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OULC: “ugly, intimidating and vaguely cultish”

Daniel Kodsi
Daniel Kodsi
Hi, I am Chairman of OSPL, Cherwell's publishing house. I was editor during Michaelmas 2016. I read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Balliol College and can be reached at [email protected]

Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) passed a motion last night at its termly general meeting (TGM), which will continue tomorrow evening, to limit voting privileges at TGMs to just those members who uniquely support the Labour Party or its aims.

Though it passed by a two-thirds majority, the motion has caused outcry from some who see it as means of further isolating OULC from the rest of the Oxford community.

Concerns with the tone and direction of debate were also raised, with some OULC members stating that a confrontational air made the meeting inhospitable to attendees with differing opinions. This comes at an uncomfortable moment for OULC, who were recently subject to a Labour Students investigation into alleged anti-semitism.

Proposed by Aydin Osborne Dikerdem, the motion resolves that for future general meetings, voting rights will only be held by “OULC members who are also Labour Party members, Co-operative Party members, registered supporters, affiliated supporters, or those who support the aims of the Labour Party and are not members of any other political party.”

The text indicates that those who belong to other student political organisations, like Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), will be unable to vote in OULC general meetings moving forward unless they also are members of Labour Party or Co-operative Party. The rule change did not apply to Monday’s meeting.

Dikerdem told Cherwell, “I was very happy to see OULC pass by an overwhelming majority a measure that basically upholds the right of Labour supporters, rather than members of other political parties, to determine the future of their club. This was simply a matter of clarifying an existing but vague article of the constitution – making clear that it would be fairly absurd for people who openly support other political parties to be allowed to vote on issues relating to the policy of the University Labour Club.”

He also reiterated the view expressed in his motion that “politics is not a game,” saying that Oxford has “a long tradition of this public school culture, that sees university political clubs as pally debating societies, more to do with networking and careerism than the furthering of political ideals. Many of us in the Labour club are sick and tired of this, we come from communities that are being ravaged by Tory cuts and have family members struggling because of government policies.”

Dikerdem also pointed out that non-members were not at any point barred from entering the meeting, for instance citing the fact that “a student from Manchester University who was not a member of the Labour Club was allowed to pace around angrily at the back of the room for three hours uninterrupted.”

But despite the strong support the motion received on Monday, several have disagreed with its deeper implications. Louis McEvoy, OULC treasurer, called the decision “extraordinary” and “unique,” noting that it strips “pre-existing, fully paid-up club members of some of the advantages of membership – for instance, debating and voting in general meetings.”

McEvoy told Cherwell that it epitomised a degeneration by OULC into “something ugly, intimidating and vaguely cultish.”

“OULC is regrettably moving fast towards greater insularity in its quest to rid itself of any stray Tories. Indeed, those arguing in favour of the motion repeatedly disparaged a number of OUCA members present, demanding to know why they were there. It was a thoroughly unpleasant atmosphere; whenever the few of us opposing the motion tried to speak up, we were jeered at,” he added.

This sentiment was echoed by William Rees-Mogg, an attending OUCA member, who referred to the atmosphere as “incredibly aggressive, with much comment about OUCA infiltrators (there were two of us and we weren’t infiltrators).”

This latter claim differs from one made by Dikerdem, who said “a large OUCA delegation turned up.” Cherwell can confirm that at least two members of OUCA attended Monday’s meeting; whether those attendees were also non-members of OULC remains unclear.

About the meeting’s atmosphere, Rees-Mogg told Cherwell that “the term ‘blairite’ was thrown about with abandon, as a term of abuse. OUCA was repeatedly described as ‘objectionable’ by [OULC co-chair elect] David Parton. There were also attacks on several people in attendance, who were not members.”

Another attendee, Redha Rubiae, who is a member of both OUCA and OULC, spoke of a “malaise” that characterised how a “significant proportion of OULC members” viewed OUCA.

He told Cherwell that “crewdates involving OUCA were described as ‘distasteful’ and Conservatives were seen as some victimising evil with no capacity for compassion,” adding that “democratic cooperation and mutual respect” did not appear to be in the vocabulary of some OULC members.

The atmosphere was reportedly enough to bring Izzy Corbin, who was invited as a guest by Brahma Mohanty, an OULC officer for both Hilary and Trinity terms, to the point of visible distress. She told Cherwell that she felt that “Certain [OULC] members hold extreme hatred for all Conservatives, and OUCA members in particular, and seem to want to systematically remove anyone from OULC that does not share this hatred.”

Mohanty was disturbed by proceedings as well. In a statement to Cherwell, he said, “Yesterday OULC passed another controversial motion demonstrating complete disregard for the democratic process and a clear desire not to engage with other members of the student community.

“This motion will now be part of OULC’s constitution and isolate the club even further from the rest of the Oxford community. I think this is representative of members of the far left’s efforts to purge the Labour Party of anyone who doesn’t adhere to their ideological agenda.”

He added that “given how the comments so clearly encouraged division and not cohesion, it was perfectly understandable that [Corbin] wanted to leave by the end of the meeting and had been shaken up to the point of being visibly upset.”

Parton has not yet replied to Cherwell’s request for comment. The current OULC Chair, Noni Csogor, has declined to comment.

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