Last Trinity, the Oxford Conservative Association (OCA) was rocked by allegations of racism after it emerged that racist jokes had been told during hustings.
Oriel student Nick Gallagher, then a member, was directly implicated in the scandal, accused of racism by the national press, and was the only member to be indentified and pictured in a Daily Mail article on the event after resigning from then-OUCA.
Speaking publically for the first time in a Cherwell exclusive interview, Mr Gallagher disputed the record of events appearing in the national press, claiming that his remarks had been taken out of context. He asserted that the joke made had been in relation to a discussion about freedom of speech, and that he had not uttered any racist punchline.
“The important thing to realise from the beginning is that the Proctors conducted a six week investigation into the hustings and found no reason to proceed against me, but did proceed against OUCA.”
He added, “I’m the only person who was at the hustings who is not under university interdict right now.”
Striking out at his former organisation, Gallagher claimed he had been pushed into resigning his membership.
“If I didn’t resign I would have been thrown out of the association with a press release branding me a racist. I was literally taken round the back by three of them and told this. Some of them were friends of mine, all of them knew what happened. It was an act of pure cowardice, they were afraid for their own political survival and nothing else.”
Gallagher recounted that members of the association who didn’t know him “judged on the basis of a slanderous story and a photograph that makes me look like a complete twit.”
Gallagher was pictured alongside a Daily Mail article on the controversy, wearing black tie and holding a glass of champagne. He alleges that he was approached by a Daily Mail reporter ostensibly writing a sympathetic piece about the event. According to Gallagher, the reporter then proceded to “twist what I said into an admission of guilt”, even adding a punchline which Gallagher claims he had never heard.
“The ironic thing is I’m not even a Tory, I’m the first kid in the history of my school to go to Oxford as an undergraduate, I know three adults in this entire country, I’m a practising Roman Catholic and an American of Irish descent – I’m hardly the image of Tory privilege.
Gallagher was also critical of the national Conservative party, branding the move to affiliate with OCA has “disgustingly political”. He added, “The real disgrace is that right now, knowing all of this, knowing OUCA has been expelled from the University, the Conservative Party has decided to readmit the association when it has undertaken only the most cosmetic of changes.”
During the scandal, Andrew Griffiths (Chief of Staff to the Chair of the Conservative Party, Eric Pickles) called Gallagher and asked for his account of events.
Gallagher recalled, “He said that the party would make a decision before getting back to me. At around one in the morning the Daily Mail broke the story, at which point it became apparent that the Party had put out a press release defending itself and throwing me under a bus, telling the papers that I had been suspended – none of which they had seen fit to inform me of.”
Gallagher claims that he was taken by surprise by the media reaction.
“At the time the notion, as an outsider, that a twenty year old foreign kid saying something to a room of about twenty people would become national news seemed absolutely ludicrous to me.”
Turning to the accusations of racism levelled against him, Gallagher defended his remarks. Explaining his version of events, he stressed that his remarks were in contrast to OUCA’s long-standing tradition of telling inappropriate jokes.
“The candidates running for the position immediately before mine were asked, as is traditional at OUCA hustings, to tell a racist or offensive joke. In any event one of them did and there was an uproar, with half of the room shouting it was inappropriate, and the other half saying they’d always asked it in OUCA hustings, so why should they stop now? They were gabbled down, at which point it was my turn to speak.”
Mr Gallagher was due to take part in a discussion on freedom of speech – he claimed that it was in this context that he made the following remark: “Well, the atmosphere’s a little tense in here, why don’t I open with a joke?”
Admitting that following this, he said ‘What do you say when you see a television moving around in the dark?’, he was adamant that he never made any racial slur: “I never delivered the punchline.”
Mr Gallagher blames the interpretation of the joke on a lack of appreciation for its context. “It was in the middle of a discussion of freedom of speech”. He describes it as “the difference between showing hardcore pornography and discussing it in the context of female stereotypes in society.”
When asked why he hasn’t spoken up until now, Gallagher replied, “I didn’t want my response to this to occur in the dead of July when nobody at Oxford would be aware of it.”
Justifying his decision to speak to Cherwell, Gallagher says simply, “I see no reason why I should be crucified for the Conservative Party’s historical sins.”