“GO HOME, DAVID”: An epistle to David Willetts

This text was collectively performed using a “people’s mic” in Lady Mitchell Hall, in place of the planned talk by David Willetts. Willetts was bundled off stage and students continue to occupy the space where he was meant to speak.

Dear David Willetts/
The future does not belong to you./ This is an epistle/ which is addressed to you./ But it is written/ for those who will come after us./ Why?/ Because we do not respect your right/ to occupy the platform this evening./ Your name/ is anathema to us./ You are not a welcome guest/ because you come with a knife/ concealed beneath your cloak./ Behind your toothy smiles,/ we have already seen/ the fixed gaze of the hired assassin./ You have transgressed/ against all codes of hospitality./ That is why/ we interrupt your performance tonight,/ because nothing is up for debate here;/ your mind is made up;/ you are not for turning./ All your questioners have been planted./ So we, too, have planted ourselves/ in your audience./ We stole in quietly,/ without much fanfare/– because we know your tactics -/ but now that we are here,/ we will not wait to be told/ before we speak./
You have professed your commitment/ to the religion of choice/ but you leave us with no choice./ You are a man/ who believes in the market/ and in the power of competition/ to drive up quality./ But look to the world around you:/ your gods have failed./ They were capricious gods/ and we do not mourn them,/ nor do we seek new ones.
Fools that we are,/ we took you at your word:/ so we are clambering into the driving seat/ because your steering is uncomfortable to us/ and your destination/ is not one of our choosing.
Even the very metaphor betrays you./ So let us begin/ by activating the emergency brake:/ the University is no motor vehicle,/ to be souped up,/ ideologically re-tuned,/ intellectually re-fitted,/ cosmetically re-sprayed,/ and then sent out onto the highway,/ like some gaudy engine of the ‘knowledge economy’,/ emitting noxious filth/ and polluting the air./ The road itself is narrow;/ your eyes are fixed on a vanishing horizon/ which you will never quite reach./ You have picked a route/ which skirts carefully around/ all redoubts of human warmth and solidarity./ Look elsewhere for your metaphors, David./ We have no desire/ to be put into the driving seat./ There are chairs enough in our libraries –/ would that there were more libraries –/ and these are the only seats of learning/ that we would wish to know./ We will not used/ by you./ We do not wish to ‘rate’ our teachers;/ we wish to learn from them./ We are not consumers;/ we are students –/ and we will stand with our teachers/ on their picket lines.
Your soulless vision of efficiency;/ your mechanistic frameworks of ‘excellence’;/ your chummy invitation/ to hop on board/ and serve the needs of the Economy:/ all of this makes it clear to us/ that you have set out from a false premise,/ because guess what, David:/ you cannot quantify knowledge./ Your craven desperation to do so/ tells us only one thing:/ you are trying to discipline us,/ but we will not be disciplined,/ because we are schooled/ in a different kind of pedagogy./ You cannot steal our honey, David./ It will go sour for you./You can process all the information/ that you wish/ but your project is doomed to fail./ We thought we should let you know –/ out of kindness, mainly./ If you want to make us/ the processors of the information/ that is useful to you;/ if you want to smother/ the capacity for critical thought:/ so be it./ We understand that you do not like/ to be told that you are wrong./ So we understand/ that you do not want us to think/ too rigorously, or too critically./ So go on:/ lobotomise us./ Tell us that we are beyond the pale./ Make us over/ into the drones and ciphers/ of your economy./ Your world will be the poorer./ We will continue to nourish our traditions/ in the crevices and dark corners/ that you forget/ and that you cannot touch./
It is almost inappropriate/ to lay out to you/ the terms of your own wrongness./ But has it not occurred to you/ that the ‘vocation’ of scholarship/ far from leading to a profession/ may in fact preclude it?/ Or is it that you are more of a capital calf/ than you are letting on? / Is it that the Brave New World/ you are trying to inaugurate/ will, in fact, preclude scholarship?/
We have tasted companionship/ in a way that you cannot know./ We have a singleness of heart./ And, unlike you,/ we none of us believe/ that any of our possessions are our own./ You will not find us/ in any of your statistical surveys;/ our ‘student experience’ cannot be measured/ by your instruments./ Woe to every scorner and mocker/ who collects wealth/ and counts it./ We are both measurably younger/ and immeasurably older/ than you./ You have already lost./ You have lost the initiative./ You have lost the debate./ You have lost your sense of decorum./
We are closer than you think./ So it does not surprise us/ that you are worried./ You can try to intimidate us;/ you can threaten to shoot us/ with rubber bullets;/ you can arrest us;/ you can imprison us;/ you can criminalise our dissent;/ you can blight a hundred thousand lives,/ slowly, and one-by-one,/ but you cannot break us/ because we are more resolute,/ more numerous,/ and more determined than you./ And we are closer than you think./ So it does not surprise us/ that you are scared./ It is not that you lack our confidence –/ you never had it –/ the nub of the issue is this:/ you do not have confidence in yourself./Go home, David./ And learn your gods anew.

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60 Responses to “GO HOME, DAVID”: An epistle to David Willetts

  1. Ben E says:

    Inspired! A true moment of freedom. All solidarity for the occupation.

    • Miranda Kingsley says:

      Beautifully written, stunningly to the point. As someone who was your age in the 80’s (and furious with Thatcher) I am heartened to hear this – and it gives me some hope for your generation who are experiencing brutal assault from this government in many areas of life, not least in a true and meaningful education.

  2. M J L says:

    A very highly educated rebellion indeed! Well, what can you expect from Cambridge? Ha ha :)

    • Sensible Student says:

      I hope that comment’s meant to be sarcastic. There’s nothing in the whole of that speech of any substance. I hope they realise that the vast majority of Cambridge students now think that CDE are idiots…

      • mikems says:

        A mind reader!

        And a troll!

        Life doles out its gifts so unfairly doesn’t it? If only your mind reading ability could be used for good rather than evil.

      • Saddened Parent says:

        Everyone has the right to free speech. We also have the right to ‘free listening’ who are these to take away our right to hear?

        • adrian says:

          free like “free beer” or free like “friede” or “freunde.”

          I think it is more like free beer, except in a negative sense. Like getting something you don’t want for free; for example institutionalized violence.

  3. Claire Taylor-Jay says:

    Fantastic. Wish I could be there too.

  4. Johann says:


  5. Ian Shuttleworth says:

    Man, that’s positively Euripidean in places. And a heartening world away from a few years ago when Cambridge students’ response to the cuts/hikes *then* imminent was to HIRE Lady Mitchell Hall from the university for a study-in.

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  7. Vinny says:

    You have nothing to say and you are saying if to loud!

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  9. Clemens says:

    Very, very good… in so many ways. Makes me proud to be part of the “Cambridge experience”. Makes me think that as long as we have critical thinking people maybe this country can be saved from this government!

  10. FM says:

    No thanks for destroying my evening’s education.

    No thanks for silencing critical thought, not only in me, but in an entire room of people who had intended to use that space to discuss with each other the precise flaws of the government’s plan.

    No thanks for forcing us to listen to your Groupthink drivel, without thought or thesis.

    I write this in high rhetoric because apparently that’s the only language you speak, unnuanced and unsubtle, but I write it nonetheless:

    No thanks for becoming the enemy.

    • James says:

      “high rhetoric”

    • Real Student says:

      I see the trolls are keepin busy!

      Thank you Cambridge for taking a stand!

      Thank you for your courage!

      Thank you for preventing this corrupt liar from spreading his nonesense!

      Thank you for creating a space in which Cambridge students can have a real political education!

      Hasta la victoria!

  11. cjcjc says:

    Pathetic, anti-democratic, self-regarding, counter-productive drivel.

    A brilliant own goal, you utter fools.

  12. Jed says:

    I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly and I admire your vigour, but stylistically this was far, far too purple. Get your points across simply and with impact, not this flowery nonsense.

    • mikems says:

      You have to take the revolutions as you find them I’m afraid.

      There’s no room for utopian idealism now. If we wait for the perfect one we can all agree on in form and content, we will all be dead.

  13. Nigel Fletcher says:

    Well, that will shake the establishment to its very foundations, I’m sure. Might it perhaps have been better to have engaged the minister in debate when he visited, rather than indulge in what someone on Twitter gloriously (and accurately) described as “Hilariously unaware pretentious tosspottery”.

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  15. Phil says:

    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.

  16. Phil says:

    Apparently my comment
    is awaiting so-called ‘moderation’
    Well, let us tell you
    You won’t silence us that easily
    … oh, hang on.

    • V says:

      No, Phil, we won’t silence *you*. But we will notice that your IP address is located in Parliament Sq. Were you part of David’s entourage?

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  18. J bomb says:

    Something new for the CV; pretentious ass.

  19. Satu says:

    Marvellous – you’ve managed to continue for ages without actually saying anything. Arguably the best way to get through to a politician.

  20. Savage says:

    And thus the games commence.
    We, you, me… are at last becoming aware.

  21. Kate says:

    Apparantly the John Lewis Christmas ad has been reducing people to tears, this alone has done it for me. I wish I could have repeated this word for word alongside others.

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  24. B says:

    Inspiring and brilliant. Throw out the kleptocratic thugs.

  25. Dave says:

    Great intervention – get it out everywhere, it moved me and I’m an old Trot pensioner. The struggle needs poetry to unmask the normality of the capitalist spectacle.

  26. Read about your disruption of Willetts’ lecture at the THE website. Well done! Inspirational for students and academics alike.

    Philip Moriarty, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham

  27. Jack says:

    Out of interest, are there any videos of this coming online soon?

  28. Marie-Pierre says:

    Do not give up, we all support you – well done!

  29. mikems says:

    Take that technocrats and soul-sellers!

    Wonderful stuff. Reminds me very strongly of the spirit of the late 1960s.

  30. WellDone says:

    Applaud you – your courage deflated his political theatrics.

    The script was fine – the people’s mic is an excellent group response.

    Proud that you made a stand and have shared this with the rest of the world that is watching and listening.

    And watching the undercover snatch squad thuggery against students on youtube. Cowards.

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  32. Anthony in Chicago says:

    A wonderful strategy, beautifully delivered as befits an Ivy League college. Did any student force the Minister out of the Hall ?? No. Did he chose to leave surrounded by his handlers and security ?? Obviously Yes.. Did he have the courage of his governments convictions ?? Obviously not. Did he stay and fight for his misguided crusade ?? Of course not !! Good Job Cambridge, keep your eye on the ball.

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  36. Mike says:

    I know you are going to get a lot of flak from this from the media and other idiots but I just wanna let you know that I and others think it’s fantastic what you did and support you completely, don’t give in!

  37. TL;DR. Try using paragraphs.

    And if you are actually into freedom, try not stifling the free speech of people who you disagree with. I can’t remember the last time that throwing a hissy fit and covering your ears at the other side of the aisle ever led to a more open dialogue.

  38. Addendum to my last comment:

    Where, I’m curious, does it end? Is there a guideline, a set of criteria, for determining which views Cambridge students are and aren’t allowed to hear? Who gets to decide these criteria? As a Cambridge student, when was I given an opportunity to appoint Cambridge Defend Education our very own thought police?

  39. Pyrrha says:

    Rhetoric is empty if not joined to action.
    At the next election we need to replace the Tories and Liberals with Labour and the Greens.
    We can learn a lot from the way that Hope NOT Hate defeated the BNP at the lst election.

  40. Paul Holborow says:

    A brilliant indictment – thanks

  41. Zio Bastone says:

    I liked David Graeber’s comparison of the activities of the Occupy movement to an artwork: anomalous, particpative, disruptive and provoking. Clearly some of the trolls who’ve added comments find this sort of thing somewhat tricky. It’s powerful, informed, poetic. And it gives me some hope for the future.

  42. Zio Bastone says:

    J H Prynne will be reading at Lady Mitchell Hall tomorrow, so a poet (and a scholar) will be there.

    Do you read much poetry?

  43. 30 minutes til the occupy la deadline. hoping for civility and respect on both sides of the battle line and wishing i could be there myself.

  44. Vic says:

    Brilliant. It must have been moving to be there.

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