Thatcher’s Death: How Student Politics became all about Pandering

JOEL FENSTER argues that reactions to Thatcher’s death show us how broken Cambridge politics is.

alienated apathetic Cambridge cuca culc death Facebook ideology joel fenster politics student politics Thatcher

Today saw the announcement of the death of Margaret Thatcher, which for most of us meant a deluge of Facebook grandstanding. Those on the Right felt the need to out do each other in their show of support. The Left, meanwhile – not wishing to be left out of the picture – competed to show the least remorse. Watching CUCA members compete with CULC has been amusing – but it also illustrates just how easily people feel able to resort to extremes online. Besides this however, the statuses have also shown us just how broken Cambridge politics really is.

We have all seen it: the photos of Thatcher and the callous jokes about planning parties on her grave (sadly, many of them were not joking at all). Putting aside the obvious – that the coldness with which many have responded reveals their narrow mindedness – person after person has also been seen trying to appeal to those with whom they already agree.

Cambridge is by nature a competitive place. We are used to watching people trying to excel in whatever they choose to do with their spare time. In the political field, however, this becomes distorted by the high levels of student apathy. On a national level, politics is about competing to win the most votes – but in Cambridge this is rare. Every so often we see candidates running for office, in various institutions, but it is hardly ideological and almost never partisan. The issue is that when the 99 percent don’t care, the one percent who do have no incentive to appeal to the wider student body.

The clearest indication of this is the relatively small size of almost every ideological organisation in Cambridge. Those wishing to espouse a particular view appear to adopt the standard mantra that populism is dangerous. It certainly is when it leads to harmful ideas – but there is little danger in making yourself approachable to those who may not have gone canvassing from the age of four. I might be a fairly political person, but when I first arrived in Cambridge I was put off joining my party’s organization (no, writing an article which criticises the Left’s behavior today does not mean I am a Conservative). Today, as I watch every group in Cambridge competing to show greater love or hatred than the next, I am reminded why that was.

Across the country, the left have shown their worst colours in dealing with the death of Margaret Thatcher. Last year’s T-Shirts at the TUC Conference that called for “parties on the day Thatcher dies” were a particular low point. Cambridge politics should be more than that. University should be a place where ideologies are shared and discussed, rather than a closed forum in which you attempt to win a pat on the back from the fifteen people you already know agree. This is true of the Left and the Right in our university, including both their fringes.

Until this changes, the majority of Cambridge students will remain alienated and apathetic.