Monday, July 31, 2006

Down memory lane ...

I read economics at Bristol University between 1980 and 1983, was elected sabbatical treasurer of the union for 1983-4, and then did a Masters degree at the University of East Anglia.

Consequently I managed to be involved in student politics during an exceptionally interesting period - and I am using the word 'interesting' in the same sense as the ancient Confucian curse, "May you live in interesting times." I started as a student shortly after the Federation of Conservative Students, FCS, was taken over by the hard right, and remained involved as a supporter of the moderate grouping within the organisation, almost up to the time the organisation was shut down by Norman Tebbit for being too right wing.

Of course, the Conservative party was not the only one to have trouble with its youth and student wings - pretty well every mainstream party had difficulties of one sort or another. The Labour Party Young Socialists and National Organisation of Labour Students had problems with Militant: the Young Liberals were notoriously dominated by anarchists and the Union of Liberal Students was nicknamed "Usually Left of Steel." (David Steel was the Liberal leader at the time.)

The "Conservative Home" blog has had a thread over the past few days about the Federation of Conservative Students, sparked by a BBC piece about FCS from Tim Hames (now a journalist, but he was elected to FCS National Committee in 1985 on a slate on which I was also a candidate.) You can read the article and comments here

I made plenty of very good friends during my time in student politics, and reading the debate about FCS has been an interesting trip trip down memory lane, but I have been reminded very forcefully of how unpleasant things could be: after I posted a comment about the Federation somebody, presumably still bitter about something I said or did as a student twenty years ago, posted a rather unpleasant attack on me. However, I was in good company - the same individual also attacked half of those FCS members of bygone days who are now MPs or PPCs, including his own former allies who were accused of "selling out." (I should add that several other people made much nicer comments.)

It was a useful reminder of something I learned in my student days: it is important to have principles, but when those principles start leading you to criticise, offend and attack everyone, including your friends, more often than you say anything positive, it's time to check if you have your principles and your concern for human beings in the right order.