UPDATE: What A Pickle!

As the comments continue to come in thick and fast after the drama with Eric Pickles at the Union, The Tab gets two different views of the situation

anti-cuts assault Cambridge Union Cambridge University cuca eric pickles protests student protests


Charlie Bell, a Queens’ student and former JCR President, was sharply put down by Pickles – after asking a serious question about the image of the Tories – with the remark that they suffered because “posh boys” like Bell felt guilty and joined the Labour Party. He told The Tab his thoughts on Pickles’s handling of questions and whether the protests were welcome.

On Pickles and the talk itself: ” I came to the Union for grown up political debate – on the government’s priorities, which I believe are wrongly skewed, and on the way forward economically for Britain. This wasn’t to be.

Having asked a fairly innocuous (and I think interesting) question about why the Tories still get the name of hating the poor, despite my belief that this wasn’t the case, Pickles showed his well-publicised unpleasant side.

Not only was totally incoherent, he knows nothing of my background, and it was political ignorance of the highest order.”

On the protests: I am all for peaceful protest and freedom of speech. I fully supported the protest before the speech, but once it became violent and unpleasant, and actually prevented us from hearing what Pickles had to say, it became a nuisance and an affront to freedom of speech, and the right to political dialogue.

I’m sure that many like me, on the left, were fairly appalled by an attempt to silence political debate – just as much as they were appalled by the pathetic bullying tactics employed by Pickles.”


Chris Poel, Chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association, released a statement to The Tab: “Whilst the protesters did cause some disruption, they were largely peaceful.

“One of the wonderful things about this country is that everyone can make their voice heard. And whilst Mr Pickles’ voice was occasionally drowned out, the cut and thrust of debate makes a democracy. It’s just a shame that the protesters did not join in with the engaging speech inside the Union Chamber which saw a robust but respectful exchange of views.

“From what I saw, the Union staff and police did the best they could under difficult circumstances to prevent injury and vandalism, and my thanks go to Colonel Bailey of the Union.

“May I also say how extremely proud I am of my Committee, who were coming down the stairs as the protesters broke in. As Mr. Pickles was removed upstairs, they stood their ground as insults were hurled. They did not respond but remained calm. They did not hide their faces as the protestors took pictures of us. Should violence have broken out, God forbid, they would have held the line.

“I am honoured to be the head of such an organisation.”


An angry crowd stormed the Union this evening in protest as Tory MP Eric Pickles was delivering a speech to members. One of the security team was allegedly assaulted during the break-in.

Plans of an anti-cuts protest were known well before the event, which was held jointly by the Union and Cambridge University Conservative Association. A diverse mix of about 40 people gathered outside in the Union gardens to make their point peacefully.

However, it is thought that what was a relaxed mood among the group soon turned sour, when Pickles avoided their human blockade intended to stop him from entering by slipping through a side gate. Trouble spilled over once the MP’s talk was about to begin.

Eric Pickles

Protesters tried to disrupt the event by breaking through security into the foyer outside the chamber, with around 15 of the group managing to do so.

Union officials had to delay the start of Pickles’ talk, while the group was ejected by police and the in-house security team.

The police were happy that reasonable force was used.

However, while this was happening one of the security guards appears to have been punched in the back of the head by one of the protestors. An investigation has been opened into claims of assault.

The protestors were removed from the building, but allowed to stay on the premises during the talk, and a 25-strong crowd proceeded to shout, heckle, and chant in efforts to disrupt the talk. Some had to be escorted down from the top fire escape, while others found their way into the basement.

Union President-Elect Calum Macdonald was on hand to see it unfold. He told The Tab: “We tried to balance the right to protest with the right to free speech. Unfortunately, we had to call security when a small minority broke in.

They were taken out  but allowed to remain on the premises, and the event was thankfully able to go ahead as planned.”

Last term, David Willets, Tory Minister for Universities and Science, also faced protests from students when he came to Cambrige to give a lecture on the vision of the coalition for science and technology.

Photograph by Stephen Tordoff