The student left: Where did it go wrong?

There’s a world out there, you know

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‘I’m not trying to be a dick when I say this…’

Eleven words scientifically proven to be followed by something which makes the speaker sound like a dick so huge even Robert Downey Jnr wouldn’t claim to possess it.

“That’s some stiff competition.”

With that caveat in place, let me establish that I mean it when I say that I am really not trying to be a dick when I say this.

But the student left really needs to take a long hard look at itself.

When my mum – arguably the most politically apathetic woman in the world – was a student, she went on a march outside Fairford RAF base and sang “a note for peace” in an attempt to ban the bomb. This was a time when students would pressure the government into stopping their support for the apartheid, the Vietnam War.

And now? Well now we still tackle the big global issues. Like how we need a reading week. Or the fact that sometimes colleges hold conferences and it makes it harder to have a good time in the bar.

Don’t get me wrong (although I’m sure many of you will take great pleasure in doing so in the comments section, so please don’t let me rain on your parade), I know that there are Cambridge students campaigning for some serious and worthy things.

However, it seems like a lot of the students who would previously have been storming the barricades are instead sitting in their comfortable rooms bitching because sometimes Cambridge University can’t be all things to all people.

I think sometimes we forget what a bubble we are in. The Union invited a controversial speaker? Great. Do you think more than three people give a shit about this if you go more than 10 miles from Little St Mary’s?

This lot had their priorities sorted

Forget all the “Cambridge-is-so-intense-but-amazing-omg-hogwarts” stuff: that’s convincing nobody. But we have to hold on to the fact that by being here we are by definition massively fucking privileged.

The social, cultural and educational capital that is being hammered into our reluctant heads puts us in the top thousandth of a percent of the world’s population when it comes to privilege.

I’m not saying the struggle isn’t real, to appropriate a phrase. God no. Yes, I know life here can be a bitch. You don’t need to tell me that. I know mental health issues are a massive fucking thing.

Among my close friends I can count sufferers of PTSD, depression, anorexia, drug addiction and panic attacks. And I hate it. I hate this place sometimes because it hurts the people I love. You don’t need to tell me how serious this stuff is and I would never want to trivialise it.

However, we are in danger of becoming so introspective that we disappear up our own arses. We are in danger of forgetting that there is a world outside of the ivory tower.

There’s a world outside the bubble, yaknow

Yes, life here is hard. But you know what is also hard? Raising two kids in central Birmingham when your disability benefits have been cut. Going to bed every night and feeling physically sick with worry because you don’t know whether tomorrow you will be able to feed your family. That’s hard. Or how about being a victim of FGM? That’s pretty fucking difficult.

This is the type of thing we should be protesting loudly about. We should be using our privilege and the voice afforded to us to protect those whose voices society can’t hear so loudly.

I’m not saying that we can’t care about the obvious problems with this university. I think these campaigns have a place. I’m just saying that maybe we should save a little energy to give a shit about something beyond these walls.

It’s very easy to change your profile picture to a square of blue felt and lament that your college doesn’t feel like a home. But, Jesus Christ people, there’s a whole world out there.


This isn’t an attempt at a right wing hatchet job. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t care greatly about the left. And we have lost our way. There was time when the radical student left was a voice for the most marginalised in our society.

Now we seem to care about nobody but ourselves. There is, of course, a place for caring about ourselves, but it should not take up all of the activists’ time and the public conversation.

So to the student left, in the words of my least favourite ex-boyfriend: I’m only saying this because I care about you –  but you need to fucking sort your shit out.