While campaigning to become the next Cambridge University Student Union President, one undergraduate candidate received a hefty dose of the real politician experience—tough questions about problematic past behaviors, and demands to take accountability.
His response was just as on brand for political candidate life as well, complete with squirms, half-truths, shifted focus and a walk-back.
The electoral cringe occurred as student candidate Matt Alderton appeared before an audience of fellow undergraduate students all gathered in the Cambridge University Student Union.
While making his stump speech to rally votes, Alderton faced a tough question regarding a Facebook comment made in 2019.
The question highlighted Alderton's use of the homophobic term "batty boy" in a Facebook post he made while serving in another student leadership capacity: Vice President of the Magdalene College JCR.
For those not super well versed in Cambridge University's dynamics—Magdalene College is a specific school within the greater Cambridge University. "JCR" stands for Junior Combination Body, the governing student group of Magdalene.
According to Varsity, the independent student newspaper of Cambridge University, in November 2019 Vice President Alderton posted on the JCR Facebook page. That post contained a list of new committee members and their positions.
Next to his friend's name, the listed position was "batty boy," a slur used to insult gay men. That term originates from the Jamaican slang word "batty," which denotes the anus, according to the Dictionary of the Jamaican Language.
When Alderton was asked by an audience member to account for the post, he immediately denied it happened and referred to a broad movement against his success.
"I see the CUSU smear campaign is operating as effectively as I thought it would be."
"What your question is, is a way to further a smear campaign."
"I will not stand here and face quite baseless allegations against a subject matter which does not necessarily affect the actual running of this election".
A reporter from Varsity was in the audience as well.
They pressed Alderton after his initial response, claiming to have the smoking gun Facebook post in their possession. Alderton then changed his defense strategy, slightly.
Still, he did not address the matter directly.
"I'm aware of the screenshot. I'm plenty willing to discuss it. But I don't think that hustings, when we have all these other candidates, is the time and the place to discuss it."
When the audience urged that the meeting with a projected backdrop reading "Meet and Question Your Candidates" was the perfect place to discuss such an issue, Alderton admitted his action and began the back pedal.
"I did indeed use a homophobic slur on the Facebook page."
"I was unaware that the phrase I used had homophobic connotations. As soon as [my friend] told me what it actually meant, I retracted it immediately."
"I'm not proud. I don't go around and boast about it, and it's something that I hold in deep shame. But at the same time, I would like you to think if I had believed the ramifications of it, I wouldn't have posted it in the first place."
For many, that was not satisfactory.
That dissatisfied list includes Harry White, the LGBT+ Rep for Magdalene JCR. White criticized Alderton's actions and poor response when asked to take responsibilty.
White told Varsity:
"As far as I'm concerned, his comment is at best dangerously ignorant, and an example of the sort of blasé attitude towards homophobia which can prevent LGBT+ people from truly feeling comfortable in the wider community."
Cambridge University Student Union election voting began on Monday, March 2 and continues until Thursday, March 5. Until then, it remains uncertain exactly how the greater student body responded to Alderton's controversial language and apology.