The pioneers of the Cambridge Union+ schemeCambridge Union+

The Cambridge Union is uniquely susceptible to scathing and uncompromising attacks. Often, this is justifiable – it is extraordinarily expensive, its term card is sometimes underwhelming and, above all else, it’s the nucleus of cliquey ‘hacks’ who compete for uncontested committee positions. Until recently I have written, supported and echoed such claims.

The Union, however, despite being an antiquated and often backwards institution, has begun to undergo serious and promising reform. This is, I hope, the beginning of a period of transition: a move towards a far more open, progressive and transparent Union and, as such, this should be recognized and defended.

This transformation appears to have manifested itself in a variety of ways. Perhaps most importantly is the realization that a slew of political figures, typically older white men, is not what every Union member wants from their membership. The current term card has rectified that, focusing on entertainment, with younger and more diverse speakers from a wider variety of careers and professions.

“The event was entertaining and informative – a balance that the Union has previously struggled to achieve”

While I agree that the parliamentary style debate between the Made in Chelsea and Love Island ‘celebrities’ and various University Challenge participants was ill thought-through, generally the event was entertaining and informative – a balance that the Union has previously struggled to achieve. If anything, this particular debate actually put Cambridge and its inherent intellectual elitism in poor light. One of the University Challenge participants was especially pithy and patronising. In comparison, the Love Island ‘celebrities’ – Gabby Allen in particular – were witty and thoughtful. ‘Toff’ and Sam from Made in Chelsea were predictably cocky and obnoxiously ignorant, but this was to be expected.

Perhaps the most significant manifestation of this Union revival, however, is the genesis of the Union+ program. Finally, the Union has graduated from its empty rhetoric on ‘inclusivity’ and ‘access’ and made a concrete and sizeable step towards a better, more transparent and open Union. The Union+ scheme has already hosted relevant and topical debates, such as on the Refugee Crisis, and an upcoming one on Grenfell Tower, which has the benefit of both challenging – and, frankly, exceeding – the relevance of some of the traditional Union content, while being genuinely inclusive: you don’t have to be a member to attend. You don’t have to pay however many hundreds of pounds to learn about some of the most pressing issues that our society faces.

Reality TV stars from Love Island at the Cambridge UnionThe Cambridge Union

The Union+ program has diversified the types of event that the Union hosts, as well as opening up these events to an audience that it hasn’t previously reached. This is vindicated by the high turnout at events like the panel on women in sport – the Union can serve as a platform beyond its membership.


READ MORE

Mountain View

The Union should realise that more celebrities doesn’t equal accesibility

This is what the Cambridge Union is meant to be about: access and information; learning and debate. In my opinion this has been obscured and misdirected, with energy focused instead on status and high-profile attendees, used to the comforts of the leather bound chairs, not the figures in our society and at our University that most need the platform to project their voice to us – the student body – whose responsibility it is to make our own significant moral impact on the world once we have graduated from this university. I commend these innovators at the Union. What they have done is turn the tide, override the precedent and challenge the status quo.

My only concern is that this promising process of change will be short-lived and temporary. There’s a risk the Union will slide back into its comfortable, historic position of preserving the status quo. It is my sincere hope – for the sake of my hefty membership fee at least – that this doesn’t happen

Sponsored links