University student standing as a Conservative candidate in Thursday’s local elections

  • 'We’re all very close. It’s a family and I think we need to stick together'
  • Student, 21, is standing for election in Withington ward
  • Cameron Cosh talks to NQ editor George Crafer about his political ambitions

Cameron Cosh is a 21-year-old UoM politics student who plays rugby, supports Man City, and loves the pub—and he might have the most unpopular job in Manchester.

Cameron grew up in a Conservative household in Scotland where he developed an interest in American politics, before turning his attention to the UK.  He says that after a brief rebellious stint as a radical socialist, he eventually “saw the light” and became a Conservative. 

Not only is he now the chairman of the Young Conservatives in Manchester, but he is also running in this week’s local election. On 6 May he will be standing as the Conservative candidate for Withington.

It takes a lot of conviction and bravery to stand in an election, particularly as a Conservative in an area with so many students. I wanted to find out some more about Cameron and his involvement in politics. Thankfully, he agreed to an interview.

Tell me about your campaign to be a councillor

The plan is to knock on students’ doors. My platform is to reduce violent sexual crime which is really plaguing Withington and Fallowfield. I also want to support local business. They are two hot-button issues that students really care about. You can see there’s a lot of concern about sexual harassment on student groups, and of course, students like to go to the pub. 

Traditionally we wouldn’t be targeting students. The candidate would usually be a 40-year-old businessman who wouldn’t know what to say. But I’m a third-year student and I like to think I can appeal to other students. I’m under no illusion that they’re all going to vote for me, but I do think I’ve identified issues that they care about. 

What’s the response been from the students you’ve spoken to? 

They agree with what I have to say, but it’s more that they have an issue with me being a Conservative. They’ll say that “oh you’re a Conservative and that’s an issue, but actually I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have to say”. 

It’s been a mixed response as you’d expect, but I thought it would be a lot worse. I’m quite happy with how it’s gone. A fair number of people agree with what I say, and that’s all I can ask for.  

Some of the responses have been less positive. I’ve received death threats saying things like “come back to this house and we’ll kill you”.  As a 6′ 5″ rugby player, I’d be able to manage—I’m not worried about that. That’s the worst of it and it’s only happened a couple of times. 

By the sounds of it you need a thick skin to be in politics.

I went to boarding school. If you don’t develop a thick skin, you’re going to have a rough one. At my school if you didn’t have thick skin, you’d really have to grow one quite quickly. 

I’m under no illusions that everyone in the world is nice. I was prepared for people to say horrible stuff. I’ve been campaigning a lot since I was 19 and you see it a lot all over the country. There’s always going to be people out there who say nasty things. 

A lot of the time people will just disagree and just shut the door. Sometimes people are just having a bad day. And sometimes there’s people who are just generally nasty and unpleasant. 

You don’t take it personally. They don’t know who you are, they don’t know anything about you. I’m not getting kept up at night over it.

You’ve said that you were once a radical socialist. What was the turning point for you?

Burnie Sanders’ relative success in the 2016 presidential race was a turning point. He won a couple of states in the Primaries and I thought, Christ, I actually don’t want this guy to be in charge—and I definitely don’t want this to happen in the UK. 

At that point, the issue I had was with the economics, things like taxation. As time went on, I started to become more socially conservative. Things like abortion, immigration, what children are taught in schools, the monarchy, patriotism, things like that. I started to become more conservative on those issues. 

How did a disagreement with tax and economics lead to the development of more right-wing social beliefs? 

You’re likely to get that if you’re in a left-wing area like Manchester. As a Conservative with moderate views, you’re likely to drift further to the right when you have a barrage of left-wing views thrown at you all day. 

Studies have shown that if people are confronted with facts and stats counter to what they believe, they become more entrenched in their views. I get quite annoyed seeing left-wing views all day. This phenomenon could be seen in the Trump campaign where emotions were flared intentionally to get voters on his side. 

I think this is the experience of young Conservative throughout the country: they’re going to school every day and being faced with these opinions, which I believe leads them to become more entrenched in their views. 

Tell me about your stance on abortion

It comes from a general belief that life starts at a heartbeat. I’m very uneasy with the idea that you can kill a child within 24 weeks. If you’re raped, or it’s the result of incest, or you’re at risk, then I think it is a lesser of two evils. But that represents a small proportion of the cases. People will blow those cases out of proportion when opposing abortion. 

What is your position on lockdown?

I was fine with the first one, but the bottom line is that if there’s going to be lockdown there has to be spending. Businesses should have all the support they need to survive. You are either pro-business or pro-lockdown— you can’t be both.

I’m a 21-year-old uni student, I’m not the Prime Minister, but what I would do is lockdown those who are vulnerable. That’s what I’ve always stood by. If there’s a significant chance you could die, then you need to be lockdown and everyone else needs to help the economy. Otherwise, there’s not going to be an economy to come back to. 

That sounds a lot like herd immunity. Is that a fair label for that position?

I don’t want to be confused with conspiracy theorists. I don’t want to throw myself into that camp, but it’s close to that. 

I’ve lost a year-and-a-half of my university. I’ve had two people I went to school with kill themselves. I know of dozens of people who have really struggled with mental illness. I know tons of people who have lost their jobs. I’ve had family friends who have died because they can’t get appointments for cancer treatments.  Yes, we’re saving old and sick people, but I find it very hard to be enthusiastic about lockdown. 

Where do you stand on the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill? 

I’m somewhat against it. The restraints on protests I’m very much against. However, I do think the police should have stop and search power, and they should be better funded. But there should also be robust reviews on police who do things wrongs. 

I believe sentencing for most crimes should be higher. Any violent sexual crime should be treated as harshly as murder. I think vandalising statues should be treated harsher, too. We should aim to protect our culture and our heritage. 

Where do you stand on this current Conservative government and Boris Johnson? 

When filling out my postal vote for the Scottish Parliament election this weekend,  I struggled to put Conservative down.  This government are becoming more economically left-wing, which I’m not a fan of. It’s U-turn after U-turn, dodgy move after dodgy move.

As Conservative as Priti Patel seems, I don’t know what she’s done. She promises the world but what has she actually done? She’s promised to deport criminals, but I’ve not seen that. She’s not tough enough. 

I think there is a supreme lack of talent not just in the Conservative leadership, but in politics more generally. 

Do you find that national political issues, such as the controversy surrounding Downing Street’s redecorating, get in the way of what you’re doing on a local level? 

Not at all. Nobody cares about that stuff. People are working 9-to-5 jobs. They don’t have the energy or the attention to look at who’s paying for whose wallpaper. And even if they are aware of it, they don’t care that much. If it was something like taxpayers’ money being used, then I think it would be a different story. But no, no one really caress, it’s not a priority. 

Tell me about the Manchester Conservatives. Are there a lot of you? 

Obviously, covid has hampered what we’d like to do. Last year before covid we’d get around 30 people to go on huge pub crawls. We did debates in the Manchester Students’ Union. We’ve got people from MMU, Salford, UoM, non-students. There’s a lot of us, but we’re quite quiet. The assumption is that everyone here votes Labour, which isn’t the case. 

An event could range from anywhere between 10 and 50 people. For big events, like if an MP is giving a talk, we’ll get a good 50 people. I’d say a 25-person average. We’re all very close. It’s a family and I think we need to stick together. 

In terms of the issues that have been going in universities across the country, but particularly at UoM, where do you and the Young Conservatives stand? 

The committee took the decision that we’re in favour of ousting Nancy Rothwell. We’re against the fences, we’re against the racial profiling of that student. I think this really reflects other students’ beliefs. A lot of the members were really upset at how the university has let us down. 

Do you think your positions on those issues will come as a surprise to other students?

Yeah. We still haven’t shaken off our image as the nasty party. At the end of the day, we’re able to see blatant incompetence on our campus.  This is the Conservative Party, not the BNP. Of course we’re against racial profiling. The issue is with the image. Like all parties, there’s going to be some unsavoury members. We are quite a fair and liberal party—like it or not.