“We elected you, so represent us.” An open letter to Michael Chessum

A King’s student asks the ULU President to represent him on Remembrance Day.


Dear Mr Chessum,

Following your recent comments regarding ULU’s ban on its officers attending Remembrance Day services in an official capacity, I feel the need, as a member of both King’s College London and ULU, to express my concern about this serious situation.

Having read your statement and the various responses on Twitter you have made, I feel that the motion passed in the ULU Senate on October 24 is not only wrong, but wholly contradicts the principle of freedom of speech that you claim to advocate. One tweet reads:

“Slightly sad realisation of what it all boils down to: ‘people died for your right to free speech. SO DO AS I SAY OR ELSE.'”

However, in another tweet you say: “Just don’t speak for me or others who see differently.”

So fearful are you of having views imposed on you by an official ULU representative attending the service, you have forgotten that you yourself represent the views of over 120,000 individuals, the largest students’ union in Europe.

Regardless of whether any officers intended to go in an official capacity, the principle remains the same: in order for you to maintain your personal moral position, you have forgotten that others may feel differently. As others have also pointed out, the spirit of democracy was hardly overwhelming when Daniel Cooper made a decision of the same nature last year; yet despite the criticism this generated, the same decision has been made once more.

In some ways, I agree with what you have to say. Commemoration is a decidedly murky area in terms of what is being remembered, and has the potential to be exploited. We only need to look at David Cameron’s speech on October 11 at the Imperial War Museum, when he said that, next year, the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War would, “like the Diamond Jubilee celebrated this year, say something about who we are as people.” His comments were at best misguided, and at worst a gross misunderstanding of the remembrance service and the harrowing experiences of war.

However if you boil away the politics and commercialism, you are left with the  stark reality of the millions of deaths of those who fought, not only in the two World Wars, but also those of recent years. You’re left with a soldier who, regardless of their beliefs and justifications of the war, is prepared to lay down his or her life for their country. To me, that means these services do not celebrate slaughter, but remember the lives outside of war and the horror within it.

You’ve said that to participate in Remembrance Day with politicians like Tony Blair would be justifying their actions, but if representatives of the Armed Forces are willingly involved and see no glorification in war, then I see no reason why people who want to remember those lost should not participate.

I recognise you’ve seen something of a backlash, as well as support, following your statement, and this only goes to show what an emotive and controversial subject this is. For many, however, Remembrance Day offers a chance  to remember not only the losses of yesterday, but also the losses of today.

To fully ban any ULU officer from officially representing ULU at a remembrance service is denying thousands their right to show respect to the lost as part of the wider student community. Wilfred Owen wrote “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” as a criticism of war and the misguided celebration of it, and it is precisely for this reason that we should remember it in the same spirit of non-glorification, as one united community.

As a member of King’s College London I am pleased I will be represented by the KCLSU president at a Remembrance service. I hope that I can say the same as a member of ULU.

Elliot Gathercole