Sponsors of decadence: Why the Guardian are wrong to fund Peterhouse May Ball

Elsa Maishman 21 March 2015

It has recently been announced that the Guardian will be one of the sponsors for Peterhouse's triennial white tie May Ball. The normalisation of such unnecessarily decadent events is a separate issue, but this pledge of support (free papers, to be exact) seems both irresponsible and hypocritical, and as a news provider with such enormous influence I would have expected the Guardian to think a little more carefully about which causes to throw its weight behind.

Of course, the Guardian is perfectly within its rights to want access to thousands of Britain's most high-achieving potential employees. However, what differentiates their sponsorship from, say, that of Taylor Wessing, a law firm and fellow sponsor of the May Ball, is the amount of influence that the Guardian holds. As noted by last term's Editor in Chief Jack May, newspapers have extraordinary power. The Guardian can decide which reports to publish, who to criticise, and which political scandals to reveal to the public. Oxbridge graduates already hold a disproportionate amount of influence in this country – within the Guardian, they fill a large number of the highest-ranking editorial positions, and the universities themselves receive constant media coverage. If the Guardian is so intent on increasing ties in an already close relationship, does it really need to do so by lending its support to one of the most decadent and elitist traditions of Cambridge University?

Perhaps the Guardian is only interested in recruiting students who can afford to pay £350 per pair of tickets in order to don white tie, drink champagne and party for almost 12 hours straight. In any case, this sponsorship seems strange coming from a paper which frequently flags up issues of poverty, homelessness and inefficient food banks in this country. Even more so considering that an entire section of the Guardian website is dedicated entirely to 'Oxbridge and Elitism,' giving writers an opportunity to criticise aspects of these institutions from the admissions system to the Bullingdon Club to Prince William's education at Cambridge.

With campaigns fighting to end FGM and combat climate change, it's not as if the Guardian is at a loss as to what to support. It hardly has a desperate need to recruit, but if the paper is so intent on sponsoring something Cambridge-based, then why not pour its money into a cause that might actually do some good? Surely it would be possible to gain visibility amongst Cambridge students in some other way, perhaps by funding an access scheme, for example, rather than lending its allegiance to one of the most decadent, superficial, and alienating aspects of the university. 

CORRECTION: This article was updated on 23/03/2015 to reflect the recently emerged fact that the Guardian will be paying for free papers for ball guests, rather than contributing money directly.