Owen Jones, Corbyn 2020, and sex in embarrassing places

This article was published in The Cambridge Student on 21 April 2016.

There’s something uncomfortable hanging in the air on the evening I meet Owen Jones for a drink by the river. Something unsaid, lingering like a bad smell.

To be precise, it’s the fact that I once wrote a reasonably lengthy bit of ‘Owen Jones meets Christian Grey’ fan fiction as a series of tweets on a train from Cambridge to London in my first year. We both know that these tweets are, to date, our only form of communication, but it’s probably best left undiscussed.

Similarly uncomfortable is the challenge one heckler shouted out as Jones gave a talk at the Cambridge Literary Festival earlier that day: “Run for Parliament!” I ask him if there’s any chance, and the suspiciously long spiel that follows is best condensed as: ‘I don’t have particular ambitions to do so, but I wouldn’t say no.’

“I think if I became an MP there’d be people going: ‘See, a careerist, ambitious all along, this was all some ploy to become a politician’. You know, it wasn’t.

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‘As a woman, you get screwed over at every stage’: Helen Lewis talks feminism and nice women

This article was published in The Cambridge Student on 21 April 2016.

It’s a sunny afternoon, and in the hustle and bustle of the Cambridge Literary Festival’s HQ at the Union, Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor of the New Statesman, is taking some time out to reminisce with me on the stairs.

“We had proper things to be upset about in my day, and I genuinely think this”, she says, reflecting back on her time as a student at university.

“Having the Iraq War and tuition fees were the best possible things that could have happened for student activism, because everyone really knew what side they were on, there was a very clear enemy and we were all united in the fight against someone else, and I don’t think there’s a defining issue that everybody feels viscerally attracted to, and that makes it harder.

“One of the great things about activism is that feeling of solidarity and that feeling you have of fighting alongside people and changing things is an achievement. It’s much harder now for students now to get that sense of solidarity and achievement.”

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David Aaronovitch: Oxbridge’s ‘absurd snobbery’ and vomiting at Etonians

This article was published in The Cambridge Student on 21 April 2016.

David Aaronovitch is much like you’d expect an opinion columnist to be, which would make sense, as he has written a weekly column for The Times since 2003.

He looks at you with a slightly stern gaze, takes some time after each of my questions trying to work out what angle I’m looking for, and then ploughs into an answer that is simultaneously headstrong, yet considered; argumentative, yet open to discussion.

It’s this temperament that sets him on a clear collision course with a new generation of students, at Cambridge and elsewhere, advocating policies of no- platforming, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and the old controversies we’re all sick of hearing about.

It’s a dangerous topic to get him started on. “What I see is a generation of student politicians which is incredibly up its own arse, just to the nth degree, inventing things which can make politics about it rather than about the wider world.

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“Silliness and ridiculousness”: My dad, the Footlights President

It’s that time of year. The Christmas lights are on (with the notable exception of that one on Trinity Street), the mince pies are on offer, and the scarves are out in full-force. As such, it feels like the perfect time to sit down with Tom Fraser, President of the Cambridge Footlights, in a generously heated room with a cup of tea, to talk comedy and the pantomime. This year’s pantomime, The Emperor’s New Clothes started on Wednesday and seemed like a good place to start.

“I haven’t seen the script, but from what I’ve heard from rehearsals, from all perspectives – production team, creative team, the cast, it is a funny script, and it’s been a very funny and industrious and productive rehearsal process. Continue reading

Sixteen Days in Cambridge: A fresh face for activism?

Activism runs rampant in Cambridge. A week at The Cambridge Student brings reports of protests pouring in, reporters sent running to catch a photograph before they dissipate and Opinion articles lined up to discuss the issue itself. Much of the time, it can seem endless, and almost meaningless. It’s refreshing, therefore, to hear of someone taking a completely different approach, and coming up with an idea that tackles a key issue, without becoming just the next wave of trendily-dressed students with whiteboards on King’s Parade.

Sixteen Days in Cambridge is a project to raise awareness about gender violence in this city, and I’m lucky enough to get a chance to speak to the project’s founder, who has chosen to remain anonymous. “It’s designed to be a platform to allow people [to share their] thoughts and experiences about the issues that gender violence raises, expose the many different forms it take, as well as our preconceptions, and highlight that it has affected everybody in some way. The idea is that people can contribute in whatever form they wish.” Continue reading

Tim Squirrell: Free Speech and getting trolled by ‘The Spectator’ (Interview)

Tim Squirrell has had a bad week. I’m sure we all know the story of Oxford’s cancelled abortion debate and the ensuing argument about free speech that broke out across Twitter, Facebook, The SpectatorThe Telegraph, and The Tab, but in case you’ve been hibernating: The Cambridge Union’s President, Tim Squirrell, got himself involved in quite a big way.

“I wrote an article for The Cambridge Tab titled, ‘Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean you get whatever platform you want,’ which I didn’t think was particularly controversial, but turns out is. I didn’t say ‘I hate free speech,’ which most people thought I did; I said there were limits on free speech, which most people agree there is, like hate speech laws. Continue reading

Natalie Bennett and the ‘peaceful revolution’ (Interview)

Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and one of British Politics’ insurgent figures, is pretty chilled out.No interview has been formally scheduled as I saunter up to the Cambridge Union’s doors half an hour prior to her scheduled speech on a fairly bland Wednesday afternoon, but after a few minutes of message relaying between myself, the Union’s Press Office, and Bennett, it transpires she’s happy to chat, timetabled or nay. One can’t help but feel her counterparts in other parties might not do things in the same way.

She successfully combines an alert, quick-thinking disposition with actually being an incredibly nice person to chat to, and sitting across the Dining Room table with her feels like the sort of thing you ought to do more often, but with a cup of coffee and a biscuit. That being said, I’ve barely finished the first question on what she believes to be the UK’s most pressing issues before she responds quickly and clearly. Continue reading

‘Vote for the Beard’: an afternoon with Julian Huppert MP (Interview)

What is immediately noteworthy about the MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, is the extent to which he is an incredibly nice man. Instead of snatching an interview in a loud room after a speech, or rapidly taking notes after five minutes on the phone, I was invited to Westminster to spend the day with him. Having trundled behind him, gawping, as he got on with his day in both the multi-million-pound office-building-cum-five-star-hotel that is Portcullis House and the undeniably awesome complex that is the Palace of Westminster, we sat down to a cup of coffee to get serious.

Or at least, we would have done if I hadn’t been so distracted by the view of the river Thames out of the vast, Gothic-revival, floor-to-ceiling bay window in which we were sitting, not to mention some of the nicest fresh coffee I’ve ever tasted. Continue reading

‘Let them eat cake’: Welfare Officers and the Week Five Blues (Interview)

We have Week Five, they have Fifth Week. They have tutorials, we have supervisions. It can sometimes feel like the linguistic discrepancies between our own University and ‘the Other Place’ are just strange creations to hide us from the fact that we’re pretty much exactly the same. A brief ask around of other universities seems to reveal that they don’t have a concept quite like it. A friend from Manchester told me about ‘exam week’, whilst a friend from Cardiff told me about a particularly horrible week-long ‘project’ once a term, yet neither have the same notion of one universal, horrible week, in which everything seems to go wrong, everyone looks a bit miserable, and Students’ Unions across the city throw cake and chocolate around well-meaningly.

I thought it wise to ask some of Cambridge and Oxford’s finest Welfare Officers exactly what they made of the ‘Week Five’ phenomenon. James McMullan recently wrote a powerful and moving article on men’s mental health in this paper, arguing that we “normalise serious mental health issues, passing them off as ‘an essay crisis’, ‘Week Five blues’ or just a necessary consequence of being at this institution”. Continue reading