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The Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) is a long-established political society going back to 1921, with roots in the late nineteenth century, as a Conservative Association for students at Cambridge University in England. 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 and the modern-day Conservative Future.
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 holds regular speaker meetings with Conservative politicians and thinkers, as well as campaigning for the Conservatives in elections. 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. Recent visitors have included John Major, Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith.
The Association also hosts frequent social events and policy discussions, including Thinking and Drinking evenings, policy pub meets, port and cheese evenings, cross-party events and the termly chairman's Dinner, which marks the handing over of the leadership from one chairman to another. High turnouts at these events point to an interested and active society membership. CUCA is the largest of the three main Cambridge University party political associations. Life membership can be purchased for £10, and membership for one academic year costs £5.
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." In October 1968, a previous visit by Enoch Powell just five months after his "Rivers of Blood" speech, during the CUCA Chairmanship of Howard Flight, saw mass protests in Cambridge, and was reported by The Times.
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.".
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".
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 (a tradition recently reinstated by the Committee), 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."