There’s always discussion about how many members of the Cabinet went to Oxbridge (half of them) or how many Prime Ministers went to Oxford (26) or Cambridge (14) or how many this century didn’t go to university at all (4 including Winston Churchill who went to military school). But what, I hear you ask, about Birkbeck?
Well, we have a Prime Minister too. Not just any Prime Minister either. We have as a former student Ramsey MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. He was later head of another Labour government from 1929-1931 and a national coalition government from 1931 to 1935. While here he studied science, botany, agriculture, mathematics, and physics.
But what about now? At the moment there’s a good number of senior and influential politicians from across the political spectrum who studied here. In the right corner, for the Conservatives, is Birkbeck alumni include Jesse Norman MP. He is now chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that is currently looking into the future of FIFA and doping in athletics. Jesse Norman lectured in philosophy here (and also wrote a book on thinker Edmund Burke that was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction). In the (middle?) corner we have ex-Liberal Democrat Minister Ed Davey who was in charge of Energy and Climate Change between 2012 and 2015.
In the left corner we have no less than four Birkbeck alumni on Labour’s front bench. This includes Gloria De Piero MP (Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration Cabinet Office) Lisa Nandy MP (Energy and Climate Change) Luciana Berger MP (Shadow Minister for Mental Health and also, incidentally, grandniece of a famous Labour politician) and John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor).
So Birkbeck is doing well. And it doesn’t end there. Not only do we have great alumni. We also have a big fan base. Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher praised our university. Thatcher herself went to Oxford, where, incidentally, she may or may not have helped invent Mr Whippy ice cream [the Guardian says not but Mr Whippy says she did]. While Prime Minister she took time out to say in 1986 how ‘I admire Birkbeck college and its splendid work’.