Another week, another bashing of Oxford in the national media. No doubt a lot of you watched the beeb’s Young Bright and on the Right, nose pressed up against the screen in case you were somehow unwittingly caught in a background shot. This wasn’t bad publicity, not for Oxford nor for Joe Cook who, unlike his cringingly, pathologically awkward Cambridge equivalent, actually came across as, if not likeable, at least sympathetic and well-intentioned, which is not bad for an aspirant Tory politician. It was of course horrible publicity for OCA as a whole whose image – sometimes, though not always accurate – of affected Etonian drawls, of 1930s fancy dress and aloof snobbery, has been tarnished once again.
The program may have examined this peculiar little world, but it never tried to explain why on earth it should actually exist: after all, the Tory party has been in power for most of the past century, it represents a vast chunk of British political opinion, and a perfectly valid one. In most universities the Conservative association is a political discussion and campaigning group of a similar stature and size to the Labour club. So it isn’t immediately clear why its main organisation in this university should resemble a massive game of let’s-all-pretend-to-be-30s-aristocrats.
In part the problem is self-fulfilling. Perhaps as a (very loose) part of the pinko, lefty Oxford media establishment my impression has been skewed, but amongst most of the people I know admitting you are an active member of OCA is like admitting you sell crack to five year old orphans: deeply unfashionable. Involvement may lose you friends but you’ll certainly keep your virginity. This paper and its rival (the FoxSpew? CocksGoo? Something like that) have certainly contributed to this with our relentless attacks on the club.. This antagonism undoubtedly takes much of the responsibility for OCA’s current state because it means the only people willing to join are those who do not care what the rest of the university thinks of them: the very brave and the very isolated, both of whom tend to come across as odd and maladjusted. And, if it is OCA against the world anyway then why should they bend to better fit what their enemies consider is acceptable? Like the rejected fourth son in the attic we have refused to engage with OCA and so they have gone a bit kooky.
But the student news gets all het up about a lot of things, and normally the subjects of their (our?) scorn are quick to recover, it is unclear why OCA’s reputation should be so much more fragile. It seems there must be some other factor more inherent to this university that contributes to this OCA-bashing.
Whereas YB&otR may have focused on two working-class lads with very conservative views, I, along with a disproportionately large number of people in this university are the converse: private/grammar school kids on the left. Racked with liberal guilt at our privileged secondary education and our perhaps undeserved places at this heinously elitist institution we feel we desperately have to prove our left wing credentials. We rant about the right and mock OCA, desperate not to appear posh. I recall one fresher responding to an inquiry about where he went to school: “I went to a school in Winchester.” “You mean Winchester School?” “Yes.” he responded ashamedly. Joe himself summarised it well: when asked about his childhood shift to right he explained “I was struggling to determine my own life and to go against people’s expectations”. For many of us this works in the opposite direction, we want to go against all the poshbridge assumptions and prove we’re not all Tory toffs. Hence it is unsurprising that in this very self-consciously elitist university, this kind of ‘boo! Down with the Tory scum!’ rhetoric has marginalised the organised right into the peculiar little spectacle we saw paraded on BBC2.
This is a very unhealthy state of affairs. Oxford has long history of active student politics, and it is a shame that one side of the political spectrum should lack serious representation. We should engage the right in discussion not just bash them. We should adapt Cameron’s adage and hug a Harrodian, embrace an Etonian, cuddle a knight. If we remove some of the stigma of joining the Oxford Right perhaps it will grow into a reasonable force, or at least lose the compulsion to look mental on national television. And if you still need something to show that you’re really, really left wing, I don’t know: maybe write an article for the student media about how all drugs should be legal or something.