The Oxford Union has refused to sign a contract allowing Oxford Conservative Association (OCA) to hold their weekly ‘Port and Policy’ event in the Union for free.
The current arrangement has been in place since the start of ‘Port and Policy’ in 1994, where the Macmillan Room has been available to the Association for free every Sunday evening of term, instead of the usual fee of £550 per use.
John Lee, President of the Oxford Union, said, “Over the years, people have misleadingly come to associate the Oxford Union with the Oxford Conservative Association. This is in no small part because their most regular meeting, ‘Port and Policy’, has been held weekly at the Union for a very long time.
“The only ideology of the Union is free and open debate. It holds no political allegiance and is a forum for discussion of all beliefs and opinions. In line with this thinking, no contract was signed that would give OCA preferential treatment. However, they are still very welcome to hire out Union rooms at the same rate as any other organisation, political or not.”
‘Port and Policy’ is described by OCA as “an informal debate where everyone is welcome to contribute if they wish.” Port is served to help “lubricate mental cogs.’
Port and Policy led to controversy last year, as a video of a member singing an anti-Semitic song at the event and leaked to national press. The association was subsequently banned indefinitely from using Corpus Christi college premises by the college’s Dean.
Jack Andrews, a theology student, criticised the previous arrangements, “I’m appalled that this went on for as long as it did. Whatever your political affiliations, you pay to join the Oxford Union expecting impartiality and for the society to do its best to drive costs down for its members by looking for additional revenue. ”
Nathan Akehurst, a second year at Lincoln, said, “The weekly ‘Port and Prejudice’ shindigs are something no-one outside of OCA will miss. Quite apart from the Union’s rightful decision as a house of free speech to separate itself from party politics, it got very frustrating hearing raucous renditions of old Etonian chants whilst trying to enjoy a quiet pint in the members’ bar.
OCA was disaffiliated from the University earlier this year due to its failure to meet “the financial and administrative standards of a recognised student club”, according to Proctors.
George Mawhinney, president of OCA, explained, “Mr Lee did offer to co-host events with us, however the terms of these offers were not in OCA’s best interests and so I declined them.’