Former CUCA chairman CALLUM WOOD worries the BBC 2 show will re-enforce stereotypes.

I’d actually forgotten all about the film crew that tagged along to a couple of CUCA events in late 2011, but when I saw “Young, Bright and on the Right” advertised my curiosity was piqued.

When I was in the loop I knew all about student Tory politics. It would be a change, then, to regard the spectacle from the comfort of my living room. What did we look like to outsiders?

The Wonderland crew discovered an intelligent but socially awkward young man with plenty of political aspirations. They let him talk. They filmed him making loud pronouncements at a social event and badgering officers for a place on the committee. This wasn’t a documentary about CUCA. Student politics was little more than the backdrop for a documentary about how a keen second-year failed to curb his enthusiasm. It didn’t tell us anything new about the right-wing scene in Cambridge. It merely explored the ideas, concerns and expectations of the singularly animated Chris Monk.

A few of my friends saw the documentary and asked if all the student politicos were like this guy. We are not. Most CUCA members just want to whet their appetite for politics, make new and like-minded friends and be exposed to a range of different opinions.

A small handful are interested enough to volunteer to help out. They might want to help promote conservatism in Cambridge, or they might simply like the social aspect.

Naked ambition looks bad. Nobody wants to go to a drinks party and listen to someone talk about their schemes. It’s boring, it’s unsubtle and it’s ineffectual. Advancement in CUCA, and in the national party, is dependent upon being affable, presentable and having some semblance of ability. Menial tasks, unbridled eagerness and loudly expressed opinions don’t impress anybody.

The narrative structure of the Wonderland programme was quite strong, and provided a sharp contrast between the aspirant Chris Monk and the descendant Joe Cooke. At the beginning of the programme, Monk was an irritant and Cooke a dejected former Chairman with a difficult background.

After an hour, my sympathies were reversed. Monk proved to be somewhat insightful (“I see CUCA as a social activity”) and bowed out with the classic “focussing on studies” canard. Meanwhile, Cooke ended up being quite treacherous. Not content with having had his turn, he got himself into the papers with an exposé of anti-Semitic singing. Even the naïf Monk was able to see through this personal-damage-limitation chicanery. If Cooke abhorred the behaviour of his peers, why did he not challenge it on the spot?

Indeed, the seemingly cryptofascist shenanigans of his colleagues aren’t just a problem for their former chief. I’m sure that most people were watching the Olympics on the other side, but those who did tune in to watch “Young Bright and on the Right” probably took away a negative impression of Oxbridge. Apart from a few token punting shots and some scenes inside the Union, there was very little about Cambridge itself.

So far so good. Unfortunately, we will be tarred with the same brush as Oxford. The public consciousness will lump the two universities together and we will be tainted with all the unpleasantness of the dysfunctional O(U)CA. The directors knew what they were doing. They picked the most extreme examples of off-putting stereotypical undergrads.

I would like to believe that this is just a storm in a port glass, but by showcasing the worst of a tiny minority the documentary really risks cementing the dated image of public school privilege and social exclusivity that Oxbridge cannot seem to shake off.

Callum Wood was chairman of CUCA for Lent 2011.

  • Sceptical

    "Most CUCA members just want to…be exposed to a range of different opinions"

    Yes of course that's the main reason to join a political organisation for people who share the same opinions as you. Or is Callum suggesting that most CUCA members are in fact Labourites and Lib-Dems looking to discover what Old-Etonian Tories make of the world?

    • Chip on shoulder?

      I suspect you are being rather unfair to CUCA. They are by no means exclusively Eton-educated (in itself hardly proof of privilege, I might add, regardless of whether one considers privilege itself to be an unforgivable sin). Callum himself hints that the social aspect of CUCA is the most important, and in my experience CUCA members are far less vocal and pushy with their politics than many so-called liberals.

      • O.E.

        I'm pretty sure there arent any Old Etonians in CUCA or OUCA

    • Pascale

      Callum Wood was chairman of CUCA for Lent 2011…

      Lent 2011
      John Gummer = environmentalist
      Lord Monckton = climate change denier

      thats a pretty wide range of different opinions

      source: cuca website

      • Danny

        To be completely scientific, fair and unbiased having a climate change denier in your ranks doesn't really make you an open organisation, it just means the organisation is open to idiots

        • Fair And Balanced

          Does a speaker really count as 'in your ranks'?

          And Lord Monckton is Deputy Leader of UKIP, which means he probably has more to talk about than just climate science…

          • Fair

            I saw him, Lord Monckton, in the Union last year. He spoke really well actually and rebuffed the angry environmentalists quite effectively on all points raised. Don't know whether he is correct, but he sure was a good presenter.

    • Technical

      "Conservative" is a pretty expansive definition; there are a whole range of opinions on the right. Not to mention they have a broad selection of speakers and joint events with the other societies..

  • JordyPoor

    Good article. People very eagerly swallowed all that stuff about the ginger one's background, which blinded them to the sheer malice of some of his scheming –
    Here's an interesting take on what he was like before all this came out: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/diary/di… (He certainly used to have expensive tastes)

    Personally I found the Monk guy to be quite endearing. But it was cruel how the directors simply let him gesticulate wildly at the camera in his bedroom. They should have pulled him aside and warned him about it. But I suppose humiliating him was all part of their fun.

    Anyone also notice the guy who has a cameo as an Oxford paper editor seems to have been a Tab columnist in the past?

  • bemusedsevenpercent

    Ummm… well considering the great institution the Union Society, which we can wander into or just give a worldly-satisfied-but-ultimately-disinterested nod to on the way to a pub, and the huge numbers of social (and smart social) societies in Cam… isn't it reasonable to think that student party politics must be about, well, politics?

    I think it is a bit slimy to pretend that the politicos are as unbothered, nonchalant and in it for the lols as this response suggests. They clearly aren't. That, or they haven't worked out how to have a good time yet…

    • Mug Life

      Oddly enough, people aren't carbon copies. Some CUCA people probably are horrible careerists, some are probably fine.

  • OutragedLeft

    THEY LET HIM GESTICULATE WILDLY!

    GESTICULATE!!

    is there no justice???

  • Same every year

    Didn't take long for the new CUSU team to be "outraged" over something.

    • CUSU

      That's an outrageous characterisation.

  • Carrot Toffs

    Another two reasons not to vote for gingers.

  • Question

    Which society do the OCA like Oxbridge fascists join in Cambridge if it isn't CUCA?

    • Theory

      Reckon we have less of them so they tend to stay quiet as they can't find a big enough group who share their beliefs/habits.

      • Jackington

        Sadly, this is correct. Whereas at my highschool my chums and I, who were of many different ethnicities, could all enjoy a bit of racially insensitive banter, At Cambridge I never found a single such person., and was instead repeatedly told to "check my privilege".

        It's unbearable.
        What is it about Cambridge being known as the place that's better for sciences that attracts all these leftie stooges?

        • taja

          you also made the connection between fascism and yourself without any prompting. bet your friends of many different ethnicities must miss that brilliant banter

        • An Ethnic

          Yeah I love it when other ethnics decide to make insensitive banter about ourselves. There is no such thing as self-racism..

          • taja

            that's silly. if someone thinks of themselves as more amenable to having the piss taken out of them (or worse) because of their ethnicity etc, yeah, that would count as something like "self-racism." not approving it, but why do you think members of ethnic groups occasionally throw terms like choc-ice, coconut, self-hating jew around?

            also, your name: are white people an ethnic group, or just asians?

            stopped finding it funny when i realised this 'banter' at my school consisted of stupid stereotypes about asians and none about the majority ethnicity. pretty shit 'banter' too.

            also, even if you think "racially insensitive banter" is great, lolz, whatever, what kind of idiot uses it in a way and context that provokes "check your privilege." "Hi black friend, I'm just going to make a joke about people being black, hope that's cool"

            • Black Friend

              All cool with me, dawg.

        • Jackson

          Mate, I couldn't have said it better myself – I thought I was the only one.

          I always wondered if it was the result of Cambridge being so white, and many of its pupils coming from all-white schools, meaning they compensated for their guilt and embarrassment by language fascism.

    • Answer

      CUSU?

  • Graham Cooke

    I thought this a good review of the programme. I saw it more than once (I'.m an insomniac) and was struck how well made it was: very well edited, music unobtrusive yet enhancing, and Julian Rhind-Tutt's distictve, understated comentary.

    Googling comments on this programme, I thought how depressing most of them were: predictable and coformist in keeping closely to a liberal, progressive script,

    In particular, I think the almost wholesale rubbishing of Chris Monk was sad and, for me, wide of the mark.. I thought – well done, Cambridge, for selecting such a character. He's obviously bright, rather naive and immature, but also rather thoughtful and discerning. But,then, why can't he be, he's 19. I found endearing his enthusiam, which perhaps naively he didn't feel the need to mask. And rather an effective communicator as his interventions in the Junior Parliament and Cambridge Union debates showed, brief, to the point and amusing.

    A genuine eccentric, with some potential to make a mark; perhaps not in anything as demeaning as a cabinet meeting, but an outstanding maverick backbencher. Or an enlivening media personality./commentator. At one point, I did wonder whether his obsession with biscuits, cheese, and port was an elaborate joke; but I think probably not. But when he matures and gains in experience and harnesses his latent satirical talent, Chris could be a formidable and memorable contributor to the gaiety of the nation – in the old fashioned sense.

  • oli

    I agree with the author about the unfairness of considering oxford and cambs as the same. Having (now at Oxford) been to both, Cambridge is far more diverse, accepting and "normal" than Oxford- the documentary gave a good insight into the charachters of many oxford students, I did not recognise cambridge in it. I think. This documentary was more an insight into the personal insecurities and dissolusioning lonliness suffered by a boy who, in some sort of curios rebellion, was desperately trying to thrust himself into a culture that quite simply didnt want him.

  • Joe

    A provocative move on the part of those that placed the banner, but an immature move on the part of those to remove and burn it.

    If poor writing quality offends you, I suggest you don’t reread your article.