Profile Series: Bristol's Political Societies - Bristol University Conservative Association

At Bristol University, the student political spectrum is wide; we have societies to represent four of the parties, and most students seem politically engaged to some degree. The societies engage in both debates and more playful events (such as the cross-party speed dating event which took place earlier this month). I am interested in which issues polarise student opinion and which transcend politics to unite us. In this series I will be asking Bristol University's four political societies (GreenSoc, Bristol Labour Students, Conservative Association and Liberal Democrat Students) to answer the same set of (mainly a-political) questions. For the third article of the series, I spoke to Peter Emptage, Chairman of Bristol University Conservative Association.


Firstly, can you explain why you identify with the Conservative Party, and why you felt you wanted to get involved with the society at university?

My support for the Conservative party and participation in BUCA stem from two sources. Firstly, I think that the 21st century will pose immense environmental, economic and geo-political challenges to both our country and to mankind as a whole, and it is my assessment that of all the political parties, the Conservative party have demonstrated the kind of prudent pragmatism that will best navigate the United Kingdom through these challenges. Secondly I think that on University campuses, conservative ideas in a broad philosophical sense don't get a lot of representation. I think that this is understandable as radical and revolutionary ideas tend to be more exciting. However, it is harmful to the intellectual quality of debate if no one makes the case for the other side. If someone has to do it I figured I might as well give it a go.  


What is the gender balance like in your society?

I won't sugar coat it, while we get more women turn up to our events than people expect, it is undeniably skewed toward being mostly male.


How do you feel your society gets on with the other political societies at Bristol; will you be attending the cross-party speed dating event this week? I've always gotten on quite well with members of the other political societies that I've met. Though we were sadly not invited to progressively plastered so I can't say how good the societies mesh as a whole.


Recently, there were protests after Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg came to speak at UWE. How do you respond to the events? We have total respect for the rights of people to disagree with a point a view and to express that. Protest is an essential and healthy part of democracy. However we were appalled by the masked group who wanted to derail the UWE event with disruption and intimidation. The right to freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental to maintaining a liberal democracy. I think people of all political convictions can agree upon that and condemn anyone that tries to run roughshod over it. It is also worth mentioning that the actions of the masked group at UWE were entirely counterproductive to their own objectives. It was the best publicity we could have ever hoped for; in the aftermath, interest in our event due the week after skyrocketed and our membership swelled by over 50%.   

What is your opinion on Bristol University’s freedom of speech policy? Truth be told I'm not really sure what its policy actually is. For all the angst that makes the student press about no-platforming every time someone controversial comes to Bristol, I can't think of a single person who's been successfully banned.

How did you feel about Brexit at the time; how do you feel about it now? At the time I think surprise is the best description. Now, I think there will be a difficult period of adjustment to life outside the EU. However I think that the Eurozone and migrant crisis have shown that the EU can only survive by pressing on with 'ever closer union' and, in the long term, we will be as glad at not being a part of that federalisation as we are with not having the Euro and not being a part of the Schengen area.

Would you have voted for same-sex marriage in the UK; was there a general consensus amongst your society? I would have voted in favour of same sex marriage had I been an mp. I've never heard the topic discussed at a meeting, but I'd say on the whole the society is quite socially liberal so I'd expect the consensus to be in favour of it.

Should Trump be allowed to come to the UK? The relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom transcends any one president. It is also probably the most important international relationship this country has. While Trump might be disagreeable in the extreme, we should look past that. If the long-term national interest of the country can be benefited by him visiting then it should be allowed. We have already allowed the visit of heads of states from deeply repressive regimes such as China to visit in the name of realpolitik, to ban the elected head of our closest ally because he's horrible on twitter would be myopic and hypocritical.

Do you feel like the current leader of your party is doing a good job? I think that, for this question, we have to distinguish between leading the party and being Prime Minister. As Prime Minister she has inherited an incredibly difficult position and is by-and-large doing a reasonable job given the circumstances. However, I think it will be impossible to really evaluate the job she is doing as PM until the Brexit negotiations are complete. As a party leader she has been disappointing. Despite winning another term in government I think a more imaginative and charismatic leader could have secured a much larger majority.      

How well do you feel you’re represented at Bristol University? I don't think we are particularly well known; I would not describe us as a very vocal society. I would say sometimes people sort of assume that BUCA is a social club for tweed wearing country types to discuss their family fortunes. This sadly is not the case. I went to a comprehensive school and don't own a single pair of boat shoes. Likewise, most of our members are just normal students.