Many Oxford Union members queued outside the venue’s debating chamber for hours in advance of this evening’s debate ‘This House believes Britain and the EU are better together’ which began at 8:30pm and boasts floor speakers Nigel Farage MEP, Nick Clegg MP, former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and William Cash MP.
Cherwell understands that at its longest, the queue extended along St Michael’s and exceeded 450 people, the stated capacity of the main Debating Chamber, meaning those who joined the queue later risked waiting for hours only to be turned away at the gates.
The temperature has also dropped close to zero in recent days.
At about 7pm, Union officials shut off the queue, preventing any more students from joining at the back.
However, Anna Corderoy, a third-year Catz English Literature student, posted on the event’s Facebook page at around 4:30pm, “Yeah it’s quite disappointing to hear that the queue is already large 4 hours in advance,” her post read. “We pay so much for Union membership these events shouldn’t be restricted to those who have the time to cut their working day short.”
Shakeel Hashim, a PPEist, went further, commenting, “At the very least, they could have the decency to tell people that it’s full. But instead their usual lack of communication and frankly elitist sneering at members has struck once more. Yet another demonstration that Union committee are in it for their own self interest (I hope they’re enjoying their lovely dinner with Farage and Clegg that they can put on their cover letters now) rather than even bothering to pretend that they want to work for their members.”
Those with positions in the Union do not have to queue for events and many will, as Hashim suggested, be dining with the speakers ahead of the debate.
One such student was OUCA President Jan Nedvídek, who spoke at the debate (though he does not hold a Union position).
The Oxford Union posted on the event page at 5:53pm, addressing the posts of members from earlier in the afternoon, stating, “We are delighted that there is such interest in this debate!
“We’re very conscious of how cold it is outside, and are just waiting for various television crews to arrive – we will let members into the Chamber as soon as they are installed. Security will be arriving shortly to prevent queue jumping, and we hope that everyone has an enjoyable evening!”
During the debate, which ended with the chamber voting in favour of the proposition, ‘This House Believes Britain and the EU are Better Together”, 45 tweets were sent from the Oxford Union Twitter account. However, none of them addressed the concerns of members who had queued.
A petition on Change.org has already garnered 131 signatures, calling on Union President Charlie Vaughan “to review the way in which admittance to the Union for popular events is provided”.
There have also been questions as to why this event has not had half of the tickets balloted for in advance, as regularly occurred last year for the most popular events. Indeed, various different suggestions for alternative ticketing systems have been put forward on the event page.
There have been fresh calls for the Union to enable live streaming for members to watch. After repeated requests for information, the news filtered out through friends of Union committee members that highlights would be shown tonight on BBC News.
Meanwhile, students on Twitter noted that the entire front of the chamber was reserved before the debate, further reducing the number of seats available.
— Jonathan Goddard (@jonathangoddard) November 23, 2015
Dan Walker, a third-year Catz PPEist, commented on his own critical post to the event page, tagging a member of the Union’s Secretary’s Committee and writing, “Can you or anyone else at the Oxford Union answer me? Or are you all too busy enjoying your hot chocolate indoors whilst you watch the peasants queue up outside.”
Liam Saddington, a Union member and Geography undergraduate at St Catherine’s, told Cherwell, “I’ve been queueing since 3.15pm. Others have been here since 2pm. At 3.15pm there were already around 20 in the queue. [The temperature] has been near zero all day, with no communication at all from the Union until 6.10pm.
— Gawain Towler (@GawainTowler) November 23, 2015
The Oxford Union gave the following statement to Cherwell regarding the queues.