The Oxford Union often gets a bad press: phone hacking, sponsorship scandals and accusations of rape are but the tip of a large iceberg of pathetic hackery and woeful incompetence. Yet, I have an inkling that this entire high-octane, low-importance drama is just smoke and mirrors. It acts as a cover for the real disgrace that plagues the Oxford Union, namely its total and utter inability to do what it says on the tin.
Essentially, the scam runs a bit like this: a snake oil salesman-cum-Union hack introduces himself to an impressionable fresher. The hack then proceeds to paint a picture of the Union to the fresher as some land of milk and honey, using big names like Elton John and Morgan Freeman to persuade the fresher in question that membership of the Union is the best idea ever. The fresher momentarily gulps at the whopping price (currently £248) but buys membership and doesn’t use it for a year.
Then suddenly, some big names get announced and the now former fresher gets excited. Maybe this whole Union malarkey wasn’t as worthless as he thought. He arrives 90 minutes early, confident that he is keen enough to get a seat.
But, alas, when he arrives, the queue is already far too long. In fact, it wouldn’t even have mattered if he’d arrived three and a half hours early because even then he wouldn’t have got in.
This is the situation faced by Oxford students today, many of whom want to go and watch the Union debate tonight on the EU with Clegg, Farage and José Manuel Barroso. This event is the sort of reason why they joined the Union in the first place: influential figures debating issues of national importance. This was why they spent over £200 on membership.
Yet, what they did not realise was that the £200 does not buy access to big names on its own – to gain entry, they also have to be willing to queue for five hours in the freezing cold, with all the knock-on effects on their health and work which that entails. When I turned up to check the queue at 3.50pm, it was already well out of the gate, as you can see above.
It is in this situation that the true pitfalls of the Union become painfully transparent. Essentially, they have lied to us. They claimed that all we had to do was pay a little over £200 and then we would be able to watch all these famous names at the click of a finger. The events of today, and of many other days, show this not to be the case – a whole lot of unsustainable queuing also has to be thrown into the mix. Potentially a good solution to this would be a ballot system, but that will not help us today. One thing we can know for certain though is that much like the deficit, we are not all in this together. For, whilst the vast majority of Union members have to queue for hours to see their favourite speakers, the rather unpleasant inhabitants of hackworld can just swan in at 8.15pm to their comfortably appointed front row seat. Now, for me, that is one injustice too far.