Varsity Archives

It’s been a long time since the last Labour government. We at the archive were barely four years old when Tony Blair regenerated into Gordon Brown in the 2007 season finale. Yet if we — in the words of noted 2002 Varsity interviewee Jarvis Cocker — were to all meet up in the year 2000, we would find a rather surprising and under-reported political institution at the heart of the New Labour project. When people complain about Blair’s connections with the press, don’t think Rupert Murdoch, ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’, The News of the World ect… — Think Varsity!

These days we content ourselves with crosswords and chats to the vice chancellor, but in the year 2000 the paper would think nothing of sitting down for ‘Tea at Number Ten’ across from the sitting Prime Minister. The interview with Blair, is, it must be admitted, fantastically disappointing. Before the first paragraph is up, our student journo admits that “everything he says is off the record, but frankly, if I was allowed to repeat his words you wouldn’t be very interested”. Quickly tiring of Blair, our intrepid interviewer went rogue around Whitehall and wandered off to chat to the ‘master of spin’, Alistair Campbell.

Campbell, the model for The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker is, at least, “remarkably interesting,” although he “never tires of complaining about the media.” Varsity is presumably exempt from the vitriol he dumps on the nation’s papers. Why else would Campbell return to our pages in 2004 to reflect on his fall from power, admit tentatively that the “situation in Iraq” isn’t “perfect” and wax lyrical about “the real Tony Blair”? We should try to get on his podcast. One of us at the archive even shares a college with him (Caius).

This isn’t to say Varsity’s political sway was reserved to the New Labour lot. A Varsity journalist was made distinctly uncomfortable by the “overly gallant manner” of the Labour chancellor from the 1970s, Dennis Healy, who “refers to me as dearie, pats my hand, and asks if the photographer is my boyfriend.” Perhaps interviewing the Tories would prove more successful. We didn’t get a great deal out of Conservative opposition leader Iain Duncan-Smith in our 2002 interview with him (cheekily entitled ‘In Deep Shit’): “He says ‘um’ quite a lot”, “most of his sentences are punctuated with ‘you know’, especially when I don’t.”


Mountain View

Vintage Varsity: In which we are born

Amidst the failures of the conservatives to win power in the 2000s, however, Varsity had its eyes of on the avatar of their future success, the illustrious editor of the Spectator and future work-event-attendee, Boris Johnson. The "fizzing young cannon" is "superbly endearing" and exceedingly confident in offering some perhaps slightly surprising opinions; he wants to "legalise cannabis and privatise the NHS" and speaks with disdain of the "sullen objectionable views on immigrants" held by certain members of his party. This is Johnson the foppish libertarian, pre his law-n-order, boats-to-Rwanda era; yet the same act that worked on the electorate seemed to be working on our student journos. One of them, a cheerful young Johnian named Rob Jenrick, who published an account of his job as a White House intern in the Bush administration as it geared up for war in Iraq, would even go on to be his housing secretary.

Hopefully we’ve done enough work here to prove to Sir Kier’s team that we’re a reputable and respected paper. Pop round for a chat whenever you like Kier. (Preferably before the next print run.) The Varsity offices are open. We’ve got biscuits.