Young Bright – And On The Left?

11th August, 2012 10:20 am

If you a) are thinking of applying to Oxbridge and b) watched Thursday’s BBC Two documentary, ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’; IGNORE IT! For the 99%, both Oxford and Cambridge are universities full of intelligent, inquisitive and inclusive people from a whole range of backgrounds.

If you a) are a student at any university thinking about getting involved in student politics and b) watched Thursday’s BBC Two documentary, ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’; IGNORE IT! For the 99% who get involved with real student politics, it is a meaningful, enjoyable and inclusive experience.

In a Telegraph article accompanying the BBC Two documentary, Joe Cooke (former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association) wrote that “The world of student politics is not for the faint hearted. It is vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” Chris Monk then spent much of the hour trying to persuade us that procuring port and cheese was a high stakes game. For those involved with OUCA – or OCA after incompetence led to the university disassociating itself from the organisation – and CUCA that is, unfortunately, as high as the stakes ever get.

Chances are, however, if you choose to get involved with your university Labour club or students union, you will see that the stakes are much higher and the politics much better. Nowhere is this contrast starker than in Oxford. Sunday is the most important day of the political week in Oxford. For the Tories it is the infamous ‘Port and Policy’ – heavy on the port, light on the policy; for the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) it’s the weekly canvassing session in Oxford East.

Working closely with the CLP (who deserve a fair share of the credit), this year round effort for an outstanding MP led to a 4.2% swing to Labour in 2010. This more than quadrupled Andrew Smith’s lead over the Liberal Democrats and flew in the face of the national trend. Oxford East has remained a bastion of progressive politics in a sea of home counties conservatism. For the people of Oxford East the stakes couldn’t be much higher.

However, it’s not just that the stakes are higher; the politics is better. Young, Bright and on The Right showcased an awful “politics”. It was a “politics” of games and backstabbing. What more can you expect from elections to a social club where the only possible benefit to club members comes through cronyism? OULC work tirelessly to bring like-minded students together for the sake of a common good. As a result, there is a real sense of achievement that all Labour campaigners will recognise. The euphoria in the town hall as the 2010 general election results were read out did more to bring me into the Labour movement than any drinks party. It will always remain a highlight of my three years at Oxford.

Of course its not all (Labour Doorstep) work and no play but the socialising is different – the friendships made are genuine. They are not “political friendships”. Each term is packed with all the social events that can be expected from a student organisation. Each year a network of friendship and trust, that extends well beyond the dreaming spires, is created. It is a network without patronage, based on a shared politics, connecting some of the best people at the university.

Instead of putting people off politics, those involved with OULC often find themselves being drawn in to further political activity. One of the best examples is the Students Union where members of OULC have been heavily represented in elections (and are usually successful) for as long as anyone can remember. The Oxford University Students Union – unlike the Oxford Union where much of ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’ was filmed – does more to help Oxford students (and, in particular, to break down the outdated stereotypes of Oxbridge that were bolstered by Thursday’s documentary) than any other organisation.

Above all, the political left in Oxford is inclusive. From first time doorknockers to freshers attending their first policy forum, there is a conscious effort to make everyone feel welcome. Anyone can speak without deference to a pompous hierarchy. Unlike the sexism of Port & Policy, women are positively encouraged to get more involved and to speak up. Nor have there been any racism scandals that have reached the national press.

This is the real face of Oxford student politics; at least if you’re Young, Bright and on the Left!

Adam Tyndall has just graduated from Hertford College, Oxford in PPE and was an active member of OULC (and the Oxford Union)

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  • “If you a) are a student at any university thinking about getting involved in student politics and b) watched Thursday’s BBC Two documentary, ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’; IGNORE IT! For the 99% who get involved with real student politics, it is a meaningful, enjoyable and inclusive experience.”

    I can’t second this enough. I’ve been involved in Student Unions and Labour socities at two top non-Oxbridge unis, and neither were anything like in this. I’d also stress, however, that not all Conservative students I’ve known were like those in the programme either. One of the best things about uni politics is being able to take part in joint events (including socials, as well as debates) and make friends in the other political societies. Yes, it can also be a place to develop skills and experience and get involved in the party, but it can also be a lot of fun.

    • Yes, OUCA is really the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Tory societies. Most of them are just like Labour clubs, and some even go out on the doorstep more than their Labour counterparts!

  • Hamish

    This is a spoof, right Adam?

  • Mr Chippy

    Why don’t we try and have a programme on Universities which doesn’t feature Oxbridge? Yes we know there is a Oxbridge lodge at the heart of the British political system so we don’t need it rammed down our throat.

  • Alan Giles

    My advice, for what it is worth (not a lot!) to anyone who is bright and  is on the left, right or centre, would be to enjoy yourself while you are young, and get involved in politics after you have had some fun, got a job and seen a bit of life. Life isn’t quite the same when viewed from the dreaming spires as it is on the mean streets of many run-down towns.

    If I had my way nobody would be allowed to put their foot on the first run of the political ladder till they were at least 28.

    I do not mean to sound patronising, but the problem with all three main parties today is that far too many good and not-so-good people got involved in the political game before they were ready for it, thus we have dreadful policies, instituted by people who have never been out in what I might call the ordinary day-to-day life so many people live.

    I won’t name any names, though I am tempted to, but a man or woman who has played the political game, bending the knee to whatever faction are prominent in the party at the time, who has been a “researcher”, or a “special adviser”, and becomes and MP with a more or less guaranteed work contract of 5 years at £65,000 per annum, and who can claim hundreds of pounds each month as “food allowance” has little knowledge of how a poor  family have to go to the cheapest supermarket in town, even if it is a bit out of town, because there is too much month left at the end of their money.

    They need to meet ordinary non-university people, and get to understand them. If they don’t how can they truly appreciate what so many people have to go through?

  • Teasy

    “Young, deft – and on the left!” rhymes. I like it better.

  • The working class presentation in Oxbridge is nil as it is very low in all universities; to suggest otherwise is a clear mis-representation of the facts.

    • That is because Labour abolished grammar schools. There used to be plenty of people from working class backgrounds in Oxbridge in the 1950s-1970s. Then the comprehensive system was introduced and social mobility in this country has nose-dived. UKIP’s policy is to bring back streaming and grammar schools to give the bright hard-working child a chance regardless of parental income.

  • DevonChap

    I was amazed no one quoted Kissenger; “Student politics is so bitter since the stakes are so small”. Works for left, right, centre or loony fringe.

    But the trust of this article that student politics leans left is so obvious I’m surprised the writer bothered

  • AnotherOldBoy

    In my experience at both Oxford and Cambridge only utter tossers got involved in student politics, across all parties, in terms of seeking election to their various offices and committees.  The BBC seem to have persuaded two of them to appear on a programme last week (fortunately no one was watching). 

    Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne used their time more constructively by socialising and, in Mr Cameron’s case, picking up a first as well.  And, while the great Mr Hague did become chairman of OUCA when I was at Oxford, he also managed to be elected as Presidentof the Union (nothing, of course, to do with the completely pointless National Union of Students) and get a first.

  • Saul On The Road

    A political article by another PPE graduate. There’s a surprise.

  • Cameron Singhclare

    Did you watch the show? They were both from state school backgrounds and Joe Cooke is working class, grew up in a council house has a convict father, a single mother, and is a dyslexic!

    • Saul On The Road

      If only Cooke was gay and black the Tories could make him their mascot and say, “Look how liberal… with a small ‘l’… we are. We let this David Davis bit of ex-council house, chav-rough into our party and many of us treat him as if he weren’t sub-human in the least. See how we’ve changed from the bad old days.”   

    • “Joe Cooke is working class, grew up in a council house has a convict father, a single mother, and is a dyslexic!”

      Didn’t see the programme myself but that seems to be a fine recommendation. Labour high-ups should put Joe on the PPC fast-track forthwith.

      His Oxbridge credentials will doubtlessly sooth the concerns of  NEC and PLP fuddy-duddies.

  • hp

    Can we do something take PPE (it’s  eeeaasy, as the song goes) off university syllabuses?
    Can’t we force these people to do something useful? 

  • mo

    I don’t see why people should ignore it. You will meet people like this if you go to Cambridge – they are a small minority but they are there and sometimes you have to interact with them. There’s no point in pretending Cambridge isn’t a weird hothouse full of strange people (of all stripes). Our biggest society by turnover is Gilbert and Sullivan, and thousands of us spend hundreds of pounds to watch people debate. Cambridge isn’t for everyone, and we should be honest about how it is.

    • Mr Chippy

      Mo, As long as we can have similar programmes on other universities. The media has an obsession with Oxbridge because most of them went there and want to re-live their student days.  

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