The classic texts of a first year History and Politics studentKatie Heggs for Varsity

Last week, Churchill College hosted the ex-Conservative leader William Hague for its annual Antcliffe lecture. The lecture was good and Hague was a formidably impressive speaker. However, this overall positive impression was tainted for me by a cliché uttered by Hague in his closing remarks, a sequence of words that will strike fear into the heart of any HSPSer or Hispol: ‘What a time to be studying politics!’.

It’s a sentence that makes me shudder. It crops up after every political scandal, disaster or disgrace, and in awkward conversations with family friends where you try and justify your choice of subject. I admit, it's a good filler if you don’t really know what to say to a weedy 19 year old who now thinks they understand ‘game theory’ in international relations, but if we take a step back, the statement itself raises some interesting questions about political reality vs political ‘academia’.

"Nietzsche is hardly ‘pub talk’"

The ironic thing is that ‘politics’ as a subject at Cambridge affords its undergraduates a grounding in broad ideological concepts and political thought before allowing its students to tackle ‘Modern British Politics’ (the cooler, more sophisticated older brother of A- Level Government and Politics) in their third and final year. The nature of political study at Cambridge means that, sometimes, ‘politics’ as an academic subject can feel distant, hypothetical and broad (Nietzsche is hardly ‘pub talk’). In reality, stating ‘what a time to be studying politics!’ after our Prime Minister makes a bet with Piers Morgan for £10,000 that he will (illegally) deport vulnerable migrants to Rwanda before the next general election, does not even really make sense.

I remain curious as to whether the serious adults who ask this question genuinely believe that for politically minded students, living amidst political turmoil is a net positive thing. Even if the comment is meant in jest, it's a low-hanging fruit that finds its home alongside ‘I’d vote for you as PM’, or the less complimentary, ‘What are you going to do with that then?’. A quick browse of the BBC News website informs readers that in the past several days alone, Rishi Sunak is facing pressure to apologise after making transphobic comments in our legislative chamber, Keir Starmer has (predictably) U-turned (again) on Green energy, and Donald Trump is most probably going to be the Republican candidate for the next US Presidential election. It’s all a bit too much to stomach, even if you happen to enjoy studying the mechanisms that make it all ‘tick’.

"The words ‘nasty, brutish and short’ could be used for a fairly accurate description of Rishi Sunak"

The reality of politics for students makes the comment ‘What a time to be studying politics’ darkly comic. A series of unfortunate events over the past decade (Brexit, Covid, Tuition fees, to name just a few) means current undergraduates have grown up suffering through years of austerity and policy-based whiplash. Many students will have chosen to study politics because they want to make a difference, but amidst a cost of living crisis, huge amounts of rising debt and the impossibility of owning a home in the foreseeable future, it is easy to be cynical. It's a good time to study politics if you are lucky enough to have the socioeconomic status to sit comfortably in the ‘hypothetical’. But it’s not if, like the majority of the electorate, you are vulnerable to the consistently poor decisions of politicians of every party persuasion.


Mountain View

Reflections on a year in student politics

The only tenuous link between the current cost of living crisis and my copy of Leviathan by Hobbes is that the words ‘nasty, brutish and short’ could be used for a fairly accurate description of Rishi Sunak. Much of the political study of Cambridge’s students is bigger and broader than the peculiarities of the British political system. So, whilst it’s all well and good that I have interesting, accurate and up to date examples to pad out the supervision essays of 25% of my final year essays, this is slightly redundant if the reckless choices of the politicians I’m studying mean I can barely afford to buy a block of cheese. So yes, for the final year students studying ‘Modern British Politics’, there is a lot for us to write about. But that’s beside the point. Is it all very interesting? Yes. But is it also extremely dire? Affirmative.

"The reckless choices of the politicians I’m studying mean I can barely afford to buy a block of cheese"

I don’t think it is a ‘good time to study politics’. This is because it is simply not a good time to be a student in general. If I hear the phrase one more time, I might just use my copy of Leviathan to give the speaker a concussion. The nature of political study at Cambridge, when pitted against the poor choices of politicians affecting our daily life, means that sometimes I’d much rather ‘hide out’ in the POL8s and SOC10s of the world, in the abstract nature of purely theoretical political ideology. At least in that world I don’t have to set up a ‘Help to buy’ ISA.