Happening On Campus

Exclusive Interview With UoN’s Labour and Conservative Socs

Felix Hawes

For the next academic year, Daniel Dieppe and Sarah Shephard have been elected President of Nottingham University Conservative Association (NUCA) and Chair of Nottingham Labour Students respectively. Impact’s Felix Hawes caught up with them to discuss their plans and politics in general in their house (yes, you read correctly, their house, the two are good friends, which shines throughout the interview).

Felix Hawes: Congratulations on your appointments as President and Chair of your respective societies. I should say a disclaimer on this interview that I know you both. It’s good for my journalist credentials that I am friends with both the leaders [said tongue-in-cheek]. So, first of all, what made you run for your society as President and Chair and what do you intend to do for the societies going forward. 

Daniel Dieppe: Well, I feel being President was very exciting. We’re not the only society in the SU that’s been really badly hit by COVID and lockdowns and hardly anything happened in 2020. I thought I’d like to get the ball running again, increase membership. I’ve got exciting plans, people I want to bring in to talk to us, enjoy Port and Policy.

FH: Do you want to explain to our readers that might not know, what Port and Policy is, Daniel?

DD: So, Port and Policy is our headline event. It’s monthly. It usually happens in the Great Hall. I would describe it as formal dress but informal debate. There’s three debate motions, you can speak for just one sentence or for five minutes, although that would be a long time. Whatever the motions are, there are a lot of banging on tables when you agree and a lot of shouting ‘shame’ if you disagree. It’s very exciting, there’s nothing quite like it, certainly debate wise in Nottingham. It’s a great event to go to. It’s also for people who have all political beliefs. That is something I would like to bring in as well as President.

FH: And Sarah, what are you planning on doing as Chair of Labour?

Sarah Shephard: Well, I’m deeply passionate about the society and the Labour party as a whole. I’ve been on the committee all of my time at university, and we also, like NUCA, were very much hit by the pandemic. We did not put on many events in 2020, but this year we’ve doubled our membership and I’m looking to doubling it again, so that we are back to pre-COVID levels. That would be amazing.

What I would really like to do as Chair is connect the society with Nottingham. I think that’s so important because at the moment at the University, we seem like a bit of a bubble. You come here for three years, you don’t really experience what its truly like in the city. And then you go. But I think it’d be great to mobilise Nottingham Labour Students within Nottingham, especially for the local council elections in 2023. I think that’s really important. I’d like to do that, but I’d also like to focus on pint and policy, the headline event, the original event may I say, which we hold at a local pub…

DD: I love how I described mine as legendary and yours is original.

SS: No, it’s the original, the original event. We hold it at a local pub in Nottingham. We have three debate motions, but at the moment it’s restricted to just members. I’d like to try and broaden that out to try and get a bit more of a diversity of opinion, but we’ll see how far we can go. Of my committee this year, only one has been on the committee for a previous year, so that’s really exciting. We can have a bit of reinvigoration, a bit more energy in our committee and society.

FH: Brilliant. Well, you both touched upon expanding to debating with other people with different beliefs and backgrounds. Would you be up for more debating events between the Conservatives and Labour?

DD: I think we have already shown that we are… [the Debating Union] came to our last port and policy. It makes it more exciting, to have debates that split people, all political opinions, not just Conservatives.

SS: I agree, that would be more interesting to be able to do. I think the importance of the debating union is crucial really, because, I think that the society couldn’t go to an event like port and policy, because I think it is too confrontational, and it’s just too tense. I think we would need to set some of the questions first. We wouldn’t want to debate trans issues. We wouldn’t want to debate anything that undermines someone’s existence. Basically, that’s important for us, but I think if you focus on economic issues, climate change, I think we could definitely do something like that.

It’s more diverse than you’d think, it’s more nuanced than you’d think

FH: How diverse are your societies in terms of beliefs? Do you have a lot of traditional conservatives, one nation conservatives, Thatcherites? Do you have Blairites, Corbynites and somewhere in between?

DD: Whenever I tell people I’m President of NUCA, they’re like ‘oh you must be pro-Boris’. And it’s not the case. Whenever we’ve had debates about the state of the Conservative party, even though I am not pro this government at this point, I have had to defend the government because no one else is. I’d like it to be a debate, rather than just [everyone] calling Boris Johnson an idiot.

So, yeah, it’s more diverse than you’d think, it’s more nuanced than you’d think. There is a broad range of people from the full libertarians, absolutely minimalist government to those who are more one nation who support quite a large welfare state, pro-family and British values and things like that.

SS: A lot of our members, as you can imagine, are kind of ‘the children of Corbyn’. They are the Corbyn generation. That’s what they believe. But I think that, and this was particularly the case this year, we still have some Blairites and Starmer supporters. I think that most people in the society accept that whatever the politics of the leader, it’s better to have someone in a red tie than someone in a blue tie.

I mean, I would say I am the most left-wing person but this year we have got Blairites in the society. We have quite the diversity, but I would say most people are nostalgic for the
Corbyn age.

FH: So where do you both put yourselves on the ideological spectrums of your societies, and perhaps more in general?

DD: Well I’m very proud of the free market, but I think something that a lot of people are missing out is the idea of there being a moral reason for conservatism, especially social conservatism, which I’m quite big on. So in that sense, I’m on the right.

SS: I’m on the left, even in the society and the party as a whole, I’m on the left. Particularly on economics, I am a Marxist. Socially and culturally, I am on the left but I would say that economics is my main focus.

DD: Do you know Felix, very recently I was on this fantastic radio show [referencing the Big Picture, hosted by Felix Hawes and Thomas Gregory on URN that both Daniel and Sarah are regulars on]. I defended Margaret Thatcher as the best Prime Minister. She is definitely the leader I would most align myself with in recent years.

FH: Would you say yours was Corbyn, Sarah?

SS: Yeah, I would say Corbyn, but I don’t think there’s been any kind of perfect match. Corbyn’s probably the most similar, but I would say that potentially I am more John McDonnell or Tony Benn, but without the Christian stuff.

DD: Michael Foot? [another left-wing leader of Labour]

SS: Not Michael Foot because he supported the Falklands War, so…

FH: So, talking about current affairs, and Daniel you mentioned this a bit earlier. A few days ago, at the time of the interview, Boris Johnson narrowly won a confidence vote. Daniel, how would you have voted if you were an MP on Boris Johnson?

DD: Look, I don’t even think Boris Johnson is particularly conservative. Of all the things he’s done well in his premiership, that’s because of the MPs around him. So the things that he’s done well is Brexit, which again, because he happens to be in the Conservative Party. He’s done well in the vaccine roll out, but again it’s because he supported Brexit, and he lifted lockdown earlier than most countries, but that was because many businesses said you need to end lockdown, its not good anymore.

I don’t think there’s any vision from him. I don’t think that there’s any ideological drive behind him. I said this to people on the day he won the 2019 election. I’ve wanted him out since then, or at least since 31st January 2020. I would have voted to replace him. But I admit there are very few good people to replace him. But its not just about the Tories, you need to be good in government, and I’m not convinced Boris Johnson is good in government.

That is just a smear campaign by the right-wing press

FH: Thank you Daniel. Sarah, Keir Starmer is currently under investigation by Durham police over what is called beergate. Are you expecting him to resign?

SS: No. No, I’m not because this is just a smear campaign by the right-wing press. Basically, they are trying to get something on the Labour Party because of all the stuff that has been found out. So, it’s not going to work. Keir Starmer won’t resign.

FH: Do you want him to resign? Not necessarily due to beergate, but in general?

SS: Starmer is probably not the right person to lead the Labour Party. I think at the start of Starmer’s leadership I was hopeful; because he is more of a centrist and that would potentially unite the party. I feel that he has done a good job in some respects, however I’m not sure he’s got the passion or the drive or the dynamism to lead us to victory. If we had another general election now, embarrassingly it would be a hung parliament.

DD: Which leader would that be embarrassing for?

SS: It would be embarrassing for Keir Starmer. For Boris Johnson, a hung parliament would be a massive success.

FH: Though of course the Conservatives have no friends, whilst Labour does have parliamentary friends.

SS: Yes.

I’m surrounded by friends who support free speech, who judge me more on my personality

FH: Well, speaking of conservatives and friends, Daniel, have you experienced any sort of cancel culture or anyone dismissing you when they find out that you’re a conservative? Because we hear this in the discourse that there is an issue in university campuses about free speech. What do you thin about that? What are your personal experiences, if you want to go into it?

DD: Yeah, I mean, it’s a two tiered thing isn’t it? Because you’ve got on the one hand, the big stories like J.K Rowling or Kathleen Stock losing her position at Sussex University, because so many people said you can’t talk about transitioning. And then, because of these stories, people don’t want to talk about it in the first place. So yeah, for me,  probably if I was a President of a different society I would probably bang on about it more. But yeah, I’ve not been cancelled or anything. Some people don’t like that I have that opinion, but fortunately, I’m surrounded by friends who support free speech, who judge me more on my personality than my politics.

SS: On that, I would like to say that NUCA has a very, very bad reputation, particularly within Labour circles and it’s a shame really, because people dismiss Conservatives offhand without really speaking to them. So there’s a lot of hesitancy within the left to debate conservatives, which I would say is largely unfounded without speaking to them.

FH: So what are your backgrounds, how are they linked to your politics? Have you always been very left wing or on the conservative side, or have you changed your mind? Where has your politics come from?

DD: So, I first became interested in politics on 24th June 2016. The day before I had looked up some stuff about Brexit and came to the conclusion that, perhaps naively at that time, that Brexit was a good thing. So I went into school on 24th June with a big smile on my face. Very happy. I was like, this is incredible! Referendums, we’ve overturned the big bankers, the millionaires, the government, everyone, all of the elites. And I got into school and one of my favourite teachers shouted at me for being happy, and all of a sudden, I was like ‘What’s going on here? How is this possible? This is a momentous day!’

I just didn’t understand politics. At this point in time, I was in a school in zone three London. Of course, everyone was distraught. People were crying. I couldn’t understand it. It was time to celebrate really. That’s where my interest in politics came from. I think I’ve been a conservative ever since. I’ve just thought, give people the freedom to do what they want. That is really what conservatism stands for ultimately, freedom. You do as good as you can do, which leads to extraordinary things.

My first political memory was when Jeremy Corbyn got elected as the Labour leader

FH: Thank you Daniel. Sarah, have you always been a leftist?

SS: Well, growing up in Cornwall, there’s not a lot of opportunities for lefties. We are either Lib Dem or Conservative. My mum’s Liberal my dad is Labour, so they’re quite unusual in Cornwall. I remember my first political memory was when Jeremy Corbyn got elected as the Labour leader, because my mum, a Liberal Democrat, was shocked and excited because it was a different politician. I mean, she voted for Jeremy Corbyn, a Liberal Democrat voted for Jeremy Corbyn because he was such a different kind of politician. That really intrigued me.

And then I read up a bit more about the subject and over a few years… I remember doing a speech at school when I was in Year 10 announcing to everyone that I’m a communist and from then on, I got labelled as a communist and a leftie and I kind of grew into it. And then I went to college, I found out a bit more about it. That was when I really became left wing. I started reading more and more left-wing, Lenin, Tony Benn, that kind of thing.

That’s what I’ve kind of solidified that, especially growing up in Cornwall, you can see the inequality in front of you because it, where I live, it’s just a town and then if you drive a few miles towards the coast you see these huge villas and these mansions that celebrities live. The inequality is just so evident. That just bemused me why there was so much inequality within a few miles.

DD: So we both took political opinions that were not in popular fashion where we grew up.

SS: Yeah we did. I was the only left-wing young person I knew until I went to college and then there was still very few of us.

FH: Now of course, at university, you’re more in [the majority], but still probably to the left [of] most.

SS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Most people at my school to be honest were not politically engaged. [my political engagement] probably came from my parents that kind of pushed me into it because they’re both very, very political.

FH: So in Britain, we tend to reflect our larger cousins across the pond. One of the things we have started to inherit is some of the problems of political debates. There are problems on both the right and the left.

I wonder what you both think about these problems? Do you think they’re going to become as big here as they are in America? 

SS: By the judgement of the local elections this year, it’s evident that the problem is already in the left hugely in this country. I mean Barnett is Labour! Which is absurd, really, considering places that are no longer Labour. I think that we really need to refocus because where we should be able to pick up for voters is economic policy. That would be our driving force. That should be the driving force behind the whole left. And then social, cultural policies should come with that. They shouldn’t be the driving force.

I think that at the moment, the left have allowed the media to frame them as just focused on these kind of issues of woke, that sort of thing, whereas they shouldn’t be our priority. I would say that that’s missed out. I think we need to refocus on economic policy, because at the moment who knows what the Labour Party’s economic policy is really. If we refocus on economic policy, I think we’d be able to pick up the Red Wall again, and we might drop a few seats. We might drop Barnett, oh well.

DD: Well we will get lower taxes…

SS: [laughs] Yeah economic policies should be the priority.

FH: Thank you Sarah, Daniel?

DD: I mean, look, there’s bits of the right that are problematic. They’re quite nasty, but I tend to think that there is something quite unique about British conservatism where that’s not much of a problem. It’s quite mainstream in America. I tend to think it’s more of an American problem that has come overseas and it hasn’t really taken a hold of mainstream politics yet.

FH: Do you think that is because of the system we have? I was talking to one of my friends whose more Liberal Democrat minded who thinks the difference here is that Boris Johnson has made mistakes and his party are trying to get rid of him whilst in America, Trump has completely solidified his grasp on the Republican Party and its very, very difficult to change the mindset of the right in America.

Whereas here the right here are less attached to a particular individual, which might mean that it can escape a sort of almost anti-democratic populism.

DD: To link it back to what I said earlier about Boris Johnson, I don’t think the Conservative Party itself is particularly conservative. It’s more nominally conservative than conservative itself. The most right-wing mainstream media [here] is probably GB News and although they’ve told people to be vaccine hesitant, don’t immediately get it, it’s not the best, it’s not this amazing thing that most of the British mainstream media claim, but they weren’t ever anti-vax. I’m not really worried about that.

FH: Now we have to address the elephant in the room, and that is the fact that both of you live together. You are living with each other now and you’re continuing to live with each other whilst being Chair and President [of Labour and Conservative societies]. This must be the first time this has ever happened anywhere.

I can’t imagine this is common. How does it work? Do you get along? Do you talk about politics a lot?

Pictured (left to right): Sarah Shephard, Felix Hawes and Daniel Dieppe

SS: I would say we talk about politics quite a lot, probably not as much as people expect. We probably have a long discussion about once a week. I think the major positive with Daniel is the amount of newspapers that he brings in. We’ve got the Daily Telegraph on the table. I would read that when Daniel buys it and Daniel bought me the Guardian today and you’re interested in reading that. We get on better than you would think.

DD: Obviously our disagreements are quite large but we both value our friendship over politics. We both value free speech. I value free speech over lower taxes any day of the week, I value that first.

SS: As would I.

DD: If there is ever a case where we are getting annoyed with each other, it’s probably my fault as much as Sarah’s. It would be both of us for taking it too seriously in that particular point in time. But it’s good fun. I mean, I remember meeting Sarah on the first day of university. I had a conversation with someone about the Russian revolution, Sarah overhead.

SS: I thought “finally a leftie” and then I sat down and spoke to you and I thought “oh no”.

DD: I think Sarah first struck me as an interesting person when we agreed to go to the library together to get some books for our first essay because we both do history. I got five or six books and then Sarah got out 20 books and I was just there waddling around following Sarah. [Sarah] took out 70 books at Christmas that year to take home. It was a long Christmas because of lockdown. On my phone she is still called 70 book Sarah. She took out 70 books! I just thought no one else would have done that.

SS: I was really angry because you can only take out 70 books. I had to give some back so I could get some more out.

We are only a floor apart so it shouldn’t be that difficult to communicate

FH: Are you looking forward to next year?

SS: I think its going to be interesting because at the moment, the Nottingham Labour Students does not have a great relationship with NUCA. I think that is partially to do with the leaders not communicating or is the communication not being reciprocal. I think we can communicate, I mean we are only a floor apart so it shouldn’t be that difficult to communicate and we’ve already discussed some of our ideas for next year and things that we’d like to do. Hopefully that can go ahead.

Its interesting because, especially when you come to university, people say ‘Oh, I bet you met loads of lefties,’ and when I speak to people in the Labour movement, they’re like ‘Oh, bet you have a house of solid lefties,’ and then I generally go along with it and say ‘Yeah, yeah, I do.’ It’s great to have Daniel’s friendship.

DD: Funnily enough Felix, I never get asked ‘You must be in a house of staunch conservatives.’ It’s always quite fun telling people that I happen to live with a communist. I think, probably our most common debate is whether or not communism is a religion.

SS: It’s not a religion, I’d like to clarify. We do discuss that a lot.

DD: Because that is our other disagreement, Christianity and atheism.

FH: But what aligns you both is free speech, I suppose and that’s how you can get along because you don’t judge each other on politics but on personality.

SS: That’s particularly a problem for the left, I think more than the right, free speech. Although, it can only go to a certain extent, we need to try and get a few more opinions.

DD: If someone had a political opinion that we should have a policy to treat someone differently for something they can’t change then that’s something that infringes on their personality, but neither me nor Sarah have that, so it’s not an issue for us.

Information about the Labour Society can be accessed here and the Conservative Society can be accessed here

Felix Hawes

Featured image courtesy of Felix Hawes. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 1 courtesy of @NUConservatives from Instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 2 courtesy of @UONLabour from Instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 3 courtesy of Felix Hawes. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

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