The Oxford Union and the Oxford University Labour Club have come into conflict over a deal that would see OULC using University and Union-funded networks for political canvassing during the general election.
Ben Lyons, Chairman of the Labour Club, has asked to use Union Skype facilities for OULC’s upcoming telethon campaign as well as the rooms for the Policy Forums in exchange for hosting some of OULC’s events at the Union.
Many Union members expressed concern at this news. One second-year, who wished to remain anonymous said, “I paid a large amount of money to join the Union, and I am not a Labour supporter. I strongly object to my money being used to help the Labour party in any way.”
Lyons stated, “I don’t think it’s unfair, given the Union members would have been able to see speakers they would not have seen other
wise. I understand that non-Labour members could be uneasy with Labour events taking place at the Union, but I think more people are opposed to the continued presence of OCA.”
However, the deal has not been accepted by the Union. Many members of Standing Committee present at the meeting in 2nd Week expressed their feelings that OULC are not offering good enough terms. Although the proposal was rejected, the committee has mandated the president to keep liaising with OULC to try to work for a deal for now or the future.
In exchange for the use of the Skype facilities and rooms, OULC had offered to provide a cabinet member as a speaker for the no-confidence debate, to hold a Lib Dem vs. OULC debate at the Union,and to have an ex-Prime Minister of Denmark speak in the buildings. They also offered to buy drinks exclusively from the Union bar when using the rooms.
Many of those present at Standing Committee expressed strong views that this would not be a fair deal.
Corey Dixon, ex-President of the society, said that he objected to being offered “some random from Denmark who nobody wants to see”. Since this was discussed the event took place at Oriel College, and attracted a very low turnout.
Lyons, whose mother is Baroness Morgan of Huyton, a senior Labour Party politician, has already helped OULC to host Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell this term. He confirmed that James Dray approached him offering to co-host Peter Mandelson, but OULC declined his offer. Lyons claimed that this was because the society “wanted to be able to hold Peter Mandelson at his old college, allowing as many people as possible to see him but giving Labour people priority.”
In both cases the rooms used were not big enough to meet the demand, and many students were turned away or forced to watch from another room via a video link.
One fresher told Cherwell, “It was rubbish. We queued for over half an hour at St Catz to see Peter Mandelson, just to be shoved into the room next door and told we could only watch via video link. If I had wanted to watch him on TV, I could have stayed in my room. If the Union is big enough to fit everyone and they would have been happy to hold the event, I don’t see why it wasn’t held there.”
The Co-Chairs Elect of OULC have since apologised for the lack of space. Lyons added, “There is a long tradition of the Union offering OCA a room for their events and this continues despite their appalling behaviour at elections and Port and Policy.” OCA have free use of Union rooms for their Port and Policy meetings, on the understanding that they will co-host at least one of their speakers with the Union and that the event will be open to Union members as well as their own members.
A similar arrangement was in place with OULC last year but has failed to be agreed upon this term. Moreover, at the Standing Committee meeting the success of last year’s deal was called into question. Corey Dixon claimed that OULC “took us for a ride last term”. When asked to elaborate, he alleged that OULC had been offered Union rooms in exchange for the promise of hosting David Miliband, Tessa Jowell, and John Hutton at the Union. Of these three, only Hutton came to speak at the Union. David Miliband spoke in the Magdalen Auditorium.
Jamie Susskind, last term’s OULC Co-Chair, was keen to stress that this was not OULC’s fault. He said, “Tessa Jowell was due to speak but cancelled as she was too busy that week…Stephen Twigg, another one of our guests, also spoke at the Union.”
The Union’s relationship with OULC was the brainchild of Charlie Holt, President in Hilary last year. Tessa Jowell has been rescheduled to appear at the Union this term.