What It's Like to Be a Tory at a Left-Wing University

"My ex-girlfriend said her biggest reservation about dating me had been that I was 'a Tory'. Other friends refer to me only as 'Toryboy'."

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Jun 5 2017, 10:59am

"Student politics" means left-wing politics. Occupations, picket lines, railing against the global elite, holding generally progressive views about everything from cannabis legalisation to LGBT rights – none of it's your typical right-wing stuff, really, is it? And it's not just the students; a recent report conducted by the Adam Smith Institute revealed that eight out of ten university lecturers are "left-wing".

So what's it like to hold political views diametrically opposed to everyone around you, in what's often a politicised environment, when you're forced to interact with those people on a daily basis? To find out, I spoke to some Conservative voters at left-wing universities.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Luke Nash-Jones, Chair of Birkbeck Conservative Association, Director of The People's Charter Foundation and Chair of Birkbeck Young Chartists

VICE: Did you know about your university's left-wing atmosphere before you started?
Luke: Yes, the bias in the education system starts long before university. At college, when studying A-levels, I found lecturers display bias, going into long diatribes on Thatcher that had no relevance to the syllabus. Schools have a curriculum which pushes left-wing ideology. However, I was surprised when enrolling at university to discover the frequent, disturbing, public praise of ISIS attacks on Britain by students who make the ridiculous claim that Britons today supposedly deserve this, by some warped logic, for actions of ancestors in past imperial times.

Have you ever feel judged or excluded?
Research shows that most university professors are left-wing, and their lectures reflect that. Moreover, student unions are basically Marxist madrasas which use Orwellian "no platforming" policies to silence original thought, because their emotion-driven positions cannot stand up to fact-based, logic-driven argument. The manager of our student union is actually on the Labour Party payroll, and non-student trade union staff dominate freshers entrance with stalls.

As President of the Conservative Association, after I requested a debate with the Labour Society president, in the style of the mayoral hustings, I received threats of violence from student union officers, including in writing, a threat to "destroy" the office I work at and verbal threats to kill me. The officer who made this threat resigned after I threatened legal action against the student union. I was marched off campus by university staff for "threatening the safe space" after I set up the pre-approved Conservative stand, with a Union Jack backdrop. Labour students, who clearly display no appreciation of free speech promoted by J.S. Mill, tore up posters and burst the Conservative Party branded balloons.

Corbynista students who sought to justify Hamas attacks on civilians, including children, marched me out of the student bar for refusing to join in support of their anti-Semitic remarks.

How did you find similar minded people? Was it tough?
Right-wing student politics is heavily restricted by student unions' "no platforming" and "safe space" policies. The Young Chartists group provides students opportunities to meet likeminded students at venues off campus.

Are you aware of other people who have been treated badly or had anything happen as a result of their political opinions?
A male student was detained against his will in a room for two hours for simply asking to attend a coding class, stating it was prejudicial for only female students to be allowed to enrol.


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Daniel Pycock, 26, Birkbeck

Were you aware of your university's left-wing atmosphere before you start?
Daniel: Yes, I was mildly aware of how left-wing it would be. Birkbeck College is a night college that has typically attracted the working class, so it would be a surprise if it were otherwise. I attend Birkbeck for a very specific course – Economics – for which it commands respect, and which often leads to the Masters Degree I intend to take in the next couple of years. I still enjoy it despite the staff and the student body being left-wing.

What drew you to the Conservative Party's policies?
I was drawn to the Conservative Party by David Davis MP, when he was running against David Cameron for the leadership in 2005. Like me, he had a difficult start in life – single mother, council estate – and I found it exciting that someone with a background analogous to mine had similar opinions on civil liberties, the EU, etc. I also think he's an excellent Brexit Secretary and is probably one of the best parliamentarians.

Did you ever feel judged or excluded? Did anything ever happen as a result of your opinions?
I've never felt "judged" or "excluded" by virtue of holding different opinions to other people. My college rugby team is mostly Labour and Lib Dems, with one or two other Tories, so it's a good mix. There are some instances, though – especially when you're around SOAS, but sometimes in Birkbeck – where you see posters adorned with "Tory Scum" and "Tories are killing disabled people", or some fake news meme whereby the Tories are shafting working people – and you think, 'Is that genuinely what you think of me for holding a different opinion?'

It often doesn't help that the Conservative student movement can be disparate at the best of times. In general, Conservatives tend to have jobs, outside interests, branch memberships, etc, so campus isn't often where Conservative student activity happens. That can be difficult for some people.

Are you aware of other people who have been treated badly or had anything happen as a result of their politics?
A friend of mine was racially abused with the epithet "chinaman" by persons of subcontinent heritage at a university cricket match and, when his team-mates stepped in, said abusers also launched some anti-white stuff at the team as well. In general, the anti-Conservative feeling is indirect and it is usually the consequence of left-wing students never having spoken to a Tory Tories are often too shy, or polite, to inflict their political opinions on others.

What else would you want people to know?
By and large that if Tory students demand a presence on campus, it's up to them not to be cowed by potential name-calling or by the pervading negative atmosphere on campuses towards Conservatives and Conservatism.

Johnny Thalassites, 21, Bristol University Association President

What drew you to the Conservative Party's policies?
Johnny: I was drawn to the Conservative Party because I'm an instinctive pro-business, free-market capitalist. I believe in low taxes and small states because individual liberty – the freedom to live as one wants and the notion that citizens know best how to spend their own money, for example – strikes me as compelling, compared with top-down, "hold onto nurse for fear of something worse" nanny statism.

The Conservative Party best advocates for Britain's liberal and democratic – but not Liberal Democratic – values, which have lifted living standards and prosperity hugely in recent decades, unlike the ruinous socialism that has immiserated citizens worldwide and that Corbynite campus-dwellers are reheating even as we speak, here in 2017. Although some aspects of my upbringing were traditional, I am also broadly a social liberal. Modern conservatism must be proud of its record – legalising same-sex marriage, for example.

How's it been having those views at a left-wing uni like Bristol?
As a young and moderate Conservative, university has been difficult. People have created group chats full of left-wing students on Facebook, and added me to abuse and insult my views. Students tell me that as a white, straight male, I cannot speak about identity issues – which seems, itself, to be a perfect example of "exclusion". I am regularly, even at pubs and clubs, angrily heckled and charged with defending niche government policy – from fracking to the environment and the operation of Yarls Wood detention centre.

I've been shouted at for refusing to disown the "imperialist" national anthem and flag. I've had people walk out of conversations because I choose to defend, say, Trident, 2 percent GDP defence spending or – and this one is weird - "colonial" 0.7 percent foreign aid spending. I've had acquaintances say they want nothing to do with me, and who don't speak to me again, because I voted Leave. I've had girls while I'm out told by acquaintances that I'm a Conservative who then stop chatting to me. My ex-girlfriend – a direct-actioning Corbynista who voted Green in 2015 – said her biggest reservation about dating me had been that I was "a Tory". Friends of hers said they were spending less time with her because she was "dating a Tory". Other friends refused to mention me by name, referring to me only as "Toryboy".

I do respect all other views and believe that people enter politics in good faith across the spectrum. But it is rare at university that I have found the same courtesy extended to me, and it hurts that people have made personal judgments and treated me differently because of my views.

Are you aware of other people who have been treated badly or had anything happen as a result of their political opinions?
It's the Corbynites who run politics at university, and even the "Blairites" I'm friends with have left Labour student meetings crying at the abuse they receive. One friend, who defines as a Blairite, has been screamed at by a tear-soaked Corbynite about the Iraq war, and tells me this happens often. Jewish students and Zionists also face opprobrium from the far-left student mainstream. Their complaints of anti Semitism – which clearly exists amongst the student body – are delegitimised, with excuses always made to apologise for the virulent "anti Zionism" that tends to manifest as something nasty and unhinged.

Laurence Smith, 21, Sheffield

You're a member of the Conservative Society at a pretty left-wing university. What's that like?
Laurence: We get along fairly well individually, but I hear plenty of grumblings in the association about what [left-wing protest group] Free Uni do, what they get up to. [Conservative Society members] don't go round taunting it, wearing rosettes down by the campus. You'll of course get called Tory scum – you'd be called that by as many non-students as you would students. That's just because, you know what it's like, it's a solid Labour city.

What's the treatment been like?
The main grumbling I get are from Social Sciences and Humanities students who find, time and again, academic bias that annoys them. They seem far more annoyed by seminar tutors being overtly left-wing rather than a Marxist group having a stall on campus and calling for Tories to be chucked out. They seem to be far more annoyed by the academic bias. The thing is, we get along with the number of left-wing groups – we co-hosted the debate last week with the Marxist Society and it didn't descend into mud slinging; it went fine. We had 30-odd Marxists and a dozen-and-a-half Tories who got on fine.

Some people complain the material seems a bit one-sided – I've had [Society] members doing a Global Political Economy course, and the material they get on austerity is so overly imbalanced, so if you're writing an essay the material provided to you is so one-sided that it's harder to write an essay truer to your beliefs. That's the only complaint I get about lecturers. I had one seminar leader who was an issue. So I have a seminar leader who spends ten minutes talking about Naomi Klein instead of getting onto the rest of the seminar.

What do you want people to know about student Conservative voters?
We're all human – just that they should come and talk to me. Of course, if I'm not treated badly then I would never treat anyone else in a bad way either.

@ruchosharma

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