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Cambridge University Liberal Association (CULA) is the student branch of the Liberal Democrats for students at Cambridge University.
It is the successor to the Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, which in turn was formed from the merger of Cambridge University Liberal Club (known as CULC, founded in 1886), and Cambridge University Social Democrats (founded in 1981) upon the creation of the Lib Dems in 1988.
The society has long been active in Cambridge politics, with student members playing a role in electing David Howarth on a massive 15% swing in the 2005 election, when the student turnout was unusually and noticeably higher than that in the rest of the city, and then subsequently Julian Huppert as his successor in 2010.
The older of its founder societies, the Cambridge University Liberal Club, originally existed side by side with a discussion forum for radical Cambridge politics in the late 1880s, called 'The Rainbow Circle.' Alumni of this group relocated to London after their graduation, and helped found the Bloomsbury-based radical group of that same name in 1894.
Between 1886 and 1897, the club's founder Treasurer was Oscar Browning, a Fellow of King's and three-times Liberal candidate who was also Treasurer of the Cambridge Union. The society had varying fortunes as the Liberal Party waned in the mid-twentieth century.
The society today attracts numerous high-profile speakers – in recent years, Vince Cable, Menzies Campbell, Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne, and David Steel. During the 2005 United Kingdom general election it helped organise a rally of 2,500 people with Charles Kennedy in Market Square.
Notable past speakers not normally associated with the Liberal Party have included Oscar Wilde (1889), Jerome K. Jerome (1912), W. H. Auden (1938), former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean, and Irish Prime Minister Seán Lemass (1961). A complete list of the society's past events from 1886 to the present is available here.
The society's president, from the 1988 merger, was Baroness Williams of Crosby, who had been the SDP candidate in Cambridge in 1987. She served as president until her death in 2021, after which the committee appointed former Cambridge MP Julian Huppert. Shirley Williams had previously been patron of Cambridge University Social Democrats in 1987-88.
The society was continuously called Cambridge University Liberal Club (CULC) from 1886 until 1988 (apart from in the years 1916-9, when it suspended its activities during World War I).
In 1981, Cambridge University Social Democrats (CUSD) was formed, as the Cambridge student branch of the SDP. With the Liberals and SDP in alliance nationally, CULC and CUSD remained independent organisations, but shared close links, hosted joint events, and put up joint slates of candidates in CSU elections.
In 1988, CULC and CUSD merged into one society, as the Liberals and SDP merged into the Liberal Democrats. They initially called themselves Cambridge University Social and Liberal Democrats throughout 1988, then Cambridge University Liberal Democrats throughout 1989–90, before finally settling early in 1991 for Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, when the society expanded to include the Cambridge campus of the city's new Anglia Polytechnic (now Anglia Ruskin University). In 2017 the name was changed again to Cambridge University Liberal Association upon the creation of a Young Liberals branch catering to young people in the city who are not members of the University of Cambridge.
In Autumn 2015 the society ran a campaign against proposals by Cambridgeshire County Council to switch off streetlights in Cambridge after midnight. Working with the JCR at Trinity College and the Cambridge University Students' Union, the campaign was successful. A year later, focus switched to mental health provision within the university, with the society calling for the hiring of more counsellors in the University Counselling Service.
The society actively campaigns in elections at every level. In May 2017 the society helped secure the election of Liberal Democrats to the main student divisions of Cambridgeshire County Council. They also organised regular campaign events for the general election later that year, but were less successful. In that vote the incumbent Labour MP Daniel Zeichner increased his majority to nearly 30,000 with the Liberal Democrats down 5.6 points.
In the 2018 City Council elections the Association was integrated into a successful city-wide campaign where the local party gained two seats in student wards.
As with many Cambridge political societies, CULA and its predecessors were the first political organisations to involve many people who went on to political careers – some outside Liberal politics altogether. Notable alumni include:
The association runs a subsidiary group, the Keynes Society, for alumni. Membership is free and lasts for life.