Chill Out, Charlie

JAMES COUNSELL takes on Charlie Bell and his imaginary Trots.

There is a grimly fascinating quality to Charlie Bell’s frothy rant.

Reading it for the first time, I was reminded of how I felt when I first watched a leotard-wearing George Galloway lap imaginary cream from the hands of a cooing Rula Lenska. They are both individuals whose passionate convictions and eloquence of expression demand respect, whatever one might make of their politics. And both chose to render themselves absurd in a very public way.

For those who are unacquainted, Charlie is a former Queens’ JCR President whose taste for the theatrical adds colour to the most tedious of proceedings. He is widely admired by those who know him for his independence of mind and his knack for bridging the divide of tribal politics. This is what makes it so tragic to witness his reduction to a ludicrous paranoiac, shadow boxing phantom Trots who’re trying to steal the Jubilee.

Last Friday, Charlie brought a motion to CUSU Council, the governing body of the Student Union, which was voted down, an event he has apparently chosen to interpret with binary simplicity. In this peculiar narrative, Charlie, the harbinger of all that is good, true and sensible, sought to gift the students of the University with the right to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

A cabal of “misery invoking, self-righteous, vanguard-of-the-proletariat, politically-correct obsessives” united to thwart his effort, ensuring that our University remains an isolated pocket of barren indifference in the midst of a nation united in rapturous celebration.

I appreciate the binary clarity of Charlie’s vision, and would very much like to leave him as the unhappy hero of his fantasy world. Unfortunately, doing so would be to collaborate in a caustic attack on decent people whose only offence was attending a dull meeting out of a sense of public duty.

The motion that they voted down was in no way alike to the one that Charlie would have you imagine. What was proposed was that CUSU should add its “voice to that of the University in their celebration of the Diamond Jubilee”, write a personal letter of congratulation to the Queen, and precede the following meeting of Council with a stirringly patriotic rendition of the first two verses of the national anthem.

The motion failed, among other reasons, because it was felt that it was inappropriate for CUSU to positively pronounce on the principle of monarchism when the 20,000 students they represent hold such wide ranging views.

In addition it was argued that singing the national anthem would lead to caricatures in the press of anachronistic Cambridge obscurantism, which would contribute to those very perceptions that so undermine the essential work of widening access to the university. This latter point wielded the potent persuasive power exclusively reserved for those arguments that are blindingly obvious and self evidently true.

It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which this motion was not about the principle of students celebrating the jubilee, and, as a consequence, its defeat in no way challenges Charlie’s (or anyone else’s) “right to party”.

The most dispiriting element in all of this is the fact that Charlie has heretofore been an exceptionally lucid exponent of exactly what CUSU is and should be; a broad coalition of diverse people, coming together to represent the views of students and collectively shaping the environment in which we live and work.

CUSU should be an organisation that campaigns to make Cambridge safer, more rewarding and more enjoyable, not one that provides a soap box for deliberately divisive policies that have no real world implications. I hope that this detour from sanity will be brief, and that we can look forward to Charlie working towards this simple ideal in the future.

  • Approving

    This is a much fairer representation of what happened at Council – Charlie's steadfast support of Cambridge politics is admirable, but he seems to have lost the plot here and damaged his reputation, as well as that of CUSU LGBT and Queen's JCR/MCR.

    • Queens' JCR/MCR

      I don't see what this has to do with us any more – it's not like we told him to say it.

  • Hmm…

    I can't see how, by singing the same tune that England footballers (hardly the stereotypical elite) stand for at every match, it is "blindingly obvious and self evidently true" that access will be harmed.

    • On the other hand…

      The danger I think is that although the national anthem in itself is not 'elitist' it might give that impression if a load of Cambridge University students start singing it at their SU meeting – we all saw how the boatrace panned out because someone thinks we're elitist. Also, given how international Cambridge University (and CUSU for that matter) is, it is not all that representative to sing the anthem of one country, even when they are celebrating an event as rare as a Diamond Jubilee.

      • Not really…

        How dare a British university dare to celebrate the Head of State? What's more she's the head of the commonwealth as well, which includes more than a few of our international colleagues. And that's not to mention that much of the university was founded by the beneficence of the monarchy!
        It is daft to worry about being perceived as elitist; after all it's true, we're a meritocratic elite. A rendition of the national anthem isn't going to change that perception that much in the long term, those who believe it will continue to do so and those who wish to portray us as such will find other ways to do it. We should therefore stop worrying about those people and act as we wish to act and focus our energies on those who are amenable to our message through outreach etc. The press will never carry the message of access, quite simply because it won't sell as many papers as 'omg posh lazy toffs'!

    • DailyMail Watch

      Remember the Daily Mail. They don't have a problem with huge double standards, and would presumably illustrate a story about it with a picture of a white tie May Ball, and get a double whammy of 'students party for jubilee instead of studying, where's the austerity now?' and 'Look at these elitist twats!'

  • Under the impression

    …that the article was a deliberate exaggeration? Anyone who has ever met Charlie knows he loves to make himself seem more outraged at things that he couldn't summon the will to sincerely give two shits about. You of all people should be able to think of a million topics more interesting to write about than this one Counsell.

  • James Murdoch
  • David

    What does CUSU LGBT have to do with it? Erring on libel…

    • Thom

      Charlie's something on the CUSU LGBT Exec: Chair, I think, though it could be something else.

      • Janette Winterbottom

        And what the fuck does that have to do with a motion brought to council in a personal capacity?

  • headline

    Did this make anyone else think of "Cheer up Charlie" from the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film?

  • Hmm

    I think CUSU was completely right to reject the motion, and yet I still find the argument unconvincing. If you'd all stop babbling on about access and elitism as default responses to every issue, maybe people would be more likely to just accept Charlie's proposal as bonkers and move on.

  • CV points

    I would be able to take this article more seriously if this wasn't a naked pitch for you to run as CUSU President next year James.

    • Cunning plan

      Perhaps a la Union elections some cheeky rumours about his opponent having a drug problem can be fabricated?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaman683/2640789668/ SEA COW

    "The motion failed, among other reasons, because it was felt that it was inappropriate for CUSU to positively pronounce on the principle of monarchism when the 20,000 students they represent hold such wide ranging views."

    Well by all means take that as a sign that you should do anything at all!

    Lower tuition fees? Well we would campaign for it but there are so many WIDE RANGING VIEWS amongst our massive electorate… Muppets.

  • Ron

    Counsell – you weren't even AT Counsell. See what I did there?

  • Omnishambles

    I feel in this argument no-one comes out looking good and everyone loses. Let's all just settle with not caring either way shall we?

  • Jerry

    Shock, horror! It seems some non-BNP members arn't rallying against the inherent elitism and racism of the Jubilee: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17945052

    Heaven forbid Johnny Foreigner might actually also like take part in celebrating a bit of our shared national heritage…

  • IagreewithCharlie

    But surely everyone must realise that the only reason Cambridge exists is due to a royal charter?
    Surely if you went to an american university and a motion was passed to come out in support of the president, even those who would have voted against Obama would come out in support?
    It doesn't matter if you are in favour of the monarchy or not, or even if you are from this country, by coming to this institution you are accepting that your degree is only made possible by the monarchy.

    • Bad logic

      That's like saying we should celebrate rape because some children are only made possible by the act of rape.

      • Not really…

        Well… no…

        Rape is intrinsically wrong. I think that's fairly uncontroversial. The monarchy, on the other hand, is something that actually has a lot of support.

        • well, in that case

          if the monarchy has "a lot of support", why not have an election? surely if the monarch were so popular, then it would be unthinkable for them to lose…

    • actually,

      Cambridge was founded by a bunch of fugitive academics originally from the other place.

      It *subsequently* gained (and holds to this day) a royal charter as a vehicle of governance, yet there is no reason why the disappearance of the monarchy would prevent us from continuing to function. If anything, in a United Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the taxpayers' money from which the monarchy currently benefits could be redirected to education, or health, or some other worthy cause.

      As for the Obama comparison, well at least Obama has a *democratic* mandate to govern, whereas our head-of-state has only a hereditary mandate. Also, Britain does not have the same culture of deference to political leaders that USA has; rather, we have a tradition of political satire.

    • Admiral Ackbar

      My personal view is that getting rid of the monarchy is just a bit pointless.

      Constitutionally the Queen doesn't wield any real power. If she tried to block an elected Prime Minister from coming to power, then clearly she'd have to go. But she, and her prospective predecessors are clever enough not to do that I think.

      The USA have an entirely different system. Their President, as head of state, wields considerably more power than ours, though of course most of the legislative power lies with the representative assemblies.

      • Admiral Ackbar

        Financially, the argument is that the monarchy is a waste of money. I would think of it instead as an investment. Britain is unusual in this day an age in that the ceremony of monarchy still functions and – pragmatically – this attracts tourists, especially from the US. Tourists attract money. Money bolsters our economy. I believe that this puts more into the British economy than the monarchy extracts. Moreover, the Crown Estates generate further revenue.

        On the other hand, an elected head of state such as a president of the UK would probably cost more than it's worth. Our Prime Minister and his cabinet currently does everything that would be covered by a presidential mandate. The extra cost of separate elections for the replacement of an institution that acts as a major tourist attraction for the UK strikes me as an economically unsound decision.

        You may have gathered by now that I am a bit of a pro-monarchist – and proud to be so. I hope that the above has helped to give some pragmatic justification to my ideology on what I think is an issue of significantly less important than many of the others facing us today.

        • But

          We can never quantify how much the monarchy earns us in 'tourism', nor how much the monarchy costs us.

          However, I sincerely doubt that the monachy-related tourism even paya for the Queen, let alone bolsters our economy.

          • Admiral Ackbar

            Fair enough – but despite the fact you can't quantify it the tourism trade is still there.

            On another note here are some – albeit slightly out of date figures for the revenues of the Crown, as a landowner, and how they do benefit the exchequer.

            'Head of State expenditure is met from public funds in exchange for the surrender by The Queen of the revenue from the Crown Estate. In the financial year to 31 March 2009 the revenue surplus from the Crown Estate paid to the Treasury amounted to £211 million.'

            Admittedly from a royalist website (so keep bias in mind) – http://www.monarchy.net/costMonarchy.htm – but they couldn't really have fabricated those figures – some republican would surely have sued them by now!

        • voice of reason

          Research suggests that, despite the sources of income cited by Admiral Ackbar, the monarchy is actually a burden on the taxpayer. Moreover, the vast majority of income associated (often rather tenuously) therewith could still be claimed (including the crown estate) by the state were the monarchy to be abolished.[1]

          I fail to see how abolishing the monarchy would damage tourist revenue. In fact, in a republic, we could open more of the estate and assets currently occupied by the royal family to a paying public. There is a considerable store of art that is currently not even available to researchers/scholars let alone the public.[2] Besides the potential for increased tourist revenue, it would be culturally locupletative for a wider public (cf. Tower of London, Versailles).

          [1] http://www.republic.org.uk/What%20we%20want/In%20

          [2] http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710

  • Point of fact

    It's Rula Lenska.

  • Mr. Cultured

    'it was felt that it was inappropriate for CUSU to positively pronounce on the principle of monarchism when the 20,000 students they represent hold such wide ranging views.'

    Yet it was perfectly appropriate for Ruth Graham and the odious CUSU "Women's" Campaign (really a far-left radical feminist group) to make slanderous and public claims that Dominque Strauss-Kahn (an innocent man under the law) was a rapist and that the various members of the university (who CUSU is meant to represent) who attended his talk were rape apologists.

    CUSU is a scam. It's a neat little way for far-left economic undesirables like Tully to avoid the long lines at the unemployment office for an extra year. It's time the students of this university and the colleges stopped funding this crap.

    • voice of reason

      well said!

  • Bounder & Cad

    [youtube S80SvZBmzOY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S80SvZBmzOY youtube]
    The alternative Jubilee anthem – ''Prince Harry song" – by a couple of Cambridge students.