Term Card Check: Michaelmas 2019

Darren Wong 30 September 2019
Image Credit: Molly Bolding

TCS’ new dedicated Union Interviews Editor, Darren Wong, takes a look at the highly anticipated Michaelmas 2019 term card…

The Cambridge Union has released its highly anticipated term card for Michaelmas 2019 and just one cursory glance is enough to remind us that the Union never settles. The upcoming term promises yet another fascinating lineup of speakers and debates, and with it, new perspectives to stimulate and stretch the critical faculties of our minds.

Open Period in the first half of October kicks off the busy term with several impressive speakers; no doubt a strategic endeavour to attract new and current students alike to invest in a life membership. Notably, one of the first Union events of the term has already set tongues wagging — Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on 7th October. This is the sole members-only event during the Open Period and a ballot was run over the weekend to give members a fair chance at attending what will certainly be an enriching speech delving into potential themes of entrepreneurship, technological innovation and philanthropy.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Molly Bolding

There remains an evident slant towards understanding the turbulent political landscape: in particular, the interactions between political leaders today that belie fraught dynamics and tensions. With the likes of former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who has also served two presidential terms in Chile, and ex-United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, this will hopefully spark much-needed conversations on our political future and lift the veil on agendas and strategies behind political manoeuvres on the global arena.

“…this will hopefully spark much-needed conversations on our political future and lift the veil on agendas and strategies behind political manoeuvres on the global arena…”

David Runciman’s speech on 15th October will be one to watch. He recently published a new book “Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers”. Expect a sizeable audience keen to how much actual power leaders hold, especially with shaky leadership on both sides of the Atlantic: an increasingly likely impeachment inquiry in the US and the Supreme Court’s ruling of unlawful prorogation of Parliament in the UK.

Another highlight of the term card is the panel event on 27th November, featuring Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013, Ewen MacAskill and Daniel Ellsberg. Difficult questions on the ethics of whistleblowing and government surveillance will be posed but the panel’s stance on whistleblowing is likely a resolute and unanimous one in favour of greater transparency and accountability.

In what seems to be a redemption of the postponement of a visit by Adam Driver, the actor portraying Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy films, in Michaelmas 2018, the Union is welcoming George Takei this term – this time from Star Trek instead. Following a string of well-received events featuring successful singer-songwriters Sigrid, Ellie Goulding and Ben Platt last year, music aficionados will be ecstatic to welcome Dua Lipa, known for her hit single “New Rules”, and NAO, who was nominated for Best British Female Solo Artist at the 2017 Brit Awards.

As usual, Union debates run on Thursdays. A nice mix of subject matters will be covered this year, ranging from feminism and identity politics to globalisation and terrorism. The focus on politics continues in the motions “TH would Codify the UK Constitution” (31st October) and “THB The war on Terror has made the world safer” with American judges Colleen McMahon and Lewis A. Kaplan..

In fact, 21st November might witness the first-ever Union debate involving non-humans; some of the most skillful debaters will face off against IBM’s Project Debater Artificial Intelligence system in a battle of wits and algorithms. I can’t quite imagine how this would look like but it is definitely naïve to blithely write off the possibility of artificial intelligence emerging triumphant — just look at the successes of AlphaGo!

The Union has never been a society to hold back any punches. With an incredible lineup of speakers and debate motions, it has delivered once again and re-established its deserving prominence in Cambridge. It is this constant pursuit of greater heights that keeps me, and everyone else at Cambridge, waiting with bated breath to witness what the Union has to offer for the rest of the year.

It is this constant pursuit of greater heights that keeps me, and everyone else at Cambridge, waiting with bated breath to witness what the Union has to offer for the rest of the year…

What do you think of the new term card? Anything you’re especially excited for? Let us know at editor@tcs.cam.ac.uk with the subject line “Letter to the Editor”!