|Thomas Pate, King's
|Tobias Noskwith, Hughes Hall
|John Casey, Caius
|Lord Roberts, Caius
The Cambridge University Conservative Association, or CUCA, is a student political society founded 1921, as a Conservative Association for students at Cambridge University, although it has earlier roots in the late nineteenth century. CUCA is not affiliated with the nationwide youth branch of the Conservative Party, the Young Conservatives, but is a fully independent Association distinct from other Conservative youth organisations. The association puts on a range of events for its members each term, notably its ‘Port & Policy’ debates, as well as addresses from a number of high-profile speakers.
The earliest incarnation of the Cambridge University Conservative Association was established in 1882, but lasted only a few months before dissolving. By 1884, Cambridge Conservatives launched 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 Cambridge University 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 Leon Brittan, Kenneth Clarke, Norman Fowler, John Gummer, Michael Howard, 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, while various present-day Cabinet officials and Members of Parliament are CUCA alumni.
CUCA is principally a political 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 stood for election as Presidents of the Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU) in recent years, whilst CUCA itself has lobbied CUSU Council directly. The association remains disaffiliated from the national Conservative Party, and has instead pitched itself as a bastion of philosophical conservatism for members of Cambridge University.
CUCA's current cost of membership is £25 for life membership. Annual memberships were previously sold for £20 but their sale was ended by constitutional amendment in Easter 2023.
The association's premier debating event is 'Port and Policy', which is held around four 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 motion, the floor is invited to participate via floor speeches. Once the debate has concluded, voting occurs by acclamation in proposition and opposition. For many years Port and Policy had been a roundtable discussion, with the adversarial format only introduced in 2016, but this change has already driven attendance to, on occasion, over 100.
CUCA holds regular speaker events with both Conservative politicians and right-wing thinkers. Speakers that have addressed the association in recent terms have included Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Major, Norman Tebbit and Dominic Grieve. CUCA has a well-established history of attracting a high calibre of speakers, often including Cabinet ministers, think-tank experts and former Prime Ministers.
Much of CUCA's calendar is focused on social events, which have included Cava & Chocolate, Port & Cheese and Garden Parties amongst many others. A termly highlight is the Chairman's Dinner, which marks the handing over of the leadership of the association from one chairman to another.
CUCA has thrice published a 'Freshers' Guide', an introductory magazine distributed to first-years designed to give instruction and advice on Cambridge student life.
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." A new version of the Guide was published in 2023.
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.
Following recent reforms, CUCA is run by an executive of nine members: the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Junior Treasurer, Campaigns Officer, Communications and Publicity Officer, Speakers Officer, Speakers Officer-Elect, Secretary, and Social Events Officer. Following constitutional changes passed in Lent 2009, the Vice-Chairman automatically becomes Chairman in the term following their Vice-Chairmanship.
CUCA members may also join the committee by applying to become appointed members, whereby they sit on the committee with a non-executive remit. Constitutional reforms passed in the Easter 2023 Termly General Meeting introduced an additional two appointed posts, Alumni Officers, which are also non-executive.
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".
On the 26th of May 1939, CUCA hosted Sir Winston Churchill in Cambridge's Corn Exchange, where he argued vociferously for conscription in the face of the Nazi threat. At least 2,500 undergraduates and others attended, with further crowds listening over loudspeakers in a nearby hotel. Churchill called for Britain to lead a worldwide "League of Freedom" and received rapturous support. He gave one of his most eloquent speeches of the entire pre-war period about "the habit of despotism and the lust of conquest". The pro-conscription, anti-Hitler motion won "ten-to-one" according to a newspaper report of the event.
In reporting and listing widespread student protests across Britain against the invasion of Suez in 1956, The Times noted that, instead, the "Cambridge University Conservative Association sent telegrams of support to the Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) and Foreign Secretary (Selwyn Lloyd)." 
In 1961, the future Conservative leader Michael Howard resigned from the committee in protest at the decision of Kenneth Clarke, the then chairman, to invite Sir Oswald Mosley to address the association for the second year running. (The previous year's speech by Mosley had been marred by a heckler throwing jelly at him.)
The society has, in the past, occasionally hit the headlines of both national and local papers over electoral disputes:
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 again 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 conceded that the subsequent motions of censure themselves had no reasons formally attached to them by their proposers and that some signatories were unaware of why they were supporting them.
However, Varsity articles on CUCA elections have themselves come under fire in the past: following an Easter 2000 article, "Conservatives in Corruption Crisis", which 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 January 2010, 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 quipped 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."
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."
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 June 2018, it was 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, while CUCA released a statement stating that they did not support the viewpoints that Delingpole stated.
In 1980, Private Eye condemned Timothy Eggar, a Conservative MP and former CUCA chairman, as "one of those unpleasant political operators that Cambridge University Conservative Association alone knows how to breed."
In November 1998, it was claimed in Varsity that outgoing chairmen of CUCA were awarded a pair of silver cufflinks, with one CUCA committee member quipping that "several of the last Chairmen only served their terms of office so that they could get the cufflinks."