Cambridge University Conservative Association

The Cambridge University Conservative Association
Founded 1921
President Andrew Roberts
Home Page
Chairman James Mathieson
Vice Chairman Alastair Ward-Booth
Junior Treasurer Charles Fisher
Campaigns Officer Connor MacDonald
Speakers and External Officer Ollie Wilson
Communications and Publicity Officer Ronald Coyne
Secretary David Verghese
Social Events Officer Henry Mitson

The Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) is a long-established political society going back to 1921, with roots in the late nineteenth century, as a Conservative branch for students at Cambridge University in England. Peculiarly among University Associations, CUCA is not affiliated with the nationwide youth branch of the Conservative Party, Conservative Future, but is a fully independent Association distinct from other Conservative youth organisations and the modern-day Conservative Future.[1]


The earliest incarnation of the Cambridge University Conservative Association was established in 1882, but lasted only a few months before dissolving.[2] By 1884, it was necessary for Cambridge Conservatives to launch a new group - the Cambridge University Carlton Club.[3] This served primarily as a dining society, and existed for the next twenty years. However, shortly after the Conservative government's landslide defeat in the 1906 general election, the CU Carlton Club dissolved, just as its predecessor had. There was no Conservative student organisation in Cambridge for the remainder of the Edwardian period, and the First World War saw party political activity suspended.

The present-day Cambridge University Conservative Association was founded in 1921, with its inaugural annual dinner held on 24 January of that year.[4] In 1928, the annual St. John's College magazine The Eagle defined "a Cambridge Conservative [association member as] the proud possessor of a certain tie, obtained by signifying with a subscription his refusal or his inability to think out any social question."[5]

CUCA alumni had considerable influence on British politics in the 1980s and 1990s, with the rise to prominence of the 'Cambridge Mafia' including cabinet ministers Michael Howard, Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer and Norman Lamont, who had dominated CUCA and the Cambridge Union in the early 1960s. Considerable overlap between the officeholders of the two societies continues to the present day.


CUCA holds regular speaker meetings with Conservative politicians and thinkers, as well as campaigning for the Conservatives in elections. CUCA has a well-established history of attracting a high calibre of speakers, often including Cabinet ministers, think-tank experts and even former Prime Ministers. Recent visitors have included John Major, Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith.

The Association also hosts frequent social events and policy discussions, including Thinking and Drinking evenings, policy pub meets, port and cheese evenings, cross-party events and the termly Chairman's Dinner, which marks the handing over of the leadership from one chairman to another. High turnouts at these events point to an interested and active society membership. CUCA is the largest of the three main Cambridge University party political associations. Life membership can be purchased for £10, and membership for one academic year costs £5.

Following recent reforms, it is run by an executive of eight; the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Junior Treasurer, Campaigns Officer, Communications Officer, Speakers Officer, Secretary and Social Ents Officer. Following constitutional changes passed in Lent 2009, the Vice-Chairman automatically becomes Chairman in the term following their Vice-Chairmanship.[6]


During CUCA's 90-year history, several controversies have occurred.

1938: Pro-Appeasement

In 1938, CUCA hosted Sir Samuel Hoare as he gave a vigorous defence of Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement towards Hitler at Munich, calling it "a great achievement" and "the height of exaltation".[7]

1956: Support for the Suez Invasion

In reporting and listing widespread student protests across Britain against the invasion of Suez in 1956, The Times noted one exception: "Cambridge University Conservative Association sent telegrams of support to the Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) and Foreign Secretary (Selwyn Lloyd)." [8]

1960-1: Visits by Sir Oswald Mosley

In 1961, Conservative leader-to-be Michael Howard resigned in protest at Kenneth Clarke's decision to invite former British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley to speak to the association for the second year running.[9] (The previous year's speech by Mosley had been marred by a heckler throwing jelly at Sir Oswald.) [10]

1985-6: Visits by Enoch Powell

A visit by Enoch Powell in March 1985 provoked resignations on CUCA's committee,[11] and when Powell returned in December 1986, he was heckled by non-Conservative students.[12] CUCA had also come under criticism for Powell's 1985 appearance in the New Statesman, which argued that Powell's extreme views were indicative of CUCA's alleged authoritarianism, and the paper asserting the (short-lived) "Cambridge University Monday Club form part of an unholy alliance with elements of the Left and the now-discredited Cambridge University Conservative Association, who are united in their fervent, even violent opposition to libertarians. Perhaps it is this bizarre grouping which deserves investigation."[13] In October 1968, a previous visit by Enoch Powell just five months after his "Rivers of Blood" speech, during the CUCA Chairmanship of Howard Flight, saw mass protests in Cambridge, and was reported by The Times.[14]

1965-2000: Allegations of Electoral Malpractice

The society has, in the past, occasionally hit the headlines of local and national papers over electoral disputes and allegations of malpractice. In 1965,The Times reported that CUCA's Secretary was forced to resign after a four and a half hour meeting deemed some of his election methods to have been forbidden.[15] In 1985, The Times reported that eight committee members of CUCA had "resigned after allegations of electoral irregularities", with one committee member having a tape recording which he claimed proved the allegations.[16] In early 1998, Varsity published a story alleging that "weeks of bitter in-fighting culminated in allegations of election-rigging and a move to censure the society's most senior members".[17] However, Varsity noted that the subsequent motions of censure themselves had no reasons formally attached to them by their proposers and that some of those who had signed them were unaware of why they were supporting them other than on the word of one of the factions involved.[17] Indeed, Varsity articles on CUCA elections subsequently themselves came under fire. Following an Easter 2000 article, "Conservatives in Corruption Crisis", which claimed to be based on a taped telephone conversation and accused the then-Chairman of 'vote-buying',[18] the paper was forced to print a front-page "Rectification" and apology, after threats of legal action.[19]

2009: 'Save Water - Drink Champagne' Controversy

In October 2009, CUCA was "ridiculed for being elitist" by the Cambridge Universities Labour Club in the Cambridge student press after distributing a freshers' guide offering tips on where to find cheap champagne and a guide to formal wear. The story was then reported in the Daily Mail, and cited as an instance of reinforcing Cambridge stereotypes.[20]

2010-12: Alleged Elitism

In January 2010, gay former Conservative MP and gay rights campaigner Matthew Parris admitted that on arriving at Cambridge in 1969 he had joined the Liberals, remarking that "I couldn't bring myself to join the CU Conservative Association because they were such braying, cravat-wearing, port-gargling, social-networking prats."[21] This prompted a letter to The Times signed by CUCA's Registrar who asserted that "at any one meeting of CU Conservative Association, only one person should ever wear a cravat to avoid ostentation."[22] Parris had previously described CUCA in his 2002 autobiography as "a dreadful shower, strutting careerists of distinctly mixed calibre, forever infighting, networking and elbowing their way through a scene which appeared more social than political."[23]

2012: BBC 'Wonderland' Documentary

On 9 August 2012, the BBC broadcast the documentary Young, Bright and on the Right as part of its Wonderland series.[24] The episode followed two student political activists from deprived backgrounds, one of whom was former CUCA Committee member Chris Monk. The documentary attracted much press attention in the days following the broadcast, particularly at Monk's remark "The whole point of the [Cambridge University] Conservative Association is it gives you a chance to pretend to be a member of the upper classes for an afternoon".[25][26][27] CUCA responded with a statement on its website, stressing its "disappointment that a documentary has aired which misrepresents Cambridge University Conservative Association...Contrary to the suggestions of the programme, CUCA is unfalteringly open to all.".[26][28]

General Press Comments on CUCA

In 1980, Private Eye profiled Conservative MP (and CUCA alumnus) Timothy Eggar, describing him as, "one of those unpleasant political operators that Cambridge University Conservative Association alone knows how to breed."[29] In 1992 The Economist wrote that "competition to rise to the top of CUCA is good preparation for a political career in the Conservative Party, for several reasons. Ideology counts for nothing. What matters is knowing how to make friends and when to stab them in the back. If you cut your political teeth at CUCA, you are liable to end up sporting a sharp set of fangs."[30] In November 1998, it was noted in Varsity that outgoing Chairmen of CUCA were awarded a pair of silver cufflinks (though this is no longer the case), and it was alleged by a committee member that "Several of the last Chairmen only served their terms of office so that they could get the cufflinks."[31] In 2005 The Daily Telegraph described "a classic CUCA manoeuvre" as being "secretive, conspiratorial, overcomplicated, probably calculated to benefit some chum or other, so clever that it is stupid."[32]

Notable Alumni

Former CUCA chairmen

See List of former chairmen of Cambridge University Conservative Association

See also


  1. "Cambridge University Conservative Association comment". TCS Election Survey: Tory and Lib Dem Landslide. The Cambridge Student. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  2. The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Monday, May 15, 1882; Issue 10608
  3. Daily News (London, England), Thursday, May 8, 1884; Issue 11878
  4. The Times, Tuesday, Jan 25, 1921; page 10; Issue 42627; col B
  5. T.E.B. Howarth, Cambridge Between Two Wars (Collins, London, 1978) p.152
  6. "Results of the Special General Meeting, 15/2 « Cambridge University Conservative Association". 2009-02-16. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
  7. The Times, Friday, Nov 25, 1938; pg. 9; Issue 48161; col A
  8. The Times, Saturday, Nov 03, 1956; pg. 4; Issue 53679; col E
  9. Andrew Anthony (2005-03-27). "Howard's way | Politics | The Observer". London: Retrieved 2010-08-31.
  10. The Times, Monday, Apr 25, 1960; pg. 7; Issue 54754; col C
  11. The Times, Monday, Mar 11, 1985; pg. 2; Issue 62081; col F
  12. Patrick Cosgrave, The Lives of Enoch Powell (Bodley Head, London, 1989), page 13
  13. The New Statesman, Volume 109, page 25 (1985)
  14. The Times, Tuesday, Oct 08, 1968; pg. 3; Issue 57376; col A
  15. The Times, Friday, Dec 03, 1965; pg. 6; Issue 56495; col F
  16. The Times, Monday, Feb 04, 1985; pg. 2; Issue 62053; col H
  17. 1 2 Varsity, Feb 19, 1999
  19. 'Rectification', Varsity, Issue 523, 12 May 2000, page 1
  20. "'Save water, drink champagne': Tory student guide for Cambridge freshers ridiculed for being elitist". Daily Mail (London). 2009-10-09.
  21. Parris, Matthew (2010-01-14). "Invicta what a terrible choice of poem". The Times (London).
  22. "Association rules". The Times (London). 2010-01-18.
  23. Matthew Parris, Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics (Viking, London, 2002) p.112
  24. BBC programmes: Wonderland - Young, Bright and on the Right
  25. "How easy is it to become a Tory MP without private education?", BBC News website, 9 August 2012
  26. 1 2 "Monk Debunked in Tory Style", The Tab, 11 August 2012
  27. Harry Cole and Joe Armitage, "Young, Right and Part of the Fight", The Commentator, 9 August 2012
  28. "Response to Wonderland", CUCA website, 11 August 2012
  29. Private Eye, No. 472, 18 January 1980, p.5 (1980)
  30. "The Good Network Guide: Being One of Us; Social Networks; Directory". Doon Online. 1992-12-26. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
  31. Varsity, 19 November 1998, p.9
  32. Moore, Charles (2005-05-07). "In place of Tory progress, Howard will bring strife". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
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