke. The men and women who have bantered over fortified wine in dusty nooks and crannies have saved this country a thousand times from capitulation to the left. Each believed that free speech was not simply a right to free thinking but an obligation to engage.
At this juncture CUCA must remember that lesson. As Cambridge institutions fall into the sights of the radical left, shouting foul play from the side-lines is not an option. Every landslide victory our party has ever won, including in 2019, has come off the back of going into hostile territory and making the case for conservatism. A silent majority of Cambridge students is crying out for something to save them from the onslaught of left-wing dogma. Rather than deciding to bask in its own irrelevance, CUCA must welcome these common sense conservatives into the fold and demand for itself the place it always used to hold in university political life.
If we truly believe in these principles then we must live them. We should relish discussion and debate from every wing of our party and the political spectrum, instead of cowering behind cheap put downs. Instead of relegating ourselves to inviting Z list speakers who only tell us what we want to hear, we should seek out voices from across the right that challenge and forge our ideas. We should take pride in the fact that we are the party of Disraeli, BoJo and Burke as well as Thatcher and Churchill. Instead of mimicking the petty tribalism of the extreme left we should be able to look beyond our differences and unite in a spirited and public defence of Queen and Country, of free markets and free men.
CUCA should be a hub of intellectual argument and good natured debauchery, where the glass of Port in one’s hand is always (at least) half full and attendance flourishes. We must ensure that we remain more than a BTEC-Bullingdon Club, incapable of persuasive argument and unable to organise a piss up in a brewery. Pride in our values should not manifest itself in comical haughtiness but an impassioned defence of a Britain where individualism, personal responsibility and traditional values still mean something. An insular CUCA that would rather cosplay as Victorian gentry than grapple with real issues, fight the Cambridge left and enjoy a proper pint is not the CUCA I joined or the one we know and love. It must not be our future. Yet if instead we use this period of adversity to renew our conviction in our beliefs and to share them with the world, then we can look forward to a place in the vanguard of a conservative resurgence that does justice to what CUCA once was and can be again.