Oxford University Conservative Association minutes from a Council meeting last Sunday show it is struggling to rebuild its reputation despite regaining university affiliation in March.
Trinity is the Association’s first full term as a re-affiliated society of the university since losing its university endorsement last year when proctors judged that the student association had “failed to reach the financial and administrative standards of a recognised student club.”
Permission for a garden party in Magdalen College’s grounds which had initially been granted by the college has since been revoked by the Home Bursar, Mark Blandford-Baker. The Bursar told OUCA’s Director of Communications, James Heywood, that “As is often the case it is the minority who spoil it for the majority in clubs and so on, and to that end it is an enduring problem.”
Blandford-Baker said that “OUCA is not the only university club or association to have caused difficulties for colleges.”
The Association President, Stephanie Cherrill commented, “We have held several events in Magdalen this year and will be holding our Poker Night there in third week; the Garden Party issue is complex and not necessarily all to do with any perception of OUCA by Magdalen College as evidenced by our continuing relationship with them.”
Cherrill announced at Council that Corpus Christi have lifted their ban on the Association following a meeting with the college’s Dean. OUCA was banned from holding events in Corpus Christi in November 2011. Corpus Dean Dr Robin Murphy said then that “As part of my investigations into recent events involving guests brought into college we are now prepared to deny Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) permission to book or use any college facility or room for any OUCA related activity.” The ban followed accusations of antisemitism at OUCA social events.
Cherrill told OUCA Council that “most of the problem in banning us was related to the lack of accountability for the disciplinary issues…[the Dean] was happy to accept my personal apology though I was not involved with the Association at the time.”
The minutes also reveal the failures of OUCA’s campaigning arm. Political Officer Zachary Spiro had to apologise to Libby Blackwood, mother of Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood, after only three OUCA members turned up to help campaign for the local elections on Tuesday of 1st Week. Spiro said in Council that “détente has been reached” with Blackwood after nine out of the twelve OUCA members who were due to campaign did not turn up.
Cherwell has learnt from the minutes that there are tussles in the upper echelons of the society. On Sunday Cherrill apologised to OUCA Secretary Henry Tonks in a report by the Disciplinary Committee that she was mandated to read out. At the end of Hilary term the Returning Officer and President had incorrectly “ruled that Mr Tonks was an ineligible candidate for the position of Secretary”, according to the report.
The report said that the basis of the decision in Hilary – that Tonks had “failed to aquire the number of Speaker Activist Points required of him” to stand for Secretary – was unreasonable. Cherrill said that “[my] interpretation…was incorrect on this matter.” As a result Tonks was “confirmed” in his position as Secretary by the Disciplinary Committee of OUCA.
An OUCA member, who wished to remain anonymous, commented that although ”There have been real improvements in recent terms….these events seem to show that the current President is undoing the good work of her predecessors through carelessness.”
The Association held its first ‘Port and Policy’ event of term last Sunday and it was described in the minutes by the Whip, Devon Howard from Magdalen College, as “a roaring success….There was only one bottle of port left over; a sure-sign of a successful P&P.”
OUCA’s Whip Devon Howard is recorded as instructing the Committee in future “to keep an eye on members who may have drunk too much.” The minutes record that Heywood, the Communications director, was then “duly chastised” by OUCA’s President. Cherrill told Cherwell that the comment “was a joke in Council about who might be responsible for the port shortages; it was not a serious comment about him.”
“Enthusiasm from the members in terms of attendance, rather than excessive consumption, has almost caught us short during the first two weeks of term, with 2nd week attended by around 70 people.”
The society’s Political Officer, Zachary Spiro, also emphasised the need for members to be sober when campaigning: “I would remind all those who may be thinking of coming in the morning to ensure that they are in a fit state to effectively campaign at that time.”
‘Port and Policy’ is a weekly event held on Sundays in which three motions relating to recent and past conservative policies are debated. According to OUCA’s website, “A selection of suitable ports may help to loosen one’s argumentative charm.” P&P welcomes student Tories from around the country.
Oliver Cooper, recently elected as national chairman of Conservative Future, the Conservative Party’s youth wing, posted on OUCA’s facebook page after his election in March that “I’m looking forward to speaking / disgracing myself at a P&P in the not-too-distant future.”
There is evidence however that the Association is guarding its reputation more carefully. Oliver Johnson, a former Political Officer, is recorded as expressing opposition to a proposed “claret tasting” evening, “especially in Michaelmas term, [which] would only live up to the worst stereotypes of OUCA – given as well that this term will be taken up with a membership drive.” The society did however kick off Trinity Term with a £25 per head ‘Champagne Tasting’ evening.
During the Council Meeting one OUCA member, Tim Patmore, a former Tory candidate in local elections, suggested switching support to the Monster Raving Loony Party in the upcoming Council Elections as a tactical vote.
Following the meeting Cherrill told Cherwell, “I can assure you OUCA will not be switching its support from the Conservative candidates in the local area, and are today out leafleting for them in key wards. In fact the emergency motion at Port and Policy advocating tactical voting was defeated.”