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The Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) is a long-established political society going back to 1921, with earlier roots in the late nineteenth century, as a Conservative Association for students at Cambridge University.
Unlike OUCA, CUCA is not affiliated with the nationwide youth branch of the Conservative Party, Conservative Future, but is a fully independent Association distinct from other Conservative youth organisations. Internal attempts to engineer 're-affiliation' have frequently failed.
CUCA is not only the centre of right-leaning thought in Cambridge, but also a social hub for like-minded students. The Association frequently clashes with other student political bodies in Cambridge.
The earliest incarnation of the Cambridge University Conservative Association was established in 1882, but lasted only a few months before dissolving. By 1884, it was necessary for Cambridge Conservatives to launch a new group – the Cambridge University Carlton Club. This served primarily as a dining society, and existed for the next twenty years. However, shortly after the Conservative government's landslide defeat in the 1906 general election, the CU Carlton Club dissolved, just as its predecessor had. There was no Conservative student organisation in Cambridge for the remainder of the Edwardian period, and the First World War saw party political activity suspended.
The present-day Cambridge University Conservative Association was founded in 1921, with its inaugural annual dinner held on 24 January of that year. In 1928, the annual St. John's College magazine The Eagle defined "a Cambridge Conservative [association member as] the proud possessor of a certain tie, obtained by signifying with a subscription his refusal or his inability to think out any social question."
CUCA alumni had considerable influence on British politics in the 1980s and 1990s, with the rise to prominence of the 'Cambridge Mafia' including cabinet ministers Michael Howard, Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer and Norman Lamont, who had dominated CUCA and the Cambridge Union in the early 1960s. Considerable overlap between the officeholders of the two societies continues to the present day.
CUCA is principally an events association, holding regular speaker meetings, social events and debates.
In recent years, CUCA has attempted to play a larger part in Cambridge University-wide politics. Members of CUCA have - unsuccessfully - stood for election to the Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU) in both 2017 and 2018, CUCA has lobbied CUSU Council directly, and hosted debates at 'Port and Policy' that rival The Cambridge Union's. The Association's affiliation with the national Conservative Party has diluted in recent years, and CUCA has instead pitched itself as a 'right wing thought hub' in Cambridge.
CUCA has long-maintained a pricing structure of £10 for life, and £5 for the academic year. This is some 6% of the cost of joining The Cambridge Union.
The Association's premier debating event is Port and Policy, which is held around three times a term. In its current format, three motions are presented. Typically the final motion is tongue-in-cheek or less serious: the divine right of kings is a recurring topic, as is the health of Western Civilisation. After speeches for and against, the floor is invited to participate. For many years, Port and Policy had been a roundtable discussion group. The adversarial format - introduced in 2016 - has driven attendance to, on occasion, over 100. It has been speculated that Port and Policy draws attendance from The Cambridge Union's debates as the latter institution treads a more careful line on topics of discussion.
Much of CUCA's calendar is purely social. Events have included Cava & Chocolate, Port & Cheese, a Garden Party and many more. The termly highlight is a Chairman's Dinner, which marks the handing over of the leadership from one Chairman to another. It has become a trend for the incumbent Chairman to secure sponsorship for his or her Dinner: this has come from independent businesses and Mathieson Consulting. Chairmen often try to 'outdo' the previous Chairman with exotic dishes or grand speakers.
CUCA holds regular speaker events with both Conservative politicians and right-wing thinkers. Recent visitors have included John Major, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith,Gavin Williamson and Matthew Elliott. CUCA has held special female panels to celebrate the work and contribution of right-leaning women in politics and society. CUCA has a well-established history of attracting a high calibre of speakers, often including Cabinet ministers, think-tank experts and even former Prime Ministers.
CUCA has twice published a 'Freshers' Guide', an introductory magazine distributed to first-years designed to give instruction and advice on Cambridge student life. The 2009 Guide garnered nationwide controversy for a 'Save Water: Drink Champagne' Feature.
The Association has argued that many unavoidable aspects of student life at Cambridge (formal dinners, navigating a multitude of student societies, language) are ignored by bodies such as CUSU and College JCRs for fear of being seen to perpetuate elitism. CUCA has argued that this approach itself perpetuates elitism, and instead aims to celebrate the 'quirks and curiosities' of Cambridge by the production and dissemination of accessible advice.
The Guide returned in 2016, published as 'The Cambridge Directory'. Edited by Nicholas Taylor and Jack Drury, it offered advice on shopping, formalwear, restaurants, culture and etiquette. Within a week of publication, the 'Directory' had not only picked up press attention, but had been downloaded over 6000 times. The editors observed that Freshers had approached them praising the content of the Directory for "providing answers to questions they'd have felt awkward asking."
In 2017, a member of CUCA stood for election to the Presidency of CUSU: his membership of CUCA featured heavily in the election reporting. In 2018, another member of CUCA stood for election to the same post. His membership of CUCA also featured heavily in the election reporting. Both individuals insisted throughout their campaigns that membership of CUCA was incidental to the post for which they stood.
In October 2018, members of CUCA took a motion to CUSU Council proposing that CUSU do more to recognise the war dead. The motion was rejected. This decision by CUSU Council resulted in a significant press fallout. The then Chairman of CUCA, Timur Coskun, appeared on several national news outlets to discuss the issue of remembrance.
CUCA has a relaxed approach to formal campaigning for the nationwide Conservative party. As part of the run-up to the 2015 General Election, CUCA hosted the Conservative candidate for the Cambridge Constituency, Chamali Fernando, at a Port & Cheese event. Many members were so underwhelmed they instead campaigned for Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat candidate.
In something of an in-joke with Cambridge’s Conservative Association, CUCA frequently fields candidates for election to Council seats in Cambridge. It is rare that the candidates have ever visited the wards they seek to represent. On one occasion in 2017, while being interviewed by the student press, the candidate could not remember the name of his ward and stated that the population of Cambridge was “around 3 million”.
Following recent reforms, it is run by an executive of eight; the chairman, Vice-Chairman, Junior Treasurer, Campaigns Officer, Communications Officer, Speakers Officer, Secretary and Social Ents Officer. Following constitutional changes passed in Lent 2009, the vice-chairman automatically becomes chairman in the term following their Vice-Chairmanship.
During CUCA's 90-year history, several controversies have occurred.
In 1938, CUCA hosted Sir Samuel Hoare as he gave a vigorous defence of Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement towards Hitler at Munich, calling it "a great achievement" and "the height of exaltation".
In reporting and listing widespread student protests across Britain against the invasion of Suez in 1956, The Times noted one exception: "Cambridge University Conservative Association sent telegrams of support to the Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) and Foreign Secretary (Selwyn Lloyd)." 
In 1961, Conservative leader-to-be Michael Howard resigned in protest at Kenneth Clarke's decision to invite former British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley to speak to the association for the second year running. (The previous year's speech by Mosley had been marred by a heckler throwing jelly at Sir Oswald.)
A visit by Enoch Powell in March 1985 provoked resignations on CUCA's committee, and when Powell returned in December 1986, he was heckled by non-Conservative students. CUCA had also come under criticism for Powell's 1985 appearance in the New Statesman, which argued that Powell's extreme views were indicative of CUCA's alleged authoritarianism, and the paper asserting the (short-lived) "Cambridge University Monday Club form part of an unholy alliance with elements of the Left and the now-discredited Cambridge University Conservative Association, who are united in their fervent, even violent opposition to libertarians. Perhaps it is this bizarre grouping which deserves investigation."
The society has, in the past, occasionally hit the headlines of local and national papers over electoral disputes and allegations of malpractice. In 1965,The Times reported that CUCA's Secretary was forced to resign after a four and a half-hour meeting deemed some of his election methods to have been forbidden. In 1985, The Times reported that eight committee members of CUCA had "resigned after allegations of electoral irregularities", with one committee member having a tape recording which he claimed proved the allegations. In early 1998, Varsity published a story alleging that "weeks of bitter in-fighting culminated in allegations of election-rigging and a move to censure the society's most senior members". However, Varsity noted that the subsequent motions of censure themselves had no reasons formally attached to them by their proposers and that some of those who had signed them were unaware of why they were supporting them other than on the word of one of the factions involved. Indeed, Varsity articles on CUCA elections subsequently themselves came under fire. Following an Easter 2000 article, "Conservatives in Corruption Crisis", which claimed to be based on a taped telephone conversation and accused the then-Chairman of 'vote-buying', the paper was forced to print a front-page "Rectification" and apology, after threats of legal action.
In October 2009, CUCA was "ridiculed for being elitist" by the Cambridge Universities Labour Club in the Cambridge student press after distributing a freshers' guide offering tips on where to find cheap champagne and a guide to formal wear. The story was then reported in the Daily Mail, and cited as an instance of reinforcing Cambridge stereotypes.
In January 2010, gay former Conservative MP and gay rights campaigner Matthew Parris admitted that on arriving at Cambridge in 1969 he had joined the Liberals, remarking that "I couldn't bring myself to join the CU Conservative Association because they were such braying, cravat-wearing, port-gargling, social-networking prats." This prompted a letter to The Times signed by CUCA's Registrar who asserted that "at any one meeting of CU Conservative Association, only one person should ever wear a cravat to avoid ostentation." Parris had previously described CUCA in his 2002 autobiography as "a dreadful shower, strutting careerists of distinctly mixed calibre, forever infighting, networking and elbowing their way through a scene which appeared more social than political."
On 9 August 2012, the BBC broadcast the documentary Young, Bright and on the Right as part of its Wonderland series. The episode followed two student political activists from deprived backgrounds, one of whom was former CUCA Committee member Chris Monk. The documentary attracted much press attention in the days following the broadcast, particularly at Monk's remark "The whole point of the [Cambridge University] Conservative Association is it gives you a chance to pretend to be a member of the upper classes for an afternoon". CUCA responded with a statement on its website, stressing its "disappointment that a documentary has aired which misrepresents Cambridge University Conservative Association...Contrary to the suggestions of the programme, CUCA is unfalteringly open to all.".
In 2016, CUCA launched new colours. CUCA had not realised that the new Cambridge Blue and magenta bore more than a passing resemblance to the 'salmon and cucumber' colours of the Garrick Club. This was particularly embarrassing as the Garrick is rumoured to be the Club of the Senior Treasurer.
It was widely speculated after the victory of 'Save the Class Lists' in the Class Lists referendum that CUCA political machinery had been deployed by the campaign. All three founders of 'Save the Class Lists' were known and active members of CUCA.
On 2 February 2017, the Communications Officer on CUCA's Executive Committee was filmed on Snapchat attempting to set fire to a £20 note in front of a homeless person. The video showed the student dressed in white tie whilst trying to set the banknote alight, before the camera panned to the homeless person. The incident was reported to have taken place on Bridge Street, Cambridge. The event was reported to be reminiscent of the rumoured initiation process for Oxford's infamous Bullingdon Club, where students are said to have to burn a £50 note in front of a homeless person.
CUCA issued a statement about the incident saying they wished to "disassociate [them]selves from the individual and his behaviour". CUCA maintained throughout the following media storm that the Communications Officer had not been at a CUCA event, and they had no explanation for his being in white tie. Before the story broke, a meeting was held between CUCA officials and the Communications Officer: as part of their first response, CUCA announced that the Communications Officer had resigned both his post and membership of the Association in that meeting. In the event's aftermath, the then Chairman of CUCA, Jim Matheson, wrote that he was "convinced that CUCA [had] something positive and healthy to offer the fabric of the University." 
In Lent 2018, it was widely reported that attendees at Chairman's Dinner had walked out during the address from James Delingpole after he made a number of unpalatable jokes. Delingpole is reported to have advised attendees to raise enough money to pay for their children's private education, and joked about the sex abuse perpetuated by Jimmy Savile. Delingpole subsequently defended himself in The Spectator.
In 1980, Private Eye profiled Conservative MP (and CUCA alumnus) Timothy Eggar, describing him as, "one of those unpleasant political operators that Cambridge University Conservative Association alone knows how to breed." In 1992 The Economist wrote that "competition to rise to the top of CUCA is good preparation for a political career in the Conservative Party, for several reasons. Ideology counts for nothing. What matters is knowing how to make friends and when to stab them in the back. If you cut your political teeth at CUCA, you are liable to end up sporting a sharp set of fangs." In November 1998, it was noted in Varsity that outgoing Chairmen of CUCA were awarded a pair of silver cufflinks (an ongoing tradition), and it was alleged by a committee member that "Several of the last Chairmen only served their terms of office so that they could get the cufflinks." In 2005 The Daily Telegraph described "a classic CUCA manoeuvre" as being "secretive, conspiratorial, overcomplicated, probably calculated to benefit some chum or other, so clever that it is stupid."