I think Channel 4’s Fact Check is being a little unfair to Gideon Osborne here in stating that is claim that Ed Balls was a member of the Tories at university is completely bogus.
It is true, at least in my experience, that there is a very different political culture in Oxford and Cambridge when it comes to signing up people to student societies. Elsewhere in the country, student groups often struggle to sign up enough people and mostly treat the Fresher’s Fair as a recruitment ground. Back when I was the LDYS Communications Officer we were always frustrated with the fact that the Oxford group didn’t see it as their role to recruit people into the party, but rather have lots of jolly parties. I’m not for a minute suggesting this is still the case; I have no idea. Nor am I denying that many of the party’s brightest and best went to Oxbridge; indeed in my experience many of those people had the same frustrations I did and got politically involved in other ways.
But seriously, why would you join the “Conservative Association” unless you were genuinely inclined to join the Conservative Party? If you just wanted to go on jollies, there’s the Oxford Union or the Wine Society. While there are always a few wags who delight in joining all three parties, they are rarely people with firm political convictions.
So the fact that a potential future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequor once flirted with the Tories is both meaningful and important for the public to know. The fact that it took an annoying squit like Gideon to point it out is neither here nor there.