Harriet Walker on TV: Wonderland: Young, Bright and on the Right
Inside the tiresome world of student politics, delusions of grandeur run riot
When I was at university, it was a very special breed of person that joined the political scene. The Left-wingers were earnest and pretentious, and the Right-wingers were either oleaginous creeps or socially retarded evil babies. No, student politics was very much for those who felt they had something to prove. As was student journalism – but at least that breed of person was more likely to get laid.
According to Wonderland: Young, Bright and on the Right, the future looks as annoyingly tiresome as, well, the student politics scene itself. The programme introduced us to Joe Cooke, 21, ex-president of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) and Machiavelli in milk-bottle glasses, and Chris Monk, 19, whose baffled Lib Dem parents watch aghast from Kettering as he attempts to scale the dizzy heights of the Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA).
"I want to focus OUCA less on socialising and more on serious politics," explains Joe, over a shot of him canoodling with some stripy buffoons at the Boat Race. "We need to deliver what the Conservatives need: we can build a Big Society in Oxford."
This seems unlikely, given that Oxford – and Cambridge, too – has thrived since medieval times on being a Very Small Society Indeed. Nevertheless, Joe – with his oversized pocket hanky, his tea-chest of "destructibles" (which houses a dead hare's head and a garishly-hued framed portrait of Thatcher looking for all the world like a Technicolor Hare Krishna) and the dirty war he plans over cream tea – is set on making his mark on the party. He is also pretty keen on bringing down his "ex-friend" and current president James, of whom he speaks with all the face-contorting bile that you imagine Andrew Ridgeley summons when he talks about George Michael.
Chris Monk, meanwhile, has tasted none of the success that Joe has yet and my God, he feels it keenly. "The Union's a meeting place for anybody who's anybody," he explains. (I'd happily contest this statement but I get the impression Chris Monk wouldn't have thought very much of me had we crossed student paths.) "It's an excellent place to get noticed by people at Cambridge. And being known as a wild firebrand of the Right, as I am, gets you noticed."
There are some great figures in history, like Napoleon or Sir Thomas More, that you want to reach into history to and give a little shake, and tell them stop acting the goat. Chris Monk will never be one of these, but that didn't stop me wanting to stick one arm in the telly, pull on his ear and try to scream some sense into him. Watching him scare people with his vituperative and gesticulatory non-rhetoric – made all the more lively by his alarmingly flat hair – was almost painful. At least, it would have been had I managed to feel any sympathy for him whatsoever.
"Enjoyment is a very important part of Conservatism," he tells us as he gets ready for a party, brushing that hair even flatter. Once at the party, he terrifies people by talking too loudly about port and "chayse" (he means cheese), money and bettering himself, all in a strident voice that makes him sound like a cartoon witch.
Joe, meanwhile, outs himself as a thoroughly likeable character. Only when he takes a trip to his hometown of Haworth do we begin to understand his dilemma. That funny accent of his, at times Welsh and at times a bit Soviet, is how he covers up his dastardly Northern roots, his single-parent origins and his severe dyslexia. "The Conservative ideal is that where you were born should not determine where you end up," he says, welling up. "I saw the Conservative Party as the individual fighting against everything to be who they are." Quick, someone tell him about the Labour Party.
Happily, Joe exacts his revenge on the poshos who used to shout "on Ilkley Moor ba' tat" every time he spoke in meetings by revealing the full extent of their bougie-fascism (a Nazi-inspired reworking of "Jingle Bells") to the student paper (cue a shot of sexy student journo, all nonchalance and facial hair). Revenge is sweet as he packs away his tea chest once more, hops into a white van with his mum and heads off to an internship in Washington. "No proper, right-thinking Conservative sings racist songs," says Chris, upon reading of the scandal back in Cambridge. "Let alone poorly composed, musically valueless racist songs." Would he have preferred a musing on Kristallnacht set to Fivestar, perhaps?
Chris's search for notoriety and acceptance continues, despite the CUCA chairman having "lost" his application to join the committee. He just doesn't get it, does Chris.
He doesn't stand a chance in the modern Tory party; he doesn't even remove his bike clips to drink a cocktail. Do I care what happens to him? I couldn't possibly comment.
Harriet's marmalade dropper
Props to Vicky Pendleton this week for accepting silver with grace, despite being elbowed out of the way at the Olympic finish line. I would have shoved that Aussie off the podium.
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