Is Durham Britain's first conservative Uni?

Friday, December 23, 2016
David Sergeant


If asked to describe student politics in a word, ‘conservative’ would likely not be among the first that spring to mind.

Most, imagine a student politics defined by its narrow and exclusory spectrum of extreme left opinion, fixated on ridiculous boycotts, harmful ‘no platforming’ and the fascistic insistence upon the uniform use of gender neutral pronouns.

The reality however, at least within some of our higher education institutions, is very different.

Tom Harwood has drawn national attention to the realm of student politics through his satirical campaign for election as an NUS Delegate, promising he would work to ensure that the ‘self-aggrandising’ National Union of Students is, ‘…Ever so slightly less terrible.’ His campaign pledges included building a 217 foot bronze statue of NUS President Malia Bouattia atop Durham Cathedral, the defeat of ISIS, using only NUS boycotts and the toppling of the evil Tory government.

Harwood was elected on a landslide, collecting almost 3x the amount of votes as his nearest competitor while increasing turnout by 300%. His election, following the decision of Loughborough, Hull, Lincoln and Newcastle to disaffiliate from the hard left NUS has sparked fresh questions around its representative credibility.

Prior to the 2015 election, ‘High Fliers’ conducted an independent, face to face opinion poll collating the voting intentions of final year students across the UK. At Durham, the Conservative Party managed to capture the support of an impressive 45% of finalists, leaving Labour a distant second, 18 percent behind with just 27% of overall support.

Similarly, conservative student dominance in the City goes beyond generalised ballot support. Durham University Conservative Association is comfortably bigger than its Labour Club rival, as well as enjoying a more active and locally involved membership.

What’s more, The Durham Union, the Universities oldest student society has bucked the liberal trend by holding engaging and passionate debates while refusing to ‘no platform’ conservatives. Godfrey Bloom, while hardly a conservative icon, has spoken at the Union on thirteen separate occasions, showing that toxic, politically correct ‘safe space’ culture has not infiltrated this Durham institution. Further, the house has passed conservative motions such as "This House Has Faith in the Existence of God," While rejecting motions that suggested political correctness has been good for British politics and that the nation state is an outdated concept. Even when the conservative side loses debates they are usually tightly contested. “This House Would Bring Back the Death Penalty” was defeated by an astonishingly thin margin, while a packed chamber were split down the middle on the question of EU membership.

When it came to the biggest democratic decision our nation has made in decades, Durham Students for Britain, while approximately the same size as their ‘stronger in’ adversaries, campaigned with a passion that dwarfed their opponents - out-working and out-organising them from the beginning. They were rewarded with a comprehensive 57.5 - 42.5% Leave victory in a Durham constituency predicted to be: ‘Too close to call.’

Durham has demonstrated that it is a University with impressive conservative involvement and strong conservative support. What’s even more encouraging is that it’s far from alone. The High Fliers research showed that across the country, students were as likely to vote for the Conservative Party as the Labour Party, with both on 31% of support among finalists. Bath, Birmingham, Durham, Exeter, Imperial, LSE, Loughborough and Southampton all recorded support for the Conservative party above 40%, a higher percentage than the party were able to achieve in the election nationally. Conservative students should take heart from these statistics and fight for a conservative renaissance on their own campuses. Universities should be arenas in which all strands of political thought can flourish and our evidence suggests that conservatism can, without question be among them.

It appears that while the radical student left may shout louder and behave more obnoxiously than conservatives, the average student on the playing field, in the bar or in the lecture theatre is more concerned with their sports team, their social life or their unfinished essay than with the pursuit of a universal Marxist Utopia.

The left have become convinced that to be a conservative is to be old, poorly educated and irrelevant. I wouldn’t be so sure.

David Sergeant is an Intern at the Bow Group