I’ll put my hands up and admit it: I’m one of the nasties you’ve read about - a Stepford student. I was one of the original group of stony-eyed students who, our 'brains bereft of critical faculties and programmed to conform', conspired to set up a new publication to promote our 'groupthink' philosophy.
The Stepford Student was founded to tackle the picture that Brendan O’Neill painted of us in this magazine in two ways. We wanted to show that young lefties aren’t dogged by a perpetual earnestness, and do actually possess a sense of humour and an ability to laugh things off, and we wanted to bring our arguments to a wider audience beyond the gilded cages of our universities.
We failed. I ended up as the publication’s last editor, and we’ve shut up shop for good.
Why? In the initial start-up phase, things looked good. All sorts of very hip and important activist types got in touch with us to say that it looked 'amazing!!!', that they were excited and the project gave them 'hope'. Within just a few weeks, the tables had turned. We were criticised for publishing an article that suggested that student loans might not be the worst thing, because it didn’t fit in with the approved doxology that free education is a must-have, and we were pilloried for a tongue-in-cheek article 'Am I only a feminist to get laid?' because it showed a 'flippant and harmful attitude towards feminism'.
Indeed, our readers – the stepford students themselves – were so moved to outrage that 40 of them clubbed together and wrote a high-minded, patronising, clumsily-written open letter to us, signed: 'We hope that this letter might stimulate some thought about what those ethics are, and how best to put them into practice.'
We did our best to meet them in the middle: we responded to the letter, we did our best not to go against too many leftist articles of faith, and we had a period of about two weeks where we exclusively published content written by women. We moved towards a more syndicalist, leftist-friendly leadership style, in spite of the fact that this proved a pretty inefficient way to run a publication, and we reached out directly to some of the most vocal critics, offering them a chance to help edit this unwieldy new publication and guide it in the ‘right’ direction.
Most of them, predictably, weren’t interested. We’d been put on the naughty list, and so eventually the pool of writers just dried up completely. Those with a more open political mind weren’t keen to be associated with a name that implied such closed-mindedness (despite the attempts to reclaim it), and the others were more willing to scrape from the side-lines than get stuck in and do the hard work of building a new, positive platform. To all intents and purposes, The Stepford Student had been no-platformed by the stepford students.
It’s the same distorted thinking that drives the obsession with ideological purity over practical reality amongst young leftists: the same warped understanding that says that getting Jeremy Corbyn elected will do the Labour Party any good, and the same toys-out-of-the-pram petulance behind boycotts of popular newspapers like the Express and the Sun.
What today’s students don’t understand is that if you want to build a better world you actually need to go out and interact with the current one. They need more of the crusading, meet-in-the-middle spirit that the Blairites mastered. The old ‘tough on crime’, ‘hug-a-hoodie’ instinct that the best way to convince other people of the value of your ideas is to dress them up as being, essentially, their ideas.