Politics Watch

Rory Weal 23 January 2014

A spectre is haunting Cambridge. A spectre of moderate student demands for a Living Wage and increased gender equality. Sure, it hasn’t got quite the same ring to it as Karl Marx’s original dictum, but if the Cambridgeshire Police Force’s tactics are anything to go by it’s just as menacing.

Revelations in The Guardian last November exposed how the police sought to launch a secret operation to spy on the political activities of students here – specifically on “student union type stuff”.

On Wednesday, two months after the embarrassing video footage leaked, Cambridge Constabulary held an open meeting with students to answer questions and defend methods of police surveillance. This is a story that just won’t die.

On the plus side, it’s nice to see someone thinks that student activism in Cambridge is so radical and rampant that a team of undercover informants are required to stem the revolution. Paris 1789. St Petersburg 1917.  Cambridge 2014? Probably not.

Police methods were obviously totally unacceptable. But more strikingly they just appear ridiculously unnecessary. CUSU is hardly a vanguard party, and is unfortunately pretty inert and irrelevant to the lives of most students – as the wave of recent disaffiliation motions being put to college JCRs shows.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst hardly a threat to national security, moderate student activism is definitely on the rise. Big turnouts at Living Wage meetings (and the news that in Michaelmas, two more colleges agreed to pay the Living Wage to all employees), and rising anger over issues such as the privatisation of the student loan book are just two examples of new student activism.

It is clear that the spirit of the 2010 tuition fee protests, which had the potential to politically engage a generation, still lingers under the surface.

In light of all this it was apt that Russell Brand should descend upon the Cambridge Union last week, to tell us that revolution is “happening instantaneously. It’s happening now!”