The Oxford Union must be fixed

The Oxford Union is more than just an acquaintance of scandal, they are close and personal friends it appears, and so news of another has probably come as no surprise. That some of the actions committed are possibly illegal is, however, a new low. The influence and advantages offered by joining the upper echelons of the Union cannot be doubted, but that does not excuse the actions that a minority of Committee members have taken in order to get to the top. The malicious and possibly illegal actions of the few should not infringe upon the good work the Union and its members actually do, and we should seek to prevent such controversies occurring again.

The Union offers an opportunity for those interested in competitive debating to train and hone their skills, and to compete to an international level. Repeatedly, debate teams from Oxford succeed at a national and international level, highlighting the position of Oxford as a world-class University.

The work individual committee members put into organizing events, debates, and especially speakers is phenomenal – the appearance of John McCain and Nancy Pelosi are impressive victories that must be recognized, especially when one considers that for many it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet such figures. I for one was beside myself when I saw Dambisa Moyo speak in Michaelmas.

Each weekly debate is thought-provoking and educational – recent debates over adoption by same-sex parents, the use of drones in warfare, and the ethics of financial services, are all highly relevant and have been used to expose students to different opinions and points of view. The work of those within the Union is brilliant, and it is a shame that the actions of a few diminish this.

We must all recognize, that despite the Union’s flaws, it is undoubtedly an Oxford institution. The Oxford Union is as much a part of Oxford as punting, subfusc and sunny days in the quad – we cannot deny that. To those outside of the Oxford Bubble, Oxford University and the Union are synonymous. And so, the reputation and prestige of both are interlinked. The recent scandal eventually leaked into the national press, like all Union scandals, once again reinforcing the image that Oxford University is a place of dirty politics.

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It is not conducive to condemn it externally, no amount of comment pieces will permanently prevent those seeking elected Union positions from hacking and playing politics. It will be said that the Union needs to change: that it’s committee members should be forced to comply to rules more effectively, that hacking should be cracked down upon, and so on; but the Union cannot change itself over night.

Instead it is we Oxford students who should change the Union from within. The Union needs more people to be active within it, more people to run for election, and more people willing to discipline those who act in a negative fashion. The more decent people who are a part of the Union, the less likely it is that a very small minority will be able to besmirch it’s name, and by extension Oxford’s.

It will be hard to do, undoubtedly – the Union’s reputation of ‘hacking’ is deeply ingrained, students already have an action-packed term without adding Union responsibilities on top, and it can be difficult to operate in such a political atmosphere without succumbing to it, difficult to avoid fighting fire with fire.

Yet it is imperative that we at least try. We cannot stand by and simply bash the Union from afar, as the Union’s reputation can survive and outlast such sniping. We must be responsible for the institution that is an essential part of Oxford, and we can only do this through being active within it. To those who claim it is a dirty place, I ask that you get involved and help to clean it up!

The Union does have its flaws, like any association – in such a politically-charged place, there will undoubtedly be some controversies and scandals. But the flaws are not institutional, they can be fixed, and it is our responsibility to fix them.