BBC2’s Wonderland: Young, Bright and On The Right: Chris Monk and Joe Cooke navigate their way through the Oxbridge political scene

by Matt D

For the majority of us a university life consists of numerous out-of-control parties, a lot of ‘experimenting’ and maybe going to a lecture now and then however if you’re an aspiring politician then things are a little bit different for you. BBC2’s Wonderland strand demonstrates this with their latest documentary Young, Bright and On the Right focusing on two young men, one at Cambridge and the other at Oxford, both of whom one day hope to one day be part of the Conservative cabinet. The young conservatives still have the parties but in their world they’re quite controlled plus they always seem to involve an inordinate amount of port while the biggest problem is deciding where to get the biscuits for the cheese from rather than cleaning up after whoever was sick in the toilets.

20 year old Joe Cooke’s name is synonymous with the Oxford Conservatives, or Ouca, after he was interviewed as part of an expose of their racist and sexist exploits a story which made The Daily Telegraph as well as resulting in the University removing the U from the association’s name. Joe is an odd mix of Dennis Pennis and Lembit Opik with a Barnsley accent that has been slightly softened due to his two years at Oxford University. We meet him as he goes into his third year having just stepped down as president of OUCA after just one term he is now suspicious of those around him after the one policy he wanted to base his legacy around, something to do with charity reform, was thrown out on a technicality. Joe’s former friend James Lawson, who he described as the political Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum when they worked together, is now the president and is making life extremely tough for Joe to continue to be part of the association so much so that he has had to resort to Machiavellian scheming in order to discover James’ true intentions. Joe has also recently decided to work for the enemy, in other words the university newspaper, and write a column criticising his now rival once a week as well as trying to orchestrate a scheme to get one of his allies elected to the association.

Joe is a walking soundbite, for example when asked if he should be resorting to dirty tactics he replies ‘I don’t see it as a dirty tactic when the results are so moral,’ also on his alternative background he comments, ‘from difference comes great potential,’ which to me sounds like the tagline for a rubbish superhero film. But yes despite being someone who worries wear to hang his picture of Margaret Thatcher on the wall of his university abode James does have a differing background form the majority of his Oxford peers. As the camera follows him home we are presented with a dank Northern town full of smog, empty shops and derelict pubs though in actuality it does seem that his family live in quite an affluent suburb of Barnsley certainly judging from their home. James’ mother basically raised him single-handedly as his father went to prison when he was only four and James also was diagnosed with severe dyslexia as he didn’t talk till the age of five. At school James recounts how he was always bottom of the class until one day when he was thirteen he resolved to turn his life around and by the end of school had achieved straight A*s in all of his GCSEs including one in Japan. I think this did certainly turn this chap into a sympathetic figure especially when he was telling us how he couldn’t reveal this to any of his Oxford ‘friends’ as they already mocked him for his Yorkshire accent which I thought was a damn shame. Eventually Joe, along with the editor of the Oxford newspaper, take their story to The Telegraph with him resigning as part of the association shortly afterwards however he is worried if this move had erased all the work he’d done for himself over the past three years.

Personally I believe that Joe Cooke’s story would’ve been enough to fill an hour’s documentary however it seems the folks and Wonderland wanted to present another side to the story so journey over to Cambridge where we meet Chris Monk. Chris sort of looks like an evil Ron Weasley and to me it seemed like he really needed to get out in sunlight more often he also currently holds the record as the youngest person to speak in the House of Commons as we witness archive debate footage from a young parliament session. Like Joe, Chris also came from humble beginnings or at least he went to comprehensive school so therefore doesn’t really know anybody who will be able to aide him in getting a slot on the conservative committee at Cambridge. Chris is also a lot more of an awkward child who seems to have been born as a Tory, though as we learn he was at least five when he started to campaign for the conservatives, and we see him looking uncomfortable while trying to network at a party. Where Chris does excel is in political debate as we witness him being one of the only people to speak up at a debate, despite the fact that he’s wearing a fluorescent jacket as he’s working as a steward at the time, and as time goes by he works up the confidence to apply for a position at CUCA. Hilariously though it turns out that due to the low number of applications everybody will get a position though Chris misses out on the one he wants as his application gets lost somewhere in the bedroom of the chairman. Though to me Chris seems like someone who would excel in a middle-management position in a political party we learn at the end of the documentary that he has put political aspirations on the back-burner in order to concentrate on his studies because he is reading law after all.

I quite enjoyed Young, Bright and On the Right as the makers of the documentary give us a balanced view on one hand pointing out the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of student politics but on the other giving us the background of two boys who just wanted to fit in. Throughout the programme though I couldn’t help but think if these guys would be that bothered about leaked text messages and what cheese biscuits to buy for the next soiree if they were to meet a girl and actually have some sort of meaningful relationship. Both Chris and Joe seem to exist in a world of port-fuelled pomp and circumstance where a leaked text message could mean the death of a political career and any revelations into your personal life could mean that you are excommunicated from the society. Personally, while I found him fascinating, I thought Chris was an odd choice to include alongside Joe in the documentary as his background wasn’t as interesting as Joe’s neither where his dealings at university. To me it was as if the Wonderland people held open auditions at Cambridge and Chris was the best man for the job as he looked a bit funny plus there was already that footage of him at the House of Commons. That though is my only criticism in what was a warm, witty and insightful documentary on a side of the conservative party that isn’t often reported on the TV and one that attempts to give both sides to the story. To me though the only reason to join one of these association seems to be for the utterly enthralling banter I mean who doesn’t want to know how to get port out of a dress shirt?

Did you enjoy Young, Bright and On the Right? What did you think to Chris and Joe? Leave Your Comments Below.



  1. Union on August 9, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Actually, the debate that night at the Cambridge Union was really lively (later on, a student Marxist beat Vince Cable in the main debate). The filmmakers just cut all the normal people’s speeches because they wanted to focus on weirdo Chris.

  2. Union on August 9, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Also, someone did once spill port on my dress shirt at an all-you-can-drink-for-£6 event. The decidedly boring way of getting it out was Vanish Oxy-Action.

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