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By Isaac Delestre & James Restall
The Oxford Union has refused to sign a contract with the Oxford Conservative Association (OCA) allowing them to hold their weekly ‘Port & Policy’ meetings on its premises.
The move marks a historic break between OCA and the Union, which has hosted ‘Port and Policy’ meetings since their conception in Trinity Term of 1994.
The contract, signed with the Union on a termly basis up until this term, allowed OCA free use of the Union’s Macmillan Room, which would otherwise cost the Association £550 a night, as well as a reduced corkage free of £3.50 a bottle, a fee generally set at around £10.
John Lee, current Union president and leading exponent of the break, said: “Over the years, people have misleadingly come to associate the Oxford Union with the Oxford Conservative Association. This is in no small part because their most regular meeting, Port and Policy, has been held weekly at the Union for a very long time.
The only ideology of the Union is free and open debate – it holds no political allegiance and is a forum for discussion of all beliefs and opinions. In line with this thinking, no contract was signed that would give OCA preferential treatment. However, they are still very welcome to hire out Union rooms at the same rate as any other organisation, political or not.”
Despite Lee’s diplomatic language, one senior ex-Union official, who asked to remain nameless, revealed to The Oxford Student that “(t)he feeling in the Union at the moment is that it simply can no longer afford to be associated with an event like Port & Policy. Over the last few years OCA has proven again and again that it is unable to avoid regular accusations of racism, sexism and bigotry.
“The debauched antics at Port & Policy have repeatedly brought the Union and the University into disrepute. Just look at the disciplinary action that the University has taken in the last few years. Not to mention the fiasco depicted in ‘Young, Bright and on the Right’ where the Union was shown as OCA base camp. The contract that the Union has had with OCA up to this point essentially lets them use what is usually a very expensive room without providing the Union with any benefits whatsoever.
“As for the clause in the contract stipulating that the Union is entitled to host OCA’s speakers, this is frankly a farce. In recent years OCA has not produced a single speaker of note except John Major. OCA has only ever been able to maintain this contract because of the influence it has historically had in the Union. I applaud the President’s decision to finally cast out OCA and to reinstate the Union’s political objectivity. I can only hope that Port & Policy will not be allowed to return.”
When asked to comment on the Union’s decision to terminate it’d relationship with OCA, the current President George Mawhinney said “I don’t intend to comment on this at the moment, but all I will say is that I act in the best interests of the Association and whatever I think fills that criterion I will do.”
One Magdalen Second year in attendance at OCA’s first Port and Policy meeting of term (which took place at Merton), commented that the Union’s President “apparently really doesn’t like our society. It’s quite vindictive of them.”
Another outraged OCA member suggested that the society was being scapegoated: “OUCA has got a problem, and that’s the fact that’s it’s been under assault from national media and that’s to say nothing of what’s been going on in the University”.
While a third member simply suggested the solution was to “Kick some of the Labour people out of the city”.
The break with the Union marks the climax of a turbulent year for OCA. In November 2011 The Oxford Student was leaked video footage of an member of the association singing the opening lines of ‘Dashing through the Reich’.
The full lyrics of the song, sung to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’, “Dashing through the Reich / In a black Mercedes Benz / Killing lots of kike / Ra ta ta ta ta”.
While only one member of what was then OUCA (Oxford University Conservative Association) was seen singing a song in the video, an officer of the Association told The Oxford Student at the time that “Lots of people were singing it on that night, and indeed on many other nights”.
Joe Cooke, a former president of OUCA, who resigned in disgust following the ‘Dashing through the Reich’ scandal, commented saying: “I am happy to see the Union finally put an end to its effective subsidy and grant of legitimacy to OCA- its behaviour long banned from many college properties. Although it is a shame that the extremism and debauchery of one society will prevent other political organisations from using Union facilities.
“Port and Policy has long been a roadblock to progressive reform in OCA, may its end usher in a period of reflection and set about the road to recovery. It is long overdue that politics takes its place above port in OCA’s priorities, and I have confidence George Mawhinney will lead the organisation down a politically responsible path.”
Even excepting last year’s anti-Semitism scandal, OUCA’s recent history is plagued with controversy. In June 2009 the society was plunged into disgrace after it was leaked to the press that members had participated in a competition as to who could tell the most racist joke.
A year later, in June 2010, OUCA made national headlines again when allegations of sexism emerged after a female was told to “go back to washing the dishes” while participating in an OUCA education debate.
In February of this year OUCA became OCA after the University sought fit to revoke the society’s University status.
Port and Policy will continue to be held on Sundays with venues now being announced on a weekly basis.