JCR presidents are calling for a University-wide referendum on OUSU’s no-platform policy, claiming that “all members of OUSU should have a say in such a controversial but important policy”.
An email being circulated between college JCR presidents calls OUSU’s policy “highly controversial” and “heavily criticised”, and asks them to have their JCRs consider passing motions to hold a referendum.
Both St Hugh’s and St Catherine’s JCRs have already passed a motion in support, and several other common rooms are expected to follow suit. At least ten motions passed by common rooms are required to force OUSU to hold a referendum on the issue.
OUSU President Martin McCluskey claims that holding a referendum would have no effect on OUSU’s current position regarding the Oxford Union’s decision to invite David Irving and Nick Griffin to speak. “OUSU has a set of beliefs extending back thirty odd years, which are enshrined in the no-platform policy, but which are separate from the no-platform policy itself,” he said. “If, hypothetically, a referendum were to take place, it would be separate from the Irving and Griffin issue.”
OUSU Council has already formally condemned the Union’s decision to invite Nick Griffin and David Irving to address a free speech forum in 8th Week. One speaker has already been forced to pull out as a result of pressure from the Foreign Office and a government-imposed travel ban.
St Hugh’s JCR President Alistair Wrench brought the motion to the attention of JCR presidents and wrote in an email, “It would be nice if all common rooms decided whether this was something that should be decided by individual members of OUSU.”
Wrench has echoed comments made by other JCR Presidents by refuting suggestions that the motion is intended to criticise OUSU’s current policy. “The document has been deliberately worded to be entirely neutral. The aim is not to show support or otherwise of OUSU’s position, but rather to open up the issue to the wider student community,” he said.
The motion to be put to JCRs states that “there is a strong difference of opinion about OUSU’s policy”, and that “all members of OUSU should have a say in such a controversial but important policy”.
Wrench confirmed that St Hugh’s JCR passed the motion with “only two or three people” not voting in favour of it. St John’s, Brasenose and Hertford JCRs have also confirmed that a motion will be brought to their next meetings.
Tom Lowe, Hertford JCR President, said, “Opening up Council decisions to common rooms and to popular referenda is good for OUSU and should be supported by everyone. There has been no central organisation in putting together the motion, but a number of us want to find out what our common room thinks on this issue.”
Oxford Union President Luke Tryl is seeking to reassure members that the forum will still go ahead in 8th Week as planned. Tryl has previously stated that he does not agree with OUSU’s perceived attempts to interfere in Union issues, adding that he supported JCRs for challenging OUSU’s “dangerous” policy.
McCluskey has responded by pointing out that around 75 per cent of OUSU’s members are also members of the Oxford Union, and therefore the issue is directly relevant to OUSU.
He stated that the no-platform policy renewed by OUSU in 2005, and not in 2007 as stated in the motion, was a “completely different issue” from OUSU’s stance towards Griffin and Irving. “If the referendum were to go ahead, the result would have no bearing on OUSU’s decision to oppose the invitations,” McCluskey said. “Our no-platform policy is designed to stop people taking advantage of OUSU’s resources in order to spread their extremist views.”