With a student population of over 3,000 and uncertainty about the state of in person learning, being the College Council Chair last year cannot have been an easy task. Fortunately, I had the privilege of speaking to the ex-Chair Matthew Hyslop about his time in office.

Matt had three main election promises when he sent in his video online, and he delivered on all three. Elected in March, he promised to get back to full-time face-to-face learning (which happened in May), ‘increase mental health provision’ and hold a social event. He delegated the mental health support to his secretary, who put together a safe space for communication whilst he produced successes like the Knoll-Fest and the Winter Ball. He seemed content he had completed all three, whilst managing expectations under the new normal for everyone.

Naturally there were some issues facing the College Council as a whole, and Matt described putting together a student body as ‘impossible’. He says there were about 150 people in their first proper meeting and ‘you had to try to manage them all’, likening it to ‘being Prime Minister in PMQs’. I asked him if he has any regrets – Matt replies with ‘blunt answers’. He says, ‘I think my bluntness actually stopped people from saying things that I would class as stupid ideas’, and continues with an anecdote: ‘I skipped the diplomatic bit – I once asked someone if they were right in the head in a meeting’ when they asked about having more benches outside in the winter. Matt seems to have enjoyed the challenge however, even despite the obvious communication issues. He claims it ‘became easier once back full-time in May’, and being ‘clear and consistent’ appears to have ‘finally paid off’ for him. 

Matt’s career aspirations fit well with his role in the Council – he always wanted to work in government ‘back in the day’ and believes that spending time in this role gives ‘a great insight and head start’. He is really enthusiastic about his time in the Council and says to the readers: ‘I would massively encourage this to anyone else’. His ideas seemed to have evolved to wanting to work in the civil service now. Matt says ‘the impact it has on everyone’s lives is phenomenal’, and it ‘needs to be done’.

We also spoke about a more controversial topic for anyone - politics. Before I got a chance to even ask my question, he offered me a great segue into it by spotting Grace Kelly’s article titled ‘Is Nadhim Zahawi just another sleazy Tory?’ on the wall display. His reaction of ‘fair enough’ surprised me a little, as I had been informed a while ago that Matt was a Conservative. I expressed this to him and he doesn’t deny the past with ‘it’s changed a lot recently’. He accepts that recent events have changed his view – at the time of the interview news was just about emerging about the Number 10 lockdown parties. However, Matt says this change was in the works for about a year or so through ‘watching the world’, and claiming ‘what needs to be achieved is very different to what is actually being achieved’. When questioned, he describes himself as a ‘liberal at heart with a realist head’ and believes Tony Blair was a ‘phenomenal Prime Minister’ as he did ‘great things, like repealing Section 28’. Matt defines himself as a ‘fiscal conservative’, whilst also saying the markets are ‘fundamentally flawed’ and the government should step in and ‘do the things [the markets] can’t do themselves’.

He said he could not reveal his election numbers, although he was aware of them – simply stating, ‘I won’. Matt’s successes are extraordinary, especially considering the time in which he was operating in and speaking to him in person was a great pleasure. It was amazing to get a behind-the-scenes look at the job of the College Council Chair and it provided a great insight. Thank you Matt!