David Cameron probably never felt that ostracised at universityDepartment for International Development

On the London radio channel LBC recently, Maajid Nawaz lamented the fact that conservative students felt ‘embarrassed’ or ‘ostracised’ on university campuses. More widely, there appears to be a belief that universities have become hostile to conservative modes of thought, from Brexit to tuition fees to ‘safe spaces’. We are becoming an ever smaller minority in a sea of ‘groupthink’.

I’m a Conservative, and I see the point somewhat. But the news of our demise has been greatly exaggerated.

Let me put it this way: as a Conservative student, I know I’m going to be in the minority. We are by no means the ‘centre’ of student politics – there is no credible party to our right – and the Labour Party has, despite every ounce of economic sense being against the policy, decided to bet the farm on eliminating tuition fees and debt. In terms of both natural ideological fit and pure economic self-interest, we’re losing.

“People probably would like to hear about how you want to lower their rents or reduce college charges”

This can make us a bit defensive, and not without good reason. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked in a rather patronising and insincere tone “why are you a Conservative?”, as if there must be some pathological reason for my predilection. They’re usually trying to figure out whether I’m immoral, stupid, or both. I usually respond by simply saying “because I’m not an idiot”, at which point the concerned inquisitor usually blinks and doesn’t know whether to be offended or to laugh. I usually smile and laugh first, setting their liberal heart at ease.

Wrapped up in this is a serious point, however. It gets quite annoying to be viewed as a quaint intellectual curiosity, rather than a supporter of the party that has governed this country for most of the last 100 years.

However, we must not overstate our case, which I fear some of the current navel-gazing has done. What I mean by this is that we cannot instantly assume that every time we’re loud or brash with our beliefs the rejection comes from the fact we’re Tories. Sometimes people are just annoyed because we’re loud and brash. What is more, we can’t expect everyone to be constantly up for an ideological debate every time we want one.

Let’s reverse the logic here. I was recently elected as an NUS delegate. In response, one of the other delegates wrote what could generously be called a diatribe against me and another candidate on their Facebook profile. I continue to be surprised at how many of my left-wing friends – and some acquaintances – have offered words of reassurance, despite not having asked for them. I’ve also happily noted the fact that the vast majority of those I’ve spoken to thought the Facebook post was rather out of line. Instead of meaningful and profound, it came across as strident and partisan.

Similarly, Conservative students, I find, often have a need to publicly challenge every lefty thing that goes on at this university, which does precisely nothing to endear us to anyone or, more importantly, win us allies. Outside of a meaningful intellectual discussion, people aren’t really that interested in hearing your views on how all taxation is theft. But, they probably would like to hear about how you want to lower their rents or reduce college charges. Again, think of it the other way around: students’ eyes often glaze over when left-wing activists talk to them about ‘structural oppression’, ‘modes of discipline’ or ‘emancipation of the University’, not least because these words are thrown around as meaningless intellectual peacocking. However, students will rightly get up in arms about ill-thought-out DoS letters, poorly enforced sexual harassment regulations and the rather shocking lack of black students at our university.


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Mountain View

Tuition fees are an imperative for a fairer society

Conservative students need to learn the same lessons. Instead of whining at how our intellectual ideas aren’t making us any friends, let’s turn those ideas into practical solutions. We care about running efficient budgets, lowering costs and making sure that everyone has equal access to opportunity – aren’t these the things that university student unions desperately need?

In closing, I’m reminded of how Harvey Milk first got elected in San Francisco. In his first campaign, he ran as an unabashed gay rights activist, and got nowhere. The next time around, he focused on the excess dog poop in the neighbourhood park and won. By the same token, if any political cause wants to be taken seriously, it needs to focus on what matters to people in everyday life, not just the great intellectual causes of the time. When student conservatives get to that point, and craft a vision for better universities, we won’t be embarrassed any longer

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