Cambridge Conservatives attract a lot of political prejudiceAnna Menin

In the days leading up to writing this article, I decided to go around to some of my friends from different colleges to ask them one question: “What political prejudice, if any, have you seen in Cambridge?” The answers were close to unanimous; it seemed that around Cambridge, a Tory’s only place in political conversation is as the butt of a joke.

The question we then have to ask is who cares? Is a joke about someone such a serious offence that it would merit being called prejudice of any kind? It is often the case, however, when looking at a broad range of issues – sexism, for example – that jokes are often used as a thin veil which masks more sinister beliefs. And while I am not arguing that the severity of Toryphobia is anything which can be compared to the above prejudices, in the same ways, the veil of banter has been let slip many times and under this, a real hatred of conservatives has shown its face. At Fitzwilliam College, a canvasser for the Conservatives in this year’s general election faced real abuse and social ostracism for putting campaign literature in fellow students’ pigeonholes, something that would never happen to a Labour campaigner in Cambridge.

“I know you’re a nice person and all but how could you feel okay with yourself voting Conservative?”

Now, I am going to do something which I rarely do nowadays, which is to confess my own political opinions. I have learnt over the years that it is just not worth it to allow my political leanings to slip into conversation any more. I’ve been asked questions such as “I know you’re a nice person and all but how could you feel okay with yourself voting Conservative?” and “How do you sleep at night knowing that you voted for austerity?”; I’ve had people shouting at me and throwing me dirty looks for supporting the Leave campaign.

I am not saying that passion should not appear in politics, and real anger has its place when the line between political belief and morally objectionable acts have been crossed. However, there is an assumption that certain political beliefs entail that their holders always have morally objectionable characters, and therein lies the problem: the immediate assumption of guilt. What I find most bizarre about such an assumption of guilt is that it comes with the most widespread political opinions, not, in fact, the ones which are the least popular. The Conservatives won the most votes at the last general election, and in the referendum it was the Brexiteers who were in the majority. But judging by the backlash against these beliefs alone, nobody, had they been dropped onto the Earth today from outer space, could possibly guess this fact. They might, however, form the reasonable judgement that we belong to a secretive satanic cult instead.

“Tell me that you think this is bad economics, but don’t tell me that I’m just a nasty person”

Maybe that would explain how, despite being very interested in politics, whenever this topic of conversation comes up, I pray that nobody will ask my opinion, look to the floor and keep my mouth shut. Maybe that would provide a better explanation as to why I feel it necessary if I have confessed my views to follow it up immediately with quick-fire justifications as to why I’m not a bad person: “but I voted for Brexit for democratic reasons, not because I’m against immigration”, and with a pleading look in my eyes, “I voted Conservative because I just don’t think that socialism works in the long run”, which could just be translated into “please don’t hate me, I beg of you”.

It really shouldn’t be this way that people take such a dim view of humanity as to label most voters in the UK as bad people. A phrase that comes to mind is: “Look at a man like he’s the Devil and you’ll never understand his motives.” If you ask a conservative why they vote for austerity, they might say it is because high government spending leads to recessions which hurt the poorest in society; they will not tell you that they hate poor people. So please tell me that you think this is bad economics, but don’t tell me that I’m just a nasty person. And if you do, then I’m afraid you have fallen prey to the propaganda produced by your own side, because it is so much easier to label someone as evil than to rebut their arguments.


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I fear that there’s a real danger if we continue along the same road where opinions are ontology, you are what you think, where if I hate your opinions then I must hate you. My fear is that our own echo chambers will just continue to grow and grow until they drown out all other noise. For if you question the socially accepted opinions, you are calling your own social acceptance into question. To create this sort of censorial environment is to create a real danger of a stagnating and even declining society.

We can never progress without debate, which can only come with the acceptance that every one of our own ideas may be fallible in some way, even, unthinkably, that Jeremy Corbyn might not be the Messiah reborn. No views should be taken as a given, especially not ‘socially accepted’ views which nevertheless continue to have a vocal opposition.

This opposition will never go away unless we continually make the arguments against them. Debating is the only tool we have which lets us make decisions on political matters without descending into violence. The correlation between the rise of censorship and the rise of political violence on college campuses in America is alarming. Safe spaces appear to have unsafe consequences. And whilst I am not saying that calling Tories mean names will suddenly cause us all to mount our horses and charge into battle on King’s Parade, it is clear that social pressures and ostracism can be a real form of censorship which has damaging consequences for us all