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By James Restall
A motion to boost attendance at OUSU Council has sparked a party-political spat after a college rep claimed that meetings were becoming “another Port and Policy”.
The plan, submitted by Jack Matthews, the Conservative Future Chairman for South Staffordshire, has been labelled a “political” move by student officials who believe that he wants to draw support away from a motion to fund transport for students wishing to attend November’s National Union of Students (NUS) demonstration.
The Oxford Student understands that OUSU’s £2,000 discretionary fund would be the source of financial support for either proposal should they have passed through yesterday’s Council meeting.
An OUSU rep, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Oxford Student: “If the discretionary fund is to be used to provide free drinks, I can only speculate in light of the timing that there is a deliberate attempt in progress to derail efforts to persuade OUSU to fund the national student demonstration, in light of the proposer’s political affiliations.”
James Kleinfeld, a Keble student who seconded the NUS motion, argued that Matthews was “entirely wrong to believe that student union money would be better served down the drains than on the streets”.
He added that the motion would only “institutionalise this myth of a disengaged student body” and that, to raise numbers at meetings, “council needs to be much more responsive to the important political issues of the day which are on the students’ minds”.
Nathan Akehurst, the OUSU rep for Lincoln College, echoed Kleinfeld’s comments, saying: “The motion is symbolic of an OUSU in crisis, which is looking for cynical opportunistic ways to recruit as opposed to focusing on genuine campaigning.”
In 1st week, OUSU decided not to provide similar support for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) demonstrations held in London last Saturday. The motion was supported by JCRs and SUs across Oxford.
Kleinfeld criticised the political culture at OUSU, suggesting that it is “dominated by party-political careerists”.
He said: “Whatever in-fighting exists is a result of the ideological collision between those who wish to see a more engaged political role for OUSU, for which there is ample precedent, and the influential reactionary elements who want to see OUSU Council meetings turn into another ‘port and policy’.”
He added: “When our ‘representatives’ go to OUSU Council, the only people they represent is themselves, and no-one is there to hold them to account. This model of representational democracy is a farce, and is an injustice to many students whose important voices are marginalised in the process.”
Matthews, the middle common-room OUSU rep for University College, said that the allegations against him were “frankly ridiculous”. He said: “The students I am elected to represent have, and will always, come first. I have been working to make Council more accessible for years; from making it more accessible to graduates and scientists by moving when it’s held, to running sessions on how Council works when I was Chair.
“Council remains the place where all students are equal, and I will continue to defend and improve upon it for as long as I am lucky enough to be a student at Oxford.”
He explained that the drinks motion was not politically-motivated and had been conceived by a number of college reps at the last Council meeting, saying: “Many Common Rooms reward those who take the time to attend their meetings with a free drink.”
He added: “This motion makes no financial commitments; only that the President should investigate the possibilities and report back. I am sure that OUSU can use its contacts with local businesses to build some interesting proposals to be presented before Council later in term.”
Matthews later tweeted: “When people are accusing you of trying to turn ‘@OUSUCouncil’ into Port and Policy, they really have run out of logical arguments.
“To Oxford’s far left who question my commitment to student democracy, I give you ‘@tw4students’ and an ‘@ousucouncil’ accessible to grads.”
OUSU President David J Townsend was unavailable for comment.