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Dame Emma Thompson at the Cambridge Union (2017)


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anywhere else. With no shortage of exciting debates, speakers, and socials, being a member of this society has been one of the highlights of my time at university.

elcome to Cambridge - and an especially warm welcome to the Cambridge Union. Your next few years are bound to be some of the most exciting ones, and I hope your time at Cambridge is defined by lasting happy memories and new, life-long friends.

Adapting to coronavirus

This is of course, a term like no other. Coronavirus has brought widespread changes to everyday life, and the Union is no exception. We’re working hard to ensure a safe environment for all of our members and guests, bringing in social distancing measures, establishing a track and trace system for event attendees, and decontaminating the building after events have taken place.

I also hope the Cambridge Union can be part of that. We’re the world’s oldest free speech and debating society, and Cambridge’s largest student society. Since 1815, the Union has championed the open exchange of ideas, become a place where students can socialise over a drink or two, and welcomed some of the world’s most influential figures. In our 205 years, we’ve hosted Prime Ministers Churchill and Thatcher, Presidents Roosevelt and Reagan, and Dames Vivienne Westwood and Judi Dench, alongside many others.

If you have any questions at all, you’re more than welcome to drop me a line at president@cus.org, or call the office at 01223 566 421. I hope to see you at our events this term!

If you’re thinking about joining, do come and visit us. We’re tucked behind the Round Church, and I’d love to show you around. You might notice some scaffolding - we’re nearly at the end of our two-year redevelopment, and will soon open a brand-new building, replete with a revamped bar, restaurant, and members-only library. I can’t recommend joining enough - the Union is unlike

With best wishes,

Emaan Ullah President, Michaelmas 2020

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the Union in Easter 1910; Winston Churchill spoke in the Varsity debate in 1920; and the society hosted many other famous statesmen, such as Anthony Eden, David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, and Enoch Powell.

he precise origin of the Union remains somewhat disputed, but it is widely understood that the society was founded in 1815 at the conclusion of a drunken brawl between two or three pre-existing societies, where they merged, and henceforth became known as ‘The Cambridge Union Society’.

The Second World War led to the suspension of most activity within the Union, including debates - but the chamber was not left empty. Field Marshall Montgomery used it to lay out some of the first draft plans for D-Day. During the war, the Union sustained damage from several

In 1866, the Union moved into its current home, designed by Alfred Waterhouse. The Union came into its own in the early half of the 20th century, where economist-to-be John Maynard Keynes served as President in Lent 1905; Theodore Roosevelt addressed

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fires and bomb damage from the Luftwaffe (some of the older volumes in our library bear shrapnel scars - see left). Not long after the war ended, the first Prime Minister of a newly independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, came to address the Union. The ’60s and ’70s are perhaps best known for the series of public figures who began their careers at the dispatch box of our debating chamber, such as Michael Howard, Ken Clarke, Norman Lamont, Vince Cable, and Arianna Huffington. This period was also the one in which the society ceased to be allmale, though this did not come easily. The move to admit women failed on a number of occasions, and the campaign escalated to the point where three women burst into a chamber during a debate in 1961. Women were finally admitted as members of the society in 1963, and later, in Michaelmas 1967, Ann Mallalieu would become our first female President. The Union has since continued to host figures of national and international importance. In 1990, at the end of the Cold

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War, the Union was visited by President Ronald Reagan. In 1999, at the height of the Kosovo Crisis, the Union held the ‘Kosovo Forum’ which saw representatives from the Kosovo Liberation Army, the Serbian Government, and the UNHCR come together for the first time – a groundbreaking forum televised by the BBC, CNN, and Sky News. In 2007, Jalal Talabani visited the Union shortly after taking office as the first democratically elected president of Iraq, and Libyan head of state Muammar Gaddafi addressed the chamber via videolink days before chairing the international commission on the crisis in Darfur. With such a history, it becomes quite difficult to name everyone who has been to speak here. But in the last year, the Union has been proud to welcome Bill Gates, Dua Lipa, former UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon, Noam Chomsky, Sheck Wes, John Bercow, economist Yanis Varoufakis, and model Adwoa Aboah, among all kinds of others. Whilst there’s an impressive history to live up to, we hope you don’t think we’re doing too badly.


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the 21st century, Jacob Rees-Mogg clash with Nicky Morgan over Brexit, and Vince Cable join forces with Yanis Varoufakis to argue against austerity.

very Thursday, the Union hosts one of its world-famous debates, which contend with the various different issues of the day - be it politics, international relations, science, feminism, or religion. Each debate draws speakers from fields like politics, academia and journalism, and as no stranger to controversy, we have a long tradition of welcoming speakers from the radical to the reactionary. In recent years, members have witnessed biologist Richard Dawkins take on former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to debate the role of religion in

The Union has a rich history of debating, and over the past 200 years, there have thousands of debates, each with their own unique outcome. In 1866, members voted against the British Raj, some 80 years before British rule came to an end in India. In 1933, Clement Attlee argued the case for socialism as Oswald Mosley argued for fascism, with members voting in favour

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Left: Theodore Roosevelt speaks at the Union, just a decade after leaving office as US President, 1920. Right: a packed Union chamber during a debate, 1976.

students can also participate, and take to the floor alongside such prominent figures. Each weekly debate has one or two spaces reserved for students, won through weekly auditions - and of course, there are opportunities for members to interject and make short speeches during the debate itself. Further, there are shorter, student-only ‘emergency debates’ prior to our weekly debates, which focus on a recent event or issue. Needless to say, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved, Though many of the speakers in our and all members are encouraged to take debates come from the public sphere, part, regardless of past experience. of socialism. In 1939, on the eve of war, members voted against the idea of military conscription. In 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley went head to head over the issue of race in America, with members overwhelmingly voting on the side of Baldwin, who famously proclaimed “to discover the flag that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.”

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Beyond national politics, we frequently welcome political figures from around the world. The last President of an apartheid-era South Africa, Frederik de Klerk, addressed the Union and outlined plans to end segregation. Ronald Reagan later visited at the end of the Cold War and discussed the legacy of his presidency, no less than a year after leaving office. Fast forward to today, and members have heard from the current Dalai Lama about Tibetan independence, Queen Noor of Jordan on the Middle East Process, and Julian Assange on the WikiLeaks scandal. Members have a unique opportunity to engage with these figures, from questioning them during

hough the Union is first and foremost a debating society, we have a long tradition of hosting leading figures in politics. Successive generations of both former and future prime ministers have been welcomed through our doors, including Boris Johnson, Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, Ted Heath, Harold Macmillan, and Winston Churchill. Many other notable politicians have also spoken in our chamber, be it Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn or Emily Thornberry, the Liberal Democrats’ Paddy Ashdown or Ed Davey, or the Conservatives’ Dominic Raab or Michael Howard.

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Left: H.R.H. Prince Charles with Lord Mountbatten, 1970.

events, to attending drinks receptions and dinners with them. Though the Union is very much a political institution, it is no stranger to welcoming guests from outside the political arena. In the past decade, we’ve had some of entertainment’s biggest names, from actors like Robert Downey Jr., Lisa Kudrow, Mark Hamill, and Dame Judi Dench, to musicians such as Dua Lipa (above), James Blunt, Ellie Goulding and Sheck Wes. Some of our frequent visitors even started their careers next door at the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC), like Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson. We’ve also hosted iconic names from sports, including football’s Sol Campbell, David Moyes and Fabio Capello, cycling icon Mark Cavendish, and track and field athlete Lord Sebastian Coe.

In 2017, the Union launched the annual Hawking Fellowship, designed to celebrate distinguished figures in STEM who have made significant contributions to their respective fields. It was, of course, named after its inaugural recipient, Professor Stephen Hawking, who delivered his last public address in our chamber and reflected on his life and contributions to science, as well as his thoughts on the future. Since then, the Fellowship has been awarded to Apple’s former Chief Design Officer Sir Jony Ive and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates. We’ll be announcing this year’s recipient of the Fellowship soon, so stay tuned!

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ith our own premises, including a large chamber and one of the city’s cheapest bars, the Union has long been a social hub for its members. Of course, coronavirus means a lot has had to change, but we’re working hard to operate as normally as possible, and retain our status as a unique institution for students across all colleges, degrees, and years to socialise and enjoy an array of social events. A lot of these events offer members the chance to unwind from

the hectic nature of a Cambridge term, ranging from mornings with coffee, croissants, and newspapers, to evenings with jazz and cocktails. For those who do enjoy a more fast-paced lifestyle, we’ve often hosted Zumba and Krav Maga sessions for members. Beyond termly socials, the Union is renowned for some of its larger events, including the Freshers’ Ball, Garden Party, and Election All-Nighters, which are often some of the university’s most popular socials. The Freshers’ Ball is the only ball of its kind in Cambridge, and like many other social events held at the Union, is enjoyed by life members of the society for free. For events that do come at a cost, members enjoy heavily discounted tickets, making membership all the more worthwhile.

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eyond hosting debates, speakers, and socials, the Union is also the central hub for competitive debating in Cambridge, and offers the chance to take part in debating competitions locally, nationally, and internationally. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent your secondary school years debating, or have never debated before - you don’t need prior experience to do well. There are multiple training streams (beginners, intermediates, and advanced), aimed at taking you from being a novice to competing alongside some of the world’s best debaters. Following that, you can take debating worldwide: in the past five years, we’ve funded trips to South Africa, Malaysia, India, and beyond, and are planning to travel (coronavirus depending) to Seoul, Belgrade, and Shanghai this year! Even if international travel isn’t for you, our workshops are extremely useful, aiding and abetting your late night essay crisis, and your ability to talk your way through an unprepared-for supervision.

For the more practical-minded, and those interested in giving back, we also offer the chance to organise a vast range of international debate competitions. Convening one of our competitions is a hugely rewarding process as you get to brush up on your organisation skills - after convening, no other task will seem stressful again! We also run one of Cambridge’s largest access initiatives: the Cambridge Schools Debating Competition. This attracts 1000+ teams worldwide, with international rounds and regional rounds across the UK building up to a Final’s Day at the Union. Bringing the best debaters from across the world together, the Cambridge Schools Debating Competition also serves to increase access to the University, as we are often the first interaction schoolchildren have with the university. This goes hand in hand with our debating access program, where our debaters go around the country running debating workshops at schools in lower income areas.

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Membership Benefits

Prices & Discounts

longside exclusive access to our worldclass speakers and debates, your Union membership comes with a range of unique perks:

All students of the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin, the BPP Law School, and the Judge Business School are eligible for membership, alongside friends of the Union.

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Unrivalled members’ discounts.

Your membership card is the gateway to discounts at just under twenty Cambridge retailers. From the famed Jack’s Gelato to Côte Brasserie and Cambridge’s very own Escape Room, no other student society can offer you between 10 and 25% off at such a wide range of outfits all year round.

Our newly redeveloped building.

Our vast £5.4 million redevelopment is almost finished – and by early 2021, you’ll be among the first to set foot inside. Your membership card will give you access to discounted prices at our revamped bar and brand-new restaurant, as well as some of the grandest function spaces in Cambridge, including a members-only library and lounge.

Superb socials. Given the government’s coronavirus precautions, our chamber will likely be one of the few spaces large enough to accommodate regular socials in Michaelmas. With a dedicated team of decontamination specialists operating daily, we hope the Union will become both the safest and most exciting place to spend time in Cambridge this autumn!

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We offer two main types of membership: • Annual Membership at £110 • Life Membership at £180 – reduced to £160 if you buy before the 16th October as part of our ‘freshers’ discount’ Both offer the same perks, but for just £50 more during our freshers’ discount period, Life covers you for your whole time at Cambridge – and beyond. We also offer discounts to the membership fee as part of our Access Membership scheme. Depending on your household income, you may be eligible for up to £65 off the full cost of Life Membership. Any student in receipt of a Cambridge University Bursary or Anglia Ruskin University Bursary is eligible to apply for Access Membership. Please see www.cus.org/join/access-scheme for further information on our criteria.


President Reagan at the Cambridge Union (1990)


Profile for The Cambridge Union

Freshers' Guide 2020-21  

The Cambridge Union's Freshers' Guide for 2020-21.

Freshers' Guide 2020-21  

The Cambridge Union's Freshers' Guide for 2020-21.

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