Back in my student days, we had debates about all kinds of issues in the Student Union. You know, abortion, Palestine, patriotism, northern Ireland etc. etc. I recall being at first a fascinated participant and later a disenfranchised cynic. I mean who cared what the predominantly left leaning students at Aston thought anyway? However, it was democracy at work and I took that for granted. I could grab the chairperson’s attention and get up and make my points – for or against the motion. I may get cheered and booed from various factions but I was allowed, if not actively encouraged, to speak.
In fact, I enjoyed quite an illustrious political career as a student. I spent 3 years on Student Council (elected by the general student body annually) at Aston and 2-years at Strathclyde where I gained my seat by being electing Post Graduate Convener two years running in competitive elections. The secret was to work to get the overseas students vote….there were rather more of them. However, as an aside, this required a little deftness and tact – especially as the Iran-Iraq war spilled out onto campus…. Can you imagine – me? deft and tactful? Wow! Things have changed.
I also was a successful campaign manager – yes, for the main positions in the students union – which were sabbatical positions – there were campaign managers. I had an exceptional record at getting my candidate elected even when they belonged to the Liberal party! Having achieved that feat, I was in demand. I do believe this was the beginnings of my career as a marketeer… it came natural.
I learned about politics doing all of this and soon got bored. I saw how it worked. I saw what was involved. I was unimpressed after my initial enthusiasm. Being approached in an under street crossing by a suspicious looking suited gentlemen who asked me if I might like to keep an eye on the ‘lefties’ didn’t help. I realized even then that the state had long tendrils… I kept quiet about that until a story broke in The Sun or similar about another student having a similar experience. Anyone right of center was being asked to ‘report on dangerous lefties’ it seemed. Yes – I was in the young Conservative movement the entire 6 years I was at college…..
Anyway – what was my point? Well, I can’t imagine that things are the same on campus now. In fact I know they are not. Imagine making an anti-abortion argument these days just as an example…. you would be skinned alive, canceled and hated as a fascist misogynist asshole and barred from the debate. Democracy and freedom of speech as I knew it have all but disappeared on campus. Back then, you were asked and encouraged to take that view to drive the two sides of the debate! I’m not sure how you feel about that but I feel very sad…. generations fought and died for us to have those rights and now they must be turning in their graves as the young voluntarily give these rights up.
I guess in the end, what put me off politics as well was ideology – on both sides. Imagine arguing a position because that was the party line? Yet – that is politics todays just as it was then except meaner and nastier. All the issues that we had motions on and debated at Aston for example, I felt had a sensible middle ground achievable with common sense. I still think that. I wish others did too……. do you?
Unfortunately, I think with tactics like cancellation, abuse and so on, common sense was the first casualty in politics and I avoid politics now like the plague. I feel I have been silenced and if I wasn’t me – annoyingly vocal and tactless – I would have been.