November 22, 2011

Selfish and Deluded

Posted in Politics at 10:18 pm by Paul Sagar

Tonight I intended to briefly join the protest at Cambridge University against Universities Minister David Willetts. Arriving at the venue at 5.55pm, however, the protest was already over. So I decided to go inside and listen to the advertised speech and debate.

Willetts was introduced – with an explicit appeal for reasonable discussion – and the man himself took the stand.

But as he began speaking, he was immediately interrupted. A single individual – whom I shall not name – began shouting. His every line was immediately repeated by 20-30 or so others. Thus began a long, ponderous series of declamations, bizarre poetic allegories, and varying denunciations of Willetts, his Government, the future of education, and everything in between.

Willetts could not get a word in edge ways. And it was horrible. The tension in the room was dramatic. Despite calls from the floor – mostly from Cambridge academics who had come for a debate – for this to stop, it continued unabated. Turgid, self-indulgent, incoherent, and pretentious would only just about cover the contents of this “speech”. It felt like it went on and on. Shout then chant, shout then chant. What was probably only 7 or 8 minutes was experienced as 30.

When the “speech” from the floor was over, the instigators began chants of “Willetts Willetts Willets, Out Out Out”, and surged forward. They took the stage. Willetts had already left. By 6.20, the event was abandoned. A hundred or so other people were forced to exit without being able to voice their opinion or take part in the public debate they were invited to attend


I left the hall angry, disgusted and embarrassed. And I write as somebody who took part in the Cambridge Occupation last December, and has attended several recent protests against the Government’s cuts. I’ve been through my fair share of kettles and marches to get to this point.

This “action” was organised by Cambridge Defend Education, or “CDE”. Perhaps “Childish Deluded Egomaniacs” would be a better rendering. CDE claim to be upholders of free speech and democratic fairness. Yet they presumed to speak on behalf of myself and every other person in that room, whilst disregarding our rights, opinions, concerns and beliefs entirely.

CDE will no doubt claim – as at one point in the rambling “speech” it was indeed claimed – that having a debate with Willetts was pointless anyway. As we all know, he and this Government have already decided what they are going to do, and public engagements are largely cosmetic PR exercises.

There is of course a great deal of truth to this claim. So let’s take it to its logical conclusion. If the debate was not going to ultimately change anything, what, exactly, could be achieved by disrupting it so completely and outrageously?

Two things: firstly, greatly offending and irritating all of those in the room who were not privy to CDE’s unilateral decision. The result was the wasting of their time, upseting them, making them feel marginalized, and in many cases also very angry. This is unacceptable and indefensible in itself.  And it’s hardly a good strategy for winning friends either.

Secondly, it allowed Willetts to leave Cambridge being able to claim that he’d tried to engage openly, but that irrational, unreasonable, selfish students had prevented any constructive dialogue. Anybody who thinks that this “action” was a victory against Willetts is living in cloud cuckoo land.

There’s a considerable irony here too. One of CDE’s stated complaints about Willetts and his Government is that it is so sure of its own convictions they ride rough-shod over the opinions, concerns, rights and needs of others. And yet that is exactly what CDE did tonight.

I’ve had my run-ins with the Cambridge “activist community” before, leading me to urge that they think a little more carefully about the certainty of their convictions. Tonight demonstrated some of the worst excesses of selfish, childish, self-righteous, politically imbecilic stupidity imaginable.

It was a show of disguised selfishness; the indulgence of a self-satisfied false moral superiority fraudulently passed off as bravery on behalf of others. Others who were never consulted, engaged, or allowed to speak for themselves.


Here’s a short video. You can see me walking out at the end, stopping the main “speech” maker on the stairs to tell him he was not speaking for me.


The text of the absurd “speech” delivered from the floor has been posted online. Quite spectacular is CDE’s lack of self-awareness or sense of unwitting parody.

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  1. Andrew said,

    Something similar (but less severe) happened when Herman Van Rompuy came to give a speech at the European University Institute. The heckling began a few minutes into his speech, and continued sporadically throughout, sometimes accompanied by applause intended to drown him out. To their credit, the protestors did at least wait until the end of the scheduled speech to make one of their own, but they gave the impression of finding the wait intolerable.

    This “intervention” was accompanied by flyers listing the “95 theses on the ills of Europe” (, some of which are very revealing about the importance the protestors placed on matters of policy relative to the theatre of it all. #86 still genuinely baffles me.

  2. Paul's Mam said,

    Why do a group that claim to represent the masses make such an effort to distinguish themselves from the masses?

    By acting so dramatically they create a divide between themselves and people with identical views (most of the audience who came to have a sensible discussion). This kind of behaviour leads to people like yours truly finding these folk rather irritating and attention-seeking. This in turn can lead you to become apathetic on a crucially important topic like education, just because you wish to spite these annoying little people. They need to realise that such behaviour can actually work against them.

    But they won’t listen to me, probably because I maintain reasonable hygienic standards.

  3. Phil said,

    What self-indulgent idiots – and what a creepy and alarming method; it seems like a horrible perversion of the “human mic” device.

  4. Phil said,

    You can try anything –
    You can even try to engage us in dialogue!
    But it won’t work.
    Because we’re not listening!

  5. Rob said,

    That is just ridiculous. For all that you might think ‘no platform’ policies are sometimes appropriate, even if you’re stupid enough to think that Willetts and anyone who wants to listen to him is in the same category as Nick Griffin and his audience, having handed him such a straightforward PR victory is so idiotic as to be unbelievable.

  6. Oliver Cromwell said,

    Paul Sagar, second rate mind and pompous sanctimonious prat. Perfect for whatever new mutant of New Labour survives the current crisis.

  7. Paul Sagar said,

    Well “Oliver Cromwell”, I’ll take it I’ve won the actual argument then.

    Feel free to say it to my face or even just use your real name, if you ever find you have the guts.

  8. Graham said,

    Oliver Cromwell: That’s funny more than anything else. Hiding behind a pseudonym in order to make an ad hominem attack via the internet kind of sums up the cringe-worthy pack of foolish cunts up there in that youtube video. Unless it’s just some wind-up merchant (I promise it isn’t me, Paul).

    However, I do hope those whacky characters have fun bragging to their friends about how they shouted down Willets. Whilst they’re doing that they are blissfully unaware that they are merely reaffirming all of the bad things everyone else thinks about them (and students in general, by association). They’re privileged, pig-headed, and have indulgently carved their own little niche to make themselves feel important. The type of turncoat cunts who would cross the road to avoid a bunch of “charvers”. For want of a better word “pussies”. And all the while they don’t seem to care that this sort of shit is borish and as outdated as Roy “Cubby” Brown.

    In short: Cunts.

    P.S. “There’s a considerably *hypocrisy here too.”

  9. Cunctator said,

    No, Graham.

    The correct term is ‘fucking cunts’.

    Yrs ever,


  10. Anon said,

    What’s the reason for not naming the main speechmaker?

  11. Roy Watson said,

    How, then, *does* one go about making someone listen who is determined not to listen? What status, then, *do* third parties such as yourself have, whose opinion is equally unimportant to those in power who have decuded not to listen? What is served by one opponent of these policies, yourself, venting such hostility at other opponents, beyond enacting the very factionalism and deprecation you claim to find so unwelcome? Does pragmatism not extend to, if not giving self-indulgence a free ride, at least maintaining a sense of perspective as to whose behaviour is the more deplorable and the more requiring of opposition and resistance? Or is your sense of your own rightness to be satisfied regardless of the consequences of its exercise? If gthe latter, do you see any irony in such an attitude being fundamentally also both that which you impute to those disruptive students and that of the government you seem to oppose?

    Questions, questions…

  12. Jed Pietersen said,

    Paul Sagar – third rate mind and fourth rate footballer.

  13. Oliver Cromwell said,

    This is for those who do not understand why students disrupted David Willetts’s “lecture” in Cambridge, and why similar disruptive extra-parliamentary political action is now necessary. In May 2010, an election was held in which two parties — Labour and the Liberal Democrats — both of which claimed to defend the NHS and to oppose any increase in student fees (indeed LibDems manifesto claimed to commit the party to abolishing fees altogether) won a virtual 2/3 majority of popular votes. The party which took power, however, was the Conservative party. The Conservatives with the Lib Dems, and against the will of the people, against the views of doctors, nurses, academics, students, all the stakeholders in health and education policy, have proceeded to force through parliament a system of extremist policies, policies which attack the foundation of the health of the polity and of British civilisation. It is the Con-Dems — the Conservatives by their ruthless insensitivity to public opinion, and the LibDems by their craven betrayal of their own principles — who have unbalanced the constitution. They have forced politics into the streets and public places, and are making ordinary citizens remind parliament that we have only delegated to them our own sovereignty. We invest our sovereignty in parliament, it does not belong there, when parliament acts abusively we retake our liberties by whatever means necessary. There remain large numbers of people who confuse the survival of theatres of dialogue like parliament, or lecture rooms at Cambridge, with democracy. Unfortunately, the platform offered to Willetts last night, and the whole theatre of “liberal debate” that was about to unfold, had only one possible consequence– which is why Willetts agreed to come — which is to add to the illusion that we have democratic government which attempts in any way to be accountable to the will of the people. For many academics, who themselves live in a world governed by real debate, and who have a certain vanity about their persuasive powers, there is the illusion that a few well-argued points can affect government policy. This government however listens only to the opinions of the wealthy individuals and corporate interests who buy a stake in policy making both at the ministerial and civil service levels. This is no longer business as usual in British democracy, and those who pretend it is are both deluding themselves and betraying their own civic responsibilities. There come times in the life of a people when the old manners are no longer suit the need of the age. There are times for action in collective self-defence. This moment is one.

    “It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place,which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice….
    Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money…

Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.
    I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.
    Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. 

In the name of God, go!

  14. Jed Pietersen said,

    Your comment is misguided, ‘Oliver’ (I’m guessing you chose that name in an attempt to be Ironic..?).

    The issue at stake here is not the view you are putting forward RE the condems eschewing of political responsibility. It is simply one of method, as I believe Paul’s blog makes abundantly clear.

    The simple fact is that CDE continues to struggle to see the sheer contradictory nature of a group that goes around fighting for the freedom of rights and speech of ‘society’ by actively denying precisely these rights to those they disagree with. And the simple argument of ‘well, they do it too!’ simply doesn’t wash here. The biggest disappointment is that which Paul points out, that a group with potential and which most of the readers of this blog would probably agree is fighting for the right kind of things, ends up allowing ‘Willetts to leave Cambridge being able to claim that he’d tried to engage openly, but that irrational, unreasonable, selfish students had prevented any constructive dialogue. Anybody who thinks that this “action” was a victory against Willetts is living in cloud cuckoo land.’ Moreover, this kind of action simply irritates the people that CDE believe they are speaking for and alienates them from their cause.

    And RE your views concerning election – the ‘collective’ you seem to want to speak for seemed to make their views (however misguided by propaganda) concerning the current election system abundantly clear in a certain recent referendum – either by simply not caring or voting ‘no’. As much as some of us may disagree with the outcome, I believe that is as ‘democratic’ as you can get.

    Rather than focussing on silencing others, why don’t you do something constructive? Such as building a campaign based on positive education? If you want to win people to your cause, why not talk to them, rather than stopping anyone being able to hear anything contrary to your view? It seems to me that ‘disrupting’ events is rather the easy way out.

  15. James said,

    ‘Oliver’, thank you for confirming my own view, which is that people like yourself are so up themselves they can no longer see daylight, as well as possessing an understanding of how parliamentary democracy works that would make a sixth-form politics student blush with embarrassment. Under your logic, the previous Labour government was also in power “against the will of the people”, but you don’t seem to be concerned by that.

    It’s really the bone-headed arrogance of people like yourself that annoys me – that you genuinely believe not only to possess a monopoly on virtue, but also that you claim to represent the entire demos, when in fact you only represent the views of a fraction. And judging by the reaction of Paul and others, including myself, who hold similar views re: cuts and education, but are disgusted by your sanctimonious drivel, I’d say you’re not even doing a good job of representing the fraction that agrees with you. You certainly don’t speak for me.

    In sum: stop talking out of your arse and grow up.

  16. Left Outside said,

    Fucking hell. I do hate some of the left. That speech is cringe worthy.

  17. anonymous said,

    the speech is gash

  18. Phil said,

    Comment left on the Defend Education site:

    What was the point of using the ‘people’s mic’ to deliver this? I’m assuming it wasn’t *intended* to display a cult-like unity of thought and purpose, foreclose any possible debate and drive away all but the most sympathetic onlookers using the twin weapons of noise and tedium.

    …although, after reading a couple of the comments here, I’m not so sure about the second one.

  19. Callum Barrell said,

    I think Paul found the nerve of this argument; harnaguing a minister of unpopular policies, even in a pre-set and potentially lopsided context of debate, only harms those caught between CDE and the government’s position. CDE were not billed as the main act, but they took over the stage anyway (to the audience’s detriment). CDE may justify their interventions by arguing that Willetts won’t change his mind. The real problem is that others aren’t being allowed to either.

  20. IcePick said,

    Willetts recently took part in a debate in the HoC where all he was doing was taking up time in order to ensure the failure of a well-reasoned, modernising proposal (to bring Oxbridge MAs into a clearer relationship with those of other universities). He did not make a case, but abused the HoC system’s own procedures for an inexcusable purpose – to prevent a vote. He acknowledged accusations of what he, the minister for universities, was doing, with a smirk. He made himself unworthy of further platform time or of the attention of honest audiences.

  21. Graham said,

    Cromwell, yer wrong as fuck, yer daft fuckin cunt yer! “Oh! Let’s make a difference by shouting at people!” That always works. The fact is, we need to kill some cunts. I AM RIGHT AM I NOT?!?!?!?!??!

  22. [...] I’m on leave, I made the mistake of wading into the usual storm in a teacup about who-interrupted-what-Tory-twunt’s-right-to-speak. This time it’s random activists [...]

  23. [...]  a group of protesters at Cambridge University used what they claimed was a "people's mic" to shut-down a David Willetts event, but if it was it's a much poorer conception of the mic than the one emerging as their aim wasn't [...]

  24. Oliver Cromwell said,

    Either you think this is politics as usual, or you don’t. Those who understand the student action do, those who don’t condemn it. But the evidence is clear that the Con-dems are an unelected dictatorship bent on ripping up the British social compact with no care for the will of the people. Privatisation of education yesterday, dismantling of the NHS today, removal of trade union and worker rights tomorrow, the drift is clear. If there was any evidence that Paul Sagar (or any of you) was actually doing anything concrete to fight Con-Dem policies then you might be taken seriously. But Paul at least has made clear that his interests now are his college football team, Friday night, and plodding through his PhD. Well that’s fine but then don’t posture on political tactics when you have no active politics. For the rest of us its no longer business as usual. Dissent, resist, occupy.

  25. Paul Sagar said,

    “But Paul at least has made clear that his interests now are his college football team, Friday night, and plodding through his PhD. ”

    And that is precisely why Paul is so much closer to the people you claim to represent and understand than you will ever be, and why his grasp of politics is more insightful than your self-righteous crap.

    But for the record, do you really believe that your actions will be anything more than a local irritation? The depths of your delusion are revealed by the fact you think your actions have any sort of significance – that they are “real politics” – whatsoever.

    I note you are still not brave enough to use your real name. Feel free, of course, to come find me and say it all to my face. No doubt you are one of those who preaches the need for “violent revolution”. Somehow I doubt that you’d have the guts to risk saying any of this to me in person…

  26. Chris Brooke said,

    But the evidence is clear that the Con-dems are an unelected dictatorship…

    Out of curiosity, which politicians in Britain today do you think did earn a democratic mandate to govern as a result of the 2010 election, and why?

  27. Left Outside said,

    Out of curiosity, which politicians in Britain today do you think did earn a democratic mandate to govern as a result of the 2010 election, and why?

    Constitutional experts this lot ain’t.

  28. Oliver Cromwell said,

    Those who use their own names may as in your case invest a little too much vanity in the positions they take, chaining themselves to their bad conscience. The nom de guerre or nom de plume may actually be a vehicle for more honest thought. Presumably if I wanted to ‘preach violent revolution’ I’d have no hesitations so doing. No I don’t think Paul you are closer to most people, you are spiralling off into a kind of isolation from people who you were once close to, leaving behind both the people you grew up with and many who were your more recent friends. Even those who remain you seem to treat abusively.

    On the constitutional question, there is no doubt the government of the day came to power through legal and constitutional means, and the conservatives at least are delivering exactly what they promised (putting aside the dismemberment of the NHS). But the Conservatives won no mandate: only 36% of those who bothered to vote, perhaps one in five of the population, identified themselves with Tory policies. The vast majority of those who voted, almost 2/3, voted instead for the social democratic policies promised by Labour and the Lib Dems. In this lies the current crisis of the British constitution.

    There will effectively a general strike on November 30. The Cambridge occupation along with the occupations launched simultaneously in Warwick, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Bloomsbury, are part of this fightback. Join us.

  29. cjcjc said,

    Someone on LC reminded us that this policy applies to England, not to the UK. (As do the NHS reforms too of course.)

    Now I’m not sure that this is the strongest constitutional argument in the world, but were there to be an English parliament it is indeed reasonably clear which party would likely have a majority most of the time.

  30. cjcjc said,

    “Those who use their own names may as in your case invest a little too much vanity in the positions they take.”

    Haha – while the choice of pseudonym can be equally revealing of vanity and self-righteousness, can it not?!

    And there will not be a “general” strike on Nov 30; there will be a (poorly supported) public sector strike.

  31. Anthony said,

    I normally would never post a reply but the comment: “there will effectively be a general strike on November 30th” is beyond stupid and actually moves into the realm of doublespeak.

  32. Oliver Cromwell said,

    It is telling that cjcrc and Anthony choose to try to deprecate the significance of what is probably the biggest strike in the UK since 1926. Its clear which side your on. With friends like these does Paul’s conscience need enemies?

    For your information November 30 is declared a day of action by all the unions of the Trades Union Congress. 3 million workers, from senior civil servants in the FDA to street cleaners and nurses in , headteachers in their union, secondary and primary teachers with them, UCU, transport workers, firemen will be taking action in defence of their pension and workplace rights for both private and public sector workers. PCS, ATL, FBU, FDA, GMB, IES, NASUWT, NIPSA, NUT, PROSPECT, UCU, UNISON, UNITE all together. There are actions planned in cities up and down the country
    This is unprecedented.

    As with any opposition movement in history, activists are always minorities. But those who stand and fight together win.

    One reason why a nom de guerre is right is that Paul (manifestly unlike cicrc or Anthony) wants to be on the side of justice. His recent drift has been towards the direction of prat, but there is hope for him. Join us. If you’re not fighting now, you’re part of the problem.

  33. Paul Sagar said,

    “One reason why a nom de guerre is right is that Paul (manifestly unlike cicrc or Anthony) wants to be on the side of justice. His recent drift has been towards the direction of prat, but there is hope for him. ”

    Have you any idea who or what Oliver Cromwell actually was?

    “Join us. If you’re not fighting now, you’re part of the problem.”

    Do you even realise that you are quoting George W. Bush almost verbatim?

    The arrogance of ignorance, eh?

  34. Anthony said,

    General Strike: (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a strike by all or most of the workers of a country, province, city.

    Please don’t confuse someone disagreeing with your choice of language as any kind of declaration towards a political affiliation.

  35. cjcjc said,

    Nom de “guerre” ?

    The delusion grows!

  36. Oliver Cromwell said,

    So to cut to what’s important, are you going to support the November 30 strike, including via this little tub you like to thump, are you going to support a strike which won support in ballots of the constituent unions that saw circa 60% and more of members voting in favour? Will you use whatever petty strength and voice you have in support of these people, or will we have some pompous posturing drivel about bad tactics?

  37. cjcjc said,

    60% of members?

    No. 60% of 35% (?) average turnouts?

    So, 21% of members.

    Yet more delusion.

  38. Oliver Cromwell said,

    Prospect civil service members have voted by 3:1 to take industrial action over pensions. Turnout was 52%. and the FDA had an 81% yes vote with a 54% turn out…. (good to see clearly though which side cjcjc is gunning for)…..

  39. cjcjc said,

    So those examples give us 39% and 44% of members.

    Unison was 78% of 29% = 23%.

    GMB 80% of 33% = 26%.

    UCATT 83% of 27% = 22%.

    Unite 75% of 31% = 23%.

    NASUWT 80% of 40% = 32%.

    So, rather a long way short of a majority, let alone your “60% of members” delusion.

  40. Oliver Cromwell said,

    That’s exciting, Francis Maude is now posting on a blog under the pseudonym cjcjc.Its good to see you can do arithmetic…. In any event, for those who do think of themselves as Left, as Sagar styles himself as being, the choice is rather clear: do you stand with workers or do you stand with the mandate-less lib-con semi-elected dictatorship?

  41. Luis Enrique said,

    I find this really puzzling – don’t coalition governments typically involve parties being in power who did not of themselves win a majority? Are all coalition governments unelected dictatorships? Has anybody told the Dutch?

  42. James said,

    “the choice is rather clear: do you stand with workers or do you stand with the mandate-less lib-con semi-elected dictatorship?”

    Somebody get this guy his own blog – it would be hilarious!

  43. anonymous said,

    Is this Cromwell guy for real? What a mug. I’d rather be associated with Eric Pickles than this tit. And Eric Pickles is a c*nt.

  44. Raph said,

    Dear Oliver Cromwell,

    I am not sure you deserve quite the level of abuse you are receiving but could you answer me one question.

    What is your defence for referring to the coalition government as a dictatorship (whether un-elected or semi-elected)? It appears you are committed to the term.

    Are you arguing that even though there is not widespread state intimidation, murder, complete control of the press like in Syria, Egypt, et al., et al., et al. that the ruling elite have ways of ‘manufacturing consent’ as some might say?

    whereas this is clearly true to a degree it seems to lead to the conclusion that pretty much any government in power is a dictatorship (I can’t think of any that don’t fit that bill perhaps you could suggest one) and the term loses any meaning.

    It might seem to the casual observer that it is merely part of a hyperbolic rhetoric that does not help anybody (as we have seen from the comments). Is this the case or not

  45. Ed said,

    I didn’t know E.J Thribb had a ponytail.

  46. formula57 said,

    So then Jed Pietersen, wouldn’t a “third rate mind and fourth rate footballer” cause someone to be classified in the top few per cent. of students nowadays? Mr Willetts may think so – alas we do not know – and thereby help justify at least to himself the policies he promotes. ;-)

    As for the policies, Oliver Cromwell (a real gem! lol) might note (in the interests of credit where it is due) this from Tory MP Redwood: –

    “The main point is this. There was no group of Conservatives designing the tuition fee scheme, no group pressing for it. It was not Conservative policy. The tuition fee scheme was designed by Dr Cable, and pressed by him. Conservatives went along with it, often reluctantly. We were breaking no promise to electors by doing so, as we had left open at the election how HE would be paid for.” @

  47. jonathan said,

    Paul: why do you discriminate against pedophiles? Why do you demonize people based on their sexual orientation? Those kind of comments contribute to the demonization and discrimination of pedophiles.

    Why do you only defend acceptation of gays but not acceptation of pedophiles?

    I read your article about the hysteria over pedophilia, but yet you contribute to said hysteria portraying pedophiles as child molesters with an “addictive behaviour” and conflating pedophilia with child abuse.

    Do you think that saying homosexuals are child molester is bad, but saying that pedophiles are child molester is OK?

  48. Madeline said,

    They can make the law, but in this case they can’t make it a lgiitemate law. No government has any moral right to do this.

  49. [...] a function of my place on the political spectrum relative to theirs, I suggest you take a look at  Sagar and I hold very different views but neither of us hold CDE in any regard for their actions [...]

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