Bernie Sanders, Mary Berry, Stephen Fry and Tom Hiddleston are all due to speak at the Union this termPhil Roeder/BBC/Brian Minkoff/Gage Skidmore

The Cambridge Union Society has released its programme of events and speakers for Easter  term, featuring a range of famous, and in many cases controversial, names from the arenas of politics, entertainment and science.

During Easter term, the Union’s speakers will address a diverse range of topics, including Stephen Fry discussing his presidency of the mental health charity Mind, and grand dame of televised baking Mary Berry promoting her latest venture. Pembroke alumnus Tom Hiddleston will also be discussing his work with UNICEF.

Possibly the most high-profile name on the bill is that of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s rival for the Democrats’ presidential nomination. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, will also be putting in an appearance.

A striking feature of the Easter term card is the large number of speakers who have courted controversy in the press. Katie Hopkins, the notoriously outspoken columnist for The Sun and the Daily Mail, is likely to face questions about her views on immigration and feminism, as well as her support for Donald Trump. Other controversial names include that of Piers Morgan, reportedly a personal friend of the US president, and Gina Miller, the investment manager responsible for launching the legal case which forced the Government to seek the approval of Parliament before invoking Article 50.

Brexit and Donald Trump are likely to feature as touchstone issues again during the Union’s first debate, which will discuss the motion ‘This House Believes Right Wing Populism Is The Greatest Threat to Democracy.’ The debate will feature the views of a panel of speakers which includes James Delingpole, a columnist for infamous Breitbart News Network which has been credited with helping President Trump to win last year's election.

The Union’s decision to provide a platform for such divisive speakers as Hopkins and Delingpole is likely to attract criticism from some areas, possibly including CUSU’s autonomous campaigns. Last term, the Women’s Campaign condemned a debate entitled ‘This House Would Liberalise Prostitution’, where “rampant rape apologist” Luke Gittos, as they described him, and feminist activist Julie Bindel, were scheduled to speak. The Union has also provoked anger in the past for extending a speaking invitation to Julian Assage.

Speaking to Varsity, Union president Harry Stovin-Bradford said that he hoped the scheduled speakers would provoke “robust discussion.” He continued, “Protests, if they occur, are part of the proud tradition of free debate that the Union espouses,” and encouraged those who disagreed with any of the views expressed to challenge them “from inside the Union".

Hopkins’ appearance also foregrounds another issue which has dogged other Union term cards. Out of eighteen listed individual speakers, only four are women, a fact that is unlikely to go unnoticed given previous criticism of the underrepresentation of women at the Union. 

Responding to these concerns, Stovin-Bradford said that while every effort had been made to ensure that an equal number of men and women were invited to speak, this could not always be reflected in the names on the term card due to “the difficulties we have in scheduling some of the busiest people in the country.”

International politics are also set to be a running theme of debates this term, with the Union playing host to several current and former foreign politicians and diplomats, including Russian ambassador Alexander Kramarenko. Relations both with and within Russia will come under further scrutiny when Dr Vladimir Yakunin, described as a close friend of Vladimir Putin, takes to the stage at the end of term. Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, will also be making his return to the Union.

Lighter relief from the more exigent topics under discussion will come in the form of appearances by DJ duo Sigma, celebrated for their work with Ellie Goulding and Labrinth, and The Kooks. 

Stovin-Bradford said he was “enormously proud” of the speakers featured on the term card. He added, “with this term’s lineup the Cambridge Union reaffirms its status as a world class forum for the free exchange of ideas.

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