Chill Out, Charlie

JAMES COUNSELL takes on Charlie Bell and his imaginary Trots.

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There is a grimly fascinating quality to Charlie Bell’s frothy rant.

Reading it for the first time, I was reminded of how I felt when I first watched a leotard-wearing George Galloway lap imaginary cream from the hands of a cooing Rula Lenska. They are both individuals whose passionate convictions and eloquence of expression demand respect, whatever one might make of their politics. And both chose to render themselves absurd in a very public way.

For those who are unacquainted, Charlie is a former Queens’ JCR President whose taste for the theatrical adds colour to the most tedious of proceedings. He is widely admired by those who know him for his independence of mind and his knack for bridging the divide of tribal politics. This is what makes it so tragic to witness his reduction to a ludicrous paranoiac, shadow boxing phantom Trots who’re trying to steal the Jubilee.

Last Friday, Charlie brought a motion to CUSU Council, the governing body of the Student Union, which was voted down, an event he has apparently chosen to interpret with binary simplicity. In this peculiar narrative, Charlie, the harbinger of all that is good, true and sensible, sought to gift the students of the University with the right to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

A cabal of “misery invoking, self-righteous, vanguard-of-the-proletariat, politically-correct obsessives” united to thwart his effort, ensuring that our University remains an isolated pocket of barren indifference in the midst of a nation united in rapturous celebration.

I appreciate the binary clarity of Charlie’s vision, and would very much like to leave him as the unhappy hero of his fantasy world. Unfortunately, doing so would be to collaborate in a caustic attack on decent people whose only offence was attending a dull meeting out of a sense of public duty.

The motion that they voted down was in no way alike to the one that Charlie would have you imagine. What was proposed was that CUSU should add its “voice to that of the University in their celebration of the Diamond Jubilee”, write a personal letter of congratulation to the Queen, and precede the following meeting of Council with a stirringly patriotic rendition of the first two verses of the national anthem.

The motion failed, among other reasons, because it was felt that it was inappropriate for CUSU to positively pronounce on the principle of monarchism when the 20,000 students they represent hold such wide ranging views.

In addition it was argued that singing the national anthem would lead to caricatures in the press of anachronistic Cambridge obscurantism, which would contribute to those very perceptions that so undermine the essential work of widening access to the university. This latter point wielded the potent persuasive power exclusively reserved for those arguments that are blindingly obvious and self evidently true.

It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which this motion was not about the principle of students celebrating the jubilee, and, as a consequence, its defeat in no way challenges Charlie’s (or anyone else’s) “right to party”.

The most dispiriting element in all of this is the fact that Charlie has heretofore been an exceptionally lucid exponent of exactly what CUSU is and should be; a broad coalition of diverse people, coming together to represent the views of students and collectively shaping the environment in which we live and work.

CUSU should be an organisation that campaigns to make Cambridge safer, more rewarding and more enjoyable, not one that provides a soap box for deliberately divisive policies that have no real world implications. I hope that this detour from sanity will be brief, and that we can look forward to Charlie working towards this simple ideal in the future.