The new universities minister, Sam Gyimah, attracted controversy and criticism while studying at Oxford.
During his term as Oxford Union President, four out of his eleven committee members resigned from their posts citing both overwork and “the people who hang there”, in the words of the then Secretary.
A contemporary Union source claimed “that Gyimah’s attitude towards his staff is one of
the reasons for the resignations.”
Gyimah later caught the public eye in October 1997 when he attempted to invite Tariq Aziz,
the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister described as “the right-hand man of Saddam Hussein”, to speak at the Union.
However, the Foreign Office refused Aziz a visa and said he was not allowed to travel in Britain.
Gyimah also found himself at the centre of disputes with the student union. He was accused by its president, Simon McDougall, of giving the impression that the Oxford
Union and the student union were one and the same.
In a letter that encouraged new students to become members, the institution described itself as “the most famous student union in the world.”
Gyimah dismissed the claims, saying: “We’re central to student life. The language you employ talking about this is the language of a student union.”
He often attracted the attention of the student body in his addresses to the Union.
Cherwell reported in November 1997: “Sam Gyimah knows that (comedian) Bob Monkhouse is no good in bed.
“He slept with him. This was the revelation which failed to raise the merest titter amongst the assembled crowd.”
He also took part in a Union debate dressed in a blonde wig and a nun’s habit.
More recently, Gyimah used his platform on the BBC’s Question Time to praise Theresa
May in her refusal to endorse Donald Trump’s retweeting of the far right group, Britain First.
He said: “It takes great bravery to stand up to your enemies, it takes even more bravery to stand up to your friends.”
However, these words turned out not to be his own. Harry Potter enthusiasts soon identified the epigram as first spoken by JK Rowling’s character Albus Dumbledore.
Gyimah, an alumnus of Somerville College, today continues to help support the College’s bursary fund.
The College helped him with his own financial difficulties during his time at Oxford.
He said: “They converted my entire rent while I was there into a loan which I subsequently paid when I graduated.”
The College issued a statement congratulating Gyimah on his appointment.
They said: “Congratulations to Somerville alumnus Sam Gyimah (1995, PPE), who has
been appointed Minister for Universities and Science.”