"You can’t really expect students to make something valuable out of the pointless point-scoring of PMQs"Wikipedia Commons

Watching the real-life PMQs these days is enough to make you tear your own limbs off in despair, so only a real sadist would put himself through a whole hour of Cambridge politicos having a go at it.

The Union President sauntered into the debating chamber swinging a huge bell – not the only one in the room – and took the opportunity to remind everyone that, as Union President, he would now be momentarily suspending his role for the duration of the debate, after which he would naturally assume his role as Union President. He lounged back into his red, leather throne. He was now ‘Mr Speaker’.

“They were the sort of tepid jokes that would struggle to raise a faint grin on a laughing-gas addict”

As the last stragglers filtered into the half-empty chamber, Mr Speaker smugly announced that the wooden despatch boxes in front of him were in fact the very ones that Winston Churchill had debated on during World War Two. To summon up the memory of history’s greatest orator moments before opening this debate was possibly a misstep.

Jeremy Corbyn, played by the CULC’s Rhiannon Melliar-Smith, rattled off each one of her six questions to the ‘Prime Minister’ so inaudibly that it was a marvel the Conservative Association’s Connor MacDonald even managed to gauge what topic she was referring to. What was even more surprising, though, was both how naturally he slipped into the mannerisms of a Prime Minister at the despatch box, and how little he said.

“But let me tell the party opposite what is actually happening in the National Health Service,” he would boom, without a trace of irony. His favoured techniques included constantly referring to ‘My Right Honourable Friend’, emphatically closing his folder as he sat down and starting every response with “Well what I would say…”, which only increased the sense that he had said nothing at all.

“A mournful “resign!” from the backbenches raised a chuckle”

On one side of the chamber sat 30 male and female students from the Labour Club and Liberal Association. Opposite them was a football team of all-male Conservatives whose Barbour jackets, stiff-collared shirts and circular specs suggested they had all coordinated their outfits for the occasion.

The event was not entirely devoid of humour: a mournful “resign!” from the backbenches raised a chuckle, and there was some witty questioning from CULA’s Gabriel Barton-Singer. But in general, this was a dispiriting affair. One Tory stood up to tell of his ‘constituent Mrs Britain’ who wanted the PM’s assurance that Brexit meant Brexit. Melliar-Smith then made a passing reference to fields of wheat. They were the sort of tepid jokes that would struggle to raise a faint grin on a laughing-gas addict.


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Mountain View

A new dawn for the Cambridge Union?

This event never set out to be anything more than a Union knees-up for student politicos and you can’t really expect students to make something valuable out of the pointless point-scoring of PMQs. But there was something disconcerting about the ease with which these students, especially those from CUCA, slipped into the role of well-oiled, plausible politicians who offered nothing but soundbites.

Student politics in Cambridge may currently hold the same level of social cachet as the Crossword Club, but perhaps those who regularly despair at the lack of diversity and talent among our MPs should start paying closer attention to these grand, old debating chambers where some students are busy persuading themselves that they deserve to be the future leaders of the country

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