Union rules changes passed amidst controversy

Oxford Union Members have voted overwhelmingly to pass large electoral rules changes, including the introduction of a Re-Open Nominations option, the legalisation of slates and the allowance of limited online campaigning. The vote, which passed 242 votes to 25 against, came amidst allegations that Mayank Banerjee, President of the Union, broke the Union’s rules in holding the poll.

Banerjee initially announced that the rules changes would be bought before the chamber this Thursday, before deciding to hold a poll instead.

However, a requisition to delay the poll on the grounds that it was against the rules was put forward by the former Returning Officer Ronald Collinson, who gained the signatures of over 80 members. The requisition called for the rules changes to be considered at the weekly Union debate in 6th Week, citing Union Rule 67.

The rules changes are only effective for this term if passed before the end of 5th Week.

Commenting to Cherwell on the result of the poll, Collinson said, “I am dismayed that the poll has proceeded today, in spite of a clear and binding petition by 80 Members, and in defiance of the Society’s Rules. 

“This is not a mere question of technicalities: it’s about ensuring that the whole Membership is fully informed about historic rules-changes; it’s about providing members with a real opportunity for scrutiny, debate and amendment; it’s about giving Members a real choice about the direction of their Society, rather than having to accept a ‘take it or leave it’ imposed from on-high.”

He added “Accordingly I do intend to bring complaints to challenge the basis on which the poll went ahead, which forced members to make a choice between two undesirable choices instead of allowing them to consider amendments which might have substantially improved the changes.”

The campaign against the poll advised members to boycott the poll and avoid voting.

Under Union Rule 71 a direct complaint could be made against the President by any member of the Union. A complaint such as the one proposed could lead to a Senior Disciplinary Committee hearing, where the President could be fined, suspended or reprimanded.

A Union spokesperson responded, “I am glad the membership has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the changes. I hope they will go some way to making the Union a more transparent and democratic institution.”

The proposed rules changes passed with a large majority at today’s poll, with 242 people voting in favour, 25 against, and three spoiling their ballot papers. However, the turnout of 270 was low compared to the Union’s termly elections, which usually see at least a thousand members voting.

A lack of awareness about the poll taking place and the details of the proposed rules changes may have been behind the turnout. Rachel Griffith, a student at Christ Church, told Cherwell, “I’m a member of the Union and had no idea there was any sort of vote today. It has not been widely publicised and the only people I saw going to vote were obviously friends of the people on the committee.”

Meanwhile Suzie Marshall, a member from Merton, commented “I was unaware of the referendum regarding the rules changes at the Union until questioned by Cherwell on the issue.”

Commenting on the turnout, the Returning Officer Thomas Reynolds told Cherwell, “The turnout today was strong for a poll.” He continued, “These rules changes are generally very positive; a sentiment with which the membership seemed to agree today.”

According to a Cherwell poll of 150 members of the Oxford Union, many were indifferent to the changes. 45% of the members questioned said they were unaware of the changes, 80% said that they had not and would not vote in the poll, and two-thirds commented that they were “indifferent/don’t know enough”.

An email was sent by the Union after noon on Thursday informing members of the poll and included manifestos for both sides, although no information concerning the arguments against the changes was sent to members before the polls opened.