Finally, it seems, the Conservative Party have taken a brave decision and a definite stance on something. The commandment has come down from on high; “The-society-formerly-known-as-OUCA” must go, and out of the smouldering ashes of “Oxford’s biggest student society” must rise a bright, new “Conservative Future”.
“The society must prove that it has indeed traded in the rusty, pollutant, OUCA old-banger, rather than simply giving it a new coat of paint”
But is it really that simple? Can Oxford’s Conservatives really shake off decades of bad press and iniquity, and morph into the progressive and tolerant organisation that the Conservative Headquarters desperately desire? As the proliferation of “scare quotes” above indicates, there is scepticism. There are two key hurdles to overcome before Oxford’s Conservative community can consign OUCA’s shame to history and emerge as the dynamic, student political group that a university like Oxford deserves. Personnel and public opinion. Anyone who thinks that the rotten elements of OUCA will simply melt away into the night alongside its acronym needs to think again. ‘Port and Policy’ can become ‘Diet Coke and Debate’, it means nothing if the malicious elements of the society are allowed to continue to dominate at the expense of reasonable and committed Conservative supporters. This change cannot be effected through top-down edicts. It may be that hustings are under the most scrutiny in Conservative Future elections, but more important to the society will be the choices made by its membership; whether to reject the under-hand, bigoted crony-ism that dogged OUCA and focus on its campaigning and promotion of the Conservative Party in Oxford, or prove the ancient adage that old habits die hard. The society must prove that it has indeed traded in the rusty, pollutant, OUCA old-banger, rather than simply giving it a new coat of paint.
“OUCA’s shame was the University of Oxford’s shame, but forever cutting the Conservative party from our political scene would also be to our discredit”
And public opinion? It is difficult to say how long it will take for the ghost of OUCA to leave off haunting the collective Oxford memory. If Conservative Future takes the right steps forward, rooting out the old, destructive elements and grounding itself in values of inclusivity, progressiveness and a commitment to politics rather than port, then I sincerely hope that the Oxford student body will forgive and forget. Though it may be difficult to wipe the grins from OULC faces for some time (let’s be honest, there’s not much to smile about on their side at the moment…), it is only right that Oxford has a strong Conservative society that can engage students in national politics. OUCA’s shame was the University of Oxford’s shame, but forever cutting the Conservative party from our political scene would also be to our discredit.
It is amusing coincidence that talk of the rebirth of Oxford’s Conservative Society should emerge now. In the same week, Mandelson set Labour Conference alight by promising that if he could come back, so could the Labour Party. ‘And if Labour can come back, maybe there’s a chance for Conservative Future’, quipped an OULC friend. This is unfair. Quite frankly, a snowball in hell would quite fancy those odds. But if Oxford’s Conservative community are committed to following up their change of name with a change of character, perhaps we can look forward to a much brighter political future. Conservatively.