‘Young, Bright and on the Right,’ the story of two aspiring young Tories at Oxford and Cambridge, definitely made for some entertaining television. Joe and Chris inspire a mixture of loathing, pity and bewilderment as they struggle to navigate the elitist world of Oxbridge Conservative politics, which is characterised by ridiculous outfits, port, cheese and the odd bout of extreme racism. At times it was toe-curlingly cringeworthy, and began to feel a bit exploitative. Chris especially seemed highly deluded and mildly autistic; publicly ridiculing him in this way just for entertainment value was a bit of a low moment for the BBC. His speech about the importance of his new position ‘sourcing biscuits’ and ‘procuring cheese’ for the Conservative Society may have been hilarious, but beneath his eccentric and confident exterior you could sense there might be a deep-seated vulnerability and loneliness.
Joe’s story I found genuinely moving, especially when he broke down in tears over being mocked for his Yorkshire accent, and how he felt he had to put on a constant facade instead of being proud of his roots. He was born with severe dyslexia meaning he did not speak until he was 5, and was raised in a council house by his single mother as his father was in prison. Yet he went on to gain straight A*s at GCSE, straight As at A-level and a well-deserved place at Oxford. Given these circumstances, he should have been able to speak with pride about his success in overcoming adversity, rather than hiding it and feeling he had to act and dress like a public schoolboy.
However, while I had some sympathy for him and respect for what he’d achieved in life, I couldn’t help but feel that his outing of a Nazi singing scandal at the Oxford University Conservative Association was motivated more by petty revenge than the high-minded ideals he kept referring to, especially as he only decided to speak up about the horrendous incident after he was deposed as President. His deviousness and endless Machiavellian strategising were also off-putting, and made you wonder whether his comments about the conniving nature of student politics were wholly accurate or partly driven by his own paranoia.
One aspect that was desperately lacking from the show was any discussion as to why both students had become such fervent Tories in the first place. Political ideology was instead brushed over, reinforcing the image that young Conservatives are only interested in dressing up, drinking and generally being boorish toffs, or in the case of Chris ‘pretending to be upper class.’ Basically that they are bunch of mildly offensive, but ultimately harmless, Boris-like buffoons. That contrasts with some of my own encounters with young Tories, a lot of whom seem to hold far more extreme political views than their older counterparts.
I was especially intrigued as to why Joe was first attracted to the Conservative party, and how a working-class boy from Barnsley could end up idolising Thatcher, who is still a source of controversy and bitterness in the town almost thirty years on from the miners’ strike. Maybe it was due to conservatism’s belief in the rugged individualism which Joe exemplified, or perhaps a desire to be different and somehow superior to those who had mocked him at school. In any case, there was a wasted opportunity to explore the relation between class and political ideology, and provide an insight into what it really means to be a young Conservative these days, apart from political careerism and excessive consumption of port. Given the fact that some of these oddballs might end up as cabinet ministers one day, that would have been far more interesting – and potentially terrifying – than embarrassing interviews over cheese, biscuits and how to hold a secret meeting in a corridor.