I didn’t really think that I’d ever be writing this article – I certainly don’t expect many people to read it – but I feel its important to make clear what I believe the Union should be about this term.
“continual reference to past glories cannot justify the inadequacies of the present”
The Oxford Union is a pretty unique place. We’ve been around for 187 years and have a lot to be proud of, yet continual reference to past glories cannot justify the inadequacies of the present. As an institution, we fail far too often to live up to the history we have been fortunate enough to inherit. Frivolous and wasteful expenditure, scandal and intrigue, obnoxious introversion and ceaseless hackery all serve to undermine attempts to build a society we can all – as members – be truly proud of. I’m not trying to exonerate myself here – I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to these things. Rather, what I want to say is simply that in this Hilary term I’m going to do my very best to focus on why people actually joined in the first place – for amazing speakers, some great social events and above all for some debating.
Over the Christmas Vacation everyone here at the Union has put their all into producing a term card of events for every single member. From champagne on Valentine’s day to whisky-tasting and haggis on Burns Night we have eight weeks of incredible social events lined up for you, culminating in the ‘From Russia With Love’ Union Ball. Our bar has frankly ridiculous drinks deals throughout the week, and I encourage you to use the other facilities on offer here: the full-sized snooker tables, television room and fabulous library to name just three.
“I ask you not to look past these flaws, but engage the people that run your society to make it better for everyone”
In 1823 a group of students sat together in an attic room above the High Street and set up a society “having for its object the promotion of debates.” Public speaking has been at the heart of the Union ever since, and this term is no different. From all-women shortlists to the expenses scandal and from Barack Obama to censorship, the Oxford Union will provide an arena in which you can see some of today’s most contentious issues fought over by some of the brightest and most eminent individuals alive. What’s more, in addition to the plethora of individual speakers that will pay us a visit in Hilary. Bertie Ahern, President Saakashvili of Georgia, Duffy, Imran Khan, John Bercow, Katie Melua and MC Hammer are all coming – it doesn’t get much more diverse than that.
Determined to change the Union’s inward-looking and elitist image, I’m proud to announce a new access scheme that will give enthusiastic students from schools that typically do not get many students into Oxford the chance to experience what we do here. A selection of our world-class debaters will run workshops for around 50 children at a time, prior to the centre-piece debates on Thursday nights. This enterprise will I hope dispel some of the myths that still surround the Oxford Union and encourage talented youngsters to see debating as a legitimate and worthwhile exercise.
No student-run organisation is perfect. Perhaps the Oxford Union has more faults than most. I ask you not to look past these flaws, but engage the people that run your society to make it better for everyone. Speak at the debates, buy a ticket for one of the social events, hold me and the Committee to account. Whatever you want from the Oxford Union this term, I hope you find it.